- In development since 1977
- Cavalier Mk1 goes on sale
- Styled for conservative fleet managers
- The rule-changing Vauxhall
- Badge appeal
- What the papers said
- Opel turns to Vauxhall
- Opening up the Cavalier’s appeal
- Running changes
- The instant sales success
- Opel Ascona – the car to take the fight to the Cortina
- Rolling out to the world
- Loving the Cavalier Sportshatch
- UK-built Cavaliers arrive in 1977
- Silver Aero attracts the crowds
- Vauxhall Cavalier Mk1: General’s turn-around
- From small acorns
- The Cavalier arrives
- Top of the pops
- Taking aim at the Cortina
In development since 1977
The J Car project was kicked off in 1977 and, from the outset, had been designed as a world car. It was agreed at board level to design it with as much parts interchangeability as possible – such as engines and transmissions – and the responsibility of putting the programme toegether was placed with two ‘Design Centres’, the GM Tech Centre in Detroit and Opel in Germany.
Both worked on the basic platform, with the directive being that there should be minimal difference between their two products. As a result, the European and RoW J-Cars ended up being largely – but not entirely – the same in size. The European-designed four-door was a couple of inches longer in the boot, while the fastback cars were three-door for the USA and five-door for Europe, and the rest of the world.
Gordon Brown, Opel’s Director of Design, commented in August 1981, that although it isn’t a true world car, there are enough similarities between all models to make the venture more than worthwhile. And he had extensive experience of the Chevrolet programme before moving the Rüsselsheim to work at Opel.
Cavalier Mk1 goes on sale
Vauxhall Cavalier Mk1 GL saloon: cleanly styled by Wayne Cherry
When the wraps came off the Cavalier at the 1975 London Motor Show at Earls Court, it was a genuine surprise, catching the media – and potential – buyers off guard. But the stylish saloon (above) and coupe (below) combination was soon attracting rave reviews, hitting the market in the dying days of the Cortina Mk3, when it was looking its weakest. Initial road tests were also complimentary. What Car? magazine was certainly complimentary, and in a group test alongside the Cortina and Morris Marina (both of which the Cavalier trounced), it concluded, ‘Vauxhall’s version of the Opel Ascona has helped put the previously ailing Luton firm on the road to recovery – and it’s easy to see why. The Cavalier is a good handling, sporty saloon aimed directly at the Cortina…’
The magazine went on: ‘As far as driver appeal is concerned, the Cavalier must be one of the best – perhaps the best – conventional saloon at the price. Its steering is accurate and responsive at all times, and it is not too heavy at parking speeds. Its cornering ability on smooth roads is excellent, although the well-located rear axle can hop about if the surface is poor. The ride may be a little firm for some tastes, but he ride/handling compromise is near perfect.’
Buyers certainly liked it, but that caused problems itself. Early availability was poor, with dealers clamouring for stock, while the waiting list grew. With production limited to a shared factory in Belgium, this was always going to be the case, while production at Luton was prepared and the Victor FE (now known as the VX range) wound down.
Styled for conservative fleet managers
J Car coupe was developed, but only saw production in South America
As for the styling, it was a conservative effort. The old droopsnoot front end was dropped, although a shovelnose, used on both the Opel and Vauxhall versions clearly showed that the Rüsselsheim engineering team favoured Wayne Cherry’s frontal styling for the Cavalier Mk1 over that of the Ascona B.
Aerodynamics were adequate by 1981 standards, with a drag co-efficient of 0.38 being achieved at the Pininfarina windtunnel (compare that with the 1982 Sierra’s 0.34). The five-door hatchback was a radical departure for Vauxhall, and a clever one, too. For the first time, Vauxhall was able to offer its buyers a choice of two-, four- and five-door body options, and that gave it an advantage over Ford with its outgoing Cortina.
Vauxhall, it seemed, finally had the armoury to take on, and beat, Ford at its own game.
Although it failed to threaten Ford in UK sales chart, along with the Chevette, there’s no doubt that the Cavalier helped save Vauxhall in the UK. As well as selling well and proving that fleet buyers could buy foreign cars, it also showed that Ford could be beaten at its own game in building a car that sales reps loved with all their hearts.
The Cavalier also went a long way to rehabilitating the marque in the minds of retail buyers and washing away memories of rust Luton-built models from the consciousness of the UK car-buying public. Its sales achievements would subsequently be dwarfed by what came later with the Mk2 and Mk3, but the original Cavalier’s place in Vauxhall – and, therefore, UK – model history should never be underestimated. It really was the car that helped save Vauxhall’s bacon, even if ultimately it led to the end of Luton’s design and engineering autonomy.
- With thanks to the Cavalier and Chevette Club
- Further reading: Vauxhall’s U Car on Vauxpedia
Cavalier Sportshatch was a stylish addition to the range in 1978
The 1979 Vauxhall Cavalier range: saloon, Coupe and Sportshatch.
Silver Aero concept was based on the Cavalier Sportshatch, but with far more aggressive styling.
Cavalier prototype’s frontal styling is already taking shape in 1972.
Initial plans were to introduce a rew body style, but this was dropped in favour of a lightly restyled Ascona.
Opel OSV lent some of its styling cues to the Ascona and Manta B
1970 Vauxhall SRV Concept – Wayne Cherry’s famous prototype.
Cavalier Sportshatch in front of Concept 1 (eft) and Cocept 2 (right)
The rule-changing Vauxhall
Today, the Cavalier’s profile is low, and it has yet to pick up the classic following that some of its less popular (when new) rivals have secured. Seeing examples of this once-popular piece of street furniture are rare, but there is a small and enthusiastic following for these cars – and it’s one that’s growing.
The scale of the Cavalier’s achievements when new should never be underestimated – it was responsible for Vauxhall’s initial huge growth in the UK between 1980 and 1983 and took the company to number two behind Ford.
Although the Cavalier dated far more quickly than the Sierra, it was clearly the right car for the time, and Vauxhall’s success was profound – during its six-year production run, it sold 807,624 in the UK. It was a story of good luck, great timing and hard work – and one that carried Vauxhall confidently into the 1990s as the UK’s number two.
Following Ford’s introduction of the ostensibly more sporting looking Sierra LX models, Vauxhall followed suit with its own two-tone alloy-wheeled Cavalier LX and LXi models, boosting showroom appeal considerably. In addition, the range-topping model was now powered by a 2.0-litre version of the GM Family Two engine, now boasting 130bhp, and giving the Cavalier SRi 130 125mph capability and a 0-60mph time of eight seconds – enough to see it nearly keep pace with the Sierra XR4x4 and MG Montego Turbo.
The appeal of the Cavalier had been on the wane since 1986, and certainly since the Sapphire revision of the Sierra, which took that car’s outlandishness away, leaving a stylish and progressive looking product. The arrival of impressive newcomers such as the Peugeot 405 and Renault 21 made the Cavalier look prematurely aged – a revolution was going on in European car design, with clean, aerodynamic design now leading the way. And in this climate, the Sierra had grown into its market sector perfectly, demonstrating just how far ahead of its time Patrick Le Quement’s styling actually was.
However, as the lights faded on the Cavalier Mk2, its development continued at a rapid pace. As well as that, it was also proving a production success for Vauxhall in the UK. The company commenced exporting cars in LHD form to other European countries, badged as Opels, which was a commitment to the UK factory, and proof that quality levels matched those of the Belgian and German factories. In November 1987, the then head of Vauxhall, John Bagshaw, told CAR Magazine that European buyers, ‘…can’t tell them from the German ones.’
The Cavalier Mk2’s swansong came in 1988, when the Calibre special edition (above) was introduced. It was based on the SRi 130 in saloon form only, and featured a Tickford-designed bodykit comprising of skirts, bumpers, door panels and rear spoiler, which was built by GM tuning specialists, Irmscher.
As well as the obvious cosmetic updates, the Calibre also sported sports suspension and a uprated exhaust system. It might have looked tacky in comparison to the opposition, but it proved popular, and the limited run of 500 soon sold out.
What the papers said
What Car? magazine pitched a Cavalier 1600GL against an Alfa Romeo Giuletta, Audi 80, Talbot Solara – and, most importantly, a Ford Cortina 2.0GL in its November 1981 issue. Given the Ford’s engine capacity advantage, it should have been an easy ride for the Dagenham car, but on the test track, the Cavalier was able to identically match its 10.7 second 0-60mph run, while outpacing it at the top end – 105mph against 101.
On the road, the Cavalier scored well again: ‘it has a tendency towards understeer, but is rapid nevertheless. The Cortina, on the other hand, is outclassed. Its live rear axle gives it a smooth ride that degenerates into lumpy, uneasy motions of the body once the roads are less than billiard smooth.’
Opel turns to Vauxhall
Vauxhall’s initial plans were to introduce a new body style (as was the case with the FE-series Victor), but this was dropped in favour of a lightly restyled Ascona
And so it proved in the UK, too. In 1972, Vauxhall’s management knew that the Opel U-car would make the great basis for a new mid-sized saloon, and in the interests of range rationalisation began working on an Anglicised version. The Cortina Mk3, which had been launched in 1970, had defined its market perfectly, with its 100in wheelbase, and a full range of engines from 1.3- to 2.0-litres. Vauxhall knew the Ascona could match the Cortina inch-by-inch in dimensions and engineering, although the top 1.9-litre cam-in-head Opel engine was down on power by 10bhp compared with Ford’s Pinto unit.
Development in the UK was a two-pronged affair. Design chief Wayne Cherry was tasked with giving the new car a British style all of its own, while the chassis and engineering teams hit Vauxhall’s test track at Millbrook to make it ride and handle UK roads well. On the styling front, initially, Cherry’s team wanted to give the car an all-new body as had happened with the Victor FE, but management soon vetoed that plan, strictly containing budgets. Given that Vauxhall’s star Designer was a lover of all things wedge shaped, having penned the stunning 1970 SRV concept as well as the droopsnoot Firenzas, this must have been a blow.
But the arrival of the Manta proved a godsend, allowing him to use that car’s front-end styling, therefore adopting a pragmatic approach. The Manta’s front end was further cleaned up for UK saloon consumption, losing its nose slots and headlamp surrounds to create a clean and modern look that would prove rather striking come launch date.
In engineering terms, the Cavalier was almost pure Ascona/Manta. The UK was spared the entry-level 1.2-litre ohv also used in the Kadett, leaving the initial launch line-up down to the two larger engines. There would be a good reason for this – the Cavalier would initially be built in Opel’s Antwerp plant in Belgium, and it meant production simplification. However, the 1256cc ohv unit used in the Viva and (later) Chevette would be developed to fit into the Cavalier, creating a much more UK-flavoured car.
Opening up the Cavalier’s appeal
The 1973 Concept 1 was penned in 1973 and was a clear indication of the direction of travel for Wayne Cherry’s Design Team in Luton
Final production version of the Cavalier Sportshatch in front of Concept 2 (left) and Concept 3 (right)
Six months after the arrival of the 2.0-litre Cavalier, the innovative and stylish Sportshatch (above) joined the coupe, which put right the older car’s one shortcoming – its lack of a wide-opening tailgate, like the Ford Capri Mk2. The development of the Sportshatch deserves a story of its own, such is its complexity, and you can read all about that on the brilliant Vauxpedia site.
However, in a nutshell, Vauxhall’s Styling Department had been working on its own version of the Sportshatch, and the arrival of this model (also adopted by Opel for the Manta) was vindication of the concept’s appeal. At its launch, the Vauxhall Press Office issued an interesting image of the new car alongside Concept 2 (1973) and Concept 3 – a pair of three-door proposals in a series of models penned by Cherry and his team. These were considered during the development of the Sportshatch, and lined-up like this show an interesting timeline of how the idea was honed for production.
Concept 1 (purple car, above) was a clean sheet design dating back to 1973, while Concept 2 was a development of this, and Concept 3 incorporated the Cavalier’s front end styling and was a move towards the production version. The definitive Sportshatch also shared its doors with the existing Coupe, and is probably more visually appealing as a result.
Estate version was cavernous, but failed to sell in the numbers anticipated of it
1985 facelift saw the introduction of a boldly-styled grille and various other changes
Vauxhall continued to fight hard to keep the Cavalier on top and, for the 1985 model year, it received a facelift, which added a more aggressive chip-cutter style grille, modified rear lamp clusters, new steering wheels, upgraded equipment levels, new upholstery options and updated instrument graphics added across the range.
Sadly, for Vauxhall, Ford was fighting harder to improve the Sierra and, in 1986, the newer car once again seized the sales lead, thanks to an aggressive marketing campaign and model realignment. As for the Montego, it was out of the running in reality, making the UK fleet market a two-horse race, after years of it being shared more evenly between the ‘Big Three’.
The two-door saloon was quietly dropped from the range, although it would form the basis of the later convertible version.
Robert Jankel of Panther created this concept convertible version in 1982 – it looked remarkably similar to the factory open-topped car when it appeared in 1985
And for its final facelift in 1987, the Cavalier was given a smoother front-end
Further revisions in 1987 saw the introduction of another, smoother-looking grille and rear lamp clusters, as well as the arrival of a wider range of trim levels for the 1.8-litre engine, as it was now a tax-break point favourable for company car drivers.
The instant sales success
The 1983 arrival of the CD 1800i cemented the Cavalier’s position as the pushy rep’s favourite car…
A mere year later, we’d find out how it would do against the Sierra. Once again, it was down to What Car? magazine to give a clear indication of the Cavalier’s ability against its closest rivals on UK soil, comparing the Ford in 1.6GL form, alongside the Cavalier 1.6GL, Volkswagen Passat CL and Austin Ambassador 1.7HL.
And it made the call in the Ford’s favour: ‘As for the Sierra’s rivals, they are beginning to look a bit ordinary. The Cavalier is the car that comes the closest, its excellent mechanical design spoiled by a depressing anonymity of design.’
However, despite What Car? outpointing the Cavalier in favour of the Sierra, buyers decided that they couldn’t stomach the styling of the new Ford, preferring the Vauxhall’s calculated conservatism. The sales war that followed proved bloody – and, although the Sierra won the first round of sales in 1983, the Cavalier was making up ground rapidly. In 1981, it had sold a mere 33,361 to take seventh in the UK best seller’s chart, but by 1983, that had risen to 127,509. Impressive, given this was the Sierra’s honeymoon year.
Opel Ascona – the car to take the fight to the Cortina
The 1975 Opel Ascona was a sturdy and high-quality vehicle that would form the basis of the Vauxhall Cavalier Mk1
Larger windows were the main evolution of the Ascona B, and once again, the Ascona and its coupe cousin, the Manta were treated to wildly different styling. The Manta coupe received a dramatic droop snoot front end, which gave it a modern, aggressive, Capri-baiting look… Little did we know that Wayne Cherry, Vauxhall’s incoming Director of Design, would adopt this front end treatment almost unchanged for the upcoming Cavalier.
The rest of the engineering package remained pretty much as before – but refined and improved carefully. The suspension set-up incorporated a live rear axle located by short torque tube, trailing arms and Panhard Rod with coils springs and an anti-roll bar; and up-front, wishbones and coil springs with telescopic dampers. All very conservative, but nicely engineered.
As for engines, the Opels were powered by a 1.2-litre ohv Kadett engine, and a pair of cam-in heads of 1.6- and 1.9-litre capacities. Top of the tree was the fuel-injected 105bhp Manta GT/E (which we never saw in the UK) – and that was capable of 110mph. In summary, the Ascona was a solid, well engineered and nice-to-drive mid-sized saloon – perfect to take the fight to the Ford Taunus in mainland Europe.
Rolling out to the world
For GM, the J Car ended up being rolled-out across the globe, and remained in production until 2005. For the UK, it was clear that the J Car (or J82) in Opel form would not be sold, leaving the way clear for Vauxhall to attack the fleet market unhindered by internal rivalries.
In terms of engineering, the J Car amounted to little more than an enlarged Opel Kadett D/Vauxhall Astra Mk1 (known as the T80 internally). It shared the smaller car’s transverse front-wheel-drive layout, a very similar two-shaft gearbox, and near-identical suspension and steering set-ups.
What that did mean was that the new Cavalier would be much larger inside than the old car – its wheelbase was 2.2in longer, and that was despite being 3.6in shorter overall. Initially, the European J Car was to be offered with two engine options: 1.3-litre 75bhp (which matched the 1.6-litre Cortina) and 1.6-litre 90bhp.
The larger engine was talked up as a replacement for the old 2.0-litre cam-in-head power unit used in the Mk1, but larger options were in the pipeline. All were designed with ease of servicing in mind, with adjustment-free hydraulic tappets and a low-maintenance GM Varajet II carburettor.
Loving the Cavalier Sportshatch
Cavalier Sportshatch was a stylish addition to the range in 1978
Like the saloon, What Car? was impressed by the Sportshatch. In a group test pitching the Sportshatch in 1.6GL form against the Alfasud Sprint, Ford Capri and Renault Fuego, there were plenty of nice things said about Vauxhall’s seemingly less than soulful Cavalier. ‘Although its rear tends to go out if treated roughly on corners, there is not the same degree of sliding in wet weather as there is with the Capri. The steering is quite light, which means that any breakaway is easier to control, and during most driving, the Sportshatch is predictable and controllable’.
In summary, it said: ‘Coming past the post ahead of the Capri, the Cavalier looks good and has price on its side. However, it really does need a newer engine, and it you want an all-rounder, you really should go for the 2.0-litre model.’
The Sportshatch was a good-looking and adaptable coupe, which also proved the basis for a couple of very different themes. The first was the very coupé-based convertible, known as the Centaur (below). That car was developed by Magraw Engineering and built by Crayford Engineering. Rather like the Crayford Cortina, which was sold at the same time, the Centaur was sold through a number of Vauxhall dealers. It was well-engineered, but with a strengthened floorpan and Triumph Stag-like T-bar roof arrangement, it came at a cost. In mid-1980, a new Centaur would cost you £8502 – compared with £5230 for a standard 2000GLS Sportshatch. But then, what rivals did it have?
UK-built Cavaliers arrive in 1977
The first UK-built Vauxhall Cavalier Mk1 rolls off the line in Luton, 26 August 1977
In the end, the Luton plant came on stream in 1977, also seeing the arrival of the 1256cc car. Eric Fountain, Vauxhall’s Manufacturing Director drove the first British Cavalier off the production line on 26 August 1977 (right) – and, immediately after, the supply problems eased. And this removed the Cavalier’s main barrier to mass-market success.
Fleet managers also liked the Cavalier, and its imported content dropped from 100% in 1976 to 64% in 1978, it established itself as the company’s bestseller during the late 1970s.
As for model evolution, the Cavalier Mk1 was tweaked rather than facelifted throughout its life. In April 1978, the 1.9-litre model was upgraded to 2.0-litres and 100bhp (and 110bhp for the equivalent Manta GT/E, which again we didn’t see in the UK until 1983), giving the Coupe a genuine 110mph potential top speed and a sub 10-second 0-60mph time.
Silver Aero attracts the crowds
More exciting was the Silver Aero concept. This beauty was unveiled it at the 1980 British Motor Show in Birmingham, and followed on from 1974’s wonderful Silver Bullet. The one-off, which was based on the Sportshatch, featured a radical looking bodykit, a seriously upgraded interior and power by a 150bhp 2.4-litre turbocharged engine by WBB Racing and Turbo Torque Limited. Its most striking styling feature was undoubtedly the even sharper nose treatment, which maintained Cherry’s love for the droopsnoot. The press release that accompanied the car’s unveiling spoke of customer kits being made available – but they never subsequently appeared.
Silver Aero concept was based on the Cavalier Sportshatch, but with far more aggressive styling
Across the range model development was limited to tweaking of trim levels. After the introduction of the 2-litre cars in 1978, and the rebadging (from 1300, 1600 and 2000 to 1.3, 1.6 and 2.0), it was just a matter of improving trim packages along the way. In 1980, an interim LS model was introduced to bridge the gap between L and GL – this was hardly exciting stuff – and that was about it. The biggest omission was an estate model, which also held true in the Opel Ascona range. Given this was a variant included in the Ascona range, it’s surprising a five-door never made the showroom, despite being an actively pursued model on the drawing board.
So the Silver Aero would prove to be the Cavalier’s swan-song – and that never made it beyond one-off status, even if aspects of the concept made it into the 1983 Manta facelift. The Cavalier Mk1 lasted six years, before being phased out in favour of the front-wheel-drive Mk2 in August 1981, and during this time proved a strong and steady seller.
Vauxhall Cavalier Mk1: General’s turn-around
The 1979 Vauxhall Cavalier Mk1 range: saloon, Coupe and Sportshatch
Vauxhall was in trouble in the early 1970s, and sales were taking a nosedive. The Escort-rivalling Viva might have been selling reasonably well in HC (1970-1979) form, but in the heart of the fleet car market where the Ford Cortina Mk3 was king, the larger FE-Series ‘Transcontinental’ Victor singularly failed to measure up to this.
At the time, it was starting to look like it could be the beginning of the end for General Motors’ UK outpost. Given how many people the company employed in Luton and Ellesmere Port, this would have been a disaster at a time when the British economy was generally considered to be in free-fall.
The situation wasn’t helped by the fact that Vauxhall’s name was mud, anyway, and had been since 1960s. Buyers have long memories, and reputations are easily soiled, and this was the case here – rampant rust in the company’s 1950s and ’60s cars, had created a ‘rot-box’ image that was proving extremely difficult to shift.
From small acorns
The next phase in the Opelisation of Vauxhall kicked off in March 1980 with the UK arrival of the T80-series Vauxhall Astra. Unlike previous Vauxhall-Opel hybrids, new FWD hatchback was a re-badged Kadett D, with absolutely no panel or engineering changes at all.
It hadn’t always been that way, with a number of Vauxhall-designed styling schemes being devised (above) at the Luton-based Styling Studio led by Wayne Cherry. However, in the months leading up to its launch, these ideas were rejected, as part of the plan to centralise General Motors’ European operations in Russelsheim.
Unlike in Germany, where the new hatchback Kadett would replace the outgoing RWD car, the Astra would end up sitting alongside the Chevette at the bottom of Vauxhall’s range until the older car was phased out in 1984. The Astra initially was powered by a brand-new overhead cam 1.3-litre engine, dubbed the GM Family Two. It delivered excellent performance and economy, thanks to its efficient design and high power output of 75bhp.
The new car was the perfect starting for the replacement of Vauxhall’s most important car – the Cavalier.
The Cavalier arrives
Fleet car buyers embraced the sportier-looking five-door model, proving that saloons were falling out of favour in the UK market
Saloon was classically styled to fight the Cortina
The first Vauxhall Cavalier Mk2 rolled off the line at Luton on 17 August 1981. Always at the back of the minds of GM executives in the UK, was the perception that fleet managers continued to harbour an ongoing distrust of front-wheel-drive cars. Talbot’s marketing team made no bones of its disappointment in the Solara‘s lack of market penetration, and attributed it not to product weakness, but to its transmission layout.
However, with the unified dealer network and a large 15-car model range, Vauxhall was confident that the new car would make inroads into the Cortina market – especially as it was no secret that production was running down in preparation for the Sierra (due for launch in September 1982), and that word had already escaped that Ford’s upcoming mid-range car was going to be a radical-looking hatchback. In hindsight, GM’s confidence in the Cavalier’s ability for make hay in Ford’s one-year vacuum, was looking incredibly astute.
The press reception was certainly positive, with both Autocar and Motor magazines getting in early first drives, and pronouncing the new car more than fit for purpose. Of course, driving the cars in the confines of Millbrook was one thing, but actually pitching it against the market leaders on UK roads was something else entirely.
Top of the pops
Cavalier production was soon ramped up to meet demand…
In 1983, the top ten sellers chart looked like this:
- Ford Escort: 174,490
- Ford Sierra: 159,119
- Austin Metro: 137,303
- Vauxhall Cavalier: 127,509
- Ford Fiesta: 119,602
- Austin Maestro: 65,328
- Vauxhall Astra: 62,570
- Triumph Acclaim: 38,406
- Datsun Sunny: 36,781
- Volvo 300 Series: 36,753
The following year, though, things had moved seriously in Vauxhall’s favour:
- Ford Escort: 157,340
- Vauxhall Cavalier: 132,149
- Ford Fiesta: 125,851
- Austin Metro: 117,442
- Ford Sierra: 113,071
- Austin Maestro: 83,072
- Vauxhall Astra: 56,511
- Vauxhall Nova: 55,442
- Ford Orion: 51,026
- Volvo 300 Series: 35,034
Which would you choose? The UK buying public voted with its feet, and went for the Vauxhall in huge numbers (Picture: Autocar magazine)
The sales reflect also how hard Vauxhall was working to maintain the Cavalier’s appeal. In October 1983, the range was expanded in a couple of ways – firstly, a 1.8-litre fuel-injected engine option was added to the range. Although the 115bhp option was initially reserved for the SRi, CDi and GLSi models, it clearly cemented the Cavalier’s reputation for being the outside lane warrior’s weapon of choice.
These new variants were able to top 115mph and dash from 0-60mph in well under nine seconds. Also added to the range was an interesting five-door estate, which used imported Holden Camira panels (the Australian J Car) to create a cavernous rival to the popular Sierra Estate, and the 54bhp 1.6-litre diesel, the less said of which the better.
Taking aim at the Cortina
However, like BL, GM needed a car to fight the Cortina head-on in the marketplace, and the FE-Series just seemed a little too large for that task. In 1975, and for Vauxhall traditionalists, the unthinkable happened: the Chevette and Cavalier Mk1 were announced, which despite their individual front-end styling, were little more than badge-engineered Opels.
But both cars were built (or assembled, as was initially the case for the Cavalier) in the UK, and featured UK power in the form of the Viva’s 1256cc overhead valve four-pot. That was enough to convince less dogmatic buyers that the cars were all-British.
Throughout the rest of the 1970s, the rest of the UK Vauxhall range was swept aside by re-branded Opels, and sales continued to rise. Although Ford’s Cortina and Escort had an unassailable lead at the beginning of the 1980s, and accounted for the Blue Oval’s 30 per cent share of the UK market, BL’s declining second place looked like an attainable target with a following wind.