Compact Class

The Opel Kadett E story.

Opel Kadett GSi/ Vauxhall Astra GTE. Image: cargurus

1984: On the world stage, Ronald Reagan is re-elected as US President, whereas in India, Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi is assassinated. Apple present their first Macintosh computer, Band Aid has the UK’s Christmas No 1, while a car designed in Germany goes on to become a best-seller around the globe in a variety of guises.

Selling 3.75 million examples over a seven year period, a third in Britain alone, along with capturing not only the 1984 European Car of the Year but Germany’s Golden Steering Wheel(1) got proceedings off to an exceptional start. But the story also contains tragedy.

Gordon Brown headed Opel’s design team, joining GM in 1964. Brown worked his way up through Pontiac and Oldsmobile, had a long spell with Chevrolet before crossing the Atlantic to GM’s Rüssellheim studio in July 1980, set to replace the angular D series Kadett.

A keen landscape photographer, Gordie as he was affectionately known, took a day off work in May 1983 to explore the Loreley cliff above the river Rhine. Wandering with camera in hand, he lost his footing and fell to his death, aged just 41. The Kadett E’s development, already well in hand, needed new guidance – Wayne Cherry chosen as Brown’s successor.

Brown, along with Hans Seer had been keen on improving aerodynamics for the new E. With carry-over underpinnings, the rest of the car came in for some futuristic design change. Gone were the angles, replaced by a teardrop effect, born of twelve hundred wind tunnel testing hours gaining the car a 0.32 drag coefficient, unheard of at the time in this class.

DNW, Holland, capable of Airbus testing along with Pininfarina’s wind tunnel helped perfect the new car’s shape. Primarily a three or five door hatchback, the range extended to include estate and van variants alongside the infamous saloon and a pretty, Bertone built(2) two door convertible, powered by a plethora of rock-oil engines.

Opel invested some DM 1million in the Bochum factory, focusing upon robotic welding and the use of adhesives to build the all-steel bodyshell. The wheelbase remained unchanged regardless of variant at 2,520mm, as did track width at 1400mm. Weights topped out at 1,025 Kgs (with the drop-top only five less) but a base three door with the lowly 1.2 litre, 55hp engine feathered the scales at only 855Kgs. Independent front suspension combined with rack and pinion steering and a compound control arm rear axle gave excellent road holding.

Britain’s Ellesmere Port factory gained a £65M investment package with similar amounts spent in Belgium and Azambuja in Portugal (subsequently closed 2006) to build on platform T-85, with the rather lonely sounding internal factory code of P-2275. The E’s original launch date was for October 1985. Brought forward twelve months in anticipation of benchmark VW’s expected (and feared better) Golf III, the aim was for Astra/ Kadett to convincingly lead the class.

With “switched on and influential” chief engineer, Fritz Lohr at the helm, his determination to outshine rival designs was strong. Oscar was utilised for placement(3) in full scale line drawings. Both scaled and full size wood and clay models used styling cues taken from the Tech-1 concept car. Revealed at the 1981 Frankfurt motor show designed by Erhard Schnell, with its panoramic windscreen it managed a cd figure of just 0.235.

Commercially impractical, other more workable solutions were sought including flush bonded glass, rounded A pillars, roof mouldings replacing gutters, partially enclosed wheel arches and a free-flow front bumper made from self-healing polypropylene, handy for low speed prangs.

Initial concerns considering such a curvaceous shape impacting upon internal measurements were quickly displaced by highly encouraging outcomes. Rivals Escort, Maestro and Golf all had less interior space, headroom and luggage capacity. Astra was also quieter with judicious use of NVH dampening materials, again heavily tested and constantly modified.

Road testing too was extensive, from the Artic to Arizona; Milbrook to Miramas. The Dudenhofen test track subjected the car to 30,000 miles of testing, including 1,200 eyeball rattling pavé miles. The Stelvio pass was used for brake testing; lambent discs and increased heart rates but the fluid didn’t boil. Also include the destructive testing hydro-pulse laboratory – high oil pressured rigs to shake the car, literally to pieces.

Image: bestcarmag

In Britain, the very first Astra was built on 24th August 1984 with customer’s keys turning two months later. Subjected to a heavy advertisement campaign, centred around the aerodynamics, one of the few criticisms faced was the ugly eggbox grille. The car’s shape quickly became the norm as rivals not only looked but were aerodynamically, old hat.

The base model 1.2, three door Astra started at a precise £4,493.72 with plenty of options upwards to the crowning glory of the GTE, a car still admired today. With its 1800cc mill shoving out 115bhp and 126mph, the narrower, sportier grill provided an even more slippery 0.30 cd, for £7,344.19; the Cheshire factory had difficulty keeping up with demand.

Eighteen months from the T-85’s launch, the public faced a new dilemma; hatchback or boot? The UK Belmont, all of ten inches longer to the rear, was a six-light saloon of unequivocal dullness, equipped with two tag lines, “Travel Belmont class,” alongside “A more elegant way to travel.

A more upmarket offering to the hatch, the Belmont GLS shared the GTE’s engine but was often relegated to the inside lane, junior representative fleet. While the hatchback, especially in higher trims offered dynamism and shouted loudly, the practical, sensible Ford Orion rival whispered in the wind. Belmont enamoured itself not in the market, selling just over 40,000.

Image: automotorundsport

Designed in-house by Opel, Bertone built the cabriolet. The E was never originally designed sans roof but rivals forced the issue; chassis strengthening and a roll hoop keeping everything from wobbling. Even with its manually-handled ragtop, the car kept close to its tin top brethren with a 0.34cd. Two petrol engines could be had; a 1.6 with either automatic or five speed manual transmission arrived in April 1987. The 2.0 litre GTE arrived first, in January. Only available as a manual, this new engine, the 20NE (LE4) provided 115bhp. One’s hairdo could be buffeted for £11,699 – quite the hike over a decently specified hard top GTE equating to small numbers built.

Like so many GM products, the T-85 was subjected to yearly tweaks of debatable nature and in accordance with the time, special editions as laudable in name, inasmuch extra content. The 1988 Swing edition was cheaper due to using up excess four-speed gearboxes, whereas the 1989 Tiffany, only available in Midnight Blue or Ruby Red had little more than badging over a standard car. The Starfire was an aubergine coloured, spoked alloy wheeled and gold pinstriped affair for just £7,895. No wonder it was dubbed The Showstopper.(4)

The Brown/Seer/Cherry car remained a top-seller until the next deviation arrived in 1991. The GTE, both hard and soft top persist as sought after. As for the lesser models, including the only a mother could love Belmont, a mere handful survive. At the time of writing, the Astra’s new overseers, Stellantis, are undecided on the Ellesmere Port factory’s future. As a political hot potato, one wonders how long the Astra lineage will continue in the UK.

One hopes Gordon would approve of what he started.

(1) Not forgetting the 1985 Semperit Irish CotY.
(2) Designed in-house by Opel, Bertone built the cabriolet. The E was never originally designed sans roof but rivals forced the issue.
(3) Oscar Eightball was a mannequin used by Northrop in 1940’s for dangerous testing. GM adopted the name for the initially cardboard cut out figure. Oscar could be configured from a 108 pound female to a 270 pound male.
(4) Had a sunroof, too.

The car had many international names; in Canada, the Passport Optima. The states had the Pontiac LeMans whilst Brazil the Ipanema and of of course the Korean Daewoo Nexia, an altogether different story.

Editor’s note: The UK market Belmont Saloon became notorious, largely owing to its rather pretentious ‘Keeping Up With Appearances‘ name, rather than its Omega in miniature appearance.

Sources: Deans Garage/ Vauxpedia.

Author: Andrew Miles

Beyond hope there lie dreams; after those, custard creams?

64 thoughts on “Compact Class”

  1. Ah the good old Kadett E. I was unaware of the Gordon Brown tragedy. I think he would have approved of the Kadett E, though.

    Back in the days Opel had been the number one seller in the Netherlands for a long time and looked like it would continue to do so almost indefinitely. Times have changed. The Kadetts were everywhere, but now I can’t recall when I last saw one.

    One critical note: surely they invested more than 1 million DM in the Bochum factory.

    1. The Kadett E was also the first recipient of the brilliant, Cosworth engineered (project code KBA) C20Xe 16v engine.
      Opel was very proud of its efficiency in period, and rightly so; the BMEP and BSFC graphs still look respectable today

  2. Astra estates were my first two company cars, back in the late 80s, and I still remember them with fondness, and also my disappointment when promoted and having to inherit my predecessor’s Sierra Sapphire, even if it was supposed to be a superior car.

  3. Good morning Andrew and thank you for a nice reminder of an underappreciated GM Europe design. The Kadett E remained in production for eleven years (compared with just five for its predecessor) and provided the basis for the Daewoo Nexia (and Pontiac LeMans) so GM certainly got good value out of the design.

    In base spec with those grey plastic bumper shields it could look rather dour, but it polished up nicely in higher trim levels:

    Shorn of the twee Belmont name, even the saloon looked rather smart:

  4. As a life-long admirer, and one-time owner, of a Kadett D, I hated the E model on sight. When I got an opportunity to drive one , I found the interior was just as nasty as the outside. Whoever styled the saloon should have been fired – and there were a lot of saloons in Ireland.
    Obviously the mechanicals were sound, as they were just carried-over.
    I presume the Vauxhall models continued to be inferior by lacking the Bosch electrics of the Opels ….

  5. We ran a few of these Astra’s as official cars at work. The boots were enormous. Everyone praised them who drove them. Sadly, we weren’t allowed the GTEs, just the base models. Great article again Andrew. Poor Mr Brown, what a tragic end and only 41.

    1. The Loreley (with a ‘y’, not an ‘i’) is the tip of this rock. It’s not a place for insecure feet

      Last weekend some moron fell off while making a selfie and survived – it took one and a half hours to get him out of the wood.

    2. Changed to the German spelling, thanks Dave. (‘Lorelei’ seems to be used outside of Germany.)

  6. Good morning Andrew. Another interesting article although I have never been tempted to own or drive a Vauxhall / Opel.
    I find the “special editions” and their names quite strange but on reflection I think most of the other manufacturers were doing the same to encourage sales in a very competitive market.

  7. A lovely article – thank you, Andrew.

    If I recall correctly, wasn’t it a Volkswagen concept car which prompted Opel to come up with a very aerodynamic-looking design, as they thought the mk2 Golf was going to be pretty radical? As it turned out the Golf had pretty similar efficiency numbers, despite looking more evolutionary than revolutionary (0.32 for the Golf and 0.36 for the Jetta).

    GM’ ad agency found an interesting creative metaphor for demonstrating the cars’ aerodynamic efficiency for the Dutch market; the tag line translates as ‘Style that suits you [sir]’.

    Does anyone know if Gordon Brown also designed the first Corsa / Nova?

    1. It´s beyond me why this version gets no plaudits. It´s very well done, along with the Omega in the same style. As Daniel said above, the saloon worked well too. I think Wayne Cherry was head of Opel design at that time and brought some of that aero style back to GM US (the last Caprise always seemed like it was inspired in part by the Omega).

    2. Born and raised in the Netherlands, but I don’t recall that commercial. Thanks for sharing, Charles.

  8. I think the thing that most sticks in my memory of the Astra / Kadette D is a feeling like it was one of the first cars to really go for it with the cheap-looking plastic wheel cover. For which it should be ashamed.
    (The ‘plasticky-ness’ of it all unironically featuring in this ad for the runout ‘bolt-on-goody’ version – the ‘Merit’

    1. Hi Huw. Perhaps those wheel covers were particularly aerodynamic? They were not pretty. There certainly was an austerity to the entry-level models, but was it worse than its contemporaries? Here’s the Astra vs the Escort:

    2. I think I just prefer the ‘honesty of materials’ thing with base level steel wheels. They’re sort of back in vogue in retro car circles – sometimes banded for width or using bigger steels from modern spare tyres or vans. Sierra 1 also had some pretty bad ‘aero’ trims but it was those Astra ones, oft seen in the ditches by out of town shopping centre roundabouts that were definitely the worst. When you think about it it’s amazing how car design transitioned from metal to plastic on the exterior – starting with the Renault 5 bumpers in the mid 70s.

    3. Huw, those original Sierra aero wheel trims are a thing of absolute beauty and I’ll not hear a word against them! Particularly the three vent Ghia ones. So right for the car.

    4. Oddly, the only actual model kit of this car I know of is a sedan. It was done back in the day by Academy of Korea and represents a Korean home-market Daewoo LeMans, identical to the US-spec Pontiac from all angles except it had the European model’s trunklid treatment.

      Surely if there had been a model kit of the European model it would’ve been a 3-door GSi?

  9. Do They Know It’s Christmas? by Band Aid was the UK Christmas number one in 1984, not Shakin’ Stevens.

    As a ten year old I saw the UK launch of the radical Vauxhall Astra E at the Birmingham Motor Show, which to me was almost as exciting as the Ford Sierra’s introduction two years previously. The GTE/GSi had an even better drag coefficient of 0.30 and if that wasn’t enough, a digital instrument panel.

    1. Car magazine (and others) sometimes try too hard to be funny. It´s paralleled by the sometimes brutal personal abuse directed at musicians in the music press.

    2. Hi Charles and thanks for posting the Car group test. The ridiculous and decrepit Allegro VdP deserved everything it got, but I think it was a bit unfair lumping the Orion and Belmont in with it. The 1983 Orion in particular steadied the Ford Europe ship until the Sierra Sapphire came on stream in 1987.

    3. There´s a sociology PhD to be written about the underlying premise of that Car article and the associated hatred of the Ghia/Baccara/VdP genre . My hypothesis is that the type of people who wrote for car magazines were not the type of people that were the customers for Ghia/Baccara/wood veneer cars. It´s very British, this internecine class bitterness.
      I suppose some of them were what you´d call Daily Mail readers but I suppose most of them were harmless nice people who wanted a comfy car. And they didn´t all think it was a mini-Jaguar, just a nicer version of the the Allegro/Escort/Astra. The Italian version of this market is a middle-sized Lancia, I suppose and they were never subject to the same vitriol. My own approach would be to assess the car in terms of who it was aimed at. Predictably the cars here, aimed at the retired music teachers etc, would not appeal to writers fed on trans-Alpine Ferrari drives and hoons in 2.0 hot hatches. This is akin to asking a fan of horror films to rate every film as a horror. “Star Wars? Rubbish, not scary. The Talented Mr Ripley? Rubbish, not scary. Titanic? Rubbish, not scary. Miller´s Crossing? Rubbish, not even remotely scary….”

    4. The real problem with Mr. Bulgin’s argument here was that both Orion and Astra Belmont were entirely competent in all the departments that mattered. What was actually under debate here was Britain’s innate snobbery and social one-upmanship which these particular models personified. Neither the Orion 1600E nor the Belmont CD were particularly good value for money, but were quite well executed for what they were, which was the equivalent of Ford’s latterday Vignale trim level, one could say.

      As for the hapless Allegro VDP, it really was a case of kicking a lame dog.

      By contrast, as another commenter has pointed out, the Kadett E Saloon was a big seller here in Ireland; few, if any of which were sold in anything other than LS (or its equivalent) specification. In my previous life here, I knew the Kadett E very well, as the company I worked for had the Opel franchise, amongst others. Unfortunately, the bulk of the ones I drove were either 1.6 diesels or 1.2 litre base models, which made up a sizable proportion of the rental fleet. By then, the equivalent Corolla was a much nicer car to drive. Nevertheless, the E was a decent car; in the right spec, nicer than the equivalent Escort, although the Mark IV ‘Scort’s cabin felt more of a quality item. The facelift tided up the nose a good deal I felt, losing that rather Ritmo-esque bumper-cum-grille arrangement.

      As regards Shakie, it appears his immortal ‘Merry Christmas Everyone’ was recorded in 1984, but delayed so not to step upon Band Aid’s more worthy toes that year. MCE was released in 1985 and made the number one spot – and weren’t we all pleased? I have amended the text accordingly, John. Thanks for the clarification and I hope you’ll understand our ignorance when it comes to the career and musical output of the estimable Mr. Barratt. I rather doubt the author is an aficionado…

    5. “What was actually under debate here was Britain’s innate snobbery and social one-upmanship which these particular models personified. ” Correct and it means Bulgin was writing for the wrong magazine or paper. But I don´t remember him debating the innate snobbery and social one-upmanship of an S-Class or Ferrari and surely these goods are even more about status than an Escort with a warm-brown interior. I accepted a lot of this kind of writing when it was still wet on the paper; these days I realise how much of what the more opinionated star writers said in Car was tortoise dung.

    6. ‘Echoes of our Times’ by Shakin’ Stevens (2016) is most definitely an album that is well worth a listen. I saw him perform live soon after it was released. Very good.

    7. @Richard: the problem with the Ghia/Baccara/VdP cars is the crass cynicism behind them. Instead of spending money to invest in getting things like build quality, fit and finish, reliability, handling, and/or mechanical refinement right, what we get instead is:

      1. Chintzy “satin chrome” panels made from fragile plastic that even cheapskatey ’90s tabletop calculator-digital clock-pencil holders silkscreened with a low-tier cesspool-cleaning office’s logo and contact information (see the panels in the middles of the dashboards of the Alfa 156/147/GT, Alfa GTV/Spider 916, Lancia Delta III);
      2. Tinselly chrome-foiled plastic door handles and interior trim (Lancia Delta III);
      3. If you’re lucky: slabs of cheap (birch, if you’re lucky) wood veneered with something resembling walnut burl haphazardly glued on a dashboard fascia whose design clearly shows it was never meant to incorporate any part of a tree – the Citroën BX Buffalo is a prime example of this;
      4. If you’re not lucky: horrendous wood-effect plastic that would make a Ford Cortina Mk. III’s interior look like a Rolls-Royce’s;
      5. If you’re REALLY not lucky: the same plastic parts you already know from other trim levels, but this time with a ghastly vinyl sticker, on which a woodgrain pattern (and nowhere near as almost-decent as Fender’s “Foto-Flame” Stratocasters and Telecasters from the ’90s) has been printed – certain trim levels of the Citroën Xantia II had them, and they didn’t even come with color-coded exterior mirrors, a passenger-side electric mirror or rear power windows;
      5. If you were truly born under a bad sign: horrendous, brown plastic mixed and molded so that a seriously near-sighted, astigmatic person who’d forgotten to wear their glasses would be fooled into mistaking it for walnut burl (remember those kitsch Pioneer head units and the center console of the post-facelift Toyota Carina E?);
      6. A few more electric bits;
      7. Exterior chrome-foiled bits that would make ha’-penny-worth “affordable luxury” Filipo Loretti or Daniel Wellington overpriced trash look as elegant as a 36mm pink gold Vacheron Constantin Patrimony Self-Winding;
      8. Cheap leather that disintegrates or melts under your sweat after five years;
      9. A body kit that could only belong on that Peugeot 406 taxi featured in Luc Besson’s “Taxi” franchise;
      10. Low-rent, entertainment/infotainment systems that are two generations behind what’s current and either don’t work or are a complete nightmare to use.

      All this to give an aura of opulence that’s less than a picometer thick. Scratch it – no, touch it and you’ll see the cheap, semi-translucent, milky, fragile plastic underneath.

      Pardon me for being so jaded, but it’s this “affordable luxury” thing (which I call the “Daniel Wellington approach”) that has tainted names like Ghia, Vignale, and Van den Plas for the next few decades. Car companies have abused people’s nostalgic hankering for “cows and leather” interiors to make a quick buck.

      A while ago, we discussed the hypocrisy of car “journalists” (and don’t get me started on their propensity to shamelessly publish and propagate factual inaccuracies, like a certain Mr. Buckley). I don’t mind cynical wording that rips a few new ones on the bodies of those people that make strategic marketing decisions, as long as what I’m reading is accurate and fair – yes, you can be fair and harsh at the same time. I loathe hypocrisy and double standards (for instance, the leniency granted to the abysmal rust protection of the Simca 1307 compared to the way the Lancia Beta was treated).

    8. Konstantinos: that´s a long list of flaws. I agree some of the offerings were a little forced. Many weren´t though and were simply a plusher version of the standard car. I don´t expect a GLX car to be as luxo as a Jaguar XJ-S. Ideally, they would be, I suppose. What ticks me off is the sublimated class-war issues in such articles. And I also don´t much care for the inconsistency in attacking the customer who wants a nicer mid-size, mass-market car but letting the customers of limousines and supercars off the hook. What´s a Lamborghini but the most GLX car you can get, so to speak.

    9. @Richard, we’re getting into a two-pronged discussion here, so I’ll have to address the points in separate sections.

      Class issues: I’ll start by agreeing that we all want to have nice things. We want a nice home, nice clothes, a nice car, and the like. Our concepts of what is or looks nice are often informed by what we learn about the things the more well-heeled classes consume.

      Before I proceed any further, I’ll mention a certain part of the lower-middle class; this particular demographic is, at least in my eyes, a bit delusional. Why? Let me elaborate: this demographic is divided into three basic categories – employed, unemployed, and retired. Those who are employed are either employed in bullshit jobs (typically zero-hour contracts or, if they’re regularly employed and salaried, they’ve got a fancy title and are on minimum wage or just a few euros above it). The unemployed are on a constant job hunt. The retired are enjoying a seriously slashed pension that’s still above a young person’s minimum wage. What these people all share is the job title they have (or, if they’re no longer employed, had). Some had risen to a middle-ranking position (with a bullshit title to make them feel important). Others are in low-ranking positions, but are treated in a “friendly” manner by their boss, who pays them literally with peanuts and days off work.

      This demographic is characterised by a delusion of grandeur: they make no more money than an unskilled or semi-skilled worker, even though many of them have university degrees (often postgraduate ones). But they think they’re above such proles, so they want their outwardly visible goods to reflect that, so that they can show others they are, and have it, better: in our case, they want a “prestige” car, even though they can’t afford to buy and maintain one. This is often out of nostalgia for their past, when they used to have a well-paying job, which was then taken away from them in the aftermath of any one of the many financial crises that have plagued our societies – and they’ve never been able to bounce back, because the sectors they worked in have gone the way of the eurypterids.

      It’s precisely this demographic that gets scammed by the likes of Vincero, Filipo Loretti, Daniel Wellington and the like into spending €200 or thereabouts for “affordable luxury” watches that are essentially €20 Aliexpress affairs with their dials “adorned” by brand names invented by teams whose marketing campaigns are complete scams.

      In this light, articles like the one we saw here poke fun at this demographic and its focus on image rather than substance.

      Marketing cynicism: Let’s talk trim levels now. There are two kinds of cynicism here.

      On one hand, you had the cynicism of late ’70s and ’80s German car makers. Yes, they would sell you a well-engineered car that was “built to last”. But, unless you were above the middle tiers of your company’s food chain, the best you could hope for was a metal box with its interior shod in catatonia-inducing black plastic, with no instrumentation besides a speedo and a fuel gauge, an asthmatic engine, and a four-speed ‘box. But hey, you had an Audi, VW, or Mercedes badge, so your neighbors knew you had “made it” and that you were, and had it, better than they did.

      And here comes the pseudo-posh cynicism: let’s say you’re among those who make strategic marketing decisions for a car company. You’ve already taken a lot of money from the company’s coffers and funnelled it into a multitude of offshore accounts to dodge taxes (let the proles handle the financial burden of a working state), made a few token charitable contributions to get a few tax cuts, bought a new yacht and a new business jet… But your product range is already getting long in the tooth. Your engines are either unreliable or about as high-tech as what Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot would design before taking a nap. Your workforce is grumbling, because your sales are lagging far behind your competitors’ and they (rightly) fear they’ll lose their jobs. And, of course, you’re not going to stomach any commie talk about investing in R&D, quality improvements and whatnot. What do you do? Of course, you take your old wares that should have been put out of their misery (and ours) and tart them up with a little raid in the parts bin and a visit from your friendly local timber and chrome paint and foil suppliers (who won’t remain friendly for long, as they’ll soon find the checks you’ve signed are as good as a bottle of milk left in the sun for six months).

      So, in my eyes at least, articles like these seem like they’re just “punching down”, i.e. (not entirely unfairly) mocking the buyers for being misguided, unintelligent, and with their noggins firmly wedged where a noggin shouldn’t be wedged (cue prison scene from Hancock), but they also punch up: they are scathing indictments of certain car industries’ cynicism.

    10. Konstantinos in response to your first comment, I salute both your memory and powers of observation. Your description of the various crimes against good taste invoked images of top of the range mainstream cars of the 1970’s and 80’s with their tinselled flourishes to differentiate them from the poverty spec models. These days its much harder to distinguish them, thanks in part to how well equipped even base specs models are.

      As a kid, it was fun being able instantly to recognise a Cortina Mk3 GXL with its vinyl roof, twin circular headlamps, side rubbing strip and rubber inserts on the bumpers, none of which featured on the L model. The later 2000E version had large rectangular units, so the car featured three different front end treatments:

      Modern cars, with their big plastic bumper and grille combinations, would lend themselves perfectly to different treatments to differentiate different models in the hierarchy. I suppose that the cost of duplication of items such as custom headlamps would make it unattractive for manufacturers to do so. Enhanced software, in comparison, costs little or nothing to achieve the same thing.

      Regarding your second comment on class issues and marketing cynicism, there is a lot to unpack there, so I’ll ponder it before replying.

    11. That was worth an entire article, Konstantinos. I am reluctant to argue much more other than that buyers get a harder deal than the manufacters. And not all of the uptarted cars were as ancient and awful as the Allegro. Much of the time the GXL Plus model is on sale at about the same time as the poverty spec models. I should note that my critical facultie are thrown off by my childish enjoyment of broughamed cars. I have an advert for a Renault 25 Baccara in my collection and its plush, plump, ruched goodness is delightful (especially as nobody does this – or does Skoda with the L&K models?). Bulgin was a much-respected motoring writer who sometimes wrote what sounded good rather than what was accurate or strictly true. In the Car August 1989 edition I think he was indulging himself rather.

    12. @Richard: Yes, it’s often the easy and lazy way out to punch only down. Much like “comedy” in Greece in recent years; no satire towards the current government, but waaaaaaaay too much tripe about jealous women, fat women, couch potato men, lazy civil servants, and – as a rotten cherry on top of this malodorous choice of themes – a few gay stereotypes. However, with this article, there was a healthy dose of management-bashing. I read the comments about what the prospective buyer of the Allegro VdP wanted as a ruthless take on what Austin’s top brass believed the buying public wanted.

      On another note, there’s something that makes the article irrelevant: the Allegro had already been seven years out of production when this comparative review was published.

    13. To return to the Car article. When it was published, Car’s editor was Gavin Green. Whatever his qualities as a writer, journalist, or editor, he had a decision to make as to whether to run Bulgin’s piece or not. I do wonder if Russell might have punted it ‘for the laugh’, with little real expectation that it would go anywhere. I say this because the piece itself isn’t all that good. The gags fall flat, the premise strains credibility and even in 1989, when I first read it, I found it faintly embarrassing – beneath him really. (He was better than that.)

      What surprises me more is that Gavin Green elected to run it. Maybe it was a slow month; looking at the contents of that issue (and I have it here), I doubt it, but what I would say as I don my (self-important) DTW editor’s hat is that I would reject it without question – or at the very least, ask the author to either tighten up on his satire, or begin again with a different premise.

      Another curious aspect to the article is not only the presence of the Allegro (which as we all know is metaphorically speaking, journalistic shorthand for rubbish), but the fact that the VDP version was, to my knowledge never built in Series 3 form. Like all of these journalistic clichés, Allegro bashing has become a little wearisome. It wasn’t necessarily BLMC’s finest hour, but it wasn’t cynically conceived. It was more an unfortunate victim of circumstance, internal politics and a host of misguided assumptions. The VDP version could even be construed as the last vestige of Harriman’s folly.

    14. Eóin: I just took it as that month’s Giant Test, albeit with a twist. From what I remember CAR had a Giant Test every month in those days.

    15. John: During the late-80s, Car was the only motoring magazine I bought every month without question, sight unseen, so yes, I’m aware the Giant Test was a regular feature. But this one came with one almighty twist. To be honest, I never particularly rated GG as a writer, and I felt Car became a little ‘forced’ under his editorial stewardship. This article was a prime example of this, in my view. Others are of course available.

    16. I was surprised to see Russell Bulgin’s name on this piece. He was an excellent journalist who was sadly lost to cancer at the age of 44 in 2002. The VdP 1500 was a fifteen-year old fossil in 1989 and had no business being featured in this group test. There were numerous other contemporary booted versions of C-segment hatchbacks that could have been more usefully included instead.

    17. @Daniel, I apologize for taking a bit to respond. Having been born in 1976, I remember the ’80s and ’90s rather vividly; these were years when Greece’s roads were infested with old, under-engined, underpowered and utterly unsafe cars, courtesy of a policy that determined your income tax by the displacement of your car’s engine. So yes, I remember seeing all Cortina Mk. III and IV trim levels, along with pretty much all other cars that tried to imitate its trim level stratification.

      Regarding class issues, I’m afraid the best literary narration I have is unknown to audiences outside Greece; it was the satirical novel “Madame Sousou” by chronicler, journalist, and playwright Dimitris Psathás. This novel told the story of a stuck-up and delusional lady living in a run-down Athenian neighborhood called “Bythoulas” (most likely Kolonós), whose main aspiration was to move to the posh downtown neighborhood of Kolonaki and live the big life. So successful and succinct has Psathás’ portrayal of the Madame Sousou character, that it’s become a colloquial term in Greek vernacular, describing people (of any sex and gender) who have no understanding of their actual class status, but believe instead that they belong in a far higher class (whose members would never accept them as one of their own, anyway) and try to act like it, even though they have nothing that connects them with that class – especially the wealth.

      I’ve known a good number of people that fit what I wrote in my previous comment and have mentioned in the previous paragraphs. One of the prime examples is a professor I had as an undergrad student: he drove a Renault 18 that he bought second-hand (or maybe third-hand) from another professor under whom he had studied. Later on, he bought a new Mercedes-Benz C180 (W203), but had the dealer replace the rear badges with those of the C230. Go figure. Other people I knew went and bought pauper-spec Audi 80s (B2 and B3) and previously-owned Mercs (W115 and W123), some of them having been retired (due to really bad accidents) from taxi use and re-engined to use petrol instead of diesel, although they could have bought other cars, new, and better-equipped. And don’t get me started on the dangerous dubious cut-and-weld hackjobs.

      It’s precisely this demographic that attracts the marketing cynicism of all sorts of car manufacturer managers, whose approaches to these punters are summed up as:

      1. Oh, so you want a BMW or a Merc, but can’t really afford one? Don’t worry, here’s our base model, we’ll throw in the oldest, least powerful engine we’ve got, we’ll strip it of any sort of creature comfort, and we’ll sell it to you at a price that would get you not one, but two of our “lesser” competitors’ more well-spec’d equivalents, but still cheaper than our car’s properly-engined and properly-spec’d version.

      2. We’re an old company, with lots of heritage; your barrister uncle had one of our cars, remember the smell of the leather and the gloss of the wooden dashboard? Yes, we know that what we make now is the same stuff we used to make in the ’50s, with the addition of plastic bumpers and modern switchgear, but OMFGLOOKATALLTHEWOODANDLEATHERHOWCANYOURESISTIT?

      Personally, I think both of these marketing approaches, and the corporate administrations that green-light(ed) them need to be ridiculed.

  10. I, too, have fond memories of my Astra E company car (diesel 3-door estate) and of the many van versions we operated. I even bought a van second hand for general load lugging (we were renovating a cottage at the time). It had BMW 3-series plastic wheel discs, complete with badges, which improved the appearance considerably. (the first keeper’s name in the log book was Sytner, the local BMW agency)
    Thanks again Andrew for another good story.

    1. A Pontiac LeMans grille would have completed the BMW van look:

    2. About the Pontiac Le Mans: it´s one of several European-designed cars that were mauled, just mauled when they were rebadged in N America. The Merkur pair spring to mind, the Focus Mk1 and a bunch of Opels turned into Saturns, Buicks and Chevrolets. The base Kadett has a pretty smooth front and yet the Le Mans version brings forth the angular and seems like a bumper from a different car.

    3. The Daewoo connection ensured that Gordon Brown’s creation had a prominent place in the Automotive Coelacanths Hall of Fame. 32 years in production, ending in Uzbekistan as the Chevrolet Nexia II, ignominiously replaced by a T200 Aveo, unimaginatively badged as the Nexia III.

    4. Gooddog: at one time the Le Mans was a very hot car in the Pontiac range. To use it on this car was a travesty. If they had to use the Kadett it ought to have been like the Kadett GT/E with a 2.0 engine and lots of kit and not a car with the rev counter and clock blanked off. GM was run by morons in that period.

    5. Daewoo above, Opel below. Perhaps there were some differences regarding manufacturing and assembly that weren’t the fault of the designers? One of my pictures of the LeMans dashboard doesn’t show inline, but please do click to see what I have seen (unfortunately I cannot unsee it).

      From my admittedly limited and biased perspective Astra F was a far more appealing design in many ways.

    6. Good morning gooddog. That’s a pleasant looking dashboard on the Astra E. It bears comparison with the BMW E30 3 Series in the manner in which it is orientated towards the driver.

    7. Hi Richard, yes there is that history which runs very deep for me as well. I wanted to overlook it and just enjoy the car for what it was, but every detail inside and out was so carelessly executed. I feel very bad for Irv Rybicki, but Bill Mitchell would not have ever let this pass, at whatever political cost.

    8. Daniel, that is Kadett/Astra E, not F. While I have tilted the playing field to make my point by showing a junked LeMans next to a well kept Kadett, it suits my memory of a LeMans that was perhaps three years old. Adrian’s mention of oxidized paint just below triggered my memory and brought on the vitriol. As one can see on the photo of the yellow LeMans in Robertas’ post: the North American market specific parts don’t fit together as nicely as their counterparts on the European Kadett/Astra, quite evident even on a brand new example. Maybe it is a lens effect or a weird camera angle, but the front bumper seems to be misaligned so it points downward, granted it’s possible that an elephant sat on it before the photo shoot.

    9. Thanks, gooddog. Typo now corrected. It’s a shame that we can’t see the ‘googleusercontent’ photo of the LeMans dashboard you mentioned. It sounds grim!

    10. Regarding that 403 link of the bleak LeMans dashboard, try here:

    11. Hi gooddog. I’ve replaced your link with the picture. That blank right-hand dial screams poverty spec. Why didn’t they move the fuel and water temperature gauges to at least preserve the symmetry of the display?

  11. I think the Astra aged badly at the time because of the fading bumpers but also the oxidising solid paint finishes of the lesser models – red and blue in particular. Looking back now and it has aged very well.

    I had a late, CD spec, model for about 6 weeks while my car was repaired in 1991 and recall being quite disappointed to eventually get my own car back.

  12. The Belmont also had the notoriety of being (in 2003) declared the most-stolen car in Britain as a ratio of thefts to number registered, which worked out as about 10%. No particular preference for the saloon, I’d imagine, as the Astra was in second place. Did the thieves appreciate GM’s extensive testing regime when they headed into the woods or up the pit-heap in somebody else’s Astra/Belmont, I wonder?

    (the Nova was third on the list, then Metro, and fifth place was the Escort mk3)

  13. Regarding Shakin’ Stevens: on the contrary, I’ve got all his records… not really. My distaste of his style continued for several years but whilst writing this piece on finding out that “nugget” of information, one had to reminisce which was the probable cause for getting said nugget of info incorrect. Apologies.

    I can’t remember the last time I saw an Astra E, nor Orion and other than the internet, have my eyes ever seen an Allegro VDP? I liked Mr Bulgin’s writing but on seeing this, his tongue was most definitely sticking out along with a couple of fingers from each hand.

    Thus, my lateness to the party, I can but offer this video of the Astra before heading through the Green Door. Ahem…

    1. Charles: it´s only an advert but it made me feel a little queezy to watch. Presumably for the shots with the car at the edge there was a hefy safety cord out of sight. Still. Creepy.

  14. One more ad – just featuring a Kadett, rather than it being the main subject. I realize there will have been hidden safety measures to make it less dangerous, but even so…

    1. Richard – yes, a load of wires, bars, etc. It’s still uncomfortable to watch, though.

      Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at a different version.

    2. Now I had a look at that it seems like false advertising. Any old tyre will do if there´s a tonne of cables stopping the car. Hmmm. The making of the advert is more impressive: “Stan – we need the best wheel polisher in New York…. I need 340 tonnes of reebar up on 666 Park Avenue by noon, Tuesday…. I need 200 gallons of roof black….”

  15. The 4 door saloon sold very well in Spain, a lot better than the hatchback. That was very normal here back then. I guess the buyers thought that a saloon body seemed “more car” for the same money.

    Don´t you think that the visual differences between the cooking and the top versions were greater than usual? The GSi was very pretty, with perfectly integrated sport bumpers, nice alloys, sharp front grille, flash digital instruments and good seats; the typical 1.3 LS had that horrible eggbox grille, a very stark interior, and some of the ugliest wheel covers in the business; never mind, because these were stolen (or simply fall off) in a matter of days.

  16. Hi b234r. You’re right, the base versions of the Kadett E were pretty dour, especially as they were most often bought dark in non-metallic colours. Opel was going through a bit of an ‘industrial design’ phase back then. Even the badges on early versions has a utilitarian look, being moulded out of grey plastic with no chrome embellishment:

    Later models had more conventional badging.

  17. Fritz Lohr passed away on the 9th August, aged 95. He achieved so much at Opel, and worked there for more than 50 years. RIP.

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