Another Photo for Sunday: 1991-1998 Opel Astra

The light picked out the shape of the rear wheel arch flare.  

Opel Astra F seen in Denmark.
Opel Astra F seen in Denmark.

This is a grossly under-rated piece of industrial design. The saloon is especially dismissed. And unfairly too. I think it’s superb and very subtle.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

15 thoughts on “Another Photo for Sunday: 1991-1998 Opel Astra”

  1. I actually preferred the previous Astra, but I agree that Opel’s products around this time were both good to look at whilst being highly rational. It took the Focus 1 to give Ford the upper styling hand but I’m beginning to fear that, excellent though the Ford was, like the Bangle BMWs, history will see it as the unwitting instigator of a generation and more of fussy, overstyled and incoherent followers from other manufacturers – and Ford themselves.

    1. The previous Astra is praiseworthy too, for similar reasons.
      Sometimes one admires a car for reasons extrinsic to it: nostalgia is the prime culprit. In this case, I didn’t even notice the Astra was launched. In 1991 my mind was elsewhere, mostly coming to terms with BMW, Saab and Citroen. My experience is not interesting in itself; it’s more the phenomenon of becoming aware of something common and in plain view. I have learned to see the object for what it is. How many other similarly pleasing things are hiding in plain sight?

  2. It’s amazing to see the proportions of the glass-house to the body panels of this car – it’s so different to what one sees today, and certainly makes for a more habitable cabin for those inside. The detail you feature is a very confident touch and adds interest to what might otherwise look a little plain. I like these small saloons, albeit there are not always successful in integrating the “separate” boot with the original hatchback. The Mk1 (R8) Rover 400, Mk2 Orion/ Mk4 Escort saloon, were nice examples of these of the same era, I think.

    1. The first (proper) Orion didn’t work at all. The Escort before did though; and then last Escort saloon (while being quite ordinary) worked proportionally. The Belmont is often criticised for its appearance; I think the stupid name didn’t help. Belmont? Who thought that had the ring of something good? If you Google “belmont” you see it has scores of uses, making it almost meaningless as a signifier. I note that car also had a flared rear arch. The 1991 car is more evolutionary than I thought.

      The salooniness of the Astra is not really my main target so much as the totality of the form. The sculpting or the way the forms change curvature catches my eye. Funnily, this car appeared without me noticing and they have a remarkable enduring capacity. They are ubiquitous.

    2. What’s that Belmont thing you’re talking about?

  3. The Belmont is a forgettable car, I think. The problem is that such saloons are oversold. The car maker thinks they need to argue it´s different in some way from the hatchback and try to sell it as a kind of separate car. It´s not. But the gap betweeen the claim and the humdrum reality upsets people. I don´t know what people expect though. How could a booted version of a hatch be anything more unless it was gifted with a totally different engine range, different interior trim and distinct handling characteristics? Usually the saloon never had any of this. VW has made the Jetta very different to the Golf and still I think nobody cares too much.

    1. I think in the eye of the average buyer they are different cars, insofar as they feel either a hatchback or a saloon suits their needs best. So it’s only natural for manufacturers to try to create or emphasize those differences, however tenuous they are in reality.
      Reviews of the VW Bora in the late 90s (at least the properly thorough ones) outlined that it offered a slightly better drive than the Golf MkIV, essentially because of the weight distribution advantage of the saloon. So one can imagine that the same principle applies to all or most hatchback-derived saloons (and probably also explains why saloons are traditionally preferred for rallying). But it’s unlikely to be a key factor in the buying decision. Whereas making sure that the saloon doesn’t look like its boot was grafted as an afterthought is likely to play a bigger part.

  4. I’m sorry for being the party pooper, but that generation of Astra (the first to us Germans, as the previous car was still a Kadett on our shores) to me stands for pretty much everything that went wrong with Opel during José Ignacio Lopez’s reign of cost cutting terror. In my opinion, the car exudes an air of frailty that’s exhibiting the car’s meagre quality in all too apparent a fashion. Yes, certain elements have been competently rendered, but overall, in terms of stance and basic appearance, it’s a weak, lacklustre effort. Not quite disastrous, but certainly no good, either. The succeeding generation of Astra tried to amend that frail appearance by going full-on Heinz Spießerle, with similarly unimpressive results, but that’s another story.

    1. I had a theory that the reason Richard writes at length about the Astra F was that he was on the design team for it (because why else would you?) so hopefully he doesn’t take your rebuttal of his Astra praise too personally…

  5. I never really knew what to do with this car. While it is good in many places (like the wheelarch you pointed out), I think it was let down by too many details. Too many horizontal lines in the bumpers and rubbing strips, for example. Or that crease on the side that pressed the door handles down to an unnaturally low position. The worst thing was the cheap looking grille, which was corrected with the facelift. They also added nice colours like yellow, a pale misty purple (often seen on the convertible), or bright green.

    The saloon was never a favourite of mine, as always. They all look too conservative. At least they weren’t as bad as today with their rising window lines that produce disproportionate boots, both in length and height.

    What you pointed out rightly is the Astra’s durability. I noticed many of them since you posted this article. Probably even more than Golfs of the same era. It helps that they were extremely common in Switzerland, especially as estate.

  6. One of the points of this blog is to change opinion, to campaign for fresh views. I can only say I am disappointed by the shocking certainty of the Astra F haters. My goal is to raise awareness of a neglected design pearl that had the misfortune to bear the Opel badge instead of Alfa Romeo, Audi or Citroen or else had the misfortune to be sold in great numbers and to be ubiquitous instead of being a rarity, known only to to connoisseurs, as is the case of Bristol, Panhard or certain Lancias. I will have to think very carefully indeed before I next choose to descend from the mountain with my tablets of wisdom. I was going to wax lyrical about the intriguing way the roofline of the car falls very subtly and also to reflect on the ingenious integration of the shutlines. There was also something I wanted to say about the sensitive changes in surface acceleration around the c-pillar before beginning to consider the intelligent packaging and large array of engines. I shall desist.
    I will move on to something completely different and begin considering the Omega B and its place in saloon car design…..

    1. Lest we forget that Vectra with the magnificent, organically-shaped, flattened wing mirrors!

  7. The Vectra B wing mirrors were clever. Before Jezza decided to abdicate his responsibility and become an entertainer, I made a note that the Vectra B added more emphasis to the watered-down form of the Vectra A. The car looked quite good, better than the Mondeo and at least as good as the Laguna. It’s not brilliant but it’s a very long way from bad.
    Now it’s received wisdom it’s rubbish. I didn’t think that at the time. I’m teaching aesthetics at the moment: I think there is something about cars like the Vectra that disappoints without being incorrect in a technical sense. Aesthetics says little I can think of to explain these near-miss designs. The examples in aesthetics are extreme: Palladian villas and breeze-block sheds. Easy to deal with. The Avensis is something else. Correct and null.

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