The cars : Vauxhall Cavalier Mk3 development story

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

The Vauxhall Cavalier Mk3 (or Opel Vectra A for our European readers) was a completely different animal to the popular car that it replaced… well, it was to look at.

Mike Humble tells the story of GM’s streamlined Ford Sierra fighter.


The streamliner that everybody loved

Towards the latter part of the 1980s, the Ford Sierra had become a socially acceptable shape of car to own. Though it had taken time to build momentum, the Sierra was now a runaway success in the sales chart. The Cavalier in Mk2 guise had its best years in 1985-’86 where it sat secondin the top 10 behind the all-conquering Escort. As the ’80s progressed, the Cavalier slowly started losing ground to its rival makers.

For instance, sales of the Cavalier estate were nothing short of disappointing, where it was expected to score well – and it was here that the stylish Montego estate pretty much had the market to itself.

The Cavalier had a minor makeover in 1985, which comprised of a skilfully applied boot-width reflector panel between the rear lights, new wheel and seat trims, and some special editions such as the Commander, Antibes and Club models. What was obvious though, was its angular boxy styling was dating quickly in the wake of Ford’s aerodynamic Sierra. It was still a good driver’s car with perky engines and keen handling, but the Cavalier lacked real build quality and style. It remained a firm fleet favourite, but retail customers were wandering elsewhere.

In its last full year of production (1987) the Sierra outsold the Cavalier on a ratio of 2:1.

The new for 1989 (but launched in October ’88 at the Birmingham Motorshow) Cavalier Mk3 was designed to be the best of both worlds – aerodynamic like a Sierra, but bristling with Mk2 front-wheel drive appeal. Slightly larger than its predecessor and much curvier looking, the new Cavalier could now go head-to-head not only with cars such as the Sierra, but also the sleek new Ryton-built Peugeot 405 and the Washington-made Nissan Bluebird, which was racking up some impressive sales figures.

Vauxhall also took the opportunity to revamp its corporate look and distance itself from the existing staid Vauxhall–Opel–GM brand image. Now was the time to stamp Vauxhall as strong a standalone marque within the General Motors stable. Advertising for the new Cavalier (and its stronger marque image) was everywhere from magazines to television. The latter used a cover version of Derek & The Dominos’ track Layla, with the tagline ‘Once Driven Forever Smitten’. In short, simple but effective media usage.

Sleepy family retail Vauxhall dealers that once survived happily taking in your Chevette in part exchange for a base Nova were asked to shape up or ship out – Vauxhall was coming back, and back with a bang.

The new Cavalier, though, was underpinned by engineering lifted from its predecessor. But it proved to be a much more finely-honed product. There was evidence of real engineering prowess and impressive safety features right across the range. Where the Mk2 always had a feeling of lightness and cost cutting in its build, the Mk3 was a solid machine made with high quality materials. It sported a good-looking functional padded dashboard, and you instantly knew this car was screwed together well.

Put the Montego 1.6 head-to-head with the Mk3 Cavalier 1600, and you knew the difference before you had settled down in the driver’s seat. It was with the launch of this new Vauxhall that time quickly ran out for the rapidly ageing, but still incredibly capable, old Austin. You only had to look at both maker’s entry models to see the difference. The Montego had a 69bhp pushrod 1.3-litre A+ engine mated to a four-speed gearbox, which was about as pleasant as placing your hand into a food mixer. The Vauxhall, on the other hand, had an overhead cam 1.4-litre with 75 bhp and a standard five-speed transmission.

Powertrains were updated versions of previous engines. Petrol units at launch comprised of 1400, 1600, 1800, and 2000 in 8v or 16-valve form. The latter two had the all-important option of Bosch fuel injection – and a little ‘i’ badge on the boot lid. GM engineers were careful to ensure the previous cars reputation for ease of servicing and you could still replace a clutch on the Cavalier in well under an hour, without the need of its gearbox to be removed. Diesel drivers were offered a 60bhp GM 1.7-litre, but a similarly-sized Isuzu TD followed on three years later.

Parts were plentiful and cheap, and there was a dealer in every major town and city too, this car was making an awful lot of common sense.

Careful attention to panel fit, finish and paint was evident, the outgoing car was known in the trade for indifferent paint and rust problems, things were much improved in this area. The Cavalier was offered in two body styles, a four-door saloon and a five-door hatchback – gone was the two-door saloon and estates of old. The lack of an estates option was taken because Vauxhall still had a popular hold-all in its range – in the shape of the Carlton.

The 1992 facelift kept the Cavalier nice and fresh
The 1992 facelift kept the Cavalier nice and fresh

For the 1992 model year, there was raft of improvements and updates for the Cavalier. The Turbo 4×4 was ushered in to replace both the two- and four-wheel drive GSI 2000. A new state of the art 16-valve engine known as EcoTec joined the fray, as well as a new 2.5-litre V6. The addition of anti lock brakes, airbags and subtle front and rear styling updates also helped keep the car fresh looking.

The leather-clad Diplomat (which was behind the CDX and Turbo in the pecking order) was a surprisingly popular car, as the sales family saloon cars tend to peak in the mid spec versions. Also for the sporty owner, came the Calibra – a latter day Manta that was touted as the most aerodynamic production car you could buy, boasting a drag co-efficient of 0.26. It would be fair to say that the early to mid 1990s was Vauxhall’s honeymoon period in the UK, and this really was mainly down to the popularity of the Cavalier Mk3, a real people’s champion.

The final Cavalier was a well regarded car – it drove and looked well, performed brilliantly on the motorway and gave its tired dealer network a well needed shot in the arm. One interesting fact is that not once at Luton during production of the Mk3 Cavalier did the workforce go out on strike – and this car kept a lot of people happy. The Vauxhall Cavalier continued to be a steady seller right to the end of its production in 1995 and was subsequently replaced with the Vectra…

And that’s where things started to go wrong.

In 1993-'95, the Cavalier performed brilliantly in BTCC, bolstering the car's already excellent image.
In 1990-’95, the Cavalier performed brilliantly in BTCC, bolstering the car’s already excellent image.

Mike Humble

Upon leaving school, Mike was destined to work on the Railway but cars were his first love. An apprenticeship in a large family Ford dealer was his first forray into the dark and seedy world of the motor trade.

Moving on to Rover and then PSV / HGV, he has circumnavigated most departments of dealerships including parts, service and latterly - the showroom. Mike has owned all sorts of rubbish from Lada to Leyland and also holds both Heavy Goods & Public Service Vehicle licences, he buys & sells buses and coaches during the week. Mike runs his own automotive web site and writes for a number of motoring or commercial vehicle themed publications

72 Comments

  1. I remember the ‘Once Driven Forever Smitten’ seemed to cover the whole range – mk2 Astras and all!

    I recall the ‘Sledgehammer’ advertising campaign with the Peter Gabriel song of the same name, almost Volvo-esque as it showed the mk3 Cav surviving many crash tests.

    Later adverts had Nigel Hawthorne, especially after the mk3 Astra was released. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ZsCl9lzv8s

    Was around this time that Vauxhall dealers stopped selling Opels, their logos changing from | Vauxhall | GM | Opel | to pure Vauxhall.

    Quite a few examples seem to have survived compared to the Sierra/mk1 Mondeo, possibly the diesels?

  2. The MK3 Cavalier was the same model that Opel marketed as the first “Vectra”, whereas Vauxhall didnt use the Vectra name in the UK till 1995. Good article which confirms what I know about the car

  3. The Cav Mk3 had a better reputation than the ‘samey’ (and already dated) Vectra that followed it- however, I didn’t think the Vectra was as bad as was often made out. Sure, it wasn’t stellar, but it was a decent enough steer, if rather bland in true Vauxhall fashion.

  4. A good car but……

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/triggerscarstuff/3402504690/in/set-72157616182498562

    drove a couple of ok 2.0SRIs and 1.8Li, but experienced mainly the ghastly 1.6Ls, with the wheezy family one engine, grindingly slow unassisted steering, joint-jangling ride and recalcitrant gearbox. Still: what choice was there? The 405 was great but flaky, the fleet manager steered clear of the Montego, and the Passat (in those lovely over-engineered days) was too pricy. We didn’t want a Sierra either….

    The Vectra replaced it with a far better ride and more rear room. Sadly everything else went t*ts up….

    If only the Montego got the rebody it so richly deserved!

  5. and another quality the Montego et al had over the Cavalier was legroom. Sitting in the back of Cav used to be torture….

  6. Still a good looking car though, the Mk3 Cav – I think it’s fair to say that with this, the Mk 3 Astra, Calibra and the Mk 3 Carlton, Vauxhall/Opel’s design department was at it’s zenith. I always thought the Mk3 was a much more resolved and better surfaced Sierra…..

  7. “It would be fair to say that the early to mid 1990s was Vauxhall’s honeymoon period in the UK”

    Interesting how this could also be said about Rover.

    Wayne Cherry was a great designer and despite the generally poor standards of GM vehicles at the time when he was design director (the fault primarily of Ron Zarella and other inept managers), GM vehicles designed under his guidance at least looked distinct.

    Under Ed Welburn, GM designs have become more mature, desirable and indeed successful, but with the exception of the new Impala and the current Cadillac CTS, all GM saloons look like variations on the same basic design. The Insignia looks like the Cruze which looks like the ATS, etc. This seems to be changing, but I’ve always seen a lot of potential in the designs produced by Cherry’s team in GM’s dark days.

  8. Unfortunatly the clutch arrangement failed to survive to the end of production..
    However you have missed the ultimate Mk3 cavalier.. the SAAB 900

  9. A great article as usual, Mike. One thing I never understood though was how the 1995 Vectra was such a letdown over the Cavalier/Vectra A. Was it build quality/handling/reliability?

  10. The 1600 version was slow, even the 1800 would struggle to keep up with a 214. The 2 litre Cavalier was a real tool however, the extra 200cc transformed it into a sleeper which could surprise many a modern. The chassis was nice, but it lacked the taught set up on the R8, but was nicer than the Sierra in many respects which could feel it’s elderly underpinnings when pushed.
    I like the Cavalier Mk3, the Vectra somehow lost something that the Cavalier had and even felt like it had gone backwards in a few areas.

  11. A good car these,i had a GSi 2000 and a turbo-which destroyed many a performance car,the Vectra B was the biggest profit earner for its segment of all european car makers.

  12. A mate had an G-reg one as his first car in about 2003- it seemed commendably solid even then. Cruised along no problem, everything electric worked. Heck of a lot more comfortable than my poverty-spec new Ford Ka!

  13. Vauxhall were on a roll in the late eighties, their cars were always better looking, more reliable and more economical than the stale, aged looking Ford range which seemed to be going through a British Leyland phase of producing bad cars. ( I had the loan of a 1988 Sierra and it seemed as bad to drive as a Morris Marina and the build quality was awful). The Mark 3 Senator, Carlton and Cavalier were fine cars that were light years ahead of Ford’s duds at the time, although the Rover revival in the early nineties saw Ford under attack from both sides.
    However, then Vauxhall blew it with the Vectra and the Corsa and went backwards as Ford fought back with the Mark Four Fiesta and the Mondeo.

  14. I’ve always had a soft spot for MK3 Cavaliers – especially the pre-facelift 16V GSi 4x4s. Definitely Vauxhall at its peak from the mid 80s to the early 90s. With slick designs from Wayne Cherry and well engineered cars that were tough, hardy and simple.

    MK3 Cavs were a step up from other Vauxhalls of that era, as bodywork protection was much better as they didn’t rust like the Astra and Nova of that age.

    When they replaced the Cavalier with the Vectra, it seemed that Vauxhall rested on their laurels and played it safe. I think the Insignia (that replaced the Vectra) is very much the true successor to the Cavalier.

  15. I had a number of these through work… brilliant, brilliant cars. Rock solid reliability, ease of servicing, great performance…. can someone please explain in what way Vauxhalls current range is better than the Cavalier MK3?

  16. I agree with Chris Baglin re: the Vectra B (mk1 Vauxhall Vectra), it appeared to be little more than a facelifted Vectra A / Cavalier mk3, but it wasn’t horrendous by any means. I borrowed one that had 180k on the clock and it drove like it had a fraction of that.

    I think I read somewhere that Vauxhall didn’t use the Vectra name because it sounded too close to Vauxhall Victor, and also they wanted to associate the new car with the Cavalier lineage.
    By the mid 90s, they reckoned that the new car buying generation had forgotten about Victors, and it probably looked close enough to the mk3 Cavalier to demonstrate lineage.

    The Calibra was a good looking coupe based on the Cavalier.

  17. Ahaaaa the 2.0L, preferably without wheelcovers, defined the Q-Car catagory. Them and the Astramax, of course. Seem to remember the Cesaro being a cut-price 2.5V6 entry model at one point. Great go…..not so hot around the corners though ;o) Sorry I will become positive about Vauxhalls at some point….

  18. Always thought they looked a little bland compared to the opposition, a simple copy Ford job with the exterior. I remember they had an issue with a part in the engine, can’t remember what it was over than it was plastic and Watchdog had a huge campaign about it. The Vectra released later was an evolution and slightly more distintic design, and that should probably have been what the Cav should have looked like, a bit like the Mondeo and its re-design, make it look distintictive and not bland and anonymous. GM unfortunatley have always been conservative in their designs since the debacle that was the the Corvair.
    The Cav was not a bad handling motor but had to compete against some quality opposition in the Pug and the Mondeo, which unfortunatley put it in the shadows, as had the Primera. I think the problem with the Cav’s image was that there were so many base models about as company cars they looked boring compared to the top end models.

  19. The Mk3 Cavalier was a great car but I may be in the minority here but I much prefered the Vectra B – a car which I have a large soft spot for and only second most popular car for me after the Mk2 Astra…

  20. @ Jeff M (10)

    Half the problem was that they marketed the Vectra almost as the second coming of Christ.

    The Vectra was not as modern looking as it needed to be to pass 100% as an all new car. There was of course the “Clarkson Effect”* that reached fever pitch at the same time. The Vectra B was by no means a bad car… it was just `another` car.

    *= I personally thought the valve cap tool inside the filler flap was quite a neat idea!

  21. After the Omega I expected the Vectra to be a Mondeo slayer. Went well though (notwithstanding early ecotec problems), unlike the Zingy-Zetec Mondeo…

  22. Brilliant article.. Been waiting for this. Dad had one while I gre up, which Mum then took on for years and years.. It’s STILL her bar when it comes to finding a new car.. Whatever she’s driving is either “Like the Cavalier” or “Not as nice as the cavalier”.. It was a 2.0i GL 5 door..

    That car though, lol.. It got stolen 3 times and always got recovered. My Dad took the nose off on the ring road when an Orion pulled clean out infront of him. Mum took out both passenger side door when she turned infront of a coach…

    Kept on going though.. Well, apart from the time when Mum was backing on to the drive and the auto box selector packed up… it was stuck in the middle of the road.. lol.. if you tried to move it you’d just get a growl from it.. Ended up with a s small pin that had sheared or something or other… Not the “new gear box love” we had feared.

    Yeah, I love mk3 Cavaliers.. one of the most dearest cars to my heart.

  23. Ha.. Just thought I’d Ad.. There’s only one other car Mum’s ever been attached to, and it’s so obvious why when you think about it…. Mk2 Saab 9000.

  24. As I recall, Clarkson slated the Vectra on Top Gear when it was first launched, which ruffled a few feathers.

    I have always regarded the 1995 Vectra as Vauxhall’s equivalent of Ford’s 1990 Escort..

  25. I remember in 92′ with a virgin liscence my neighbour taking me out on the snow in his 2.0 saloon, by the time it had melted I could very effectively steer a car on the handbrake, and he had to tell the fleet manage about the two buckled rims…

  26. @27, lets be honest,clarkson is an entertainer although he can massively impress when he can be bothered,the vectra B made more profit per car than BMW or anyone else in its series production,although not the best steer,it was popular and sold well,even some interesting models like the GSi estate.Maybe opel should have benchmarked it against the primera like ford did,the nissan was a properly sorted car in terms of steeering,suspension and NVH.

  27. Primera is hardly a benchmark… merely another oh so dull saloon – albeit a cracking drivers car.

    Vectra B was aimed by Vauxhall to punch into 3 series buyers, not corner shop owners.

  28. Having driven Vectra B’s on numerous occassions, I have to say the only redeming features were the look and the engines. The 2.2 was a hoot, in a straight line but round the bends it just rolled like a cucumber. It was not exactly a comfortable car to drive, infact I found it difficult to get the right driving position. As I was driving Astra’s as well at the same time, the Astra was a far superior car. Though the Vectra was not the worse in its class, I think that has to go to the Toyota Avensis, suspension like a blomange, awful seats (motorway miles felt awful afterwards) and lack of power. The 1.8 was so slow I was left by a A series engined Metro!I think we need to remember that Clarkson had the 406, Mondeo and Accord to benchmark the Vectra against, and to be honest they win hands down as driver’s cars.

  29. @30 The CDW27 mondeo was at first benchmarked against the Honda Accord and subsequently the nissan Primera,althogh no great looker its dynamic abilities were second to none,and the Mondeo although a cab-forward design never looked brilliant,but drove brilliant.The Vectra had nice styling cue’s in particular the door mirror bonnet relationship,wheel arch details and nicely proportioned haunches while looking like a MK4 cavalier!Vauxhalls have always been a favourite car for me and im pondering a vectra V6 turbo or insignia next.

  30. I have only driven a Vectra B once, and although it was quick on the straights it was the usual old GM story – rubbery, imprecise gearshift and roly poly handling. Steering felt it was connected to the wheels via a system of rubber bands. Mondeo was much, much better!

  31. I remember going to the ’88 Birmingham motor show with my Dad as an enthusiastic 9 year old boy.

    He had a 1986 C-Reg Montego 1.6 HL saloon in silver at the time which was, sadly, not one of the better built examples and was blown away by the quality of the Mk3 Cavalier. Seem to recall they had a 1950s GM “Car of the future” and were showing how many of its innovations (e.g. ‘self tuning engine’) were included in the new Cavalier. To me, along with the R8, it’s one of the best cars of the late 80s – a good example still looks more than acceptable on the road today.

    Remember ’88 being a pretty huge show – the XJ220 was there in V12 concept form, and Proton were throwing everything behind their UK launch with Michael Jackson and Marilyn Monroe look-a-likes and handing out free digital watches. Those were the days 🙂

  32. I remember those “Car of the future” ads.

    My Dad was upgrading to a Carlton so the Vauxhall catalogue with the Mk3 Cavalier launch was around the house for a while.

  33. The Mk3 Cavalier felt solid and well made in a way few, if any mainstream cars felt in the late 80s/early 90s. The Vectra was a massive step backwards. I had an early one as a company car and it was absolutely dreadful, not helped by the most hopeless dealer network imaginable.

  34. we had a facelift GLS for years, it was everything the sierra wasn’t and replaced it with a vectra which was way behind the Mondeo in every way. The wife loved it though, no accounting for taste is there?

  35. Really, genuinely good cars. The 2.0i models went like stink, and as a humble GL, looked very little different from a base spec 1.4. They were also incredibly long lived. A friend’s dad got an H plate 1.6GL as a company car. Put 150k on it in 3 yrs and bought it off the lease company at a very good price. Put another 100k on it over the the next 10 years, including teaching both sons to drive, and letting them both smoke it around at 17. The abuse it took was incredible, and yet it still ran beautifully. Original engine and gearbox right through to the end, and still reliable enough to use for 500 mile trips and cruise quietly and smoothly at 100 mph at a quarter of a million miles. Ten times the car the Montego ever was. Clumped by a myopic artic driver at a set of lights and written off.

  36. Just saw a 1994 M reg Cavalier LS today. It looked okay considering its age, although not mint condition. It’s easy to forget how good these cars were…

  37. West Yorkshire Police standardised on Cav Mk3 SRi’s as pursuit cars to replace Sierras, and were well liked, and they seemed to stock pile em, as they had new ones long after the Vectra was launched…

  38. I had a basic Cav 1.7 non-turbo diesel for a few years. At the time I was commuting 80 miles a day (mostly motorway) plus weekend trips to my parents (another 90 miles). I got the Cav at 2 years old with low mileage and stuck over another 65,000 miles on it in 2.5 years with no problems whatsoever.

    It was comfy,reliable and stunningly economical – I regularly clocked between 55-60mpg fill to fill with a best of 63 mpg on more than one occasion. I had a light foot even in those days! The down side was the slow acceleration, 0-60 in about 20 seconds IIRC. Eventually I wanted something faster and traded it in for a Gold Mk2 GTD.

    My brother had a 1.8i that was also superb – until he rear ended another car and the insurance declared it an economic write-off because it had over 80,000 miles on the clock.

    The Mk1 Vectra in comparison was a complete heap of rubbish and didn’t handle or go as well as the Cav. Never mind the Vectra’s dull interior and the 8 hours garage time needed to change the clutch. I used to get Vectras on hire and totally dreaded getting the gutless 1.6 which did not go unless thrashed within an inch of it’s life and then had a marked reluctance to go round corners.

    Vauxhall have never regained the plot, the latest Insignia should have been called the Insipid. Even though it looks ok on the outside the miserable lack of interior space and style makes it an also-ran.

  39. Not been on this site for ages, loads of stuff to be reading but I had to comment when I saw there was an article on the mighty Mk3 Cav.

    I have one – it’s my daily driver 🙂

  40. ..and it still is! 🙂

    As the M-reg beast just passed MOT number 17 it will undoubtedly give me another year of trouble free cheapo motoring 🙂

    Of course I’d love a newer, posher, bling-ier motor, but when you’re skint and you have a car that “just works” then it’s best to just be happy with what you’ve got – despite what other road users might think! 😉

    Mk3 Cav – a bizillion mini-cab drivers can’t be wrong!

  41. whoa.. didnt think so many people would still be interested in this car! had many memories in this as my childminder owned one that i think was a J plate, and i had the time of my life in it even though i was only like 3-4 years old! i remember i was crying when she sold it

    then in the last few years my uncle had one for a while but when we had our bikes on the roof he drove into a car park and the headroom bar smashed them off and wrecked the roof, and he had to scrap it! shame as they were a great car – one of vauxhalls best ever.
    much better than the mk2 imo, which gives my mother bad memories as when she owned one before i was born she snapped the aerial off when putting it in the garage.

  42. had 2 mk 2 cavaliers and then a mk 3 and very impressed with the mk 3 The engine seemed so robust after 140 k . the fact that you still see a few around greatly outnumbering Sierras speaks for itself

  43. My dad had 3 MK2 Cavaliers and 2 MK3 models – a 1990 GSI and a 1993 Turbo. My mum had a 1990 SRI as well. Great cars and my dad loved them profusely. He never wanted to touch the Vectra and switched to BMWs instead!

  44. Nice article, but needs some corrections.

    Diplomat was not the range topping version. CDX and Turbo were the range toppers, CDX for luxury spec and Turbo for luxury/sport spec.

    The Turbo 4×4 and GSi 2000 4WD are two separate models. GSi 2000 2WD was released first, then a year later the GSi 2000 4WD version was released (it wasn’t underwhelming either). When the Cavalier received its facelift, the GSi 2000 was dropped (both versions), and replaced by the singular Turbo 4×4 16v with six speed box which lasted for three years before the introduction of the Vectra B.

    On a personal note, its not that the Vectra B was a bad car, but the difference between the Cavalier MK2 and MK3 was noticed by everyone, but the differences between the Cavalier MK3 and the Vectra B, there really wasn’t anything about the Vectra that was better.

    All of the engines available in the Vectra were available in the Cavalier. Independent Rear Suspension on the Vectra? Also available on the GSi and Turbo models. In fact in some ways, the Vectra was a step back.

    Compare the Vectra GSi to the Cavalier 4×4 Turbo, the Vectra was down on power, 2WD and had one less gear and couldn’t be specced with leather (Recaros instead).

    In every conceivable way, the MK3 Cavalier was an improvement over the MK2, the same couldn’t be said about the transition from Cavalier to Vectra.

  45. No-one seems to have mentioned the wonderful V6. Being a parts manager for a large Vauxhall dealership from 86 – 96 I used to get loads of different Vauxhalls to drive about in, but my favourite by a mile was the 2.5 V6 Mk3 Cavalier. A strange thing really, only came as an auto, and only in basic trim level, but did the thing fly. Best bit was the acceleration at speed, put your foot down at 50 to get past something and it just flew. Loved that car. Mind you, it may have been an exceptional example as I had another afterwards, and it didn’t seem half as good. Not sure whether one was exceptional or the other crap. Or a bit of each.

  46. Good to see the Mk3 Cavalier getting the praise it deserves. I seem to remember it was voted the car of the decade at the end of the 90’s – not bad considering production ended in 95. I had a Mk2 1.8 GLi followed by a Mk3 1.8GL & a Mk3 20 16V SRi. Put over 100k on all of them with no problems. The SRi had the Ecotec engine & went like a bomb. Didn’t fancy the Vectra & took a chance on an Alfa 156 – had it 9 years & over 100k with no problems – think I still prefer the MK3 SRi though.

  47. My wife had a 2.0 GLi mk3 cav, and loved it to bits, and I think it drove quite well, as some of the others have said, it is still her comparison car, she has compared the latest Skoda Octavia 2.0 TDi with it this weekend! At the same time I had a Calibra Se3 with TSW Stealth wheels and 205 section pireli P600s, that had a scary amount of grip, the wife has recently admitted to caneing it down some fast twisty B roads at the time. Our daughter has an Insignia 2.0 SRi estate, and the wife says she wouldn’t have one if you gave it to her, she prefers my Passat 2.0 TDi SE. As for engine problems, we had a fuel pump relay go duff, and the distributor cap/leads and rotor arm needed to be replaced, other than that it was just consumables. Gone but not forgotten!

  48. My dad had one of the first ones a 1.6 as a company car,in aubergine a sort of purple. It replaced his MK 2 Estate which handled and drove superbly.
    I understand the the first few were produced with the old engine from the previous MK 2 because the new engine was not ready.
    I overtaking required a run up and build up of speed or a long clear road ahead as it was sluggish. It was also tail happy and skittish, the handling was definitely suspect. I had just passed my test and drove it many times and compared to my Alfasud it gave me kitten round corners in the wet.
    The second one he got three years later had a completely different nature, same engine but so much quicker and better handling.
    Sadly both MK 3’s came to a sticky end. The first was sold on to one of my dad’s employees who bent it round a lamp post on a wet roundabout the day after he bought it and the second was written off by my sister.

  49. I was about to suggest the same corrections Phill made in comment 49, which only leaves one left to be made.

    The caption under the picture of the touring car says “In 1993-’95, the Cavalier performed brilliantly in BTCC, bolstering the car’s already excellent image.”

    What about the Cavaliers that ran in 1990, ’91 and ’92? The Cavalier was in fact very successful in the BTCC throughout its whole career, with preparation from Dave Cooke and, latterly, Ray Mallock’s outfit, RML.

  50. I’ve had my 1995 1.8i LS hatch for almost 16 years. Never had any other this long. Speaks volumes doesn’t it. My first encounter with the cavalier was I used to service a friends Mark one and his ascona. Then I test drove a new 1.6GL Mark 2 at local dealer and thought it light years ahead of anything else. Had 3 Mark 2s. Then I’ve had 4 Mark 3s the third a cesaro motorsport 1.8i hatch in lagoon blue which I unwittingly sold to a boy racer who trashed it. (Big regret!) But my old faithful 1.8iLS is still with me and the biggest favour I did it was fitting gas dampers all round especially the rears as it had a bad habit of doing 180s on roundabouts. Also Powerflex bushes avoid the need to replace standard ones at MOT times. I hope I go before the cavalier does as that is how I feel about it.

  51. Growing up (24now) my dad had a j reg 1.6 saloon then a 1.7 tdi . When passing my test at 17 i got a. 1.8 mk3 hatch then replaced for a cdx saloon ecotec 2.0. Now with c20xe (redtop) wgich i still own and drive today. Brillent cars

  52. A very reliable car the Cavalier in MK3 form. I have seen taxi’d 1.7 Isuzu engined Cav3’s or Vectra1’s with 600,000 miles on the clock. The MK2 was a good handler and economical but the Family engines were soft and the trim felt cheap. The redtops made it big for Vauxhaull at last with the Cav’3.

    The MK3 Cavalier was the Vauxhall that finally made good GM/Vauxhalls reputation, as before this many people would avoid a Vauxhall like the plague because of rust and weak engines.

    Its a pity the Vauxhall Vectra was so bland. If there is one car made in the 1990’s that should have had an extended life it was the Cavalier 3, no doubt about it.

  53. Our family had a 1.8i Colorado special edition in an l plate while I had my c plate 1.6 mk2 (also a special edition – commander!). Great cars both of them. Both had the rubbery and vague feeling gear change. Neither had any real problems, especially not the mk3. In fact the only thing that went wrong with the mk3 was the hazard light switch for stuck one trip home from work. Easy enough to fix as two of us worked at a big Vauxhall dealer at the time. I also remember the sound quality out of the special edition CD player was amazing for the time.

    Re the v6 it was only let down by stupidly short cam belt change intervals. When sold in the US (in the Saab 900), they did the first change fee of charge.

    In NZ, Holden were concerned about the mk3 stealing sales away from their commodore, so they only imported the pre facelift model in limited numbers and sold them as Opel vectras (!). Post facelift they were sold as Holden vectras and did quite well, although the Holden badges on the wheel covers looked like they were such on top of Opel ones, they stuck out that far.

  54. Excellent cars for the time, my sister had an L reg 1.8 LSi that was a real flying machine and was largely trouble free in the five years she owned it. Then she bought a Vectra, which was an unreliable pile of junk that was ditched after two years.

  55. 25 months since my last comment on this and 13 months since my 94 Cav bit the dust 🙁 Unfortunately she was too rusty underneath to be economically viable to repair. Mechanically (at 99,990 miles) she still had loads of life left in her though!

    So I bought a cheap and cheerful Mk3 Mondeo 1.8 Zetec to replace the Cav. A very nice car, the Mondeo. A bit boring though, so I have recently sold it on. Replaced it with a 95 ‘M Cavalier 1.8 GLS. Even better 🙂

  56. Good article and I thought the MK3 Cav was a unsung hero! I remember Murray Walker’s shrill tones when John Cleland won the BTCC and predicted even greater success for the Vectra(oh dear!) I had a trio of Cavaliers, 1.6 GL, 2.0iGLS and 1.7 TD GLS, each passing 200k miles. They worked really well, hard wearing, comfy and simple/cheap to look after. After getting a firm’s lease Passat (not as clever a design or as reliable) when the boss found out I was driving a £300 15 year old car up/down the country on company business(!), my missus continued to use my cast-off Cav for another 7 years, and it died at 21 in 2013 when the MOT man said no! Even now she benchmarks it when comparing other cars on ease of drive/comfort/economy. It is easy to see why such “fleet type cars” get overlooked, fall out of fashion in this disposable age. So many good ones were scrapped early, but today’s equivalents are so complicated and nowhere as easy to maintain on a shoestring. I hope a few will survive as fond memories.

  57. My first car was a Vauxhall Nova 1.2 and after a couple of years I upgraded to a King’s blue ’92 Cavalier 1.4L (had to choose the 1.4 due to my age/insurance and Irish road tax in those days was based on engine size). Although the smaller engined Cavs drove completely different to sri and gsi’s, you could always imagine being behind the wheel of one as it was so easy to upgrade the interior in those pre airbag days. I also went to the trouble of making it look like a facelift model but the later grille (with the griffin in the centre) never fitted properly around standard headlights. For the money, the Cavalier was as good as it got in those days on a limited budget but never looked or felt cheap.
    I consider the Skoda Octavia as a modern equivalent of the Cavalier mk3. There are small engined base models, good diesels and the high performance VRS with all of the standard issue bling. Each model drives well and feels well screwed together. It’s such a pity that in 2015, Vauxhall is almost at the lowest rung on the car desireability ladder with the likes of Hyundai and Kia moving well ahead of them over the past 5 years.

  58. My mum owned one of these back in the day, a G-reg base model 1.6 in platinum. Not sure when exactly she got it, but I know she wasn’t the first owner. Never heard a complaint about it at the time, though once it made a funny noise whilst on the motorway and dad decided to pull over and get it towed home. Turned out something had worn on the piston rings, and he just stripped down the engine and made it all better. Car ran perfectly afterwards and it was eventually traded in in 1999 for a brand new Astra.

    I wouldn’t mind having one myself, but as I’d want a clone of hers it would likely never happen.

  59. I’ve had my 1.6 LS Cavalier for nearly 13 years now . It’s now covered 190k miles . Only had two previous owners and it got through this year’s MOT needing only a rear brake overhaul.I keep meaning to change it but every car looks so plasticky inside compared to it with some models having awful looking seats.My garage says it is much easier to work on than complicated modern vehicles.And this is reflected in the servicing costs. I never need to top up the water or oil and it’s as quiet as a sewing machine at speed.

  60. The Mark 2 Cavalier was a good car, but the Mark 3 was so much better as the old car’s problems with camshaft failure and rust around the wheelarches were cured and it felt better built and seemed stronger. Also at the time the Mark 3 was launched, the competition wasn’t exactly thrilling, its main competitors were the Sierra, which looked stale against the Cavalier and was developing a repuation for engine faults, and the Montego was only just coming right after the early models terrible reputation for unreliability. No wonder sales of the Mark 3 Cavalier were huge from the start, only German premium brands seemed better at the time.

  61. The MK3 had a serious design flaw because the steering rack was not mounted to the front suspension subframe but to the bulkhead. The bulkhead itself seriously lacked stiffness which made the steering rack move relative to the suspension up to an inch in every conceivable direction when the car was driven hard or over a bumpy road. Small wonder these cars were not known for an overly precise steering.
    At GM they called it the sneeze factor.
    The GM-Saab 900 Vectroid suffered from the same flaw, which made Saab tuners develop stiffening brackets to be mounted between the front suspension turrets and the bulkhead to stiffen things up and make the steering more precise.

  62. I still call 1975 to 1995, from the Chevette to the last of the Mark 3 Cavaliers, the golden era of Vauxhall. While I might admire Magnums and sporting Victors, these just weren’t selling in large numbers and the company had a reputation for rust prone cars from the sixties. The Chevette and Mark 1 Cavalier proved Vauxhall could make reasonably rust resistant cars that were good to drive and looked good, and sales started to rise. Then came the boom years of the eighties and early nineties when everything Vauxhall made sold in huge numbers and the Griffin overtook Austin Rover to become second in the sales charts.

  63. The Mark 3 Cavalier was the last great British built Vauxhall, the Vectra that followed wasn’t a patch on the Cavalier, and proved that Luton could finally build a car which was both reliable and rust free. Also even the 1.4 went well, but the engine to go for was the 1.8, which had the right trade off between economy and performance, and was an excellent car for motorway journeys, being both refined and capable of 40 mpg.

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