Vauxhall's challenge

to the Cortina

Vauxhall Cavalier, 1976

SOMETIMES a car manufacturer launches a vehicle and may not realise its vast potential.

Such was the case with the original Vauxhall Cavalier launched in 1976.

Its roots lay with the Opel Ascona, a product of parent company General Motors German arm.

The Cavalier was originally intended to have its own bodywork but it ended up with the front of an Opel Manta B model and the rear end of an Ascona.

But GM design guru Wayne Cherry designed a more fitting nose and the Cavalier took on a character of its own.

If anything, the company played down this design because customers were denied an estate until the emergence of the massively successful Mk II model years later.

Van and pick up designs were also on the drawing board but that was where they stayed.

In Vauxhall's line-up, the Cavalier initially complemented, and then replaced, the ageing Victor model which was taking a pounding from the Ford Cortina.

The Cavalier was early on the bus for the rise of the company car and such middle-sized saloons became the bread and butter of the sector.

This pivotal model for the Griffin badge saw a significant move away from the flagging quality and reliability of the last of the Victors and a marriage with quality German engineering.

Originally built at built at the GM plant in Antwerp, Belgium, assembly of the saloon began to be switched to Vauxhall's Luton plant and the first car was driven off the production line in August of that year by Eric Fountain, Vauxhall's then manufacturing director.

Afterwards a 1,256cc version using engine and transmission from the Viva broadened the range.

At that stage the 1,584cc Cavalier and the 1,897cc which had joined it were still being imported from Belgium, but in due course these models started to emerge from the Luton production plant.

The Cavalier's arch rival, the Ford Cortina MkII had just been replaced by the MkIII but eyebrows were being raised in the all-important ranks of company car fleet managers because the newer Ford never quite matched the older one in terms of reliability with cable clutch problems and camshaft wear being a headache.

And so entered the Cavalier to snatch sales from Ford as neat as a knight at full tilt rescuing a damsel in distress.

And from that point Vauxhall entered a golden age as the car developed with an excellent coupe version which was similar to the Opel Manta plus more engine options.

One of the rarest versions is a convertible built from 1978 until 1979 called the Centaur.

The original Cavalier saloon, although never matching the Cortina in terms of sales was an excellent first step in a line of cars that became the phenomenally successful Mk II and Mk III.

The name Cavalier has now been absent from the Vauxhall range for many years but many of its qualities live on in the neat-handling Astra and the luxurious Insignia of today.

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