Welcome to tonight’s instalment of the car brochure-based thread that our forefathers fought to protect, all those years ago. Thanks, guys.
Today we’re cranking up the anodyne-o-meter to the max and covering one of The General’s more generic 1990s products.
Try to stifle your excitement and act calmly; It’s the Vauxhall/ Opel Astra “F”.
The 1991-launched Third-Generation Vauxhall Astra wasn’t revolutionary. Indeed, underneath the new car much was carried over from the previous model, which you guys will know as the Pontiac Lemans. We were lucky enough to enjoy that generation twice over, in it’s original German-built Vauxhall /Opel guise and then, four years after death; in recycled, reinvigorated Korean-built Daewoo Nexia flavour.
Basically, that car was a world-wide consumer white good, sold in numerous markets, in numerous levels of quality, with numerous brands and identities stencilled on its rump. New Astra, though, never quite made it into the same league of worldwide distribution. Australasia enjoyed it as a Holden and Latin America briefly sampled it with a Chevy badge on its bottom, but other than that we were able to keep it mainly to ourselves. Spoilt, aren’t we?
“…here is an alternative….Astra. Every car you’ll ever need.”
“The most skilful automotive talents in Europe have created the Astra range”.
Astonishing, isn’t it, that every single manufacturer in Europe seemed to have claim to these extraordinary artisans; either that or said talent spread their skills very thinly indeed.
There was a hatchback with three or five doors, a longroof with five and a cavernous loadbay, a four-door saloon variant and, later, a Bertone hacked-about cabriolet model. Pretty much every transportive requirement you could ask for was addressed.
The choice of motive power was similarly broad, with a miserable normally aspirated Isuzu diesel (with 57hp) at the frugal end of the spectrum, through to a sixteen valve flyer with 150hp, available only in the bespoilered, wing-seated GSI model. There were endless permutations of trim and standard features, too. The ranks began with the model named “Merit”, which was less luxurious than a Puritans Portaloo, and rose to the CD “Corps Diplomat” variety; rich with electrical conveniences, deep velour you could run your fingers through and lustrous wood cappings to the doors, though it’s baffling why an Astra with bits of wood in it should be seen as more luxurious than one without.
Anyway. What do you say, Vauxhall? “Well, Chris:
“‘The interior is in a class of its own’ enthused The Independent newspaper in its review of a 1.4i GLS hatchback. ‘The fascia in particular is an automotive masterpiece- beautifully integrated.’”
High praise, and I don’t entirely disagree. My best mate’s Mum had a thrift-store spec Merit 1.7 diesel in Indesit White, and the only aspect of it that I properly remember is the dashboard and how nicely designed it was, along with how well it seemed to be put together. In reality it probably wasn’t, but the materials were well judged so that the bits you’d touch or behold on a regular basis looked and felt more than adequate.
To be truthful the interior standards for the small family car class at the time, weren’t high. The Ford Escort in particular held little aesthetic appeal. But the inside of the Astra was definitely something that GM got right this time. I also kind of dig how the MK3 Astra looked on the outside. I like the shape in general, I like the sculpting around the rear wheel apertures and how it continues around the back of the car, and I like the unapologetically large glass area. Certainly, by comparison, inside or out I find the MKIV that came after as forgettable as what I had for breakfast three weeks ago.
“For those seeking the ultimate sports hatch- look no further. As ever, the search begins, and ends, with the Astra GSi 16v.”
“As ever” was a bit cheaty to be honest as GSi had only existed in the UK since 1991 anyway. Previous quick Astras went under the GTE moniker with GSi being reserved for continental Europe. Irrelevant, anyway, because the Astra GSi never really came close to being the default choice for those interested in a hotted-up hatchback, what with the Peugeot 306 XSi and GTi-6, the Escort XR3i, RS2000 and RS Cosworth, the Citroen ZX Volcane and, oh, millions of others. It was quick, though, 0-60 taking less than eight seconds.
“Recent retuning of the chassis and suspension and revisions to the specially weighted power steering have resulted in a GSi that not only handles with more precision but also benefits from improved straight line stability and a ride that is markedly smoother…”.
All of which means that they were admitting that, previously, there had been something wrong with it. And indeed the reviews of the GSi on launch were that it had the necessary firepower but not really the means to effectively deploy it.
And I wonder if that’s part of the reason that the Astra MK3 is dwindling and somewhat unlamented. It never managed to sell as many units as the Ford Escort, and that certainly wasn’t because the Escort was a better car. The Escort had quite a high garbage quotient, to be fair, but it also had an effective Hero model at the head of the range. Misguided, easily impressionable fools could buy an entry level Escort in the belief that some of the Cosworth magic might have, in some way, filtered down into theirs.
Of course, there’s also the factor of Ford having almost twice as many dealerships as Vauxhall, and the strange auto-suggestion phenomenon that sees people buying Fords just because of the name. But, whatever the cause, Astra Mk3s are nowhere, value wise, and survivors are circling the drain. It could well get to the point where the value of this brochure is higher than that of the car it describes.
<Disclaimer:- All photos were taken by the author and are of genuine original manufacturer publicity material, photographed atop his kitchen stove for variety. All copyright rights remain in the possession of the manufacturer, Vauxhall, who only really exsist as a badge-engineering exercise these days>