Come the end of 2012, one of the UK’s most enduring motoring icons will be getting the bullet. Vauxhall has confirmed that production of the Astravan is to cease, although the company says that there will be sufficient stock to cover sales through to at least the first three months of 2013.
The new Combo, which offers larger payloads and more choice, will fill any gaps in the market created by the loss of Astravan. But although the tall-bodied Combo offers an appealing range of payload options, what it doesn’t have is over 25 years of heritage – the Vauxhall (nee Bedford) Astravan, and the late, lamented Astramax were highly regarded within the trade, and with their drivers.
And as we all know, ever since the first Bedford Astra Mk1 van appeared on sale back in 1981, it’s consistently been the fastest moving vehicle money can buy. It’s impossible to imagine the outside lane of any 1980s or ’90s motorway not stacked with the things, generally riding hard the back bumper of whatever unsuspecting saloon driver is unfortunate enough to be stuck in front of it. But the Astravan wasn’t driven to within an inch of its life for fun – these sporting little vans were generally driven by Britain’s hardest working professionals, and were inevitably on a mission.
The Astravan was probably the best vehicle of its kind – the Escort might have been cheaper to run, and the Maestro more economical and sensible – but the plucky little trooper from Ellesmere Port just felt ‘right’. Its model development echoed that of its car contemporary, but more often than not, new models were rolled out several months afterwards.
Except in the case of the current generation Astra, the Mk6, which never made the transition into commercial vehicle. Back in 2009, when the Astra I/J was launched, it was assumed that the late arrival of the Sports Tourer was also responsible for the arrival of the Astravan – but it would later become clear that the Mk5 was to be the final example of the breed. It’s a reflection of what happened at Ford – when the Focus was launched, a van version was never forthcoming, leaving the Escort to soldier on for another three years before being supplanted by the far more commodious Transit Connect.
Perhaps times have moved on, and we don’t have need for vans like the Astra anymore, going the way of the Visionhire, Rediffusion and VHS rentals… but it’s still sad to see the end of the line. Adieu Astra!