England’s most loathed car or a Bangernomic bargain?
Vectra: A very general motor
During a very recent ‘smoking hut with mug of tea’ conversation, a colleague swung into the staff car park, parked and joined us before walking into the office to clock on. His friend is trying to sell his car and has been doing so for a few weeks now getting nowhere for his efforts. There have been one or two viewings from local buffoons and Danny Dyer wannabes trying to steal it from under his nose but the lad’s a smart cookie thus sending the clowns away with a clipped ear. Is the car too expensive? No, I don’t think so. Is it in poor condition? Quite the reverse in fact. Here’s the problem – it’s a 2000 1.8 Vauxhall Vectra SRi.
The car is lovely in condition with its snazzy two-tone fascia and half-leather sports seats with the only non-standard item being a bad ‘ass rear silencer and a wireless that imitates something from The Matrix. The original Grundig CD player will go back into the dash once sold and, if I was in the market for a sweet looking five-door hatch with a hint of vim and vigour, I would do worse than having a punt with the Vauxhall. You see, what I have realised yet failed to understand is just why exactly the Vauxhall Vectra B seems to be hated and laughed at even more than Justin Bieber.
Well, in fairness, if the Vectra was a holiday it would be a static caravan in Rhyl, if it was any time of the week it would be Wednesday morning or, if it was a treat, it would be Opal Fruits – in other words amazingly and crushingly boring. The Vectra burst onto the scene in 1996 to replace the capable Cavalier 3 – a car that just got better and better. Not by a long way was the Vectra a bad-looking car – in fact, some say it had some nice styling cues especially those tear drop mirrors. Being a Vauxhall, it was almost guaranteed to be easy to own and hassle free to run via its plethora of sensibly located dealers.
Launched with some glossy advertising and epic TV adverts, the Vectra still managed to look slightly Cavalier-ish to the weary eye by still being familiar to current Vauxhall buyers. Publicity spoke of a new level of technology and driving satisfaction yet somehow it all never quite went to plan from day one. A certain strain of Clarkson fever was reaching unheard of heights and his well-known slating of the car still causes topic for debate even now. I will admit that, at the time, I thought it was funny – even if I secretly thought (and still do) the little plastic tool for removing the tyre valve caps was rather clever and useful.
What’s in a name? Everything…
My own take on the Vectra? The name killed it. Part of General Motors plan to bring European model names into line meant that the Cavalier moniker was dropped even though that was the car which had dragged Vauxhall out of the gloomy 1970s (when they were known for mainly building rusty, dull cars) and turned the company into a European force with products featuring a real engineering-led comeback. The early RWD Cavalier was the perfect antidote to cars like the Cortina and the Mk2 simply ran away with the market share when first launched. The 1988 Mk3 was a car of genuine quality and talent on road or track, especially in later facelifted guise with some powerful drive-lines available.
Had the UK market seen the car launched as all new 1996 Cavalier instead, it quite possibly may have been a rip-roaring success and a car to be proud to drive. Hold on, though, the Vectra was far from being a flop – in fact, it sold fairly well especially to fleet sales. With its tall fifth gear, it could stay in the outside lane all day, all week, all year and still knock on the door of 40mpg in 1.8 Ecotec guise. Sensible ergonomics ensured the car was easy to operate, the seats were fairly comfortable, pretty good refinement when cruising and, as for boot space in hatchback form, well that was a Photocopier Engineer’s delight.
First-generation Vectras were not exactly the best handling cars – predictable road manners would be the fairest description but certain nips, tucks and fettling for 2000 model year cars addressed most of the shortcomings with reliability and roadholding. The Lion’s share of the many improvements GM made were under the skin. New front and back light clusters were obvious to everyone but the significant features of what was quite genuinely a very thorough engineering update went largely unnoticed. However, all that was in vain as, by then, the Vectra was being eclipsed by its Mondeo and Passat rivals.
Replacement and factory closure
Vectra B soldiered on until 2002 when it was replaced by a European-built, all-new model which, sadly, also saw the end of passenger car production in Luton and countless supply chain companies in the UK. I will never forget being in Bedfordshire on the very day it was publicly announced that Luton was to cease car production with the loss of thousands of jobs. Yet oddly enough, it was all quiet and tranquil again a few weeks later – an interesting comparison to MG Rover at Longbridge, the loss of which still prompts debate even eight years after the company’s demise.
I have owned three Vectra Bs, with the last one being a post-2000 facelifted example. All of them gave good service to be truthful with the last one ploughing through rain, snow and flooded roads commuting between Hampshire and Surrey with a monthly trek to County Durham in the skilful hands of ‘er indoors prior to our re-location back south. It was the only car she was ever really gutted to see go when I sold it owing to my company Audi arriving. To this day, I will defend a well-cared for Vectra B as hard-grafting, dependable bangernomic umbrellas for five which are now cheaper than sunshine, yet just as useful.
Sadl,y though, a used Vectra is nothing more that a distress purchase that seems to attract the typical buyer that my work chum is fighting off with sticks. Its reputation in the marketplace is unfairly poor, now known for being poorly customised advertisements for everything in the Ripspeed section of Halfords or faded, smoking wrecks driven by the cast of Shameless with an interior as gut-wrenchingly dismal as the contents of a cheap Tandoori restaurant’s hoover bag. unny how the Cavalier Mk2 and Mk3 still evoke a vision of retro charm and respect isn’t it?
Vectra and Vauxhall – possibly England’s most unloved car and maker… You decide!