The Vauxhall Astra Mk1 was introduced in the UK in March 1980 and was the first car offered by the company that had no external differences from the car it was spun from, the Opel Kadett D.
There were plans for an angicised version of the car to be built, but they never left the styling studio, so when it was launched, the Astra differed from the Kadett in just its badging. However, the Astra’s true significance is in its packaging – it was the first front-wheel drive car built by GM Europe, and it ushered in a new range of overhead cam Family II engines, that really were a leap forward from what came before.
In 1.3-litre form, this power unit developed 75bhp (same as the Cavalier Mk2’s 1.6-litre), and in 1.6-litre form (introduced in 1982), it packed 90bhp for near hot hatch levels of performance.
In marketing terms, the Astra was a little confused. At launch, it was only available in plusher trim levels, and without the low power overhead valve 1.2-litre engine offered in the Kadett, and it replaced the Viva, not the Chevette. Early cars were built in Bochum, West Germany, but UK production commenced in November 1981 at Ellesmere Port.
The range was expanded during the following months, until all engines and body styles shared with the Kadett was offered. The Astra Mk1 was hugely important for Vauxhall, and signified the beginning of a massive sales push by the company, which would ultimately see it becoming the UK’s number two seller behind Ford in the mid-1980s.