Technician’s Update : When in doubt, Ecotec it elsewhere!

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

Mike Humble

Our own Vectra a good few years back – automotive porridge they may be but a good one is a damn fine car for nothing.

Most of us would probably acknowledge that, in its earliest incarnation, the Vauxhall Vectra failed by a country mile to capture the hearts and souls of the British motorist. It was by no means a flop – in fact, it sold rather well – but no one could ever describe it as dynamic as say the Ford Mondeo or as sweet to pilot on a billion mile non-stop journey as the Peugeot 406.

Where Vauxhall dropped the clanger, so to speak, was by dropping the Cavalier name which had earned GM so much respect since the mid-1970s. Advertised on the TV with some vivid, expensive and sadly now forgotten commercials, it was hailed almost akin the second coming of Christ.

In practice, the Vectra just wasn’t as revolutionary as GM attempted to make us believe and, in the face of some very good competition such as the new Passat and the aforementioned offerings from Ford and Peugeot, it quickly joined the ranks of the cut price sales rep ‘also ran’ fleet special.  I will go on record and say that I found the Vectra a good grafter, bereft of any style, substance or class; but a well-serviced and cared for 1.8 will plod on with the same determination and dogged stamina of a 10 year old Clydesdale.

The last Vectra I owned was a 2001 Club 1.8 that I took as a trade-in during my time peddling new Vauxhalls. It racked up the thick end of 9000 miles in little under three months with ‘er indoors commuting between Durham and Sussex just prior to our re-location. The damn thing was bought for shirt buttons and didn’t put a bloody foot wrong but, sadly, Vectras often fall into the hands of the miserly driver, who will keep driving them ’til they simply conk out and die. As a consequence, even the facelifted Vectra from 2002 onwards are as desirable, nay valuable, as today’s newspaper – but I digress.

I remember receiving a ‘phone call from a ‘rival’ mobile mechanic – a rare turn of events – in Yarm (about eight miles away) and he enquired if I wished to take on one of his jobs at short notice as he had decided to call it a day and pack up his tools. After chatting for while, it became rather obvious that, if he had a brain, he’d be classed as a liability and the job involved was a head gasket on a 1999 Vectra GLS. He suggested that the customer should contact me directly and, owing to my workload being a touch sparse, I agreed and awaited a ‘phone call from a Mrs. Hurst.

Well, as sure as the sunrise, the ‘phone went off a short while later and I chatted to a lovely sounding lady who described the symptoms over the line which did not tally with a blown head gasket. She also let slip that her husband thought mechanic ‘A’ was nothing short of useless and was tempted to find someone else – oh dear. Luckily, she worked in Darlington and could leave the car with me and hitch a ride home with a colleague so I could take (within reason) as long as I needed. Arriving home from a nearby job the morning after, an immaculate Vectra was sitting on the drive – game on!

After checking the oil and water, there was no sign of any head issue and this was confirmed again after completing a pressure test on this average mileage yet cracking-looking car. After coming off the ‘phone the previous day, I had kind of diagnosed the fault mentally with a 95% certainty but the aforementioned purely acted as a precautionary measure. Running my finger behind the alloy exhaust manifold heat deflector plate of the cooling engine, grey sooty deposits were left on my paws and many of you in reader land with a touch of knowledge will be saying to your screen ‘ahh – cracked manifold’ – which it was.

However, for those of you who don’t already know, the 1.8-litre Ecotec engine features a part which we in the trade call a ‘manicat’ whereby the catalytic converter and exhaust manifold are all in one. This engine is very prone to the cracking of said component between the branches – that’s, in part, thanks to intense heat and poor quality castings.

Some cars can develop the fault by ploughing through water at speed whereas others simply develop the crack without warning. Either way, the symptoms are a rough-sounding engine with a spitting or machine gun-like noise from the extreme front of the engine which quietens down quickly as the manifold heats through.

1.8-litre Ecotec – an underrated plant in my opinion. I’ve seen many hit silly mileages. Plenty of grunt and thrifty, too.

I contacted the lady to get the go ahead on a strip down and, in next to no time, the downpipe was detached and the exhaust manifold came off with no nasty sheared threads or rounded nuts. There, for all to see between the branches of cylinders one and two, was a hairline crack about an inch long and quite accessible, too. Mind you, my subsequent ‘phone calls to various Motor  Factors nearly caused me to faint with the cost of a pattern fit replacement – it was a hell of a lot of money even with 15% trade discount – but, in one of those ‘don’t tell anyone I told you so’ conversations with one factor chap, a solution was found.

Armed with a nice bit of inside track knowledge, I called some chap who fabricated and welded from a small unit on a local trading estate who asked if he could see the manifold. About 20 minutes later my Corsavan took me to what at first seemed like the original ‘Black hole of Calcutta’ where a dirty man in burned overalls gracefully slid out from underneath a Leyland Roadrunner on a home made crawler board. Removing his goggles to reveal the only white skin on his person, he re-lit his roll up, looked at the manifold and told me to clean up the crack, drill two roots and come back with £15 – and back under the truck he went.

Again, for those not blessed in the art of cobbling a solution or fettling, drilling a root refers to drilling a tiny hole at either end of the crack so when it is welded thoroughly, the crack won,t run. My trusty Dremel ground back the surface crud, two holes were drilled into the iron manifold and, within that very hour, I handed over what was required and wombled off to grab a plastic cup of tea from a nearby greasy spoon. I must have been gone all of 20 minutes and when I returned the guy was again, back under the truck welding away. He just bellowed from my feet over there on the bench and that was it – transaction completed.

Asked what the life expectancy of the repair would be, he snorted ‘longer than the f*****g car pal’ and I kind of went along with his ‘hewn from stone’ warranty and sourced a couple of gaskets to commence the replacement of the manifold.

Just in time for Countdown (the late afternoon televisual treat for the self-employed) the Vectra was perfect and the customer was duly contacted, nicely surprised and slightly taken aback considering the original mechanic has quoted in the region of £600 – my bill came in at a round £125. Mrs. Hurst collected the car that evening, but what happened two days later did make me smile!

The ‘phone rang and it was the aforementioned dead-headed spanner man asking how I got on. I gave him the rundown to which his reply was something like: ‘You jammy **** – if I’d have known that I’d still have charged for a head job’  – then the line just went dead.

I never tried to call him back!

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

33 Comments

  1. Corsa maniverters always did this as well,the odd V6 and bloody 2.0 and 2.2 Omegas always did and the manifold bolts used to snap cleaned in the head over time for whatever reason.

  2. A good and enjoyable read as ever Mike.
    Good point you make about them dropping the Cavalier name-even if Opel were using it for the Cavalier since 1988.
    I always think “Vectra” sounds too much like “Victor”…

  3. I think the Astra name is the only UK name GME kept,i never got the vectra moniker but i think the insignia is an ideal name,and its also the next car i want unless there is a nice vectra V6 turbo floating around…

  4. Plod in West Yorkshire seemed to love Vectras & the Mondeo barely got a sniff in, so they must have been tough old buggers

  5. Randomly, and without warning, the flange at the bottom of the maniverter on my 45 fell off on my way home. I’ve never quite worked out why. Cable ties got me home mind.

    Speaking of the MK1 Vectra my boss swore by his. The abuse he gave it was legendary, only servicing it if something went wrong. It went on for years, and once he swapped for a MK2 he passed it to his sister, who as far as I know still has it.

  6. I don’t think the vectra was a game changer like the previous cavaliers – the 1st fwd cavalier had unprecedented performance and fuel economy, the mk3 had sports car performance in 2l form with low servicing costs (everything about the cavaliers seemed to be designed for easy maintenance) – The vectra just seemed more of the same, but with more to go wrong and harder to work on.

  7. The Vectra at launch I remember thinking it justed looked like a facelifted mk3 Cavalier. Probably made more sense in Europe and Ireland, where the mk3 had been a Vectra.
    The advert was some futuristic landscape, the song was ‘Play Dead’ by Bjork. The billboards had the car with a barcode numberplate – which may be ideal for ANPR, not great for witness statements – “The car I saw, registration thick black, thin white, thin black….”

    Old fella bought a Vectra 1.8 a few years ago as a runabout. I borrowed it to get to a job interview one day. It drove surprisingly well, especially as it had 180k on the clock! Comfortable car too. Only fault was the central locking. After that I gave the mk1 Vectra a bit more respect.
    PSNI still use many armoured mk1 Vectras, suppose they’re a bit too expensive to replace with armoured Insignias.

  8. It was the most profitable car in its class to produce at the time,the five doors always used to crack around the rear door stricker,welded hundreds!

  9. I had a 1997 diesel Vectra as a company car. I loved it. I thought it was really comfy and went well. Had a few problems but that was mainly due to the totally useless Vauxhall dealer where I live. I started to use another in the next town for servicing etc and it was fine.
    I always thought the Vectra was a good car for what it was meant for. There still seems to be loads around and they must have stopped making them about 10 years ago………

  10. I had a 1999 V6 SRI Vectra and loved it, never put a foot wrong until 2 years later when it aquaplaned on a motorway and hit the central reservation barrier. On the plus side I managed to kick up a load of gravel in the central reservation and pebbledash another Vectra that was following behind me – took all the paint off his bonnet and shattered his windscreen and lights – it was a few years older than mine so am guessing it would have been wrote off like mine was (result!)

  11. Jeff

    The Vectra “B” was produced from 1996 to 2002 albeit with a facelift for the 2000 MY

    Vectra C ran from 2002 through to 2008 again, with a facelft late 2006.

    Obviously, the Insignia replaced the Vectra from 2008 onwards

  12. @Mike Humble

    I know someone who bought an ’09 Vectra C VXR at a snip (on an English 09 plate). Was this a late registered car? Runout model? Overlap in production?

  13. @ 14 The ’90 escort was a complete dog,ford knew it,the motoring press knew and fleet managers knew it,that you still see loads of vectras on the road as opposed escorts says something…..

  14. Can’t say it was one of my favourite cars – drove an early N-plate one and it was a typical GM Europe offering – rubbery, imprecise gearchange and sailboat steering characteristics. Even the dashboard (normally an Opel/Vauxhall strong point) was boring. The Mk.3 Cav/Vectra A was a far superior and likeable machine.

  15. I used to deliver these as hire cars as a job on the side- and I didn’t think they were too bad- considering their awful reputation. Always likes the digital display panel (unusual at the time) and the light turboed diesel went reasonably well. They were infinately more desirable than the awful Carina Es on the fleet.

  16. Having driven a couple of Vectras, they leave me a bit cold, but can’t really fault them on anything in particular. Not like the Saab GM900’s genuinely woeful steering, the Vectra B I drove was a V6 estate and simply failed to be exciting in any way, whilst mildly irritating by being a bit scruffy.

    FIL’s 2004ish Vectra 2.2 Automatic was borrowed recently, partly under the guise of seeing if these bargain good-size cruisers could be tolerated as a medium-term option, and it once again proved completely unmemorable. The driving position was okay, the pillars thick enough to annoy, but not intrusive enough to be dangerous, the dashboard just “there”. The only positive thing I thought was that the seats were pleasantly firm, like an old Mercedes W124.

    When so many good cars are on sale, it seems so hard to fathom why any company feels peddling crushing mediocrity is going to succeed – but then it does, as the vast number of Corsas and Astras sold in the 2000s demonstrates.

  17. These Vectras were well built by Vauxhall, and I still see lots of them smoking around! How many Lagunas and Mondeos of the same vintage do you see these days? Can’t remember the last time I saw one! I’m seriously tempted by a V6 for peanuts.

  18. As always Mike, pure genius. As a fellow ex car salesman, your anecdotes from ‘the good old days ‘ are always a treat.
    Having emigrated to the Scottish Highlands, I am out of the rat race now, however if you are ever up here, give us a shout and and I’ll buy you a dram!

  19. I know this is a bit off topic, but someone likened the name Vectra to Victor, Vauxhall’s family saloon of the sixties and seventies. I’m surprised there hasn’t been a feature on the later Victors as these were put up against the bigger Leyland saloons and sold reasonably well, but seem to be almost forgotten now.

  20. I always used to go along with the theory that’s Vauxhalls of this period were a bit below par. But having run an Astra 2.2 SRi for well over a year and nearly 20k miles I’m a changed man. Most reliable car I’ve owned and pretty brisk too. A friend has a 2.6 V6 Vectra B and that’s a nice enough steer as well. Great exhaust note.

  21. Worst car I ever had – fortunately didnt own it as it was a company car. In one fell swoop it undid all the good work the old Cavalier and Astras did in boosting Vauxhalls image in the 70s and 80s. The company doesnt seem to have recovered yet.

  22. A mechanic once told me during the engines heyday mid/late 90s that when attending a training course on this type the instructor asked if they new what ECOTEC stood for?.
    The answer recieved with roars of laughter was “Every Component Of This Engines C**p!”.

  23. My sister had one and for all it had some problem with rainwater leaks, which caused some starting problems until fixed, these weren’t bad cars. Quite a lot survive locally as family bangers as they cost next to nothing to buy and scrapyards are full of spares. Also they were the last of the line of British built family Vauxhalls from Luton as the next generation were partly built in Ellesmere Port and then in Germany.

  24. My Dad had a 1996 Vectra 2.5 V6 SRi as a company car. That car could shift! I really enjoyed driving it (steering was well weighted and the brakes were phenomenal if lacking in feel). I think the Vectra B had some form of tweak in 1996 (cars post tweak had the high level centre brake light that was absent on the first models) due to negative reviews of the car (especially with regard to handling) when first launched. The only issue with it was the local dealer never had parts for it and they took a week to get hold of them from Germany. A few years later I had a facelifted Vectra B 1.8 out at work and it was a dog (gear gaiter came off in my hand and other bits of the trim came off in my hand) and it was impossible to get the power down without the bloody thing losing traction. To be fair in a straight line on the motorway it wasn’t bad.

  25. @ Will M, my deceased cdti estate was a June 08 build (right odd spec 6 speed 16v auto with ESP and little alloys!) and I think that was pretty much end of line. It was pretty crap round the bends (likes its Astra replacement) but did nothing wrong – it just left me cold. Saying that my little ecotech Astra has just done the banks of the Tyne to the M25 in 4 1/2 hours this evening, quite happily and comfortably. The VVT ecotech is a cracking power plant, just needs to go in a Focus or Bravo!

  26. Having driven 1600, 1800 and 2 litre Chavaliers and a couple of 1800cc Vectras I honestly think the car was a backward step by Vauxhall. I can’t quite put my finger on it but the older Chavalier just seemed a better car to drive and be in.

  27. @31,Remember “real” involving cars? when they had a throttle cable and direct steering? i think progress (was it?)of emissions regs etc have made cars heavy of flywheel and slow to shut thier throttle between gear changes and on overrun,even the sensation of speed has changed,mid range 1.8’s are not much to write about in cars of this size nowadays.You are right,the difference between a 1.8 Cav and the later Vectra is quite noticeable.

  28. Had a s reg diesel vectra back in the day ,my mum had it new as a company car and she got it cheap at the end of its time on the books . I bought it of her in about 2004 , never really put a foot wrong but was pretty underpowered we went holiday to the south of France in the old girl and with two kids in the back and a box on the roof the poor old thing was down to 60 mph on some of the climbs on motorway through Central France

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