Ohhh… I was out and about this weekend, and found myself giving chase to a gorgeous Bright Copper Metallic Vauxhall Cavalier Mk1 Sports Hatch (like the one above) on the motorway just to get a closer look. When I managed to draw alongside, I gave the driver a broad smile and a thumbs-up – just to show her my appreciation of her handsome devil of a car. She must have thought I was nuts, looked at me piteously and roared off in a cloud of unburnt hydrocarbons. Lovely…
I’ve owned two near-identical models, both in Bright Copper Metallic like this one (the second of which is pictured below), and they figure highly on the list of the all-time favourite cars I’ve owned. I mean, look at it – what a handsome devil it is. Believe it or not, I do identify myself as a classic Vauxhall fan, with cars in the marque’s back catalogue really tugging at my heartstrings.
A Chevette was one of my very first cars, and a Cavalier saloon run on a shoestring just after passing my driving test taught me a thing or two about driving and car maintenance. But for me, something went badly wrong for Vauxhall along the way. Writing this blog now is probably the first time I’ve really considered when it was that the company’s products lost it, and it’s actually quite easy to nail that down.
I know that, for many people, Vauxhall lost it when it replaced the Cavalier Mk3 with the Vectra. I can see why they’d think that, but I’m not entirely sure I agree. I would blame a lot of this perception on a certain Mr Clarkson, who did a phenomenal job of rubbishing the car on Top Gear. To this day, I know certain ex-senior Vauxhall people who are still seething about the programme’s handling of the Vauxhall Vectra – and I can understand why. If you’re too young to remember, his review is still there in all its glory on YouTube (see below).
However, I guess the company has itself to blame by giving it an all-new (to the UK) name and backing it up with a glitzy advertising campaign. It set expectations too high. Had they called it the Cavalier Mk4, I suspect things might not have been that bad – it felt like a sensible update of the Mk3. Instead, the company ditched all the goodwill built up around that name and set about attacking the repmobile market with an all-new franchise.
For me, I reckon that Vauxhall lost it with the launch of the Astra Mk3 in 1991. I still remember the utter disappointment when I first drove one after it went on sale, with a squidgy throttle and wobbly dynamics to match. After the sharpness of the Mk1 and the progressiveness of the Mk2, the third-generation was a blobby disappointment.
That, followed by the dismal first-generation Corsa, the pointless Tigra and the underwhelming Omega all set Vauxhall on the wrong path well before the arrival of the Vectra. It was that car that merely drew everyone’s attention to how unappealing GM’s UK arm was becoming in the 1990s. It would get worse. There were bad cars. Who remembers the Sintra? Or the Adam? Or the Viva? Or the Agila? And then there were ones that were actually okay, but no-one cared about, such as the Cascada (below) or the Signum.
And it’s a shame, because in that sea of mundanity Vauxhall continued to build genuinely good cars. All Astras from 1997 have been sharp drivers, and the Insignia was a genuinely good large family car. As good as the Cavalier was back in the day. But by then, no-one cared.
There is some good news coming down the line, though, and Vauxhall’s era of dismalness is finally ending. The current Peugeot-based model range is vastly more appealing and better to drive than its GM-engineered ancestors and, with its very latest offerings, I reckon Vauxhall has rediscovered its design mojo at long last.
There’s even talk about bringing back the Manta nameplate, attached to a nice-looking electric coupé – and I could get even more excited about that idea if the execs were brave enough to call it the Calibra Mk2. Or maybe even Cavalier Sports Hatch, to appeal to this former fanboy of the marque.