The Cavalier proved to be a major turning point for Vauxhall, in fact it was the car that probably saved the company – the Opel Ascona-derived two- and four-door saloon proved the perfect car for the Luton company to offer up as a rival to the all-conquering Ford Cortina.
Like the Chevette, the Cavalier was well-engineered, handled well and was brilliant at covering miles on the motorway, but the larger car also had the benefit of being able to cruise comfortably and stresselessly in the outside lane – something that would mark out Cavaliers two decades to come.
It was offered with an engine range spanning 1.3- to 2.0-litres, with the entry level models sharing their power unit with the Chevette. Not a ball of fire, but capable enough. Luton built cars were more prone to corrosion than their Belgian counterparts, but all were leagues ahead of earlier Vauxhalls.
Mk2 moves to front-wheel drive
The front-wheel drive Vauxhall Cavalier Mk2 was a hugely important car for its maker – picking up huge fleet sales just as Ford stumbled with the Sierra. When launched in 1981, the Cavalier proved to be the right car at the right time, and sold not only because Ford dropped the ball, but also because it was a superb car that offered variations for everyone. At launch, you could buy your Cavalier in two- or four-door saloon form and as a five-door hatchback, offered with a 1.3- and 1.6-litre Family II engines.
But the range was developed constantly, so 1.8- and 2.0-litre versions were added to the range, as well as a Holden-developed five-door estate that proved even more susceptible to corrosion than the other models in the range. Hugely popular in the 1980s, but with a low survival rate today, the Cavalier Mk2 typifies the term endangered species. Picking up a cult following now with ’80s fans, but unless perfect, these cars are still worth very little money.
Mk3 adds modernity
The 1988 Vauxhall Cavalier Mk3 was designed to be the best of both worlds – aerodynamic like a Ford Sierra, but bristling with Mk2 front-wheel drive appeal. Slightly larger than its predecessor and much curvier looking, the new Cavalier went head-to-head not only with cars such as the Sierra, but also the sleek new Ryton-built Peugeot 405 and the Washington-made Nissan Bluebird, which was racking up some impressive sales figures.
Advertising for the new Cavalier was everywhere from magazines to television. The latter used a cover version of Derek & The Dominos’ track Layla, with the tagline ‘Once Driven Forever Smitten’. The new Cavalier, though, was underpinned by engineering lifted from its predecessor. But it proved to be a much more finely-honed product. There was evidence of real engineering prowess and impressive safety features right across the range.
Where the Mk2 always had a feeling of lightness and cost cutting in its build, the Mk3 was a solid machine made with high quality materials. It sported a good-looking functional padded dashboard, and you instantly knew this car was screwed together well. Available in a wide variety of engines – 1.4-, 1.6-, 1.8-, and 2.0-litre four-cylinders, as well as the brilliant C20XE (in the GSi2000). You could also buy it in 2.5-litre V6 form, and with a 1.7-litre turbodiesel. Such was the Mk3s popularity and solidity, they remain relatively plentiful into the 2010s, with a growing following.