Feature : You’ve never had it so good?

ALL too often, pub conversations about cars turn to history, and how old cars are better than new ones – even before you’ve got through your second pint of Old Speckled Hen, someone trots out that tired old cliché ‘things were better in the good old days’.

To find out for ourselves once and for all whether it’s a case of selective amnesia, or whether the finely honed corporate design process has resulted in us losing something in car design in more recent years. We pitched three small family Vauxhalls – a 1982 Chevette, a 1990 Astra GTE and a 2006 Astra Sport Hatch 2.0T to see whether things really were much better in the good old days, or whether it’s more a case of, ‘you’ve never had it so good’?

1982: Vauxhall Chevette

REWIND to its launch year of 1975 and the Chevette was Vauxhall’s first entry into the supermini market – although many Vauxhall aficionados looked on in horror, as underneath it was almost pure Opel Kadett. However, the front end styling and pushrod engines remained peculiarly Vauxhall, and as a result, the range of extensive range, which included two- and four-door saloons, an estate and ‘our’ car, the three-door hatchback.

Looking at the Chevette’s specification sheet today, it difficult to believe we were happy driving such a basic and underpowered car on a day to day basis. The 1256cc engine had already seen plenty of action in the Viva, but with a maximum power output of 58bhp and a torque figure of 66lb/ft, it was beginning to little on the puny side by 1975. Despite the almost embarrassing lack of power, there’s only 826kg of body to shift, and that results in performance, which is far from rapid. It is quick enough to keep up with today’s traffic, with a 0-60mph time 15.6secs and a top speed of 88mph.

The Chevette is a simple car – with a live rear axle, rear wheel drive and a four-speed gearbox – but in its time, it was more than a match for its immediate rivals, the Ford Escort Mk2 and the Austin Allegro. That lack of sophistication is carried over to the interior, too – you climb in and bathe in a sea of orange – but despite the seats looking like tombstones, there’s plenty of support and the driving position is spot on.

There’s not much to keep you amused once you’re in – manual windows, steering and an AM/FM radio are about the only toys you’ll have to play with. If nothing else, the Chevette’s appealing sparseness constantly reminds you how things have moved on in the past 30 years. The ergonomics are fine, with all controls falling to hand, and the same can be said for the well-placed pedals, but with hard dashboard plastics and acres of painted metal inside, you don’t exactly feel safe inside.

On the road, we weren’t expecting much, but in the end, it was difficult not to form an attachment to the little Vauxhall. It’s actually quite fun to drive – and although the steering is as manual as the rest of the car, it’s direct, positive and full of feel. With full car/road communication established, your confidence builds quickly – and although the limits of grip are low thanks to skinny 145-section tyres, it’s very exploitable. In short, once you mentally readjust, the Chevette is a laugh to drive.

Outright speed isn’t an issue – the 58bhp engine leaves the driver with few options – and low overall gearing and no fifth means a cruising gait of 65mph on the motorway. Taking care of your stopping distances must have been a priority, too – with the brakes being remote feeling and powerless. Life must have been a whole lot more relaxed in 1975…

1990: Vauxhall Astra GTE 16V

THERE was obviously untold technological progress between 1975 and 1990 – because on the evolutionary scale, a 1990 Astra feels as removed from a Chevette as a Bakelite radio does from your plasma screen TV.

By 1990 Vauxhalls had become re-badged Opels, and the Astra was as European as they came. If you wanted a Chevette, you had no choice – excluding the HS homologation special, it came with one engine, and it was up to you to take it or leave it. By the time the second generation came along, you had a choice of four body styles, five engines and countless trim permutations.

One look at the Astra’s stats soon reveal where all of the advances had been made in the intervening 15 years. Mechanically, the Astra GTE 16V’s technical armoury looks refreshingly modern and the 16V twin cam engine delivers power and performance which holds its own today. They’d learned a lot in the wind tunnel too, and the slippery bodyshell meant a high top speed and hushed motorway cruising,

The coal-hole interior of this top-spec version boasted a fair few creature comforts – electric windows, power steering and central locking were the stuff of dreams for a ’75 Chevette driver. Even in 1990, you had to be quite high up the company ladder to find a car that featured these toys – and the mid-range Astras retained a feature list that differed little from its ancestors.

Climbing in and taking the GTE for a spin is a revelation compared with the Chevette.
Lighter, more direct power assisted steering give it a far more contemporary feel, and although the ride is little better than the older car’s its roadholding is of a different order. Make full use of the performance on twisty roads, and you’ll become intimate with torquesteer, something the Astra is legendary for, even today.

That 150bhp power plant is pretty special, though – it sounds crisp and pulls hard, delivering a 0-60mph time of less than 7 seconds, hushed motorway cruising. It’s easy to see why every white socks wearing sales rep wanted a GTE – performance was delivered in thick dollops, and any rival GTI was fair game.

Obviously, by 1990, car producers had made huge leaps in performance, refinement and economy, but there was still a long way to go…

2006: Vauxhall Astra 2.0T Sport Hatch

IF the giant leap between 1975 and 1990 technology was in terms of driving, the subsequent 15 years worth of development has taken place in terms of equipment and safety. In a nutshell, they had the driving sorted by 1990, but safety was still in its infancy.

The last Astra may not have been quite be state of the art in terms of suspension technology thanks to the lack of independent rear suspension, in every other respect, its knocking on the door of class leadership. Like its 1990 cousin, you can buy saloon, estate and open topped versions, but a nod to the new millennium has been the introduction of the Zafira MPV version – a car for all those families that an estate is simply not good enough.

Technically, you’d be forgiven for wondering what’s happened in the subsequent 15 years – the power output has only risen by 20bhp, and torque a more promising 40lb ft, thanks to the addition of a turbocharger. However, the onset of tough emissions regulations means that these extra horses are a lot cleaner.

It’s when you climb in the new car that the gap between 1990 and 2006 is revealed in its full glory. Although the seats and wheel feel marginally better in the new car, it’s the equipment tally that brings it home – the 2.0T Sport Hatch, which was no range topper like the GTE was, features Sat/Nav, climate control, and a fully featured in-car entertainment system – things we now take for granted.

Driving the new Astra feels a lot more grown-up – power delivery is smooth and refined, and the engine is considerably more insulated. Whereas the GTE felt as skittish as a wayward puppy on the road, the Sport Hatch feels poised and in control, with only serious abuse leading to wheelspin or torquesteer. Cornering is almost roll-free, and yet the ride is more absorbent and controlled. Steering is more woolly than the GTE’s but only marginally so – and the quicker gearing more than makes up for the fact.

Passive and active safety is the watchword with the 2005 car, and leaving aside improvements such as airbags and crumple zones, the brakes are more efficient, and grip levels are higher. The downside is, if you do lose control in the new car, you’ll be going a lot faster.

Performance is down on the GTE, and that’s down to weight. All that extra equipment and those safety features come at a cost – and the additional 350kg the new car is carrying takes its toll. It might be slower, but we suspect the Sports Hatch driver can drive longer, faster, than his cousin in the GTE.


IT’S easy to look at the 1975 Chevette and conclude it’s a hopeless piece of kit, but we can’t help but warm to its no-frills nature and easy going character. There’s no denying it feels like a dinosaur compared with the 1990 Astra GTE, let alone the current car. For all its lack of gee-gaws, it’s fun to drive in a limited way – and a reminder of a more laid-back era.

The Astra GTE on the other hand is such a quantum leap, you can’t help but be impressed by the progress GM made in those 15 years. Whereas you’d make excuses for owning a Chevette today, you could easily live with the GTE. But despite that, we’ll take the Chevette…


Keith Adams


  1. Great article.

    I think another plus in favour of the ‘old’ cars is that you could work on them yourself without the need to own equipment worth £000’s to find out what’s wrong with it! I have had Minis, an Allegro, Cortinas & Metros and could work on them with ease, including engine faults. The fact there were no ECU’s and they had carbs, distributors, etc also meant the engine had loads of room around it and no electronics to mess things up. Just check under the bonnet of a Mk1 Golf GTi and the latest incarnation to prove this point.

    My first experience of ECU interference was when a fuel pipe on my Mk1 Cavalier SRi burst and the car instantly stopped due to the drop in fuel pressure. Great for preventing permanent serious damage to the engine, but a pain if you didn’t have spare fuel hose in your car or a stockist within 5 miles!!

  2. In the times when I sold new Vauxhalls, I was impressed the the Astra`s build quality, looks and decent drive.

    But loathed the interior, centre console and the seemingly daft idea of having no temperature dail – something which many customers would remark about too. A shame, becuase they were a far better car than its image percieved.

  3. I’m surprised there is no mention of the gearchange. I’d rate the slick change of a Chevette as amongst the best of any car I can remember, whereas the mark 2 Astra gearchange was like stirring thick and lumpy porridge.

    Partly the cost of a shift to front wheel drive, but even so…

  4. While you don’t now need thousands of pounds of kit to diagnose ecu faults, code readers are pretty cheap these days. The faults on older cars were certainly more visual and simpler to spot, electrical faults have always been the most difficult to solve. Modern cars are also more resilient, which on one hand is a good thing, you’ll generally get home with it, however ont he other hand it means an engine will run with a fault and the fault can be erratic making it difficult to find. Old cars tended to either work or not. The old adage goes though, a very basic car has less to go wrong.
    Regarding a burst fuel hose on the SRi, surely even an old carburetter car would have been stranded in the same way. If the engine aint getting petrol it aint gonna run. Although old cars tended to use basic rubber hose and jubilee clips rather than plastic quick release unions, if you didn’t have a spare bit of hose or pipe with you you couldnt fix it. Generally though you tended to carry such things because there was a high chance of failure to start with!

    Not many modern cars have a temperature gauge these days, not many people actually use them so they were a waste of dash space. (unless you have a K-Series Rover….) On a modern car the ecu monitors engine temperature and if it gets too high it’ll bring a warning light on, the fact it’s hot will be obvious when you open the bonnet. If it’s too cold then the MIL lamp will normally come on and you’ll be using obviously more fuel. Yes the gauge is handy for diagnosing the fault in the garage, but most if not all garages will have some sort of thermometer in their tool box, even in the old days you used a thermometer to test a thermostat was working. What annoys me more is Merc’s that dont have a dipstick, just a dash display that warns you the oil level is ‘HI’ or ‘LOW’, but not how high or how low!

  5. One thing my Dad has often mentioned about old cars is that they needed some parts like exhausts replacing every few years.

  6. I’d prefer an Astra Mk4 than the Mk5. The Mk5 always seemed to Blingy to me while the Mk4 although a little bland to look at was a great car – I had several as hire cars in my last job and they were all very good – especially the mad 2.2.

  7. Great article. This would be the same for any make, and to think I wanted a Chevette as my first car and ended up with a Marina 1700L!

    What has struck me is that a lot of the additional equipment on new cars I couldn’t even contemplate living without. We all think about safety kit (I want it all!) but what about his list? I drive a Volvo V50 2.0D SE Lux Powershift. It’s the second replacement car for my two Rover 75 estates:

    1. Heated, leather, electric seats with tilting base. If you have a bad back, the tilting base is important; leather looks better with age unlike cloth; electic with memeory is useful if have multiple drivers; heated after last winter is almost essential.

    2. Full iPod/USB connectivty through the ICE and steering wheel controls. Junk the CD player and get 10,000 of your favourite tunes!

    3. Proper climate control with pollen filter (essential, after the terrible hay fever I’ve had this Summer).

    4. Electric folding mirrors -useful for the near side when you reverse into a tight parking space with a big pillar.

    5. A good automatic turbo diesel. I couldn’t imagine driving anything else every day. My last 75 was auto and miles better than the manual with its heavy clutch which had me screaming in pain on more than one occasion!

    What I want is a socket for a Tomtom so I don’t have to pay more than £100 for a decent sat nav!

    What I don’t need however are numerous cup holders!

  8. @ Dennis

    The problem with the SRi was crap quality fuel hose, which hardened and split. Slightest drop in fuel pressure and the ECU cut the engine. The burst/split was not huge, but was enough for the ECU to interfere. On a carburretor car, the hose might have leaked a wee bit but as long as fuel got to the float chamber the car would still run, albeit driven slowly. I did not carry such items as spares as, up to that point, it had never happened to me in 15 years of car ownership. I apologise for being so stupid.

    ECU interference & our utter dependence on them performing properly is a disadvantage, especially around the temperature detection issue you mention. I am also convinced that when service interval mileages are reached the ECU bumps up the fuel consumption to get you in to the garage. My Mk1 ZS would guzzle gas every 15000 miles or so, and as soon as it went in for its rather pricey service, as if by magic the fuel gauge stopped meeting the rev counter.

  9. Nobody’s mentioned servicing costs, which on a modern car run into hundreds of pounds. Sure, they’ve extented the servicing period, but when you take it in it’s never just a straight forward service, with new disc’s etc almost being routine.

    Also a fault code reader will generally only help with engine systems, so ABS and other system require professional equipment to identify problems. There is a trend by manufacturer’s to make servicing your car more dealer oriented by requiring manufacturer dedicated equipment to retract the pistons in the brake calipers so you can replace the pads. The drive to isolate non franchised repairs is relentless and can only drive up costs.

    So what is it to be? A modern high speed autobahn cruncher with it’s associated costs and perceived reliability or an old classic crawler with it’s simple DIY friendly construction.

  10. I had a chevette estate, and unfortunatly a 1300 Mk2 Ashtray, one I ahve fond memories of, the other I got rid of very quickly.. Oh the ‘Vette will cruise at 80.. well the estate one will!

    I think the comparison here is a little unbfair, the Chevette should have been an HS 2300 to comare to the GTE (It would have walked all over both), or the GTE and sports hatch should ahve been the basic versions

  11. Ah, the Chevette. My Grandma bought one after her Marina TC rusted into nothing. My wife also made her workmates wet themselves with talk of a Chevette once.

    In 1994 I was given a brand new company car, a Cavalier, and my wife was at work the next day, and someone asked her what she did last night. She mentioned I’d got a new company car, and they asked her what it was. Being a female who can’t tell a Reliant from a Rolls, she told ’em I had a brand new Chevette! The whole workplace fell about laughing, and my wife couldn’t understand the joke!

  12. Sometimes I yearn for the basics of an old engine.

    I think that the 90s were the peak of ‘old tech’ getting to the state of great reliability, rustproofing but without overly complex electricals.

    Take the example of the XUD engine, which was renowned for being bulletproof. HDis are an evolution but with added sensors, electricals, FAPs etc. that can be a nightmare when the dreaded “Anti-Pollution Fault” shows in the MFD.

    Nowadays you go into a garage because the car doesn’t quite feel right (eg. a misfire feeling at 1200rpm). They connect it up to a code reader and say “Computer says no (errors)”. A bit of DIY troubleshooting led to the clutch pedal sensor being at fault.

    • >Take the example of the XUD engine, which was renowned for being bulletproof. HDis are an evolution but with added sensors, electricals, FAPs etc. that can be a nightmare when the dreaded “Anti-Pollution Fault” shows in the MFD.
      . . . and then breaks down, leaving me at the side of the A14 during the evening peak . . .

  13. OK the Chevette is very basic compared to its newer brothers but in the 70s most of its equivalents were also basic. I owned a Viva with the same 1256 engine and also drove Cortina 1.6 (75bhp) cars. They whirred up and down the motorways at 75mph+ quite easily.

    At the time, you worked with the technology available. Today’s cars are more sophisticated but we wouldn’t be where we are now, had it not been for the Chevette and others.

    By the way, the pictures of that Chevette & Astra GTE look mint!

  14. @ Mike Bushall

    6. Reversing sensors because the rear view ispoor in newer cars

    7. Cruise control to manage your speed throught average speed camera traps on long motorway streches.

  15. As a state side observer, it’s always been a mystery to me why the Vauxhall was called a “Chevette”. It made sense here in the U.S.A. in the context of a mini Chevrolet. I can report that the U.S. version was very basic transportation indeed. The basic “Scooter” model had vinyl covered interior door panels with simple pull handles and no armrests. It didn’t even have a back seat. I guess they were sort of like a Model T Ford but with reliable heat.

  16. @chrisk
    Actually i would have thought servicing costs have gone down. Most modern cars only actually need oil, Oil filter, Air filter changing at a routine service. Fuel filters and spark plugs are usually changed at much larger intervals. Compare that to a car from the 60’s or 70’s, where it needed the tappets adjusting, along with a new gasket, the points adjusting and even replacing, the carburetter tuning, the dizzy cap and rotor checking for wear, brake drums removing and flushing out, then adjusting afterwards.

    One thing that has increased though is Cambelts, while most older cars used chains which usually didn’t need attention even those that used belts were fairly basic affairs and simple the access. Fan belts were usually a 10min job, now changing a serpentine belt can take hours as can a cam belt.

    Cars who’s fuel consumption going up when they’re due a service is probably more to do with tired oil driving hydraulic tappets than any conspiracy theory.

    @engineer, well parking sensors and cameras, because modern cars do generally have poor all round visibilty, large roof pillars to increase strength in an accident.

    Corrosion resistance is a definite benefit of modern cars though, even if Ford have only just caught up!

  17. I learnt to drive on a Vauxhall Chevette and still remember how much I hated it because it had such a fierce clutch that made pulling away smoothly rather hard. I then had a go in my dad’s company MG Montego EFi and no problems.

    I never did master the Chevette’s clutch and am glad I saw the back of it in 1993. Then again, the hatchback version always looked so stylish (and still does).

  18. Love this kind of article! The equivalent performance Chevette to those Astras was probably the HS, which had far better performance and was still relatively easy to work on. The other difference between these generations of the same model is size – the current Astra would absolutely dwarf the Chevette, inside and out.

  19. Maybe it’s nostalgia, but out of these 3 cars, the only I can muster any interest for is the ‘Shove-it’ – I have a bit of a soft spot for 70s Vauxhalls (most of my family had Vivas, Victors and VXs when I was little!), and, for a 70s RWD hatch, there’s no denying that the ‘Vette had syle in abundance, albeit over an ancient Viva engine! Good article! Can we expect more comparisons?

  20. Astras have tended to get better gradually, whereas Ford leapt forward enormously if you compare the horrible 1990 Mk 5 Escort, with the brilliant 1998 Mk 1 Focus, they are light years apart.

    In recent years, the extraordinary gains in efficiency in Diesel engines has been a major change, could you have imagined a time back in the 90s, or even the early 2000s when most Jaguars would be diesel powered?

  21. all three of these cars are crap, all astra’s are almost universally hated in the kiwi car trade.

    the chevette was nick mamed “the shitette” down in new zealand.

    yes escort and its successors would have been a much better starting point for a story like this.

  22. Well, yes you would take the Chevette if you wanted a play thing that spent most of its time in the garage being brought out for a polish a spin on a sunny day, but if you wanted a car to actually drive thousands of miles a year and rely on it would have to be the 2006 Astra. By the way why didnt you bring this up to the present day and include the current Astra?

  23. Love the article! I’m not a GM lover myself, but would take the Chevette anyday over the others. The engineer I take my Rover P4 to has just had to junk his 04 reg Golf diesel due to an electrical/computer/fuel fault that neither he nor two others in the trade can find and fix. Its so true about old cars- when the Rover goes wrong, you see the bit drop off, burn up, or blow oil- replace it, and off you go. All a code reader does is tell you which system is malfunctioning- but there can be multiple sensors, wires, and the ECU in that circuit.

    Speaking of which, how about a Rover comparison- 1950 Rover 75 vs 2001 Rover 75?

  24. I’ve had a couple of Chevettes since 2003, and still have a lovely brown Chevette hatch – former CotM on here. I’ve driven it thousands of miles up and down the UK without problems, and repairs and maintenance are utter simplicity.

    I’m pleased the article chose the Chevette, although a closer comparison may have been a mk2 Astra 1.3L, and a mk5 Astra 1.4 Life – very basic, and in the case of the mk5, very slow cars. Add to the mix that the Chevette will do 40 – 45mpg quite easily, whereas the mk5 Astra I had barely managed 35mpg because of the lack of power, and the sheer weight of the thing.

    So I think we have progressed in a great many ways, but perhaps not so much in others. Anyone who genuinely claims that cars of 30 years ago are better than their modern counterparts are perhaps crazy, but I for one enjoy driving older cars, and will do so for as long as I am permitted to by the envionmentalists.

  25. I like the Chevette and Astra GTE, but not the newer Astra. I’m a Vauxhall fan(I’m afraid) but Vx metal after about 1996 disinterests me (Omega aside…)

    I’ll take the GTE’s engine in a Cavalier GSi/SRi ta very much. Much more civilised 🙂

  26. What i don’t understand is why GM bother to sell their cars as Vauxhall in the UK, they may as well just badge them Opel, Frankly if you just changed the Badges few people buying the cars would even notice. The only real expense for them would be to change the signage at dealerships and the dealerships have to pay for those anyway!

  27. Had the Aussie relation of the Chevette. Holden Gemini panel van. As said, seats looked like tombstones, but were the most comfortable seats I’ve ever had. Lots of painted metal ( I covered it with velvet). Some 13×7 alloy & a Weber and a killer-well 60 watts was in 1980 stereo. Even took it on the beach a dozen times.

    Did need a 5 speed though, but even without one I did Brisbane to Melbourne in 21 hours.

  28. Should the Chevette not have been compared against the Nova and Corsa ?

    and the Astra’s against the Viva?

  29. I can’t help but think that the comparison wasn’t fair – surely the Mk2 Astra should have been the 1200cc model and the 55-reg one a similarly low-powered model? Or perhaps the Chevette should have been substituted for a Manta, seeing as most of the Manta’s running gear isn’t too different from the Chevette but power:weight isn’t so far off what the two FWD cars have.

  30. Time forgets that the Astra/Kadett ’85 is the reason GM have played everything so bland since then – like the Sierra (and the subsequent parallel Escort/Focus set up) people were not brave enough to buy the “teardrop” on launch.

  31. “Should the Chevette not have been compared against the Nova and Corsa ?”

    It’s all in a name, the Chevette was called the ‘Opel Kadet’ on mainland europe, it was replaced by the 1st generation Astra in the uk, which was the Kadet-B on the continent, the mk2 Astra was the Kadet-C and so on. It wasn’t until the Mid 90’s GM decided to harmonise Model names across europe. The Opel Kadet was renamed the Opel Astra on the continent, while the Vauxhall Cavalier was renamed the Vauxhall Vectra. The first UK Vectra was basically the mk4 Cavalier.

    While the Chevette was the smallest in the GM UK range it was still bigger than the Fiesta and more compareable with the Escort. Like all models they’ve got bigger over the years.

  32. I would say that the Chevette had the Nova and the Astra both as successors.
    Possibily similar to the Chrysler Sunbeam though, replaced with the Samba or the Horizon.

    I sometimes wonder if the UK market Vectras would have benefitted from remaining ‘Cavaliers’?

    Some people refer to them as such, either out of affection or to rib their owners.

    Would the mk1 Vauxhall Vectra be seen more as a continuation of the mk3 Cavalier, and given a bit more sympathy than the supposed new car with a new namebadge ended up getting?

    In the likes of the Republic of Ireland it was seen as a continuation of the mk3 Cavalier

  33. I find that new cars are far too complicated for their own good and that the older cars are much easier to maintain and are better to drive in my opinion. I did have 53 reg Zafira derv and spent over 2 grand in my year of ownership just getting it to run right and i have heard of simular stories of owners of modern cars getting stung for large repair bills so this has put me off newer cars for life! I run 90’s cavaliers and they are nice to drive and are easy to maintain. I would spend money on an older car anyday of the week!

  34. “Would the mk1 Vauxhall Vectra be seen more as a continuation of the mk3 Cavalier, and given a bit more sympathy than the supposed new car with a new namebadge ended up getting?”

    But then again in Europe, the Mk3 Cavalier was the mk1 opel Vectra. It made no difference to the opinions of the Vectra there.

  35. As the Chevette/Astra got bigger, the Nova came in to fill the gap at the bottom of the range. Then after a few years they had to bring in the Agila to sit under the growing Corsa. The new Astra is more or less as long as the mk2 Cavalier …. and so it goes!

  36. Jeezus christ!! As if the cheapest Chevette I could find was £650!! I do want one though (Non- HS/R of course!)…

  37. I remember the Chevette from my childhood as my old man had a Met Blue one in 1986; it was an arse dragger owing to it having broken springs on the rear that for some reason he never got repaired…he decided after 6 months of ownership to do a straight swap for a Met Blue 1979 Marina 1.7L Estate that was looked like it’d been dragged through a hedge backwards!!

    As for the Astra E: I had a couple of mates that both owned the SRi (1.8i 8v); seriously quick but I could never get the knack of driving them smoothly; during a gear change maintain a little (tiny) bit of throttle as the ECU would put the throttle to “idle” mode if you took off the throttle completely causing a hesitation whilst the injection system caught up! Apparently you could get the engine to “pop” if you floored it after a gear change!! Also the same on the Cavalier SRi!

  38. Should the Chevette not have been compared against the Nova and Corsa ?”
    -No! The astra was named kadett in europe and the chevette was called kadett in europe!! You answered that in your own comment!

    “It’s all in a name, the Chevette was called the ‘Opel Kadet’ on mainland europe, it was replaced by the 1st generation Astra in the uk, which was the Kadet-B on the continent, the mk2 Astra was the Kadet-C and so on.
    – No! The chevette was similar to the kadett C. Infact the chevette is the last genuine UK vauxhall as it was only the droop snoot that changed and the running gear. Chevette hatches are known as kadett City in continental europe. Kadett D is the astra mk1.

    They still call astra’s kadett’s in europe! Yes the Cavalier is now a vectra AND the corsa was once a nova. A corsa A in the UK is a corsa C in europe!!

    I agree with some other folk. This comparison should have been the HS chevette and except fuel economy it would be a better vehicle than the others. BUT why not use the modern engine from an astra in a chevette???

  39. Way back in the 80s my then girlfriend had a Chevette ES saloon. Yes, the car was bog basic with manual everything and only one sun visor, but fun to drive despite limited performance. My own experience with Astras has been mixed – a 1998 Mk3 1.6 16v ‘Arctic II’, generally well made and with a decent engine, but with suspension which produced a terrible ride on anything other than really smooth roads, and later a cheap Mk4 1.4 16v LS which despite failed A/C and other issues was a good car – far better than its bland looks might suggest. The current Mk6 ones are really good, and built in UK too.

  40. There was a Chevette HLS available in saloon & hatch form which had better trim and alloy wheels (around 1976/77). Nicer looking car but still same 1256cc motor.

    In retrospect, the Chevette must have been quite cheap to develop and build and as it was available in 3 body styles (plus Chevvan) it captured a reasonable chunk of the market.

  41. I think the sweet spot for performance vs technology vs emissions vs weight vs ‘simplicity’ etc etc etc.. has to be between 1989 and 1992.

    Remember the Cosworth redtop used in the Astra GTE and Cavalier GSi? The Escort Cosworth too? After 1992, catalytic convertors became mandatory and in the end helped to put the brakes on how much power we could really get out of two litres. And now there is the CO2 control issue, now affecting cars from 2000 onwards – (a total farce because you cannot reverse the damage already done to the CO2 levels in the atmosphere – but that’s another subject)

  42. When you need a cambelt service on a modern car, it is a serious wallet raping experience, as on average it is around £500 with labour, and diesels, well DPF faults are rife. As cars get more complex, it simply means more to go wrong, and a much shorter lifespan for the car. Cars with DSG flappy paddle gearboxes will go to early graves too, because when they go wrong, most are sealed units, and they cost thousands! Give me something simple to work on any day, that any small garage can fix for peanuts. By the way, a mates TSi VAG 1.4 is using nearly as much oil as fuel, basically the engine is fragged, and the car isn’t even a year old!

  43. Fab article… But …

    Would be so much better with ARG cars….

    Land crab,

    Makes me also think which decade was the best for the car..
    I reckon the 1980’s, it’s when cars became drivable at legal speeds, most had good handling/ comfort/refinement and reliability. All else has been a refinement.

    The 60’s were radical, beautifully styled and engineered but very embryonic.
    The 1970’s most execs were at 1980’s level.. But out of reach of the average person.
    The leap from Marina to Rover 213/montego was massive, as was the leap between cavalier mk1 to 2.

  44. Yes, cars like the Chevette and the Mk2 Escort and Morris Ital where all easy to work on. Just as well DIY was essential on a daily basis to keep the damned things on the road. “Modern” cars may not encourage tinkering, but then you hardly need to open the bonnet except to top up the washer fluid. I dont regret the passing of years one bit! Cars are for driving, not lying underneath freezing to death with bleeding knuckles.

  45. as a kadett entusiast I alwas wondered to wat extent the Opel and Vauxall
    OHV engines are related. The Opel Kadett A and Vauxall Viva were introduced around the same time and seem to share a lot of technical solutions,but didnt seem to share parts. Didnt the vauxall engine also have the vertical inlet manifold or am I mistaken.
    Is there anone wo can shed alight on tis. (Being from Holland Ive never seen a lot of vauxhalls but Iremember an Uncle that had a Viva in the 80s)

  46. My first ever car was a 1982 Chevette L. Whilst I do have some lingering nostalgia for it (being my first car, teaching me how to handle rear wheel drive etc.) I would never want it back.

    I’ll take modern, efficient and safe in a crash over basic and easy to maintain. Plus my modern cars always start first time, even with over 285,000 miles on the clock (but that’s because it’s a BMW).

    New cars aren’t expensive to maintain if you look beyond the cost and compare pence per mile: the BMW costs £140.00 (at the main dealer) to service every 18,000 miles, the Chevette used to cost £90.00 (19 years ago) at our local motor engineers every 5,000 miles.

    The BMW averages 47mpg, the Chevette averaged 27mpg.
    BMW can cruise all day at 90mph (where Law permits Officer ;-)), the Chevette couldn’t even DO 90mph.

    I know the BMW cost more when it was new, but the same is true of all modern cars.

    Even though I’m not in the market for this type of car, if I was I’d take the latest Astra over either of the older versions.

    Progress is progress and you can’t turn back time, however much you THINK you remember about how cars were, you’d soon miss the creature comforts we all take for granted now.

    • Ahem, unless you were stuck nose to tail in London traffic every day, the Chevette would quite easily do 35-40 mpg, not 27 mpg, and certainly better than the 30-34 most 1.3 Escorts managed. Also in 1975, 90 mph was considered decent for a 1.3 litre car, the 1.3 Marina did 86 as a comparison and you had the dreadful 1.3 Cortina that struggled to better 80. Bear in mind as well, hatchbacks were still quite novel in 1975 and Vauxhall were on to a winner.
      However, would I go back to four speed gearboxes, 5000 mile services, two band radios( with Radio 1’S terrible reception and Radio 2 fizzing away on long wave), watching for rust and 90 mph flat out, not now.

  47. The Chevette was the cornerstone of what became Britain’s second biggest car brand in the mid eighties. While yes I might eulogise on how great looking the VX 4/90 was, it was a niche product and unlikely to save Vauxhall after the rust scares of the sixties. The Chevette proved Vauxhall could make a fairly rust proof car for the time, the hatchback was inspired by successful European designs like the Golf and it used proven engines. With aggressive promotion, the small Vauxhall started the company’s recovery.

  48. The Chevette proved you could buy British and avoid the sniggers you would get if you pulled up in a new Allegro. This was in its original hatchback form a stylish and good to drive car, and 90 mph and 35-40 mpg were very respectable in the mid seventies. Also the 1256cc Viva engine was a proven quality if a bit tappety, rustproofing on the Chevette proved to be far better than previous Vauxhalls, and so long as you avoided the E/Base model( which was very basic), higher spec Chevettes were well equipped for the time and had some natty velour or tartan interiors.
    One thing does impress me about the Chevette and might have led to some sales. In the Likely Lads film, Bob’s L model is crashed and trashed several times, yet always starts first time and keeps going.

  49. That Astra GTE digital dashboard has never been bettered. Although I believe the big stylish Monza coupe had a similar dash.

    • The Monza had a digital dash on the second generation model. This car does seem to be mostly forgotten now, but was a worthy BMW 6 series competitor for a lot less money and looked fantastic.

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