Advert of the week : Vauxhall Cavalier Mk2

Keith Adams

Enjoy a minute's worth of Vauxhall Cavalier Mk2 action
Enjoy a minute’s worth of Vauxhall Cavalier Mk2 action

Remember when 90bhp was enough?

When the Vauxhall Cavalier Mk2 was launched in August 1981, it really did revolutionise the repmobile market. Yes, as FWD saloons went, it was conventionally engineered, but its solidity and all-round competence did rather a lot of GM’s fortunes. The result: fleet managers quickly switched allegiances from Ford. Looking at this video, it’s easy to see why Vauxhall became such a major player during the 1980s…

Enjoy the video.

Keith Adams


  1. 90bhp enough?

    Of course it is. I’ve had many sized engines over the years, my current 2011 Civic Type-S 1.4 i-Shift is only around 100bhp, and it’s great fun. The paddleshifts especially are good, and by using the gears cleverly, combined with the rev-happy vtec engine, progress is very swift. No-one left behind me would ever guess it’s such a low powered car.

    My 50bhp AX was damn good fun too, more power doesn’t always equal more fun, you just have to be creative with the gears.

    My Grandad with his 8.6 litre Pontiac might say otherwise though!

  2. Having today driven an Austin Ambassador Vanden Plas (Y-reg, naturally) I can clearly see why the Cavalier was a good choice. The Ambassador wallows around like a sponge in a bucket and is in no way pleasant to drive fast. Lots of space and comfy it may have been, but it isn’t sporty and for the market this car was aimed at it missed the mark. I think it was a slight step backwards from the Princess.

  3. I’ve noticed that lots of Vauxhalls from that period were badged “S” i.e. you could get an Astra mk 1 L with also had a 1300S badge, yet the 1200cc version was unbadged. In addition, the Cavalier advert has 1600S and 1300S mentioned. Was this a higher tune of engine or something?

    • Yes, there were the N and S versions of the engine elsewhere in Europe, the S engines had higher compression rayio

  4. Nice one Triomatic!  I’ve been wondering about that for years.75bhp from a 1.3 was excellent for the time.

  5. I had a Mk2 SRi 1800 and it was one of the best cars I have owned.You didn’t have to drop from 5th to 4th to get enough speed to overtake on a dual carriageway in a quick time. Just a heavy enough right foot!

  6. @ SteveA mate had a 1.3 base 2 door saloon years ago. It was as quick as hell and sprinted up to 70mph like most other 1.6’s would have.Shame it rusted quicker than a coke can in a Russian salt mine.

  7. I had a 1984 1.8 CDi and a 1987 1.8 GLi and thought they were great cars. – both owned around 1995ish. Light years ahead of my Cortina MK 4 80/MK V

  8. @ Mike Humble I remember those 2 door Cavalier saloons.  One of the lads in the village in about 1992 had one in red.  He made it look like an SRi with the proper wheels, two tone paint etc.  It looked fantastic – Vauxhall should have released the SRi in the two door shell.He then ruined it by sticking “coupe” in huge letters down the side…

  9. It’s a shame you never see any mk2 Cavs any more.   A mate had an LXi in white – same engine as the SRi, but looked even better due to standard alloys and better interior trim.  Cracking car, lovely to drive.  They just all seemed to disappear as soon as the mk3 Cavalier got cheap enough.  Been a while since I saw a mk3, too.

  10. I used to go down to Luton and swap a Maestro for a Cavalier for appraisal. I always found the performace excellent and well screwed together. The interior of early models was very dull though –  acres of black hard plastic on the dash but Mr rep chose to have one over a Maestro. Right car right time. Really liked the Mk 3 as well –  where are they all now?

  11. Good cars – in their day. Managed to do most things better than everyone elses offerings without being outstanding in any one area – road burning SRi excepted. They also had a neat feature (along with contemporary Astras) where you could withdraw the whole clutch assembly plus release bearing from underneath without having to split the ‘box off. I guess rust in the rear wheel arches killed most of them in the end, plus heavy engine wear due to high-mile fleet use.

  12. I well remember the Cav MK2 with fondness.  My former company had a 1985 1.6 Estate.  Its performance felt more like a 2 litre at the time, when we drove many miles up and down the motorways and open roads.The 1.8SRi must have been even better, at 115bhp.I find these days with congested roads and so many roundabouts / traffic lights, that a car with around 100+ hp is quite adequate – for me at least.

  13. Like Paul T, I had a Mk2 SRi. The torque-iest car I’ve ever owned. You could almost start in third facing up a hill and still out-accelerate anything else nearby.The downside was amazing torque steer; the front wheels couldn’t really handle the power. Hit the accelerator hard and you were never quite sure which direction the wheels might decide to go

  14. I always fancied a Cdi spec hatchback, but driven one or two saloons when I worked for the Metpolice, we had brown 1300 auto in our department, very nice car to drive well built. Having owned a Austin Ambassador V-Plas A reg, was not a fast sportly car, I lowered the supension a bit and improve handling. You can see why the buying public went for sporty car  than the Ambassador .

  15. Of course cars in those days were a lot lighter, so 90 horses was fast enough for decent speed. As IanS mentioned, GM Opel were brilliant around this time at making their cars cheap and easy to service, which took away the worries fleet managers had about ‘complicated’ FWD cars.The Mk2 Cavalier was dull looking, like the Mk1 Astra. The Mk3 Cavalier was, I thought, quite stylish

  16. Perhaps the Mk2 Cavalier wasn’t as stylish as the MK1 and it didn’t offer a Coupe body, but did provide 5 door hatch & estate capability.  I think the Astra Mk1 looked good for its time and I always thought better than the subsequent Mk2.

  17. I dont think you could buy non S models in the UK – All Astras and UK versions of the FWD Kadett used the higher tune versions of the 1.3/1.6 Family 1/Family 2 Engines. The lower tune non S versions where offered in other markets. 

  18. I have a Mk3 Cavalier 1.8 8 valve engine offering either 89 or 90bhp (depends on your source material) and quick it ain’t! Of course by the early 90s with environmental issues becoming more  prevalent a single point injection system and a cat were fitted, so power was well down on its Mk2  predecessors, plus the 1.8 was of course the “rep mobile” special.  It is most at home on the motorway and can knock on the door of 50mpg…   Its lively enough though, if you’re one up and thrashing the nuts off it.  Nothing like the Cav 16v SRi I once owned – that was a quick car.I used to have a Mk1 Astra estate with the “1600S” engine.  Yes it was quick in fact we used to call it the flying wardrobe.  Good load lugger that car was, sadly the tin worm got it at 25 years old.  I believe the “S” stood for the engine being a higher compression version, (from memory from the Astra’s handbook) but don’t quote me on that though.

  19. From memory the adoption of the FWD Cavalier as a fleet car was helped by the non acceptance of the (then) strange jellymold looking Sierra, there was a company car tax break that favoured the GM product, and repeated Ford labour instability, working to rule and strikes prevented delivery of product. Once the big fleets accepted the FWD concept, Ford struggled to regain the previous fleet market dominance. The replacement for the Sierra was the Mondeo which had FWD.

  20. I had a green one, just like the still picture at the start. It’s a pity they didn’t show the amazing green interior; green dashboard, green seats, green gear shifter it had it all. Green cars today are just not green enough, a hybrid battery pack doesn’t compare.

  21. @bangernomics   There’s a red mark 1 Cav on eBay at the moment, and everything inside barring the steering wheel is burgundy!  Eighties colour-coded interiors were ace.

  22. The mk2 cavalier brings back good memories of all the Vauxhall cars my family and myself we have owned from the years 1987-2008. We have all moved on from Vauxhall my parents now own a 06 Mercedes Benz C220D sport to see them into retirement after a 2000 series 2 Omega 2.2 CDX (B) and I drive a dull Ford Mondeo mk3 Diesel after a Boring Vectra 1.8 (B) owned that for 7 long years.But they were not all bad cars the local Vauxhall dealer changed from a family run to big motor group take over and  thats when things started to let us down service wise we went elsewhere for our next new motors. I also can’t wait for the development story of the MK3 Cavalier on this web site remember its Q models Gsi2000,Turbo 4×4 and V6.

  23. For you Cav fans out there there’s an early Mk3 SRi on eBay right now with 8k miles on it, and an early 2.0L with 44k. Proper timewarp machines!

  24. How much connection was there between the Euro Cavalier and the GM North America Chevorlet Cavalier and it’s spinoffs?I recall a rental Cavilier Estate I used in Arizona, NM, Utah and a bit of Colarado in about May 1982. An automatic, probably a 1.6L and it was very slow going up those mountains and higher altitudes. 

  25. @LeonUSA

    I’m a bit confused. Really there was virtually nothing in common between Euro and NA Cavaliers. Theoretically the “platform” was the same J-car but no parts or panels were common.US spec Cavaliers were 2.2 litres if I recall correctly (Ford Tempo was 2.3) but they had about the same power, or less, as a UK 1.6 due to smog gear. And, yes, with an auto they were pretty sluggish.I had a brand new 1986 1.6L 5-door Cavalier as a company car and it was excellent in every way. 5-speed manual, Carmine Red – I loved it.

    I can’t agree with an earlier poster that it was “light years” better than the Mk V Cortina, that is typical internet hyperbole, but of course they were more modern by virtue of the front wheel drive configuration and usefully better all round, but I loved my 1980 2.0GL Cortina. It was a beautiful shiny gold metallic with a brown interior. Yum!I later worked at a Vauxhall dealership and drove just about every model of Mk 11 and Mk 111 Cavs…the 16 valvers were amazing, went like scalded cats….which is ridiculous really as they only had 150 bhp.

    I guess our expectations were lower then.Last point, the Mk 111 seemed horribly bland and ugly compared to the MKs 1 and 11, especially in the lower spec models, but they were awesome motorway cruisers due to better aerodynamics. Even the 1.6 could easily cruise around 100 mph. Then again, even the 1.3 Astras would top out well over 100 too…those Family 11 engines were pretty nifty!

  26. my first car was one of these , a family hand me down a 1.6GL hatch back ,4 speed gear box ,no power steering but it was mine…. GVS 64Y it was a good car , a shame my dad traded in the first one which was a Y reg 1600 diesel (non Turbo) with 5 speed gear box but he wanted it for towing and it was about 54 bhp and the 1.3 was about 70 bhp and the 1.6 was 90bhp . in the 6 months we had it it was ok and i would of got it…..

  27. My Dad dad had 2, a green Y reg L & a silver C reg CD.

    Considering how many were built they seemed to quickly become “old bangers” then vanish from the roads about 10 years ago. I’ve heard of a few stories about rusting rear arches & camshaft problems. My Dad had a few electric problems with his 2.

    Even now I still see a fair amount of Mk3’s, though the earlier ones are getting scare, I did see a J reg one recently & that was the first for a while.

    Someone at the same company as me had an F reg until a couple of years ago.

  28. @SimonAlberta:

    On the contrary, the Mk2 Vauxhall Cavalier and Mk1 Chevrolet Cavalier shared many, many parts. Most of the body panels (doors, wings) were the exact same, particularly the 2-door and 4-door body styles. Where they differed most was the front end, where the Vauxhall used aerodynamic lights that were not permitted in the United States. Chevrolets used square sealed-beam headlamps.

    The Chevrolet also had 3-door hatchback and 5-door estate variants available from the launch in 1981, whereas the Vauxhall had the 5-door hatchback.

    The Chevrolet Cavalier was powered by a version of the GM Europe Family II engine that used pushrods instead of an overhead cam (GMNA was very averse to using overhead cam engines at the time, after the monumental failure of the (OHC) Chevy Vega in the 1970s). At launch they used a two-barrel carburretor and were fitted with catalytic converter and exhaust gas recirculation, as was typical of all North American engines. Peak power output was 88 hp. This engine was known for being rough and very unreliable; magazine reviews at the time noted that stalling in warm weather was quite common. It also made the car laughably slow, with 0-60 mph times around 16 seconds.

    This engine was replaced in 1982 with a 2.0 L version with a single fuel injector at the throttle body. Peak power was DOWN to 86 hp, but the fuel injection system helped it run more smoothly and reliably, and the displacement increase provided more torque.

    By the mid-’80s all of the North American J-bodies were given optional engines (this was around the time the price of oil crashed therefore fuel economy concerns in the United States became almost non-existent). The Chevy’s North American brothers (Pontiac J2000/Sunbird and Buick Skyhawk) were using a turbocharged variant of the SOHC four-cylinder (the 1.8 Turbo produced 150 hp; the 2.0 Turbo, 165 hp). Instead of using the turbocharged four the Chevrolet used a more conventional engine as an option: a 2.8 L V6. Equipped with multi-point electronic fuel injection it made 130 hp, later increased to 135 and 140. (The Chevrolet never used a diesel engine.)

    The Mk 3 Vauxhall and Mk 2 Chevrolet, released around the same time, were vastly different. Whereas the new Vauxhall was significantly re-engineered (using the new GM2900 chassis) the Chevrolet was largely the same as the original 1982 model. The Chevy’s engine compartment was enlarged to better fit the V6 engine, the front and rear lights were changed to a more aerodynamic style and the interior was revised but otherwise it was the same as the 1982 model Cavalier. This generation of Chevy Cavalier was fitted with the 2.2 L (pushrod) engine as standard. The V6’s displacement was punched out to 3.1 L.

    By the time the Mk 3 Chevy Cavalier came out in 1995, about the same time as the Vauxhall Vectra, they were completely different. The 1995 Cavalier was made smaller and eschewed the V6 engine, replacing it with a double overhead cam 2.3 L four (later a 2.4, and by 2002 all engines were replaced with the 2.2 L Ecotec four). This Cavalier underwent a few cosmetic changes until its cancellation in 2005. By then it had earned the derisive nickname ‘Crapalier’.

  29. A few posts to come from me. 1st car, 1978 Cav mk1 2.0 auto. Bought for 200quid in 1992. Quickly found out it did 18mpg and i had 28 mile commute each day, ouchh! But not one problem in 8 months of owning it and was nice to drive. It was adapted for disabled? Well, the power pedal was where the brake should be. Being auto, no clutch pedal, the brake was where clutch would be on any manual! Interesting to brake with left foot, but quickly got used to it. Ive only done 3 emergency stops and 2 were in this! 1 could have been fatal and the lady at fault on foot knew it. I saved for a newer car…

  30. Though i was a child car buff, i’d only driven that mk1 Cav. Before my next car, i checked many opinions, facts and figures. Cav mk2 looked a good choice and i liked its look. 1st 1 i saw and tested was a 1983 A reg 1.8 cdi auto, in the dark! Absoluely won over, but knocked 50quid off the 675 price as 1 foglamp was out. Told the guy i’d have to by a pair. Just bought a spare for 5quid! Beautiful car once i saw it in daylight. Metalic milk chocolate brown and same colour velour interior and dash. Colour coded exterior, even the SPONGY boot spoiler, no plastic carry handles as i call them. All those dials on the dash told me the info to know the car was going fine. Battery voltage dial was very helpful. The oil pressure dial was enssential as it was auto and after only 2 weeks went wacky, as did the engine revs. My mate took 1 look at both dial and engine and told me to check the small hoses to do with the oil system. Found 1 short hose solid with dirt, cleaned and problem solved. Its a common problem i’m told. Had that car for 3 years of problem free motoring. Commuted from Bournemouth to Torquay each weekend for 6 months, 240 mile round trip. With 123k on the clock, time to sell. LITTLE DID I KNOW!

  31. Just before selling my mk2 cdi, i worked by Bournemouth beach. A workmate had a Y reg Volvo 2.2. He wanted to swap and 200quid for my Cav. I looked at his, big car, big big chunky buttons and big thirst. NOPE i said. A week later a straight swap, NOPE again. 3 days later he offered me his car plus 200. What a turn around! NOPE i said. Then i challenged him a race from Boscombe pier up to a set of traffic lights. The 1st part being a very steep hill, the 2nd was still upwards. He accepted. Before we set off, side by side, I said you have 400cc more and i will show you why i wont do a deal. He looked puzzled. 1/4 mile race started, i was 2 car lengths ahead in 3 seconds. The race end he was 9 or 10 seconds behind. He got out and upped car and cash to
    250. No chance, i was after a good car, not a fat, thirsty donkey. Volvo, then were good and safe, but way to much cost to run. In the end, i had a bill to pay, so the car went for 580. Lost 45 in 3 years! Would have struggled to flog a Volvo. Lost my job and moved. Ended up with a Metro. Testdrive it stuttered. I knocked the girl down from 275 to 125quid and took a chance. Told local parts person and he reached for a small part. 3pound, 25pence. Thats what you need he said. Fitted to side of carb and engine was perfect. Felt a bit guilty. Drove that car for 10 months and scrapped it for 80quid. Not bad. Next car…

  32. Next car, an Maestro Van den plas 1.6. But it had an EFi rear spoiler which was very odd?? Elec everything as a Cdi, but not fuel injected. Still those engines were pretty good then. Powersteering rack failed after 8 months. Bought my bosses Vaux Senator 2.5 manual straight six, 12 valve. LOVELY! Had plenty of cash then, so average of 25mpg wasnt a worry. 140bhp was plenty for the size and weight of this beast and would beat my old Cav Cdi easily. I raced a mate in his Cav 2.0 Gli. Beat him by 5 seconds over a 3/4 mile run. The strange bit, his 1988 GLi had 129bhp but was a lower model than the CDi at 115bhp. He also had SRi gearing, but not an SRi engine. I later had a 1989 g reg 2.0 CDi 115bhp. We ‘met’ on the M5 motorway heading toward Taunton. I saw him coming in my mirror-FAST! I sped upto 115mph, top speed and he just shot past me??? WHAT THE???. Later at mine, workshop manual showed the GLi did have the bhp of an SRi. Torque maybe less? But he could get to 132mph on the flat. If you want a cheap, disguised old SRi, the answer is a late 80’s GLi. Cheaper insurance and parts too.

  33. Senator needed way to much for MOT, a man took it, paid 145, just so he could have the engine! Another cheap Metro. Paid 60quid, 1 week later changed a wheel bearing. OR rather 3 BMW dealership mechanics did it totally free on a big construction site i was resident of, 1 evening. They were reserve firemen and had just finished their weekly training on our site. They went off site for 20 minutes and came back like superheroes, blue lights flashing and sirens going, with a load of tools – JUST TO FIX MY CAR! That was so funny. Never forgot them. They told me i would never get the old bearing off without special tools and then it was a struggle. Took them 25 minutes. Metros are underated. I took that car through hell and high water. Just a 1.3L model. I commuted from Torquay to N. Devon each day for 6 weeks. 200 miles a day, 6 days a week. Work payed for fuel, but not lodge, thats why. I took it through very flood areas to the point i was almost floating. Not a drop of water leaked through the doors. Im talking about water, 2 feet and an 80 metre stretch of it. Was hammering with rain. Another 20 miles on the same trip, i had to go about 3/4 of a mile up a familiar hill. That day, it was a river. More than a foot of water gushing down at me. 2nd gear, foot down and hope. I hit 1 raised manhole cover-violent lurch, and various sized invisible rocks. The noise made me cringe, oh no, thats damage. Half way up the hill was clearer. Stopped to check, but all was ok, lucky!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.