The cars : Vauxhall Cavalier Mk1 development story

Keith Adams recounts the Vauxhall Cavalier Mk1 development story – a tale of close ties with Opel in Germany, some interesting UK design tweaks and the beginnings of an impressive change in fortunes.

Built in Belgium and the UK, the Ford Cortina-rivalling Cavalier Mk1 ended up proving that Britain’s fleet managers didn’t necessarily need to buy British…

Vauxhall Cavalier Mk1: General’s turn-around

The 1979 Vauxhall Cavalier range: saloon, Coupe and Sportshatch.
The 1979 Vauxhall Cavalier Mk1 range: saloon, Coupe and Sportshatch

Vauxhall was in trouble in the early 1970s, and sales were taking a nosedive. The Escort-rivalling Viva might have been selling reasonably well in HC (1970-1979) form, but in the heart of the fleet car market where the Ford Cortina Mk3 was king, the larger FE-Series ‘Transcontinental’ Victor singularly failed to measure up to this.

At the time, it was starting to look like it could be the beginning of the end for General Motors’ UK outpost. Given how many people the company employed in Luton and Ellesmere Port, this would have been a disaster at a time when the British economy was generally considered to be in free-fall.

The situation wasn’t helped by the fact that Vauxhall’s name was mud, anyway, and had been since 1960s. Buyers have long memories, and reputations are easily soiled, and this was the case here – rampant rust in the company’s 1950s and ’60s cars, had created a ‘rot-box’ image that was proving extremely difficult to shift. A brighter future was in the offing, though, as the drawing board had been looking very exciting indeed since the late 1960s.

First attempt: Victor-based Cerian

Vauxhall Cerian

The road to the Cavalier was a long one and actually started in 1970 with two competing projects. The first, known as the Vauxhall U-Car, was to build a Viva HC replacement based on a shortened version of the Victor FE platform, with a wheelbase reduced to around 100in (the hugely influential Ford Cortina Mk3 weighed in at 101.5in). It was called the Cerian and, by September 1971, a series of full-sized models were being evaluated by Vauxhall management.

As can be seen from the image above, first revealed by Vauxpediait was a sleek bustle-back that clearly had design connections with the existing Vauxhall models, especially around the rear, with its slim lamp clusters and blade-like bumpers. This styling scheme was approved for development in October 1971. The Cerian range was planned as a four- and two-door saloon as well as a three-door coupe and would have been powered by Vauxhall’s slant-four overhead cam in two engine capacities as well as the engine from ill-fated Viscount V8 for the Sports Hatch version.

When new Design Director Edward Taylor took over the project with Wayne Cherry as Assistant Design Director in November 1971, the Cerian four-door morphed into a five-door hatchback, but retained the same silhouette. This was a similar hatchback-disguising design theme that would end up being used by Volvo in the 343 and Ford for the Escort Mk3 years later.

Meanwhile, the Viva HD takes shape

Vauxhall Viva HD

In concurrent development with the Victor-based Cerian was the Viva HD, which was also conceived to expand Vauxhall’s appeal in the Cortina-class. This was based on the existing Viva platform logically upscaled with a slightly wider track and longer wheelbase, and a wider range of slant-four engines. Unusually, the HD was designed from the outset as a two- and four-door saloon as well as a three- and five-door hatchback (above) to compete with the later Volkswagen Passat and Chrysler Alpine.

Vauxhall’s failing fortunes: a solution was needed

However, by 1972, the financial situation for Vauxhall was so bad, General Motors decided that drastic measures were needed for its future. The conclusion was obvious and heartbreaking for the Design and Engineering staff in Luton – the best way improving efficiency was to rationalise its European operations with a long-term goal of combining Vauxhall’s and Opel’s model ranges. Although many in Luton would have argued with this, it was a logical conclusion, especially given how the UK and Europe were getting so much closer in so many ways following our entry into the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1973.

Actually, the writing was probably on the wall for Vauxhall as an independent designer of cars with the arrival of the Victor FE in 1972. Although the style was very much from Luton, as were the engines and gearboxes, the floorpan and much of its hidden hardware were shared with the Opel Rekord. Additionally, it meant that Vauxhall’s all-important mid-size saloon had grown beyond the size of its natural rivals, hence the Cerian being conceived with a shorter wheelbase.

The implication for the continued development the Vauxhall Cerian and Viva HD projects was not good, though, and in October 1972, both programmes were halted. The word from the top was that Vauxhall was no longer going to be in the position of being able to design its own bespoke products. The FE programme had proven the shared platform strategy, even if sales were disappointing. The upshot was this collaborative design process, which had Vauxhall create its own styling and engines using an Opel platform, would extend across the rest of the range.

U-Car and Ascona get closer

Vauxhall's initial plans were to introduce a new body style (as was the case with the FE-series Victor), but this was dropped in favour of a lightly restyled Ascona.
Vauxhall’s initial plans were to introduce a new body style (as was the case with the FE-series Victor), but this was dropped in favour of a lightly restyled Ascona

In January 1973, the Vauxhall Cerian (U-Car) programme was merged with Russelsheim’s Ascona B (Project 1930), meaning that it would share its platform and some major structural elements, but would feature bespoke Luton styling as well as Vauxhall’s excellent slant-four engines. This design quickly gained momentum throughout 1973 and, although it used the Ascona B’s doors, its styling was very different with beautifully integrated bumpers and elegant looking light clusters, front and rear.

By mid-1973, and under Wayne Cherry’s guidance, the new Opel-based U-Car was emerging as a handsome looking saloon as evidenced in the images above. This basic concept was so right that over the next few months as it headed towards production, the slightest of changes were made, with the droopsnoot front and minimalist rear being honed to production reality. There would be two- and four-door saloon versions as well as three- and five-door hatchbacks.

By late 1973, the styling models were being referred to by the Magnum name, which clearly shows what Vauxhall’s ambitions were for the slant-four engined Vivas – these were Cortina challengers, as would be their U-Car replacements. But as the Vauxhall Magnum was taking shape, with a planned launch of 1976-1977, trouble was ahead from the boardroom.

Fortune favours those who rationalise…

The good news was that the U-Car Magnum was emerging as the right car for Vauxhall. The car it was being developed to fight, the Ford Cortina Mk3, had been launched in 1970 and, after a shaky start, had come to dominate the market. It had a full range of engines from 1.3- to 2.0-litres, was based on a 100in wheelbase, and had established itself as the UK’s best-selling car after British Leyland dropped the ball with the Austin Allegro and Morris Marina. It could match the Cortina inch-by-inch in dimensions and engineering.

However, by the beginning of 1974, Vauxhall was in deep trouble. Sales had been in free fall since 1972, with the Victor falling flat on its face in the market, Vauxhall’s hopes rested on the Viva, which was fighting a tough rearguard action from Ford and British Leyland in the small family car class.

In a nutshell, Vauxhall needed the U-Car and it needed it desperately. New Managing Director Bob Price had joined Vauxhall in January 1974 before taking overall control months later. The American boss knew that drastic action was needed, and faced the very real possibility that GM could close car-making operations in the UK, turning it over to commercial vehicles only.

Vauxhall Cavalier hatchback
Vauxhall Cavalier Mk1 hatchback was a casualty of Bob Price’s acceleration of the U-Car programme

Meanwhile, the U-Car was rapidly taking shape during 1974, but in April 1975, Bob Price dropped a bombshell. He told his team that he wanted to accelerate the U-Car programme, he wanted to reduce the cost, and he wanted it launching at that year’s British Motor Show! That decision would lead to the team using as much Opel componentry as possible, and taking the brave political decision to build the car – initially – in Belgium and selling it in the UK as a domestically-badged import.

Out went plans to use Vauxhall’s slant-four engines, and out went the unique interior and front and rear styling. But the development of the Opel Manta proved to be a godsend, allowing Wayne Cherry’s team to use that car’s front-end styling wholescale. The Manta’s front end was further cleaned up for UK saloon consumption, losing its nose slots and headlamp surrounds to create a clean and modern look that wasn’t a million miles from what Wayne Cherry had originally come up with, and would prove rather striking come launch date.

In engineering terms, the Cavalier was almost pure Ascona/Manta through necessity. The UK was spared the entry-level 1.2-litre overhead valve also used in the Kadett, leaving the initial launch line-up down to the two larger cam-in-head Opel engines developing 75 and 90bhp respectively. There would be a good reason for this – the Cavalier would initially be built in Opel’s Antwerp plant in Belgium, and it meant production simplification. However, the 1256cc overhead valve unit used in the Viva and (later) Chevette would be developed to fit into the Cavalier, creating a much more UK-flavoured car.

Opel Ascona B: the car to take the fight to the Cortina

The 1975 Opel Ascona was a sturdy and high-quality vehicle that would form the basis of the Vauxhall Cavalier Mk1

In September 1975, Opel rolled out its updated Ascona and Manta B models. The new cars were clear evolutions of the 1970 original, and were solidly engineered. The styling was overseen by Henry Haga in Opel’s Design Studio in Rüsselsheim, and incorporated lessons learned from the 1973 OSV.

Larger windows and a lengthened wheelbase were the main evolution of the Ascona B over its predecessor and, once again, it came in two wildly different-looking versions encompassing two- and four-door saloons and a two-door Coupe. The Manta coupe received a dramatic droop snoot front end, which gave it a modern, aggressive, Capri-baiting look…

The rest of the engineering package remained pretty much as before – but refined and improved carefully. The suspension set-up incorporated a live rear axle located by short torque tube, trailing arms and Panhard Rod with coils springs and an anti-roll bar; and up-front, wishbones and coil springs with telescopic dampers. All very conservative, but nicely engineered.

As for engines, the Opels were powered by a 1.2-litre overhead valve Kadett engine, and a pair of cam-in heads of 1.6- and 1.9-litre capacities. Top of the tree was the fuel-injected 105bhp Manta GT/E (which we never saw in the UK) – and that was capable of 110mph. In summary, the Ascona was a solid, well engineered and nice-to-drive mid-sized saloon – perfect to take the fight to the Ford Taunus in mainland Europe. A solid and and fortuitous basis for the Vauxhall Britain’s GM management so desperately needed.

Cavalier Mk1 goes on sale

Vauxhall Cavalier GL saloon: cleanly styled by Wayne Cherry.
Vauxhall Cavalier Mk1 GL saloon: cleanly styled by Wayne Cherry

When the wraps came off the Cavalier at the 1975 London Motor Show at Earls Court, three months behind the Ascona, it was a genuine surprise, catching the media – and potential – buyers off guard. But the stylish saloon (above) and coupe (below) combination was soon attracting rave reviews, hitting the market in the dying days of the Cortina Mk3, when it was looking its weakest. Initial road tests were also complimentary. You could order one from November 1975 with prices ranging from £1975 for the 1600L to £2707 for the 1900GL Coupe.

What Car? magazine was certainly complimentary when it finally got its hands on the Cavalier. In its first group test alongside the Ford Cortina and Morris Marina (both of which the Cavalier trounced), it concluded, ‘Vauxhall’s version of the Opel Ascona has helped put the previously ailing Luton firm on the road to recovery – and it’s easy to see why. The Cavalier is a good handling, sporty saloon aimed directly at the Cortina…’

The magazine went on: ‘As far as driver appeal is concerned, the Cavalier must be one of the best – perhaps the best – conventional saloon at the price. Its steering is accurate and responsive at all times, and it is not too heavy at parking speeds. Its cornering ability on smooth roads is excellent, although the well-located rear axle can hop about if the surface is poor. The ride may be a little firm for some tastes, but the ride/handling compromise is near perfect.’

Buyers certainly liked it, but that caused problems itself. Early availability was poor, with dealers clamouring for stock, while the waiting list grew. With production limited to a shared factory in Belgium, this was always going to be the case, while production at Luton was prepared and the Victor FE (now known as the VX range) wound down.

Vauxhall Cavalier Mk1 Coupe 1975

UK-built Cavaliers arrive in 1977

The first UK-built Vauxhall Cavalier Mk1 rolls off the line in Luton, 26 August 1977.
The first UK-built Vauxhall Cavalier Mk1 rolls off the line in Luton, 26 August 1977

In the end, the Luton plant came on stream in 1977, also seeing the arrival of the 1256cc car. Eric Fountain, Vauxhall’s Manufacturing Director, drove the first British Cavalier off the production line on 26 August 1977 (right) – and, immediately after, the supply problems eased. And this removed the Cavalier’s main barrier to mass-market success.

Fleet managers also liked the Cavalier, and its imported content dropped from 100% in 1976 to 64% in 1978, it established itself as the company’s bestseller during the late 1970s.

As for model evolution, the Cavalier Mk1 was tweaked rather than facelifted throughout its life. In April 1978, the 1.9-litre model was upgraded to 2.0-litres and 100bhp (and 110bhp for the equivalent Manta GT/E, which again we didn’t see in the UK until 1983), giving the Coupe a genuine 110mph potential top speed and a sub-ten second 0-60mph time.

Opening up the Cavalier’s appeal

The 1973 Concept 1 was penned in 1973 and was a clear indication of the direction of travel for Wayne Cherry's design team in Luton
The 1973 Concept 1 was penned in 1973 and was a clear indication of the direction of travel for Wayne Cherry’s Design Team in Luton

Cavalier Sportshatch in front of Concept 1 (eft) and Cocept 2 (right)
Final production version of the Cavalier Sportshatch in front of Concept 2 (left) and Concept 3 (right)

Six months after the arrival of the 2.0-litre Cavalier, the innovative and stylish Sportshatch (above) joined the coupe, which put right the older car’s one shortcoming – its lack of a wide-opening tailgate, like the Ford Capri Mk2. The development of the Sportshatch deserves a story of its own, such is its complexity, and you can read all about that on the brilliant Vauxpedia site.

However, in a nutshell, Vauxhall’s Styling Department had been working on its own version of the Sportshatch, and the arrival of this model (also adopted by Opel for the Manta) was vindication of the concept’s appeal. At its launch, the Vauxhall Press Office issued an interesting image of the new car alongside Concept 2 (1973) and Concept 3 – a pair of three-door proposals in a series of models penned by Cherry and his team. These were considered during the development of the Sportshatch, and lined-up like this show an interesting timeline of how the idea was honed for production.

Concept 1 (purple car, above) was a clean sheet design dating back to 1973, while Concept 2 was a development of this, and Concept 3 incorporated the Cavalier’s front end styling and was a move towards the production version. The definitive Sportshatch also shared its doors with the existing Coupe, and is probably more visually appealing as a result.

Loving the Cavalier Sportshatch

Cavalier Sportshatch was a stylish addition to the range in 1978
Cavalier Sportshatch was a stylish addition to the range in 1978

Like the saloon, What Car? was impressed by the Sportshatch. In a group test pitching the Sportshatch in 1.6GL form against the Alfasud Sprint, Ford Capri and Renault Fuego, there were plenty of nice things said about Vauxhall’s seemingly less-than-soulful Cavalier. ‘Although its rear tends to go out if treated roughly on corners, there is not the same degree of sliding in wet weather as there is with the Capri. The steering is quite light, which means that any breakaway is easier to control, and during most driving, the Sportshatch is predictable and controllable’.

In summary, it said: ‘Coming past the post ahead of the Capri, the Cavalier looks good and has price on its side. However, it really does need a newer engine, and it you want an all-rounder, you really should go for the 2.0-litre model.’

Further variations

There were a couple more expansions of the theme. The first was the Coupé-based convertible, known as the Centaur (below), and based on Vauxhall’s own plans for an open-topped Cavalier it never made. That car was developed by Magraw Engineering and built by Crayford Engineering. Rather like the Crayford Cortina, which was sold at the same time, the Centaur was sold through a number of Vauxhall dealers. It was well-engineered, but with a strengthened floorpan and Triumph Stag-like T-bar roof arrangement, it came at a cost. In mid-1980, a new Centaur would cost you £8502 – compared with £5230 for a standard 2000GLS Sportshatch. But then, what rivals did it have?

Vauxhall Cavalier Mk1 Caryford Centaur

Silver Aero attracts the crowds

More exciting was the Silver Aero concept. This beauty was unveiled it at the 1980 British Motor Show in Birmingham, and followed on from 1974’s wonderful Silver Bullet. The one-off, which was based on the Sportshatch, featured a radical looking bodykit, a seriously upgraded interior and power by a 150bhp 2.4-litre turbocharged engine by WBB Racing and Turbo Torque Limited. Its most striking styling feature was undoubtedly the even sharper nose treatment, which maintained Cherry’s love for the droopsnoot. The press release that accompanied the car’s unveiling spoke of customer kits being made available – but they never subsequently appeared.

Silver Aero concept was based on the Cavalier Sportshatch, but with far more aggressive styling.
Silver Aero concept was based on the Cavalier Sportshatch, but with far more aggressive styling

Across the range model development was limited to tweaking of trim levels. After the introduction of the 2.0-litre cars to replace the 1900cc cars in 1978, and the rebadging (from 1300, 1600 and 2000 to 1.3, 1.6 and 2.0), it was just a matter of improving trim packages along the way. In 1980, an interim LS model was introduced to bridge the gap between L and GL – this was hardly exciting stuff – and that was about it. The biggest omission was an estate model, which also held true in the Opel Ascona range.

So, the Silver Aero would prove to be the Cavalier’s swan-song – and that never made it beyond one-off status, even if aspects of the concept made it into the 1983 Manta facelift. The Cavalier Mk1 lasted six years, before being phased out in favour of the front-wheel-drive Mk2 in August 1981, and during this time proved a strong and steady seller.


Although it failed to threaten Ford in UK sales chart, along with the Chevette, there’s no doubt that the Cavalier helped save Vauxhall in the UK by restoring its respectability. As well as selling well and proving that fleet buyers could buy foreign cars, it also showed that Ford could be beaten at its own game in building a car that sales reps loved with all their hearts.

The Vauxhall Cavalier Mk1 also went a long way to rehabilitating the marque in the minds of retail buyers and washing away memories of rust Luton-built models from the consciousness of the UK car-buying public. Its sales achievements would subsequently be dwarfed by what came later with the Mk2 and Mk3, but the original Cavalier’s place in Vauxhall – and, therefore, UK – model history should never be underestimated. It really was the car that helped save Vauxhall’s bacon, even if ultimately it led to the end of Luton’s design and engineering autonomy.

Next: Vauxhall Cavalier Mk2 development story

Keith Adams


    • i realy love this model i hope to see this vauxhall cavalier cars that south africa can see it as a four cylinder beutyful old sports car and standard machine this opel new model i don t like for it brakedown and not strong the body of this cavalier has it all in one sam as comadore but holden has dty up i hope it will come back to life strong mucsle models i love old classic cavaliers and opel comadore stright six or chev ranger 1900

  1. I am surprised that the Cavalier Mk1 did not come out in estate form – particularly when several of its homegrown rivals, namely the Ford Cortina, Hillman Hunter and Morris Marina, were available in that form and selling in reasonable numbers.

    Apparently, the reason an estate was not developed was that, according to Opel, the Ascona Mk1 estate had a ‘tradesman taint’ about it – Opel reckoned that the Kadett T-Car versions could fit this role more effectively.

    The Cavalier Mk2 (J Car) had an estate version, but this was picked up from Holden in Australia – once Holden became involved in the J Car programme, they demanded that an estate be included in the model development.

  2. @Shannon
    The Mark 3 never had an estate version either. Strange…

    It’s nice to get this Vauxhall article – just as interesting as the BL stuff and, perhaps, less well-known. The Cavalier was a very stylish car when launched in 1975, with its radical front end. The ‘built in Belgium’ thing certainly hurt it at a time when buyers were still very patriotic though.

    Incidentally, the Manta Berlinetta was a trim level, applied to the coupe and the hatch.

    • Yes, when the Cav MK1 was launched and built in Belgium, some Vauxhall enthusiasts were put off by that fact. However having owned a British Viva HC at that time (suffering rust), I thought the foreign built Cavaliers may be better at build quality.

    • No, definitely steel. I was working in the production engineering dept at the time. Estate rear wings were cut down hatch with a new, taller window frame welded on and new steel hatch made locally.

      • I’m pretty sure that Holden in Australia exported station wagon rear panels and tailgates to Luton to be assembled to Vauxhall front ends and platforms in exchange for Vauxhall chevette/Bedford beagle rear wagon/van panels for Holden’s Gemini

  3. The Sportshatch always reminded me of the 1975 GM range of hatches in the US. Have a look at this Wikipedia image of an 1975 Chevrolet Monza…

  4. I’m going to stick my neck out here and say that I actually preferred the frontal treatment of the Opel Ascona B!

    I thought the Ascona B looked crisper and sportier (possibly helped by the Rothmans Ascona 400) whereas, to me, the Cavalier Mk1 always looked a bit frumpy, with the headlights looking overly big when paired with the grill-less snoot and the numberplate way below the bumper and the lower intake.

    The prototype image looks a lot better – almost a pre-cursor to the style of the likes of the Sierra or BX. Perhaps it is the wider headlights that help…

    The droop snoot worked better on later Mantas in my opinion – the coupe bodystyle and the numberplate moving to the middle of the chunkier bumpers tidied up the frontal styling.

    Was the Ascona available at Vauxhall Dealers or were the ones I saw on my street grey imports from the Republic of Ireland?

    • The Ascona & Manta were sold at UK OPEL dealers, at the same time as Cavaliers were sold at Vauxhall dealers. GM operated separate branding and identities in those days… though obviously all cars were Opel “based”.

      IMHO, the Cavaliers & Ascona/Manta were among the most elegant looking cars of the 70’s

      • The funniest thing was that although the dealer had OPEL outside it use to carry a badge of GM, Opel and Vauxhall at the same time – this was the same at Vauxhall garages! Always amused me as a kid

        • I remember dealerships having the 3 badges, which I guess was a lead in to merging the ranges.

          There were joint Talbot / Peugeot showrooms for a few years in the 1980s.

          • Was the same on Viva mudflaps and the seatbelt latches, ‘Vaux GM Opel’ The Vauxhall/Opel were a bit easier on petrol than the equivalent Ford but the engines were generally soft on GM’s. Vivas seemed to always be needing a gearbox or an axle. I guess the Viva HC was the last true Vauxhall. I think a Vauxhall Viva could have been bought in the Benelux actually badged as Vauxhall. A cousin of mine used to fix Vivas for a side job so as a kid we had great fun playing in a few Viva HB’s and one was laid sideways in a field behind the Grandmothers house. It had the reg, ‘CIA’ which was cool! It didn’t have a gearstick, I guess he put it up on its side to get the gearbag out of it. We thought we were the ‘Dukes of Hazard’ with this CIA Viva at 45deg on its body. I digress. The memories this website resurrects is incredible! An Aunt had a green 2-door Viva and I recall being fascinated with the throttle pedal hinging from the floor, Hunters too! This is a mental illness! Oh well, better to be wrong and romantic rather than right but repugnant! Here is to 1970’s British cars, they were dung but they had such great character. Right I’ll go start the Avenger. Yes really!

        • Dave… I remember that triple signage too. I guess it was just before GM decided to market all their UK cars as Vauxhall’s… as they became one & the same. The former Opel dealers then seemed to disappear & Vauxhall Dealers got modernised signs. Nowadays all the European countries have Opel dealers with UK having Vauxhall.

          I guess Northern Ireland still has Vauxhall branded dealers? but Republic of Ireland has Opel only?

          • Though it is redundant today, could GM have successfully converted Vauxhall, Opel and Holden into Chevrolet?

  5. I had a 1.8 Cavalier Mk1 in the late 1970s and for driving/handling/performance it was miles ahead of the competition. The first time I drove the car it was a revelation compared to anything else in the price range at the time.

    I always thought the Coupe was one of the best looking cars ever put on the road – much better balanced than the Hatch which I never really liked. I owned two Opel Manta Berlinetta Coupes at different times and just wish some manufacturer today would make a car of that ability/looks/price/reliability. They were, in many ways, the best cars I ever owned.

  6. I had a Manta too, a 1.6 which was underpowered but helped with the insurance in my younger days. I still think they look “right”.

  7. @Will
    Opels were sold alongside Vauxhalls in the UK for a while, while Vauxhalls were still exported. However, now we have Vauxhalls only in the UK and Opels in Eire and continental Europe.

    • I was in a plane with a GM director who was working in Russia, another Irish fella so we were chatting away and I asked him about the whole Vauxhall/Opel thing after all ‘Vauxhall’ is really only an alternative name for Opel. He said up until 1982 UK dealers were branded as ‘Vauxhall – GM – Opel’ and because fleet buyers bought the Vauxhall over the Opel, GM decided to badge all cars sold in Blighty as Vauxhall. I would agree with Will, the Ascona did look better and unfortunately, as with Fords of the time too, the made in Belgium (typically) Opel were a lot better rustproven It is a sad fact that the Made in UK Fords or GM’s rusted while the made in Belgium or Germany cars lasted a lot longer. Still to this day a lot of people would rather their GM was an Opel. In Ireland for example Opels are marketed ‘die Leben auto’ emphasizing German build quality. The Opel Astra is made in England, that’s great, but its marketed as a German car! Well whatever, everything is built like a Volvo these days and there are no differences in build quality and body longevity that there was in the 1070’s & 80’s depending which country the car came from. I remember a lot of RWD Asconas still on the road in the early 1990’s while a RWD Cavalier was a rare sight at that time. I’d lie to know just why the British Fords and GM’s had bad bodies, was it the steel? The paint? Or lack of sealant? You could see much of that yellow rust sealant on the Belgian Sierra while the English one was just paint. How come both Ford and GM skimped with the UK built cars – this is a separate topic of course.

  8. Here’s an anorak remark: the 1.9GT/E had 105hp, the 2.0 110hp.

    The comments about the handling are interesting – the later body-kitted GT/Es had thinner rear anti-roll bars than the earlier models and were much better balanced. You could kick the tail out, but the tail didn’t wag the dog. Earlier cars were a bit too easy to spin.

    Another big improvement in later Mantas was the lovely short, precise gearstick on the Getrag 5-speed boxes – the Cavaliers all had rather long, backward sloping “wands”, which I hated!

    Incidentally, having driven a GT/E with one skirt missing, I can verify that (despite the sarcasm in What Car? when the Calibra was launched) the Manta bodykit worked very well.

    • Indeed, I remember the long gear sticks on Cav MK1’s too. The later Manta short stick 5 speeders were better but to the best of my knowledge no Cavalier MK1 got a 5 speed Getrag box… only the VX4/90

      • The Mark 1 Cav was strictly four speed and rwd, just like the Cortina it was meant to fight in the company car market. The Mark 2 really moved things forward for the company car buyer, fwd, five speeds on GL and above and a 1.6 that could outrun a 2 litre Cortina, but had the fuel consumption of a 1.3 car. When word got out this was a seriously good car, the Cortina started to feel very tired and Vauxhall saw a boom in sales.

        • From my experience I go along with that Glenn. My Employers had both Cortina 1.6 MK4 & a Cavalier 1.6 Estate. The acceleration and cruising speeds on the Cavalier were superior, though to much throttle from zero would make the front wheels spin on occasion

          • @ Hilton D, the Cortina was outclassed by the Cavalier in 1.6 form and the Sierra, apart from its futuristic looks and interior, in 1.6 form was no match for the Cav on the motorway and was thirstier and noisier. Mind you, the Mark 2 Cav was a bit limited by having no engine bigger than a 1.8, when the Sierra went up to a 2.8 V6( a revelation over the Pinto engined cars),and the camshafts could fail at 80,000 miles, while the Pinto engines were more bombproof.

  9. I had an Opel Manta 1.8 Berlinetta in a light gold metallic. What a great car and, on a more personal level, what a boost to my sex appeal too!

  10. @Will
    The Cavalier Mk1 was sold alongside the virtually identical Opel Ascona in the UK. The Kadett was also sold alongside the Chevette and the first generation Astra was sold alongside the FWD Chevette.

    Indeed, it wasn’t until 1981 when the FWD Cavalier Mk2 appeared that the Opel brand was phased out in the UK. Interestingly, I remember a neighbour having a new Kadett on order around this time but, when the dealer informed him that his car would end up having Vauxhall instead of Opel badges, he cancelled the order!

  11. Keith – a big thank you for this feature on the website. The Cavalier was one of my favourite cars back then – especially the Coupe and Sportshatch. I aspired to own a 1.9GL or GLS coupe but could not afford to in those days – I was only in my early 20s.

    However, reading the text and going from memory, I can confirm its accuracy. I see some of the photos were scanned from Vauxhall brochures (which I still have). The cream Coupe is a 1.9GL in Pastel Beige as featured in the 1976 catalogue. The 1979 group shot is from the 1979 all model catalogue and the shot with the girl in blue, sitting in a Cavalier 1.6L dates from 1976 publicity.

    I remember the name of Wayne Cherry and his design team at Vauxhall. His name featured prominently in Autocar when the Sportshatch was launched. My favourite is probably a GL or GLS coupe, but the Sportshatch was yummy too!

    Anyway, as is documented here, the Cavalier Mk1 provided a timely boost which enabled Vauxhall to challenge the Cortina Mk3 and Mk4 – and overcome other manufacturers products in the process.

    There is little mention of the Cavalier Mk1 1.3L which had the Viva 1256cc engine dropped in. Not a very good performer…

  12. A good article… I’ve become quite fond of the Cavalier Mk1 – for the 1970s, that and the ‘Shove-it’ were quite radical looking cars. The droopsnoot could never be confused with previous Vauxhalls, even if it did herald the end of the traditional bonnet flutes which died with the FE/VX series.

    I think that, in many respects the droopsnoot was a brave move by Vauxhall, but what carried it all off was Wayne Cherry’s great styling on the Chevette, Cavalier and, later on, the Carlton, allied to Opel’s fantastic interiors (which, in my opinion, rivalled BMW’s at the time – 1970s and 1980s Opel dashboards were possibly the clearest, and best quality of any mainstream car maker).

    Ironically though, the Opel Ascona, although largely identical, was seen as a sportier car (must have been the rally connection) and also had the more appealing colour and alloy wheel combinations…

    It was a strange decision, in the light of BL’s problems, to sell two competing (and pretty much identical) ranges of cars in the same market – badge-engineering was hateful!

  13. I see that there are shades of Cavalier Calibre floating about. I wish they’d have done the darker one of the two Sportshatch concepts – it looked so much better than the bugeye look which ended up in production. That looks like a supermodel wearing national health specs…

    My dad had a Metallic Blue SRi version of the Mk2 – the suspension on that was so hard that, when someone forced him off the road and bent one of the antiroll bars almost 90 degrees, we didn’t even notice untll the next service when the Technician came back white-faced and asked how long the front suspension had been munched for… It was very useful for doing Porlock Hill on 3 wheels (the two on the one side of the car and the one on the caravan… Don’t ask!).

    I liked the look of the Shove-it too… The same couldn’t be said of its roadholding the one time I ever rode in one… Talk about Teflon-tyred! I don’t know if that was a ragged car but it was so bad it was terrifying.

    The less said about the OSV40 thing the better – that’s uuuugly.

  14. Is it me or does the Silver Aero look a little like a side shot of a baby XX or even an R17 800?

    The shape and visual dimensions certainly look somewhat similar.

  15. Vauxhall still owe a lot to the Cavalier nameplate even today. A number of current Vauxhall owners I know still refer to their Vectras and Insignias as Cavaliers – it’s almost immortalised in the same way as the Ford Cortina.

  16. 1975 was the year of Vauxhall’s comeback – remember they were being pushed into fourth place by Datsun and their family car, the Victor, was completely outsold by the Morris Marina, Austin Maxi, Ford Cortina and even the ageing Hillman Hunter.

    Vauxhall were lucky that a massive advertising campaign and very positive long term test reports for the Cavalier and Chevette restored their fortunes but, as well all know from the Rover story, any silver lining can soon be obliterated by a nasty cloud.

    I think a competent product, a company that was in a better financial position than was widely thought and a workforce that wasn’t so strike happy saved Vauxhall in the later Seventies.

  17. A very interesting story… However, if you ever get the chance to write up the Cavalier Mk3/Calibra, don’t forget to include the little known Tickford Calibre, killed at birth by the launch of the Calibra Turbo.

  18. I agree – the Ascona B was, in my opinion, a better looking car.

    I had one of those in 1989/90 when it was already 11 years old and sadly not in the best of health – a T-reg Ascona 2.0 SR Berlina automatic in Metallic Gold with a brown vinyl roof and Rostyle-type wheels. This one had the 3-spoke alloy steering wheel with chunky rim and centre horn push and 6-instrument dash. It rode and handled well and had particularly light and direct steering – but then it did succeed a very tired Princess 1800HL.

    I remember it fondly and consider that, today, it would have made an eminently capable and practical classic. Thanks for another great article and keep up the good work!

  19. I’m also looking forward to a feature on Vauxhall’s other saviour from the Seventies, the Chevette.

    Vauxhall found a clever way of bringing out a new and decent car but saving money on production costs by using the trusted 1256cc Viva engine.

    Remember that, at the time, the Chevette was quite innovative – it had a three door hatchback 18 months before Ford and a full five years before British Leyland and a large range of models including an estate, the aforementioned hatch as well as two and four door saloons – that was a clever way of covering all tastes and taking the fight to Ford. The fact the car was wholly British-made would have helped too.

    However, my abiding memory of the Chevette is in the Likely Lads film where Bob Ferris’ red hatchback has its mirrors stolen, was crashed into a caravan and ended up with no wheels on bricks but always seemed to start and tow a caravan easily.

  20. Is it just me or does the Cavalier Coupe’s front end resemble the green Rover P9 proposal?

  21. My uncle was a big Opel fan at one point in the 1970s and owned a gold Ascona Berlina 4 door, complete with the Rostyle wheels. It just seemed a bit more upmarket than the identical under the skin Cavalier.

  22. A Chevette was featured here on AROnline back in 2009 as the Car of the Month because GM’s troubles at the time and the possible sale of GM Europe to the Canadians or Russians.

    General Motors decided to hold on to Opel and Vauxhall in the end but I thought it was a little odd that the Vauxhall was featured as the Car of the Month on a predominantly BMC>MG website.

  23. Vauxhall were also helped by their other ‘British’ rivals not having a proper Cortina rival.

    British Leyland cancelled ADO77 leaving only the Marina (too small and old) and Princess (too slow and odd for most buyers).

    Chrysler never replaced the Hunter with a conventional RWD saloon and, instead, produced FWD Simca 1100 derivatives (as described elsewhere on this site) which weren’t what Cortina buyers wanted.

  24. The Cavalier/Ascona sold well because the design was so well-balanced and it was just what the public wanted.

    I find it difficult to choose which body shape I prefer – there is no compromise with any of them. The Manta/400 remained a phenomenal rally car well after the demise of its saloon car cousins and did Vauxhall’s image a power of good. There is a mint Sportshatch in Bronze not too far away from where I live and the design has aged well.

    I could never get too excited about the Cavalier Mk2 or Mk3 but I think GM got their mojo back with the first Vectra.

    I think that GM’s best period was during the late 1970s and early 1980s – this was their greatest period in terms of market appeal. They had it all across the range from the Chevette to the Royale Coupe and their Opel cousins – not a single duffer amongst them.

    Unfortunately, after that, for me things went down hill a bit in terms of styling, though there is no doubt about the individual cars’ abilities. The designs just became a little too bland, not helped by their appalling colour choices – perhaps that is the price you pay for a globalised car design rather than a collaboration of European designs.

    Mind you, Ford did the same with the launch of the Mondeo which was a fantastic leap forward in some respects but woefully bland to look at – it was just another ‘White Goods’ motor which could have been designed anywhere.

    • I also preferred the MK1 Cavalier to the MK2 & 3, though the facelifted MK3 looked better than the original launch cars, particularly the improved LS badged one. The Vectra didn’t appeal to me as much and I still like the MK1 Coupe & Sportshatch best

  25. My dad had a Cavalier Mk1 from 1977-80 and was generally pleased with it.

    My aunt and uncle also had an Ascona of similar vintage – the handling was a little tail happy and that led to a backwards trip though a hedge in cold weather.

  26. The Cavalier Mk1s seemed to have vanished by the late 1980s.

    I remember some friends of the family having one until 1987-8 but, since then, they have been a rare sight.

    Mind you, someone near to my old school had a decent looking Sportshatch until 1994.

  27. I loved the shape of the Cavalier Mk1 but, as a child in the late 1970s, I had to wait until 1986 when I was able to buy a Cavalier Sportshatch at the age of 19 – it was a Sapphire Blue 2000 GLS model and a great car in its day. That was followed by seven Opel Mantas so I must have liked them quite a lot!

  28. How much of a connection was there between the USA/NA market Cavaliers (Chevrolet) and the UK/Euro ones?

  29. My first car was a Cavalier Mk1 – it was a 1978 poverty-spec 1256cc two-door saloon! A rare variation…

    It was left by the sea during a storm and the sea killed it – until then it had never let me down.

    My £300 was well spent in 1988 when I bought it…

  30. @LeonUSA
    I know the Vauxhall Cavalier Mk2 was one of the many variations of the GM J platform, which was certainly the basis of the 1980s Chevrolet Cavalier.

  31. I loved these cars – the first I ever had was a pale blue 1976 1.6l saloon followed by a 1978 GL saloon in a beige sand colour. However, in 1980 a P reg [LMG333P] 1.9 GL Auto Coupe came along with its steel Rostyle wheels, in white – it looked gorgeous with contrasting red velvet trim.

    I wrote off a Metallic Green 2.0GLS Sportshatch by hitting a tree after entering a skid. A testimony to the car’s build strength was that, while the sunroof popped out and the engine and gearbox were pushed back, I survived unhurt but shaken by ducking into the passenger footwell when I saw all was lost!.

    I recall the only thing I didn’t care for was the rubbery and spongy gearchange on the manual cars but the autos drove superbly. Many more came through my hands between 1980 and probably up until the early 1990s when they gradually dried up.

  32. @David
    I was in my early 20s when the Cavalier Mk1 was in its prime – for you to acquire a 2.0GLS Sporthatch at age 19 is some feat! Sapphire Blue was one of my favourite colours too.

  33. I oved the Ascona and Cavalier Mk1.

    SUP 654R was a prosthetic limb-coloured 1.6 GL owned by a friend’s dad which ran for years.

    The rear wheel drive Cavalier seemed a solid, well cobbled car which, in my opinion, had superior build quality to the later FWD Cavlier Mk2.

  34. One of the Cavalier Mk1’s claims to fame is that James May had one as his very first car – he’s talked about that with a degree of nostalgia in some of his Telegraph Motoring columns and in his books.

  35. @Mike Humble
    I agree, Mike – the Cavalier Mk1 was probably my favourite too. That prosthetic limb colour was called Signal Yellow and there was a Signal Red as well.

    • Actually the prosthetic limb colour could have been Pastel Beige or Colorado beige – Signal yellow was like Lime

      • I’m a bit young to remember it but my Dad’s Mk1 Cavalier company car was signal red.

        At one time it needed the bonnet fixing, & by the time he returned it the rest of the bodywork had faded as red Vauxhalls usually do.

  36. Simon Woodward :
    I could never get too excited about the Cavalier Mk2 or Mk3 but I think GM got their mojo back with the first Vectra.

    It’s funny how we all have different perspectives. I thought that the Cavalier Mk2s and Mk3s were brilliant cars in their day.

    Admittedly, the Mk3 was always pretty average dynamically – I remember a friend’s dad giving me a lift home in his G reg 2.0i GL and marvelling at how a car could be so quiet and planted at 100mph. You could hold a conversation at the ton without raising your voice and the loudest noise was the bugs hitting the windscreen. They were also good for 200,000 miles without any real problems if they were even half looked after.

    The Vectra, on the other hand, was a real disappointment in my opinion. Modern styling apart (I still love the door mirrors), it didn’t really move anything on in terms of performance or dynamics from the Cavalier – it was noisier, less comfortable and the real shock for people ‘upgrading’ from the ultra-dependable Cavalier was that the Vectra had significantly more reliability problems.

    Incidentally, I should just add that my friend’s dad bought his Cavalier from the leasing company at three years old, my friend learned to drive in it, took it to university and it then became the family workhorse/runabout.

    The car was, in fact, written off only four years ago with 265,000 miles on the clock after being shunted by an artic whilst parked up on the street – it still had the original engine and gearbox and most of the original engine ancillaries but was on its second clutch and was going rotten.

    Proper, tough cars…

  37. My brother had a blue Cavalier Mk1 1.6GL – it was a very good car both to look at and dynamically. It had a twin choke downdraft (Zenith?) carb and really flew when you gave the accelerator a decent prod. The general handling and quality were well above the equivalent Marina/Cortina/Chrysler rivals.

    I later had a Mk3 Cavalier N/A diesel that was slow but did over 50mpg and was outstandingly reliable.

    However, when I had several Vectras on hire, they were uniformly dreadful with sloppy steering, indifferent handling and were not particularly comfortable either. I think that the Vectra was when Vauxhall started to lose the plot and I haven’t had one since.

  38. @Mike Humble
    Sorry, I might have got the “prosthetic limb” colour wrong – I thought you meant lime. It could have been Pastel Beige or the later Colorado Beige. Pastel Beige was similar to Ford’s Sahara Beige of the same era.

  39. I’d love a Mk1 Cavalier Coupe, I wonder how many are left?

    I thoroughly regret selling my Mk1 2000GLS a couple of years ago, it was a fantastic car and even at 30 years of age could still put a massive smile on my face.

    Vauxhall Mk1 Cavalier 2000GLS

  40. My first car was a bright lime green 1979 Cavalier 1.6GL saloon but I’m sure it was fwd. Why does all the literature and everyone say that fwd only arrived with the Mk2? AM I going senile?

  41. Kev, all MK1 Cavaliers were RWD with 1.3, 1.6, 1.9 or 2.0 engines. In late 1981, the MK2 heralded the FWD version with 1.3, 1.6 engines initially.

  42. hello, i have a Vauxhall Cavalier 2000 year 04/1979.
    I need parts for this car model. where can i find it.
    thank you

  43. My late father worked for GMAC and had two of these – a metallic green GL in 1979 a white one a year later. The boot was completely full of sales materials and paperwork!

    As a kid I thought these cars were so futuristic because of the distinctive nose. I once got dad into terrible trouble after spending the day with him and meeting his area manager to tell him they were great cars as he’d just done over 100 on the motorway!

  44. The Cavalier Mk2 was a cracking car in its day – the firm my Dad worked for had a variety of cars as pool cars and the Cavaliers would clock up astronomical mileages with minimum fuss. He had a Mk2 1.6L himself and he was always happy with the performance. The Vectra B was a bit funny, when first launched it was criticised but I think it received some sort of revision in 1996. My Dad had a 2.5 V6 SRi as a company car at the time, that was a really nice motor. We still talk in awed terms about that beast now! Effortless cruiser. A couple of years later I had a vanilla Vectra 1.8 as a rental car and it was a pile of crap, snatchy driveline with bits dropping off it.

  45. Never owned a Cavalier in their heyday, moved from Vivas to VX4/90 and then Rover SD1 and Volvos. All cracking good cars. Only recently bought a Mk1 Cavalier Sportshatch – in fact the one you mention above – Silver Aero – Superb Motor. If you still want more photos, let me know.

  46. I owned a Cavalier when I was stationed at RAF Woodbridge back in 1990. Still remember the reg MRT829P (I think it was a 79)

  47. Metallic bronze Sporthatch 1600GL owned from 1987 to 1989, sold to go to Tenerife with a group of nurses.

  48. @32 – The first Vectra was an undeveloped dog! – Every bit as bad in its own way as the Maxi or Allegro. It completely undid all the good work the Cavalier, Astra, Nova etc had dome in repositioning Vauxhall during the 70s and 80s. It was voted Top Gears worst Car on sale, got a reputation for rolling away when handbrakes failed. Trim fell off, seats where uncomfortable and Vauxhall had to take out full page adverts in the national press apologising to customers! It was a disaster.

  49. @61, Paul,

    At about the time of the Vectra’s launch I was delivering hire cars as a job ‘on the side’. I got to drive the Vectra as well as it’s main competitors, and I didn’t think the Vectra was a bad car in any way- it just didn’t shine. And I found the seats quite comfy (but then I tend to find ‘orthopedically designed’ seating uncomfortable as a rule).

    I think the real dog out of the Class of 96 was the awful Toyota Carina E- which was a horrible car to drive on all but straight dry roads under very gentle acceleration.

    I do think the accountant at GM who decreed that Vectra door mirrors (as with contemporary Astras) should not be spring-loaded deserves flogging- along with the genius at Mercedes-Benz who decided that the best place to put the side repeater indicators on a Sprinter was at the extremities of the extended door mirrors…

  50. The Cavalier really was the Vauxhall Cortina, it was around for a similar length of time, got better with each new model, was a cheap car to run and sold by the bucketload. Even now I still see a few Mark 3s going strong locally ans there’s an immaculate Mark 2 estate in metallic green I see regularly. As the Cavalier was my first car, and my sister owned three, I always think highly of it and even though mine was using a sumpful of oil every 300 miles at the end, it always started, never broke down and, if you could live with the trail of blue smoke at the back, coped very well on the motorway. Actually I replaced it with an 11 year old Toyota Corolla, which was a reliability nightmare and was sold for scrap for £ 30, at least someone did buy the Cavalier with the intention of doing it up and replacing the pistons.

  51. My favourite Cavalier will always be the 1900GL/GLS & 2000GLS Coupe’s… closely followed by the 2000GLS Sporthatch. For saloons my preference would be the 1900GL. Bring back those days!

  52. Hi Everyone
    Here’s something you may not be aware of. In my home( Cape Town-South Africa), we were treated to the Chevrolet Chevair.
    It was car of the year in 1977.

    It was in fact, your Vauxhall Cavilier Mk1, but with a twist. It was fitted with GM’s 2.3 litre OHV engine. Admittedly not the highest revving engine or the fastest car around, but what awesome grunt and reliability- google it and see for yourself!

  53. I had a a Mko Coupe bought it as a damaged repairable, it had only 25’000 miles on it

    I forget the actuall year i am sure it was a 78 car, i bought in 89, it was a great car very comy and quite fast.

    Also had a P reg (1975) manta fast cam and free flow exhaust system fitted, the beauty of these big engined cars with four speed box you could sit at 100mph and play with the throttle, and still have a fair bit of pull as you depressed the throttle. It was a great car had a lot of fun with it.

    Had various mk3 cavalier’s they were very refined and smooth cars, in my opinion probably the biggest evolution step that vauxhall made in comfort and reliability.

    I worked at a vauxhall dealer right through the 90’s and the first vectra’s were very troublesome vehicles in comparison to their cavalier predecessor.

  54. I loved the Mark 1 Cavalier when it was launched and pestered my dad to buy one to replace the Magnum we had at the time. Sadly, he bought a Chevette instead. He did eventually buy one in the early 80s, a 1.6GL automatic. I was hopeful he’d sell it to me when I graduated, but he traded it for a new at launch Nova saloon. Meanwhile, my best mate had just bought an R-reg 1.9GL coupe. I was extremely jealous. Salvation came a year later when, on graduating snd starting work, I got my ofirst car, not a Cavalier but an Opel Ascona 1.9SR.

    Eight years old and rather weary, but it actually had a much higher spec than its Vauxhall equivalent (headlamp wash-wipe on a 1976 car!). I loved it, plus I had something to compete with my pal’s Cavalier Coupe. Only thing was, the years had taken their toll on my engine whereas his had somehow got more powerful with time.

  55. Surprised AR Online didn’t have a 40th anniversary of the Cavalier feature last autumn, as along with the Chevette, which was launched a few months earlier, it started the Vauxhall revival that would propel Vauxhall from fourth in the sales chart in 1975 to second by 1985. While often overlooked now, and people seem to remember the Mark 2 far more, the Mark 1 Cavalier was aimed firmly at the Cortina and for all early versions were imported, which hindered sales, once UK production started in 1977, the car was a regular in the new car sales top ten.
    My opinion of the Mark 1: a very nice car to drive in two litre form, where it could outrun a Cortina and a Princess, rust protection was vastly better than previous Vauxhalls, it looked good inside and out and the Sportshatch looked excellent, and reliability and running costs were decent for the time.

  56. Would the mk1 Vauxhall Cavalier Coupe and Sportshatch models have sold any better in the UK if they were simply named the Vauxhall Manta?

  57. @ Nate, would have trampled on Opel territory then and both networks were seperate, so the Cavalier name was used. Anyway by 1978, with production moved to Britain and sales rising steadily, the Cavalier name was well established and no one seemed to mind about the coupe versions name.
    Actually the late seventies were an exciting time for Vauxhall. You had the Chevette HS, a 2.3 litre hot hatch version of the Chevette, coupe versions of the Cavalier, the new Carlton executive car and the stunning Royale saloon and coupe( these were German Opels really, but sticking a Vauxhall badge on them helped). Buyers were starting to notice Vauxhall again and when the Viva finally died in 1979 to make way for the highly competent Astra, the boom in sales started.

  58. A friend of mine has a mk1 Cavalier Sports Hatch in yellow, along with a mk2 and Mk3 Cavalier. Sadly he’s recently scrapped a mk2 Cavalier Estate as it was too far go e, a shame as it was the last registered according to SMMT

    • My former employer had a 1985 Cavalier 1.6 base Estate, in Carmine red. It was a good load carrier and pretty fast in acceleration and cruising on motorways. Just had a 4 speed box in those days… a shame none are left.

  59. Loved the styling of the Mk1, but a terrible driving position. My legs had to go around the base of the steering wheel. Later models were much better. My dad had a Cavalier SR as a company car, fab to drive. He had Cavalier Coupe’s too, fantastic drives and one even had a combination lock on the handbrake!

    His bosses wife had a Opel Manta GTE and the boss would occasionally borrow the Carlton estate that my dad had moved on to pick his kids up from school so we would end up with the Manta (rather than his Jag). No problem for me, what a car!

    Great days and all fully insured for me to drive too!

  60. Always considered the Cavalier and the Chevette as the cars that saved Vauxhall. The Chevette in particular was a masterstroke, capitalise on the growing trend for small hatchbacks, advertise the car as the only British made small hatchback, use trusted parts from the Viva, and you had a success. Also the Cavalier took the fight to Ford by being slightly smaller and more fuel efficient than the Victor, and using the familiar 1.3-2 litre engine range found in the Cortina, and after 1977 was made in Britain.
    I would probably be right in saying the Cavalier and Chevette were far better rustproofed than the V cars, as they seemed to last longer, and build quality was far better, the two reasons buyers were wary of Vauxhall after the fifties, even if Vauxhall engines and transmissions were usually durable.

    • Yes that’s more or less true.

      I’m not sure if it was due to the numbers sold but while mk1 Cavaliers seemed to be rare to see by the late 1980s, Chevettes were still a common sight on the roads well into the 1990s.

      • The Chevette was also in production 3 years longer than the Mark 1 Cavalier, which might explain why more survived, and wasn’t used much as a company car which meant they weren’t run into the ground as much. However, my dad received a Chevette E as a fuel crisis special company car in 1979, when he was probably expecting a Cavalier of Cortina 1600 L, and this was economy motoring in the extreme, lacking even a rear demister and a passenger sunvisor and having hard vinyl seats. 2 years later the company went under in the recession and he was glad to hand back the Chevette, even if it proved to be very reliable and economical, as it was so austere.

  61. The Cavalier Mk1 was based on the “MK2” Ascona B. The original Ascona A launched in late 1970 at the same time as the MK3 Cortina and Viva HC. Cant help wondering if Vauxhall didn’t miss a trick by not launching their version of the Ascona then instead of the Viva HC. The Viva HB was then only 4 years old, well regarded, still selling well and exactly the same size as the Escort. In the early 70s Vauxhall would have had a far more appealing and understandable range with the HB and a Cortina challenger based on the Ascona A.

  62. Never knew anyone who had a oriblem with a Mark 1 Cavalier, and most owners praised the car’s build quality, good driving exoerience and decent running costs. Also it looked upmarket in a Germanic fashio inside with plentyof velour on GLS models and high quality plastics.

    • To this day and despite their older technology from that era over 40 years ago, I still regard the Cavalier Coupe & Sportshatch as two of the best looking cars – ever. Even the MK2 & 3 didn’t appeal to me as much

      • I agree. At various times in the 1980s I had two Opel Manta coupes, and as well as being one of the best looking cars, they were also one of the best to drive – handling and performance were way above average. I always considered it the thinking man’s Capri.

  63. The Cavalier started the trend for General Motors to start importing Opels as Vauxhalls, with only small differences between the two marques, and the Cavalier was purely Belgian made until 1977. Also apart from the 1256cc Viva engine on basic cars, the other models used Opel drivetrains and was the start of Vauxhalls being assembled from mostly Opel components. However, this did seem to guarantee reliability and also the Cavalier, even those assembled at Luton, was far better built and rustproofed than previous Vauxhalls.

    • I know the Cavalier 1300 L saloon was assembled at Luton but were some other saloons, Coupe & Sportshatch assembled there after 1977 as well?

      • I think most production for the British market was done at Luton after 1977. One of the reasons the VX/ Vicfor being phased out, apart from the low sales, was to make way for the Cavalier. I’m not sure if some Cavaliers were imported from Belgium after 1977, but it’s possible to top up production, in the same way some early Mark 2s were imports.

        • Thanks Glenn… I always assumed only L Saloons with the 1.3 engine were Lutonions, but of course all the other L & GL saloons used essentially the same components. I had this belief that the Coupe & Sportshatch were all built at Antwerp.

  64. I still think of all Cavaliers & Vectra’s, that the MK1 Coupe and Sportshatch are the “best lookers” even 40+ years down the line

    • The seventies and eighties seemed to be the best era for Vauxhall designs. I quite like the crisp, angular styling of the 1979 Astra, all three generations of the Cavalier, the American styling of the Victor and Magnum, and the beautiful 1978 Royale coupe.

  65. The Mark 2 Cavalier was light years ahead of the Cortina. While the Mark 1 Cav was similar to the Cortina, rwd, conservative desigh, similar performance and economy, the Mark 2 blew the Cortina out of the water. This was a crisp, angular design with fwd and two powerful and economical engines. Also top of the range models came with a five speed transmission, whiile all Cortinas only had four speeds. The Cortina might have boasted an excellent V6 option, but a 1.6 Cortina was found wanting against the Cavalier. Think about it, 106 mph top speed and 35 mpg, compared with 96 and 30 for the Cortina, and you can see why interest in the new car soared.

    • Yes Glenn, the 1.6 Cortina typically put out 75bhp but the MK2 Cav 1.6 was 90bhp / and 115 bhp from the 1.8 injected version. Also didn’t the MK3 SRi come in a 130 bhp version?

      One of our neighbours had a MK1 Cav 1.6 75 bhp saloon in red (chrome hubcaps, basic interior without rev counter and headrests etc. but was still a nice car back in 1977)

    • It was a pity Vauxhall never properly perfected its Slant-Four for the mk1 Cavalier in 1600cc+ form or failing that, at least utilized a UK version of the 1.4-1.6 Brazilian engine used in the Chevrolet Chevette that was apparently a precursor to the GM Family 1 engine and was said to have been in development by Opel in 850-1600cc form since the 1960s.

      Also believe Vauxhall missed a trick in not adopting an earlier European version of the 2500-3000cc 60-degree V6 (assuming it had a similarly long gestation period as the Family 1 precursor engines) for the mk1 Cavalier to challenge the Cortina V6s, especially since it could be mounted for both RWD cars like the mk1 Cavalier as well as for the FWD mk2 Cavalier (as used in other GM J Car models) to challenge the Sierra.

  66. A pal and myself had loads of these in our yoof! I had plenty of Ascona B’s as well. Wonderful steering and so much better than a Cortina. First thin we did was get rid of Solex or Zinith carbs and fit a 32/36 DGAV off a Pinto engine it did them no end of favours! Know them inside out.
    Some say the CIH engine was rubbish, sure you got breathers and knockers but I found them strong and flexible.

    • It was an Opel engine and more efficient and quieter than the slant four used on Victors and Magnums, or the ageing 1256 Viva engine found in basic Cavaliers. However, the Family 2 engines used on the Mark 2 were a massive leap forward, where a 1.6 Cavalier could outrun a 2 litre Cortina and destroy its British Leyland and Talbot rivals.

    • Absolutely agree about the steering. My Ascona B 2.0 was pretty tired but the steering was superb. Had the chunky 3 spoke aluminium steering wheel with that 6 pack of instruments behind it.

  67. The GM Continental factory in Antwerp is gone now, but has not quite disappeared. Although the buildings (covering 90 hectares) have been demolished, the sub-soil reclamation is still continuing in July 2020. The site is being excavated to a depth of 6 m to remove old foundations and pipework.

    The link below describes how groundwater is being pumped out of the site into a small buffer reservoir to either be injected back into the ground, or for collection by local companies for use on their sites.

    • Interesting transformation of this site. I will always remember the Antwerp factory as the source of the Cavalier Coupe’s & Sportshatch in particular. Hard to believe that was 40 years ago. They remain one of my all time favourites.

  68. The Cerian was big missed opportunity, more so since it was a Cortina challenging car making use of a shortened version of the RWD GM V platform used in the Vauxhall Victor FE / Opel Rekord D that would remain in production in various guises until the early to mid 2000s with the Vauxhall / Opel Omega, Vauxhall / Holden Monaro and the Holden Commodore VZ.

    That potential platform longevity would be especially valuable for Cerian-based analogue of the Opel Manta B potentially surviving beyond 1988 instead of being replaced by the stylish yet dynamically inferior FWD/4WD Calibra, as unlike the Ascona B-based Manta newer versions of the Cerian-based coupe could be easily justified simply by sharing much with the larger V platform based Vauxhall Carlton / Omega.

  69. The odd one out in the pix at the bottom is the Opel OSV, which was based on a Kadett. The front end seems reminiscent of the Chevrolet Chevette – the best-selling car in the US in 1975, unique among T-cars of that generation in that you could buy it as a 5-door hatchback (or without a back seat in the basic Scooter edition). Th Buick Opel Isuzu (Isuzu Bellet Gemini) was also interesting, with up to 130bhp from its twin-cam 1.8 engine, and a 5-speed box.
    I read recently that Vauxhalls became Opels at a time when Vauxhall sold 90,000 cars worldwide, but Opel sold 900,000 each year. Hard to argue with those mathematics.
    Enthusiasts loved the slant-four, but no-one else did. #4 spark plug was forever oiling up, oil also crept up the distributor mainshaft and sprayed onto the dizzy cap, causing misfiring. The engine only matured in 1975 when they sorted out the combustion chamber, putting power up by 8-14%, and reducing fuel consumption by 10%. It was too late, Vauxhall engineering was dying by then.

  70. Thanks for the updates to this car’s history Keith. The Cerian is / was particularly interesting! I notice the Viva HD prototype named in the headline is then called Viva FD in the text. This must be a typo as the FD was of course a generation of the Victor / VX4/90 / Ventora.

  71. didn’t like the driving position of the Mk1 Cavalier, but the car was still great to drive. My dad had the two door GLS Coupe, even had a combination lock on the handbrake to stop it being stolen – great car to drive! We had a Mk2 SR too, that was a fabulous car to drive too. For me this was the first of the modern cars we know today.

  72. The 1900 / 2000 GL & GLS coupe’s were among my favourites of all time. Even though I never drove or rode in one, I used to admire them in showrooms and on the streets. At my age then, it was one of the many cars that I couldn’t afford.

  73. The Mark 1 Cavalier was best to me in 2000 GLS saloon form, a powerful and comfortable motorway cruiser that could sit on an autobahn all day at 100 mph, which was probably what it was designed for, and make our motorways a pleasure, not a chore. Yes the GLS didn’t have all the fake wood and chrome of the Cortina Ghia, but the interior was like granite in its construction and ergonomically excellent.

  74. A neighbour in our street had a 1.6 L then got a 2000 GL saloon in 1979. I think the 2000GLS saloon was a run out model before the MK2 arrived in 1981, as the GLS trim (inc rev counter) was previously only on the Coupe & Sportshatch

    • Another British made Vauxhall that rarely gets mentioned is the first generation Carlton. I was watching an episode of Minder from 1981 and a villain is driving a Carlton and it’s amazing how quickly this car was forgotten, when its German built replacement arrived in 1983. Intended as a replacement for the VX, the Carlton came with only one engine option, the Opel 2 litre, and one trim level, although it was quite well equipped for the money and could be specified with electric windows and central locking. Sales were never very high compared with later Carltons, which had a variety of engines and trim levels, but the first generation car was a decent drive and quite reliable.

      • I remember the MK1 Carlton well (based on the Opel Rekord). Also the later Vaux Viceroy (based on the Commodore) One trim level = simpler times! The Carlton looked good in metallic green.

        • The Viceroy was intended to sit between the Carlton and the Royale, with a six cylinder engine, but was a sales flop as buyers didn’t see the point of it and it was withdrawn in 1982. One of the few sales flops in Vauxhall’s successful eighties( the Mark 2 Cavalier estate was quite a slow seller).

          • Luckily Vauxhall simplified the Carlton lineup with the facelifted model.

            The Mk2 Cavalier estate was a bit of an oddity as it used Holden body panels pressed in Australia & shipped over. Also it only used 1.6 Litre petrol & diesel engines for some reason with GL being the highest trim level.

          • As mentioned in previous posts my company had a MK2 Cavalier 1.6 base Estate from 1985 till 1988. It drove well (good load carrier) and although basic trim it did have cloth seats and a Radio!!

            It was replaced with a Volvo 240 Estate – a different league!

          • I wonder what the logic was for Vauxhall to have separate names from Opels, even when launching “new” models.

            Why Viceroy for example, when Commodore is a perfectly good name in English as shown by the years of iconic Commodores Holden sold in Australia!

          • Partially correcting my previous comment, yes it might have caused confusion with the separate Vauxhall and Opel dealer networks, but surely by then the writing was on the wall for that?

  75. @ Richardpd, the Mark 2 Carlton was a good car and for all it was a shame to see production moved to Germany from Luton, it was a much more serious challenger to the Granada, with three engine options and more trim levels. By 1984, you could say Vauxhall was doing everything right as they had decent cars in every market sector and market share was up tp 15%, from 9% at the start of the eighties.

    • It wasn’t really until the mid 1990s that Vauxhall started to make any serious errors with product development,.

      Taking of base spec, Even my Mum’s base level Metro had cloth seats, it was real penny pinching to offer vinyl after 1980, but Ford did with the early base spec Mk3 Escorts, but deliberately didn’t show them in the brochure!

  76. One thing I did notice with top of the range Cavaliers was they never went for the wood that was liberally applied to the dashboard and doors of the Cortina Ghia. They seemed to go for the more minimal Germanic look, although the colour co ordinated interior and velour seats and door pockets still looked good. Also the Cavalier GLS had two more gauges for oil pressure and electrical current that relayed more information to the driver.

    • Yes Glenn, the top Cavaliers did without wood trim but GL & GLS Coupes / Hatch’s had Formica style wood inserts in the door tops. I remember top Cavaliers in white had red velour trim and dashboard. Still my favourite cars of that era.

      • The Sportshatch always looked good and the 2 litre model would have easily taken on a 2 litre Capri. A shame this was cancelled in 1981, but there was the Manta, which I always rated more highly than the Capri as it performed better and looked excellent in metallic silver. Also Mantas over here didn’t have gutless 1.3 and 1.6 entry models and later 2 litre models had fuel injection.

  77. Indeed the Cavalier Sportshatch inherited its good looks from the coupe. The Hatch was available in 1.6 & 2.0 GLS form delivering 75 and 100 bhp respectively. Later a 1.6GL runout model appeared.

    In 1979 I worked on a TV Advert for a Humberside Vauxhall dealer that starred a Jamaica Yellow 2.0 Sportshatch. At least the Manta’s lived on for a while after the Cavalier…

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