It was thirty years ago this month that Car magazine excitedly put the new Cavalier on their front cover. Mainstream cars helped sell magazines in those bygone olden days of yesteryore.
I have plucked some of the most interesting bits from the four-page spread which depends for its value on six spy shots of the car. The then-current Cavalier/Ascona, once a sales superstar had begun to wilt in the market so the new one had to catch up with the ascendant Sierra rather than build on solid success. Now this phrase is salient: “The new Cavalier… is also supposed to reinvigorate Vauxhall’s dull image with enthusiasts.” By 1987 then Vauxhall had acquired its perception of drabness.
And this: “The initial success of the current Cavalier, once Britain’s best selling fleet car, had the effect of distancing Vauxhall from keen drivers.” Why is this not happening with BMW, Audi and Mercedes who must surely
now rely on fleet sales these days? “The same problem befell the Cavalier´s predecessor as fleet favourite, the Cortina,” added Car. So, sales success
is also sales poison? According to Car, the big news for the new Cavalier lay in the optional 4×4 version (that didn’t pan out). “The body of the new car carries over the corporate GM look effectively enough, although we can be thankful it is a good deal more attractive than the Belmont and the ungainly Carlton”. I knew the Belmont always enjoyed the worship of a vibrant hate cult however the Carlton/Omega always struck me as a good-looking and rather intelligent design. I didn’t know that in 1987 the critical response was so negative.
In retrospect, I have to disagree with Car’s assessment of the Cavalier in question. Far from carrying over the corporate look it seemed more to water it down. It is a very rounded car, missing the definition of either the Kadett or the “ungainly” Omega. Nonetheless, it represented part of the move towards organic shapes of the following decade: the Mondeo and then Laguna plus the Mazda 626 of the time, to name three, also adopted the trope of big radii wherever possible.
While this might have looked striking in relation to the outgoing and existing cars in the market, in isolation (and now) it leaves little for the eye to settle on. Renault’s Laguna avoided that with its clever graphics and even just the clam-shell bonnet.
No-one is going to agree too much with me here but I think the much-loved 1995 Vectra actually corrected the styling faults of the Cavalier by the use of some feature lines and more defined arches. Let the brickbats fly.