Blog : Enjoying a week in a Cavalier!

Keith Adams

1980 Vauxhall Cavalier 2000GLS
1980 Vauxhall Cavalier 2000GLS

I’ll start this blog by admitting I’m creating it from a completely biased position. My first (legal) car on the road was a Cavalier Mk1, and despite it being ropier than a ropey thing fashioned from hemp, I had a lot of great times in it. Character-building episodes, such as locking my keys in it in the Welsh mountains at 2am, while answering the call of nature; dealing with four punctures on two consecutive weekends (with a broken jacks); learning to live with a duff carburettor and non-functioning auto-choke; repeatedly setting fire to the dashboard through not knowing how to fit a stereo… you get the idea. Point is, I grew up, and learned a lot about driving, and despite everything I loved my Cavalier Mk1 back in 1987…

But now, 25 years on, the world’s changed considerably. For a start, I now know how to wire a stereo.

Borrowing one from the nice chaps at Vauxhall Heritage in Luton is something I’ve wanted to do for a very long time. And not entirely for personal nostalgic reasons. The Cavalier was a groundbreaking car for Vauxhall, and as explained in the AROnline development story, its success began a process of revitalisaton that went on to springboard GM’s British offshoot to a firm number two in the UK market.

Why was the Cavalier such a success? Quite simply, it was good looking, well engineered, and excellent to drive. It took on the Ford Cortina MkIV and pretty much beat it at its own game. Revisiting the Cavalier now – after generations of its replacement, the Vectra and Insignia – is interesting. And Vauxhall’s huge success currently is based on this car, and its brother, the Chevette. As as old car, it should be riddled with foibles when driving in modern traffic, but actually, the Cavalier is an absolute delight.

It’s easy to see out of, is reasonably quick and flexible, and the ergonomics excellent, with everything a mere finger stretch away. Okay, there’s not much in the way of equipment, but that’s how things were in 1980! Could I be a sales rep in this car? Absolutely. Me selling Hai Karate by the box-load in 1980 would have been a cinch in the Cavalier – and Mk2 Granada and Rover SD1 aside, I’d have been king of the fast lane. And now, I have to say that other than being unable to listen to my iPod, I’d happily live this car on a day-to-day basis.

But instead of just saying it, I’m going to do it over the next week. And we’ll see if the Cavalier lives up to its promise of being the best repmobile of its era.


Keith Adams


  1. When I was 15 (in 1981) I decided I wanted a Mk1 Cavalier as my first car after walking past a metallic brown Sportshatch.

    We were a Vauxhall family having a Chevette as the family car and when I passed my test in 1984 I didn’t quite achieve my aim as I bought an Opel Kadett as my first car but in 1986 a Cavalier Sportshatch 2000 GLS caught my eye and it became mine 🙂 I loved that car even though it was heavy on fuel – around 25 mpg. I loved the six dial dash lol

  2. I do hope you get stuck at a set of lights alongside a suave individual in a Chrysler Avenger with a boot full of Blue Stratos! Who would win???

  3. looks lovely has a handsome stance and nose, the interior is very minimal (i like) but how can i put this colour wise its … jarring

  4. I loved my Sportshatch, it looked so much better than the bluff mk2 and ‘futuristic’ mk3.

    Ergonomics and comfort were excellent, but fuel consumption was a bit heavy.

  5. To repeat my learned friends……..I love that red dash! I knew a ‘bird’in Coventry during the late 80’s and her brother took me back to Banbury in his yellow Cav…It was a hair raising ride to say the least (I don’t think he wanted me to go back)

  6. I owned one of those for a couple of years in the late 70s. Great car; handling and performance were miles ahead of the competition of the time. Looking at this article now, it reminds me they were also a bit basic and primitive in creature comforts; but as a drivers car they were unbeatable for the price in those days.

  7. I think the design has stood the test of time well. The front end still looks like it was designed that way in the first place, rather than being grafted on from the Manta. Love the red interior – there was an equally nice (well, distinctive) green interior too.

  8. It could just be the pic (or my failing memory), but those rear seats – steeply raked aren’t they?! You sit back and end up looking at the roof! Modern cars seem to encourage a much more upright seating position. Lovely nick though isn’t it?!

  9. Was the GLS Vauxhall’s equivalent of the Ghia badge back then? That red interior is amazing!

  10. PCF 263R a metallic blue 1.9GL with retro fit webasto sunroof was my first car as a 17 year old in 1989. Most of my mates had minis, or 1 litre metros – so this was in a different performance league! I remember irresponsibly seeing how fast it could go on the M4 2 hours after passing my driving test and it easily hit the magic ton. I remember driving it round after taking the front bumper off following a minor bump – it made it look like a shark (i thought so anyway). Fuel consumption was poor – not helped by a poor Zenith carb that wouldn’t idle, and an auto choke that never worked properly.

  11. I had a V-reg Opel Ascona. It had a great suspension system and was tough, but the 1600cc engine couldn’t pull the skin off a rice pudding. Despite this the wife expected me to tow a caravan which was scary. All the rubber bits used to fail every two years. I replaced it in 1987 with an MG Montego EFI. Towing was so different in the MG as you had to be careful not to hit 85mph. With the Ascona you managed towing at 30mph if you were lucky. Never bought GM again.

  12. I fitted a manual choke kit to mine, my Dad did the same to his 1.6L saloon. Improved economy slightly, but also made it easier to start.

  13. My parents and next door neighbours had identical blue ones at the same time (1979 I think). I seem to remember as a 4 year old I liked the car and it did have quite a pleasing shape. The neighbours one had a vinyl roof so it must have been a GLS. My abiding memory seems to be that both seemed to have trouble being started in the mornings and cranking motors were forever etched in my mind….

  14. Brings back wonderful memories. Was my last company car in the UK in 1979. Replaced a Princess, which I loved. What a contrast. The Cavalier was just a delight to drive, and all of a sudden I could find 2nd and 3rd gears without having to have a general stir around the box. No need for the gallon of Duckhams in the boot either. Neat predictable handling and I recall with delight leaving Cortina shod colleagues for dead (almost literally) on fast twisty roads.

    Mine was assembled in Belgium with an Opel Engine (Marked and stamped Opel), amazingly though the one shock was a total piston disintegration, trashing the engine at 400 miles. This was at the time Opel and Vauxhall both raded in UK. Opel Dealers could service and maintain but could not perform Warranty work. Limped it to very local Opel Dealer a good guy. Quickly diagnosed terminal problem (The shrapnel in the oil was a give away). He got it to nearest Vauxhall Dealer, where it stayed for about 5 weeks. At the time Vauxhall Parts Distribution was on strike so Vauxhall Dealers could not get engines even though Opel ones could. Total nonsense. Eventually sanity nearly prevailled but new engine did not have a new dipstick so dealer replaced with a copper drift and wanted me to take car in weekly for oil check. Thankfully my friendly Opel man gave me one so I arrived to collect car with my own new dip stick. Final irony was being a Saturday afternoon the dealer had no mechanics who could remove the copper plug. Who said BL was the only joke back then. The Cavalier went on to redeem itself passed along in the company and eventually sold to a friend, where it went on to rack up a long trouble free life. Was one of the first metalic light greens wasnt sure at first but looked sharp. I did hear that Opel airfreighted engine back to Germany for complete tear down and received nice letter explaining it was a batch of improperly heat treated parts. Shortly after moving to US GM of introduced the Chevy Cavalier J Car, wasnt fit to even follow my Mk 1, what a dog. I rented one once and had to open the door to make sure I was moving. I was ashamed to mention I had a Cavalier in the UK, they just didnt understand it was a rather different car.

  15. My father’s best mate Sandy had a bright orange V-reg 1.6GL saloon for much of the 1980s. To the younger me, it was far more impressive than dad’s 1977 Avenger 1600, and was much faster, as a high-speed run up the A12 to Clacton in August 1982 attested to 🙂

  16. The MK1 Cav is one of my all time favourites… particularly the Coupe & Sporthatch but the GL saloon like this was great too. Those photos remind me of the late 70s especially the dashboard & engine bay views. I’m envious of Keith!

  17. swapped my A60 Cambridge for 1.6 GL, it felt like a rocket ship I never got over how light non-assisted steering could be. One of the easiest cars to live with I ever owned, til it got borrowed by the local t-leaves.

  18. Reminds me of my 1979 Ascona 2.0 SR Berlina auto which I had in 1990 or thereabouts, except that had gold paint and matching interior plus a brown vinyl roof. The chunky 3-spoke alloy steering wheel was wonderful. Great suspension and superb steering as I remember, but sadly not so hot on longevity of the engine or resistance to tinworm…

  19. Some friends of my family had one about the same age as my Dad’s until the late 1980s. Along the way it needed a new engine.

  20. Don’t think I was overly keen on the MkI Cavalier in its day, but I was only twelve in 1980.

    Seeing the car now, however, I’m quite impressed.

  21. Forgot to say in comment 27 that I fell in love with Cavaliers when I saw my first 1.9GL Coupe in Pastel Beige at the local Vauxhall showroom… loved the front spoiler. I later liked the “Sapphire blue” colour on the GLS variant.

    Wish I could turn the clock back to those days!

  22. It started the Vauxhall revival, but purists must remember the versions up to the S plate were really Opels built in Belgium, as the sad old Victor occupied a large part of Luton until this time. However, from 1977 to 1981, it was largely a British car and quality was as good as the Belgian version.
    The 1975 to 1983 period really was a golden era for Vauxhall as the rusty Victor image was put to rest and the Chevette, Cavalier,Carlton and Astra proved its British factories could make decent cars and market share doubled in this period. I always have a soft spot for the Chevette as it was the last purely British made Vauxhall, using Viva components,and was as good as anything Ford made and light years ahead of the Allegro.

  23. I am sure it was only the Cavalier 1300 that was made in the UK, all 1.6, 1.9 and 2.0 models were built in Belgium.

  24. No all saloon versions were produced in Luton from 1977 with Antwerp in Belgium as a second source. Coupe’s and Sportshatches were all Belgian built.

    You maybe confused by the engine – the 1300 (1256) Chevette engine was UK built, the 1600, 1900 (superseded by the 2000) were Opel engines.

    The Sportshatch was nice, which took its name and front end from my original 1976 ‘Sportshatch’, one of just 200 Droopsnoot 2300 Estates based on the Firenza/Magnum

  25. What a lovely old Cav! Though I have to admit the “Opel Vectra A” Mk 3’s do it for me (well one is my daily driver).

    Lets be honest – the days of great old cars like this Mk1 have gone – for many years now Vauxhalls have been regarded by many as being just “sh!t”.

    What a shame. Ford? No not for me, ta, I think they’re worse!

  26. As a Canadian, I have no idea why you guys get all excited about J-cars or T-cars….

    In Canada, they were generally cramped, cheap and tinny. I wonder if they were significantly better made in England, or whether they’re just more relevant to your car sales climate.

    Our American cars were pretty rubbish and baroque in badges, but we had some nice practical (and small) family sedans in the 80s,

    Ok, so the last two are midsize and full size, but still 🙂

  27. @Bob – yep, only ever had one Ford, an Escort mk2, fantastic gearbox, but the rest of the car was crap. And that has coloured my perception since, Fords make crap cars now and always will – IMHO the MG6 is a far better car than the Focus, better looking, better interior, and most importantly better handling.

  28. Looking at these photos of Keiths loan car makes me think the colour was called “Extra Dark Wine” and it could be a 2000GLS saloon as it has the 4 spoke wheel normally only seen on Coupe & Sporthatch. Earlier 1900/2000 GL saloons had 2 spoke steering wheels.

    I think only GLS cars got rev counters too but might be wrong. Also, yes, the 1256 engine was the British one and the others were Opel units shared with Asconas & Mantas.

  29. Doh… Disregard my comment 43. Have just read the caption on the main photo that I skipped over. Must be the excitement!!

  30. @ 37 i always sought the russelshiem built cavs because the steel had a higher carbon content and lasted longer than uk built ones,the viva engined cavaliers rotted the most as well.I also used to replace the solex,zenith(1.9)and GM Varajets with the 32/36 DGAV carb off the 2.0 S capri, and what a difference that made!The last one i did was a ascona 400 replica with the 2.4l frontera engine and 40’s these engines could be bored and stroked to 2.7 at a push but i prefer an “oversquare engine”These cars were truly great so much better than the cortina in every way,to be honest i think people were of the opinion that fords were cheap and easy to fix and were british made,in fact the german built cortinas felt better too,the manta was one of the best tarmav rally cars of its time as well.

  31. The Espero was based on the Mark 2 Cavalier.

    I seem to recall by 1980 MY, or whenever the new badging found its way onto the boot of the car, the dash looking somewhat dated.

    However fashion sometimes goes full circle. My S40’s curved dash top has echos of a Mark 1 dash.

    I had a soft spot for the VX range in the late seventies but it was a bit of an odd ball size wise being expected to compete with Mark 4 Cortinas.

  32. @HiltonD – correct only GLS cars had rev counters, there was no option to have them on the GL model. I had a 1600GL sportshatch, but I.seem to recall that the GLS was only a 2000.

  33. My brother owned one of these (a 1.6 GL) for several years. It was streets ahead of our dad’s Marina and an absolute hoot to drive with good power, ride and handling.

    The interior was a bit spartan on the GL (no revcounter as noted) but it was a great and practical car. I remember that he got rid of it only because he fancied an MGBGT (Inca yellow, SBE440T IIRC) to impress the girls.

    I know someone who has one of these (a GLS I think) in the garage and only brings it out on dry days in summer. Still a real practical classic.

    • Hello,

      I noticed the comment about MGB GT SBE 440T. This was my father’s car in the early 1980s. I would love to know where it is, even buy it back for him?

      Please get in touch!!!

      Thank you

  34. Chad Dweller Comment 41

    I agree and sympathise with your comment regarding North American T car (Chevette) and J Car (Cavalier, J2000, Cimarron et al).

    The fact is they were very different cars.
    The European Kaddett/Chevette and Chevy Chevette were miles apart. I used to travel a lot in Europe back then and would rent Kaddetts and Asconas by choice. On a trip to US I deliberately rented a Chevy Chevette it was dross. Remember back then the Detroit marketing gurus forbade anyone buying a small car to feel good about the decision. With the 55mph (62 in Canada) limit it seemed everything was degraded to suit. Remember in Europe these cars had to be acceptable on un-restricted Autobahns.

    Regarding the J Car Cavalier and the Cavalier Mk 1 in UK. That was the point I was making. The Cavalier Mk 1 preceded this and was not built of the J Car platform which was indeed a complete waste of time, dreadful. The World car that wasnt? It got so awful that thankfully Opel/Vauxhall went their own way and made many changes to what became Cavalier Mk 2.

    Regarding build locations, all I know is my Cavalier Mk 1 was delivered in Dec 1978 virtually straight from the Port (There was a delivery driver dispute and Gasolene shortage). It was plated Assembled (or made)in Belgium and the Engine was clearly identified as Opel. Mind you this was the time of industrial strife so perhaps was a work around. I know it also intoduced a new color not then in the Vauxhall catolog.

  35. I like the Cavalier’s simple dashboard layout, with the speedo and rev counter in front of the driver, and the gauges in a bank to the left, and the radio, clock and lighter slightly to the left, so the driver can check easily which radio station he is listening to, or use the push buttons to change stations, and what time it is. I never understood the bizarre practice on the Morris Ital of having the radio facing the passenger and the clock near the bottom of the dashboard, which could mean the driver taking his eyes off the road.
    Also while someone driving a Cortina Ghia would probably not be happy at losing the wood and Ghia badges if they were offered a Cavalier GLS as a replacement, somehow the more utilitarian dashboard, which was colour coded, seems to work better with the similarly coloured velour seats and door panels. Indeed, this suits the Cav’s Germanic roots, where wood was only used on the most expensive BMWs and Mercedes, and other German cars favoured high quality plastics in their cars than fake wood.
    Other things to recommend this car over a Cavalier or Princess or Ital, which had a 2 litre automatic option, were its granite like build quality, reliable drivetrains and ability to cruise quietly all day at 70-80 mph on the motorway. Also should you fancy taking a 2 litre Cavalier to the unrestricted autobahns in its spiritual home, then long bursts at 100 mph would be possible without the car redlining, something which would be difficult in its three British rivals. More proof that not every car that was built in Britain at the time was a dud.

  36. I understand the Opel Manta 2 Litre eventually was uprated to 110bhp, while the Cav 2.0 Coupe and Sportshatch remained at 100bhp. Still my all time favourites…

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