Shown at the 1980 Birmingham Motor Show, the Vauxhall Silver Aero was a design study to show both the capabilities of the Luton-based styling team and also to demonstrate that there was plenty of life left in the old Vauxhall Cavalier Mk1.
It was an exciting, turbocharged coupe, which had potential – but only one was made, which remains in the hands of an enthusiast to this day.
Go faster Cavalier
By 1980, the public perception of Vauxhall and its design and manufacturing facilities in Luton were changing rapidly. Despite being safely ensconced in the bosom of General Motors since 1925, it had been seen – rightly – as a British company touting British designs.
However, the creeping Opelisation of the range during the 1970s was eroding that view rather quickly. Projects like the Silver Aero were instigated to show-off Luton’s design capabilities, as well as demonstrate the potential of existing models, such as the Cavalier Mk1.
This situation wasn’t helped by the fact that General Motors had made the decision to integrate Vauxhall’s Design Studios with Opel’s in Russelsheim, in 1978 – meaning that all future Vauxhalls would end up being re-badged Opels.
Change in Vauxhall design strategy
This move must have been a gut-punch for the Luton Design Team. Doubly so, as it had already started work on the UK facelift of the Kadett D/Astra Mk1, and was conceptualising Ascona C/Cavalier Mk2 for UK consumption.
According to the brilliant Vauxpedia website, the first Silver Aero design sketches were completed in March 1980 by a team headed up by John Taylor, Assistant Design Director. The thinking behind the Silver Aero was that the modifications shown on the concept car would be offered as accessories for existing owners.
The idea was that anyone who wanted to customise their own cars could do so with the blessing of the dealer network. This was a very prescient idea, perhaps ahead of its time by at least five years, given the proliferation of such accessories by the late-1980s.
The Silver Aero takes shape
The car, which was based on the existing Cavalier Sportshatch, featured an all-new nosecone, which improved the standard car’s aerodyamic efficiency, dropping the drag coefficient to 0.32. Other changes included side gills for the purpose of air extraction, a bonnet NACA duct, side skirts, rear spoiler and wraparound bumper assembly.
In many ways these changes previewed what would happen with Opel’s own facelift of the Manta in 1982. According to Vauxpedia, one problem with the aerodynamics stemmed from the Compomotive wheels, so new flush trims were added.
The Silver Aero modifications being attached in Luton (Pictures: Vauxhall Heritage)
To give the Silver Aero suitably sporting performance, it was treated to an upgraded 150bhp 2.4-litre turbocharged engine by WBB Racing and Turbo Tork Limited. Bill Blydenstein took the standard 100bhp 2.0-litre cam-in-head, and fitted its off-the-shelf 2.4-litre conversion (widely regarded as a brilliant conversion that not only improved performance and driveability, but also fuel consumption).
Next, he added a Rajay turbo and associated engine management system for the big power increase. Inside, there was a new steering wheel, centre console and Recaro seats, trimmed tastefully in black leather with contrasting grey carpeting.
A star of the 1980 British motor show in Birmingham
The Silver Aero – so-named to evoke memories of the wonderful 1974 Silver Bullet concept – was shown at the 1980 British Motor Show at the NEC, publicly at least to showcase the potential new bodykit and accessories package, and to gauge demand. It attracted attention, and lifted the glamour factor on the Vauxhall stand, but the Silver Aero ended up proving to be an interesting one-off.
The options that had been spoken of as potentially being offered to existing Vauxhall owners never subsequently appeared (we were months away from the Mk2’s launch anyway), and that probably tells you all you need to know.
Dave Boon’s Silver Aero photographed at the Luton Transport Festival in 2012.
Thanks to: Dave Boon, Vauxhall Heritage, written with reference to Autocar magazine and Vauxpedia website.
Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Classics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...
Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasible adventures all across Europe.