Blog : My new wheels (with stomach-churning video)

Keith Adams


In the coming weeks, my working life is about to change in a big way. Out will go the convenience of working from home for the bonus of an extra-long working week, as in comes the pleasures of a daily commute – and work in an office. These things happen, and it’s certainly going to be a bit of a change. One thing that was consuming me in the run-up to this was what wheels I was going to use for my 60-mile daily schlep – and that’s why I ended up buying a Vauxhall Cavalier Mk3.

Currently on my fleet, there’s a mere two cars that are up, running and available at the turn of a key – my Lancia Delta Integrale and a very nice Citroen XM Exclusive, which was passed to me by AROnline regular, Stewart Weller. Both are great cars, demanding of a little attention now and then, but you would no longer describe either as being perfectly suited to life in the fast lane, mixing it with the 32ods and A4TDIs.

Interestingly, I had thought about something modern, super-plush and a bit different – which led me to the Citroen C6. Regular readers will know I have a bit of an irrational crush on these cars and I have plenty of previous form with Citroens, so it’s inevitable I’m going to buy one. Not now, though… After looking at a seriously ropey example and mentally totting up the repair and servicing costs on what was a £5k car, I knew this was not a rolling project for me. No, I will wait for the right one.

So, in the meantime, and spurred on by my old mucker, Richard Kilpatrick, I ended up buying a 1995 Vauxhall Cavalier 1.8i LS instead. Talk about twisted logic… There is some logic to my impulse purchase, I am sure – but I’ve yet to truly understand what it is, other than a recurrence of CHPD (Compulsory Heap Purchasing Disorder), which I’ve been under medication for since the late-1990s.

I guess there’s some nostalgia in the purchase – as this car takes me back to the time when I was on the company car ladder and everyone’s lives were so much simpler because we were all judged by the badge on our car’s bootlid. Back then, the Cavalier was the enemy, as I chose the Peugeot 405 (for its dynamics), and then the Citroen BX (because it was a Citroen).

The Cavalier tended to be one of those cars that lived in the outside lane, pushing the rest of us out of the way, driven by pushy proto-David Brents. And yet, I kinda liked them. I’ve always had a soft spot for the Cavalier, since the Mk1, and loved the way the Mk2 drove. But the Mk3 – that combined modernism, simplicity and good old fashioned one-upmanship in an easily-financed package that rolled out of the Luton factory in serious numbers.

Today, it really does remind one of simpler times. Unlike a modern, it’s compact in size and easy to see out of while it hushes along the motorway really quite nicely. It’s simple mechanically and, on my(to be) mixed dual- and single-carriageway commute, I bet it’ll deliver 40mpg, as these Family IIs were always economical old lumps. So it’ll be pleasant to ride in, and not a little anodyne in character whilst, after the passing of two decades, the Cavalier really does stand out now, thanks to low survival and its relative rarity.

It’s not yet possible to think of these as a classic car but, for some, it’ll certainly be nostalgic. Anyone, that is, who lived in the company car fast lane free-for-all of the late-1980s and early-1990s. If you’re ever in doubt about how life has changed since the Cavalier ruled the overtaking lane, take a look at this episode of A to B: Tales of Modern Motoring, called ‘Over the moon with my Cavalier‘. It was made in 1993 and it may as well be reportage from another world…

It’s 47 minutes long, so take some time out during your lunch break to take it all in!

Keith Adams


  1. Good choice for a new motor. I too have lots of nostalgia for these, but for different reasons. Growing up in the nineties loads of family members and family friends had them with the end result being I spent many hours sat in the back of them traveling to places and things. Always a comfortable and well appointed car based on those experiences.

    Quite fancy getting one myself to remind myself of those days from the front seat.

  2. I had a couple of these as manufacturer demos, including one of the very first V6’s off the line. They were what is best described as ‘a very good car’.

    The Mk1 Vectra that followed actually seemed to be a step backwards when it was launched as the replacement for the Cav Mk3. I recall sitting in a launch presentation for the Vectra and the guys from VX desperately trying make a big thing of the little plastic spanner thingy attached to the fuel cap for unscrewing the tyre valve dust caps without getting your hands dirty. Now that’s desperation.

  3. u could do alot worse than a cavalier mate. there damn good cars. i had one about 11 years ago that was litterally help todgether with bathroom seelant. and for a 1.6 it was amazingly quick and brilliant of fuel. i loved it.

  4. Looks like one the last Cavaliers off the production line before the Vectra took over and everything went pear shaped..

  5. Last of the great Vauxhalls and this must be one of the last Cavaliers ever made. Always impressed me for their economy, low servicing costs, reasonable reliability and high levels of equipment Indeed this is what 95 per cent of motorists want and the Mark 3 Cavalier gave them( also better rustproofed than the Mark 2 and had a stronger camshaft).

  6. Mmmmm Suits YOU Sir!!!

    Great stuff, one of the finest cars of its era. Slippy shape means quiet motorway cruising and 45mpg if you can ease up on the gas pedal a bit. Replaced by the unloved and un-lovely Vectra.

    I had a non-turbo diesel LD in which I racked up 50,000 miles in 2 years without missing a beat. It was comfortable, quiet and would crack 60mpg driven at 60mph. In those days my morning commute was 45 miles each way including 38 miles motorway and dual carriageway. My brother had a dark blue 1.8i LS for 4 years until he wrote it off on the back of a van. He regularly cracked 45mpg on the motorway and was gutted when the insurance company said it was an economic write off.

    Does it have Air and a Roof? And what mileage has it done? And can I have one too? On second thoughts, Mrs E would kill me if I parked another car on the drive…

  7. Good choice Keith, the Cavalier was a great car for its time. I remember them as being good looking,reliable and fairly economical to run?
    Like the Sierra, there were so many around back then.
    I cant remember the last time I saw either..

    Regards the video – Good God almighty…..Cringe worthy stuff.
    Those blokes were a bunch of ar*e holes, even if it was 1993.

  8. @8
    But stay where you are if it is a Maestro Clubman Diesel.
    Hilarious stuff. Are the other episodes in the BBC series also on YouTube?
    Look how much better off we are now, all sales reps drive premier (not anymore) German stuff.

  9. Great choice there – nice spec & colour combo too. I have very fond memories of the Cavalier GSi my Dad owned from 1990-93. Especially when he took us for a family holiday in it down to the French Alps and we seemed to go around every hairpin on two wheels. Quite an experience for a car mad 12 year old!

  10. That’s a nice car, Keith. Just make sure it’s still got the ‘i’ badge on the tailgate for those motorway commutes though!

    Regarding the BBC television documentary, the BMW driver with the shades, Noel Edmonds close-cropped beard, received pronunciation, and wrecked marriage really gave me the heebeegeebees. I wonder what he is doing now.

    All in all, the programme was a toe-curling but compulsive watch. At first, I found myself looking down at all of these salesmen’s pettiness and deference to pathetic hierarchies. Then I realised that, 21 years ago, I was a little bit like them…

    I think it was quite difficult, though, not to feel part of a hierarchy when every saloon car was badged in such a way that one was either ‘better than’ or ‘less than’ the person in the next lane.

    It’s for this reason that the Rover 600 stands out as one of the great democratising forces in saloon-car motoring:

    From its launch in 1993, buyers could specify the extra-cost option (£50, I recall) of having their 620SLi, or maybe 623GSi, badge removed altogether (or, rather, not fitted) on the track at Cowley. The ‘Delete Badge Option’ trend caught on over the following years and, with it, the hierarchies began to fall away.

    • @Craig: Mercedes Benz offered the ‘delete badge’ option much earlier in the 70s, at no cost. Here in Germany this was mostly used by buyers of the more expensive versions (say, 280E or 450SEL) to disguise the real expense of the car…

  11. Back in Nov 94 I was on the company car ladder too, my choice at my grade then…

    Vauxhall Cavalier 1.8iLS
    Peugeot 405SLDT
    Rover 214SEi
    Citroen Xantia 1.9TD LS

    I went for the Xantia, and even managed to swing getting a ‘Dimension’ limited edition, loved that car.

    Enjoy the Cavalier, they were a great car in their day and better than the Vectra that followed by a country mile

  12. You could not have chosen a better car. My firm had several of these, never a problem. One SRi did 250,000 hard miles on the same clutch and the same engine. Comfortable, rock solid, bullet proof, reliable, a vast improvement over most cars available today. And as you note, you can even see out of it!

  13. That video is brilliant by the way. Bad news for BL enthusiasts as the Maestro Clubman D is slated, and the bloke with the Montego complained his coat hook fell off.

    I never realized people cared so much about whether they had an ‘i’ or not… or actually had taken the time to sort coat hooks into different types.

  14. The mark 3 Cav – the (company) car my neighbour taught me to handbrake turn in, 2.0 L – THE lane 3 special!!!! An apprentice in my year bought a 1.4 (yup!) example in ’92 straight off the fleet for £3999…

  15. Remember that video very well. The BMW guy bought from a dealership that I later went to work for. Even naughtier than he appeared on camera. Car was badged as a 320i but was actually the cheaper 4 cylinder 318iS. God bless the power of a hierarchy.

  16. Andrew:

    Was only waxying lyrical about the Cav3 with Keith last night. I had one of the final 3’s – a grey 2.0 16v GLSi bought for peanuts off a trade contact in Co Durham.

    Possibly the only car I ever owned that never cost me a copper coin in problems. 5th gear was a long as the A1M, gutsy engine and fast as f*** when you give it a sugar lump.

    IMO: The finest product ever to come out of Kimpton Road and I will agree… one the best motors to either “J” or handbrake turn!

    Loved it!

  17. Love the video – feels so alien compared to the present day, despite being only 20 years old. The slowness of the Maestro D driver is hilarious – you can see HGVs pounding past him on several occasions.

    Unlike Keith, I have no nostalgia for the ridiculous rigid hierarchy of company cars in the 80s and early 90s. I was only a teenager at the time, but I still remember watching that “From A to B” thing when it was first broadcast and thinking how petty some of the people on it were. The idea that you couldn’t have a GL if your colleagues only had an L – what a load of nonsense! Everyone has different priorities for the way they spend their cash, so just let people pay for whatever car they want. So long as the monthly lease cost comes out of their salary, who cares?

  18. Love the vid…

    “Wivaht the badge, its impossible for someone behind to know your’e driving a seedy Astra”!

  19. @14 – Yes great in its day. But a “vast improvement” over cars you can buy today? Probably the most serious case of rose coloured reminiscence I have come across in a long time. And that saying something as a regular visitor here!

  20. @24 — completely disagree, a 1.8i Cavalier Mk3 is a perfectly useable “classic”. 90bhp engine with only 1150 kgs to pull means 0-60 in 11 sec and long gearing means easy cruising.

    Just need a Blaupunkt stereo to complete 😉

  21. IIRC, it was the 1.6 that had 90hp. Weren’t the radios on the facelift Mark 2s Grundigs?

  22. @13 Alexander: That’s a helpful correction about Mercedes-Benz, and not Rover, being the company that initiated the ‘Delete Badge Option’. Not for the first time, my misplaced patriotism got in the way of the facts…

    What you say about German drivers of the expensive Mercedes models often choosing to have the tailgate-badges deleted is telling. Would you say that, socially, there was – and perhaps still is – some embarrassment over being seen by others to spend so much money on a car?

    On the basis of the film, the British sales reps would have done everything to have those badges stuck back on! Then again, they weren’t driving top-of-the-range Mercedes-Benzes.

  23. @26 IIRC, the Mk2 1.6 had 90bhp pre-catalytic converter.

    The 1.8i got a cat and this reduced the output down to 90bhp. The 1.6i cat was down to 75bhp for the Mk3. The base 2.0 had 115 bhp and the 16V [red cam cover] got 130 bhp.

  24. How things have changed. Does anyone care what level of car you have any more ? Apart from that, even poverty spec cars come with PAS, ABS, fuel injection, electric windows and aircon! Back in the day, poverty spec meant no carpets and a single door mirror ! The cav still makes a very useable car -it could cruise at 90 all day long (quietly and efficiently) – and will only cost buttons to fix.

  25. What an enjoyable and endearing film, once upon a time some would have labelled these guys tossers- all about status.

    I think they are great!

  26. Mestro’s were never that slow surely ? – I had the luxury of driving a 1989 (in 1990 I might add) an astra 1.6 diesel merit (which I would believe would be similar spec to the maestro diesel or less?). It was very slow to accelerate, but would do 85 (as long as your eardrums would allow)

  27. remember that programme too… was it really 1993? I love the guy who said he and his wife cried when he was given a Maestro Clubman!

    In my company I had an Escort 1.3L then a Popular ( I didnt do anything wrong – honest). After that I inherited a colleague’s Volvo 240 Estate – as good as it got back then.

  28. Dear Mike,

    Why can’t you just write ‘fast as anything else on the road’ or similar, instead of lowering things as you did. Regards, Andrew.

  29. Aww Keith, I just recently let my Mk3 Cavalier 1.8i LS go after 6 trouble free years. Great cars and they don’t drive all that bad either.

    Camping holidays with the kids, towing a trailer, on long motorway runs we got 45mpg out of the old girl easily. It’s been three weeks since I had to take it to the scrappers (sob, but the tin worm had really badly taken hold) and I’m still heartbroken that it had to go. I’ve never been attached to a car like that before, it felt like losing a member of the family. OK I’m a weirdo. Enjoy the Cav, look after it and it will look after you!

  30. I think in ’98 Rover stopped badging the cars as 416SLi etc and just started putting 400 etc on the back.

  31. I learned to drive in a Cavalier 2.0 LS….. Dad had one on a K plate as his Motability car with the 4speed auto box. A lot of happy memories of that car – the sport mode made the car really shift. Also the ooooh factor of windows that closed when you held the key in the door lock……

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