The Opel Ascona B provided the foundation for the UK’s badge-engineered Escort contender, albeit with a different ‘drooping’ snout designed by Wayne Cherry. The original Ascona A (Viva over here) had competed very well against Ford’s Taunus in Europe and its Cortina in the UK. The next generation Ascona B or Cavalier as it was known in the UK, would have to compete in an even tougher market, in which the MkIII Cortina was king.
A back to basics, reliable saloon was essential to Vauxhall’s fleet market aspirations and in order to compete, the new Cavalier would have to be affordable, comfortable and reliable. Originally available with engines ranging from 1196cc to 1979cc and with a variety of trim options, there was a Cavalier to suit all needs.
Settling into the beige velour trim and admiring the acres of brown plastic on the dash, I’m instantly at home. Not only did I grow up with my dad’s Cavalier, but I also have use of Classic Car Buyer’s Carlton Estate, so early ‘Eighties GM Vauxhalls are certainly familiar territory.
ON THE ROAD
I’m keen to see how this model of Cavalier fares against its larger cousin, the Carlton. Our estate on the CCB fleet is a 2.0-litre model and has the same engine as this Cavalier, though obviously a lot more weight. Sure enough, climbing through the gears reveals that even on light throttle, this Cavalier is a lot nippier than its sibling. The engine delivers the same lovely lowdown grunt that makes it such a flexible unit and in the Cavalier shell, it gets up to speed very nicely, even by modern standards.
Handling and braking are also up to par with the latter being the only real giveaway that this car was made 32 years ago. Though there’s nothing inherently wrong with them, you simply notice that they aren’t up to modern standards, which is only noticeable as the rest of the driving experience is so modern. Whether this is a positive thing or not depends on your point of view and whether you intend on using the car regularly. Personally I love the fact you can cruise along in this Cavalier and not feel any worse for wear after a long drive.
To give the car a proper test it was essential that we took in some high-speed routes and so once we had got out of the bustle of Peterborough city centre, we worked our way onto the A47 for a jaunt out east. Acceleration up to 70mph is smooth and relatively swift with slick gearchanges and a tight driveline aiding hugely.
At motorway speeds the four-speed gearbox in this Vauxhall does feel a bit under geared and an overdrive or five-speed would have been an advantage. The quicker than expected acceleration is clearly linked with these slightly higher ratios, though it’s still showing less than 3500rpm at 70mph, so it’s a little fussy if not ear-bursting for extended periods.
As this Cavalier is a late model it comes equipped with most of the GLS model’s bells and whistles (despite being a GL). Extra brightwork including sill trims, a matt black rear panel and side body mouldings are the most noticeable exterior additions, while interior two-tone dashboard, quartz clock, vanity mirror and carpeted lower doors make this Cavalier feel decidedly plush. The overall condition of this example is very good and presentable, if not spotless. This lets you use the car without too much fear of it taking the odd stone chip.
I loved the time spent with this Cavalier, it’s old enough to still ‘feel’ classic enough from behind the wheel and attract plenty of attention from passers-by – being bright orange helps! It’s also a super-rare sight today and drives every bit as well as it looks with plenty of power and sharp handling to make the driving experience engaging and enjoyable.
ENGINE: 1979cc 4-cyl
TOP SPEED: 112mph
0-60Mph 9.2 secs
GEARBOX: 4-sp man