Wednesday November 20, 2019
40 YEARS OF THE VAUXHALL ASTRA
If you paid a visit to the Scottish Motor Show back in 1979, you might well have encountered a very significant new model from Vauxhall, in the forms of an Astra 1300S GL Hatchback – ‘Aerodynamics in Action’ - and 1300S L Estate – ‘Designed with Flair, engineered with quality’.
The Astra was the first Griffin-badged car with front-wheel-drive, and it is almost impossible to believe that it debuted at a time when Dr. Hook was topping the “Hit Parade” with When You're In Love With A Beautiful Woman.
General Motors commenced work on their T80 project in 1976; the VW Golf was a major inspiration for the new model.
By the end of the decade, Detroit ordered that Opel would be responsible for passenger car design in Europe, meaning that Vauxhall sales would soon be restricted to the UK.
Unlike the Viva or the Chevette, there were to be no export versions of the Astra.
Furthermore, the Kadett D was also available to British motorists, and by 1981 Opel and Vauxhall had merged their dealerships.
Astra sales commenced in March 1980, with Vauxhall informing potential buyers ‘It’s What The Roads Have Been Waiting For’ in a television advertisement with strange overtones of a Clint Eastwood film: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1&v=HmbZoJDwTx0&feature=emb_logo.
As the range expanded, there was also this staggeringly uninspiring promotion.
Luton boasted it was ‘more economical than a Golf, Strada, Horizon, Renault 14’.
Motor tested the GL Hatchback in early 1980 and concluded that it was ‘an impressive all-rounder’.
Younger readers may find the idea of a ‘quartz clock’, ‘remote control door mirror’ and ‘a push-button radio’ being “luxury” features as quaint but it is often forgotten how Spartan many family cars were at that time.
An Astra GL also looked smartly contemporary and at £4,602 offered good value for money.
Your local Vauxhall dealer might have also pointed out, the Ford Escort Mk. II still adhered to a 1960s design formula; the Mk. III would not make its bow until September.
Meanwhile, Autocar evaluated the L Estate, which was a fairly unusual car at that time as no UK-based manufacturer offered a five-door FWD station wagon - the Astra may have been German-built until 1981, but its identity was essentially British.
The tester lauded its carrying capacity, ride, handling and steering, and thought its nearest rival was the GSA Club Estate – high praise indeed.
The chaps at Car magazine thought the Astra’s only real flaws were ‘indifferent front seats’ and ‘excessive road noise’, although they seemed to prefer the ‘individuality’ of its GSA saloon and Renault 14 rivals.
However, What Car, that journal favoured by people who wanted to learn about ‘sensible’ vehicles, even voted the Astra its “Car of The Year”.
The Astra Mk. I line-up also included a slow-selling booted version but the launch of the Escort XR3 in late 1980 made the lack of a “sporting variant” seem quite acute.
Vauxhall introduced the SR for the 1983 model year, although certain Ford enthusiasts noted it was essentially the standard 1.6-litre engine combined with five-speed transmission, modified suspension and alloy wheels - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H-sYZCEyjAI.
But many a young sales representative dreaming of arriving at that business conference in Dorking at the wheel of a Jamaica Yellow SR.
1983 was, of course, the year of the GTE, more of which in a seperate blog.
As for the fleet manager or the private motorist who cared more for boot space than performance, the great Patrick Allen, King of The Voiceover, presented the Vauxhall range including the Astra – ‘the one everyone’s trying to beat’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WyfF5tbIY58.
The second-generation Astra replaced the Mk. I in October 1984 and today, the original versions are rarer than an edition of Judge Rinder that does not make you want to run away to the Falkland Islands.
The first Astras were instrumental in transforming Vauxhall’s image – even if to see a surviving example at a show does make me feel incredibly old.
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