Back to Nature

Astra battles West Cork foliage. Foliage wins.

Astra fans of a delicate disposition should look away now. Image: Driven to Write
Astra fans of a delicate disposition really ought to look away now. Image: Driven to Write

Editor’s note [1]: This article originally appeared on DTW on Jan 4 2017. In light of yesterday’s piece, it seemed appropriate for it to make a reappearance…

As middle age steals upon me, I find that many things I still view as contemporary are in reality, decades old. Music, fashion, events – cars even. The subject of this photo is a case in point. Old enough to be dismissed as a banger, yet to my addled mind at least, still sufficiently contemporary for this scenario to appear out of the ordinary.

Yet the Opel Astra G was launched as long ago as 1998, marking a shift in style from the more curvaceous F model which preceded it. In retrospect it appeared to be an attempt by Rüsselsheim to move the Astra Golf-wards in appearance, adopting a more pronounced C pillar and abrupt tail styling and while there was little wrong with it visually or otherwise, it lacked the clean lines of its predecessor, the solidity and design quality of a contemporary Mark IV Golf, or indeed the novelty and visual dynamism of a Ford Focus.

UK website Honestjohn described the G’s styling as “nondescript” and “hamster-like”. I don’t see the hamster reference myself, but perhaps someone who understands rodents can enlighten me. Like most Astras however, the G sold strongly here, offering buyers a cheaper Golf alternative or an antidote to the polarising appearance of the Focus – take your pick. Nevertheless, it was conclusively eclipsed by both.

This example grabbed my attention largely because the section of the car still discernible beneath the encroaching foliage appears in such sound condition. Cars of this vintage were at the sweet spot when it came to corrosion protection, so note the apparent absence of rust or other signs of entropy. The degree to which the shrubbery has taken over points to the car having remained immobile for several years, (at least three as far as I can tell) which suggests some catastrophic failure or front end damage, but much like the Titanic, all evidence is now buried beyond reach.

At this time of year, the onward passage of time falls into sharper relief. It’s certainly run out for this car. One of these days, someone will lose patience and it will be loaded onto a flatbed and compressed into a squashed cube. Meanwhile however, it forms a free-to-view and faintly surreal suburban art installation. One which both amuses and depresses me as I walk to the local supermarket. I shall miss it once it’s gone.

Editor’s note [2]: Last time he checked, the Astra had indeed disappeared.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

23 thoughts on “Back to Nature”

  1. I noticed the rear window is slightly open. Let’s hope they let the dog out before abandoning the vehicle.

  2. From my lofty years – indeed I have just reached what I believe is termed a Significant Age – I have to warn you all that just like policemen looking too young, you also find cars that you thought had just gone into production sitting at the side of the road in Essex with their wheels and number plates missing.

    I remember the horror of seeing a Porsche 928 possibly 15 years ago, still running but apparently hand brushed in white house paint. Though possibly this was just a special edition.

    1. I have felt that way for about 5 years, Sean.

      The C-pillar meets the shoulder in a flawless manner. If VW or Mercedes had styled this car there would be clubs and anthems in its honour.

  3. For me, the problem with this generation of Astra lies in the rather clumsy handling of trim pieces. The doorhandles look like generic GM pieces purloined off something else, the tail-light lenses look cheap, and they boasted a wide array of really nasty wheels. And I always thought the front bumper was too deep relative to the grille and headlamps, which gives it a rather heavy and obtrusive appearance from the front.

  4. The paint is in surprisingly good shape. Maybe the rear half gets regular treatment.

  5. The foliage encroaching upon the Astra looks like clematis. Every year I am forced to chop down a tsunami of the God-awful stuff that breaks over my back fence from my lazy neighbour’s garden, covering the roof of my shed and choking the guttering with dead, dried paper flowers. If I am right and it is a similarly rampant breed, that knotted mat covering the Astra could easily be one season’s growth, explaining the otherwise reasonable-looking nature of the car.

    1. Oh lord. A comment pertaining to an Astra making reference to gardening. In one fell swoop I have accidentally killed my youth and instantly traversed into middle age.

  6. I used to drive these fairly regularly during my hire car years and in 1.4 16v form, it was a very nice thing to drive. The engine was smooth, sweet and revvy, the gearbox light, swift and positive of action. You sat lower in the car than the rival Focus, and the handling was very good – just not quite as wieldy and sharp as the Ford – I seem to recall Lotus were name checked by GM for helping with the development of the chassis. I do see what Richard means about the particular feature about which he is eulogising, it’s just I found that the front and rear of the car somehow did not match each other.

    1. I think the Astra G was a victim of poor timing; caught in a pincer between Golf IV and Focus it appeared a little half-hearted and as others have pointed out, detail styling rather let it down. I recall test driving one of these circa 1998 with my Dad. He found it nice to drive, but was unimpressed by the overall package. He didn’t bite.

      Given the prevailing weather conditions, the fact that the car isn’t covered in green lichen is quite staggering. In terms of duration, I know for a fact it hasn’t moved for at least two years – but it could be longer.

  7. My mom has a huge garden, so I’m no stranger to clearing up foliage. The Astra in the shot looks like it could be freed without too much hassle.

    Since this was shot five and half years ago, the real question is how does it look now? Is it completely overgrown, or has the Astra been taken to the scrapyard?

  8. One of these was my first new company car. Same color even. Mine was a 1.7IsuzuTD with all of I think 68hp (rep special) but you could drive it like a maniac once up to speed (I did) and it would not disappoint in the corners or in the braking dept. even with its dreadful eco standard tires and drums in the rear. Kinda like a 2cv. DO NOT BRAKE. Never missed a beat, ~170kph all day, 5 gears, a tape player, a brick on the gas pedal and nothing else onboard. Mine had the standard wheels with the plastic covers. It was a great car for what it was. You could place it wherever you wanted and it went there np. Could not destroy it no matter what I did. No rattles no nothing. It just kept on shining. My company gas card worked all over europe so that’s where I took it. I would hate to be a whippersnapper today.

  9. Good morning Eóin. That really is a rather sad photo. Unless, as you wonder, it suffered some catastrophic mechanical failure or heavy front end damage, it’s hard to understand why it was abandoned since, from what we can see, it looks to be in remarkably good condition with a very healthy shine on the paintwork. Let’s it wasn’t something catastrophic that happened to its owner that caused its abandonment.

    The C-pillar treatment is certainly divisive, as we saw in yesterday’s comments, but I think it’s bold and really well executed. As Richard noted, the way the crease at the base of the pillar carries the window line around to meet the tailgate glass is perfect, as is the incorporation of the rear spoiler. The line that starts at the base of the tail light, then changes direction where it meets the subtle bodyside crease and continues to form the base of the rear spoiler is beautifully drawn.

    The design also is from an era when designers knew how to draw panel-gaps between bumpers and wings properly, unlike today, when they are often very careless and ugly. Overall, there is a discipline to the design that is sadly lacking in many contemporary models.

    1. For the sake of argument, you could take a Ford Focus and explore its design content in a similar way to Daniel´s dissection of the Astra. A Golf tends not to invite this kind of examination. I think the Golf tends too much towards minimisation of “content”. Where it might excel is the engineering of the details. That said, I really find it hard to kick the Astra on this score – none of its smaller bits offend me in the least. My view is that the lack of regard for the Astra is due to the lingering overhang from the period when Opel went off the boil (around the late 80s, perhaps). The fallout has been huge. Some of Ford´s offerings were equally mediocre, the second last Escort being one of them.

  10. If a design department can be likened to a symphony orchestra, then the conductor matters. In the case of Astra, my preferences almost correlates with my regard for the various GM chief designers. I find Astra J even more pleasing to my eye than the lovely Astra F. Or to paraphrase an old adage: “Never driven, nevertheless smitten” (Though the saloon was bodged IMO).

    1. Hi gooddog. Agreed, the Astra J is another lovely design, superior to its rather fussy successor. I love the way the arched upper side DLO line is continued by the lower edge of the rear glass. Like the Astra G, it looks a substantial and solid car, very much all of a piece.

  11. I struggle to understand such serious analysis of Astras. By the turn of the century, Opel were dead to me. Renault should be similarly dead but I keep seeing newish ones and being intrigued by lovely styling . I saw a Clio estate yesterday – I’ve only ever seen recent ones in Mallorca, perhaps they are lhd only, but really cute.

  12. Hi Mervyn. I think that all cars are interesting from a design perspective. Some are great, almost perfect, some are risibly awful, but the vast majority fall sonewhere in the centre ground between these extremes and possess a mix of design ‘wins’ and ‘fails’. Some of the latter are forced upon the designers by technical or cost constraints, some are what I would call ‘unforced’, in other words, they appear to be a product of simply poor rather than necessarily compromised design.

    While styling is, of course, subjective, I think it’s always worthwhile to examine designs whether they are good, bad or indifferent, to try and gain an insight into what the designer was trying to achieve within the constraints placed upon them.

    Large, expensive cars should give the designers the greatest amount of creative freedom to achieve something beautiful, but take a look at this pairing, ultimately from the same company, to see how it can go right or wrong:

    Both are equally worthy of examination, to understand why one works and the other doesn’t.

  13. Is it definitely an Opel? Are you absolutely certain there isn’t a hibernating Griffin in the shrubbery? I know they’re rarely seen in those parts, but……

    1. Perhaps you could expand your comments into a full article Daniel. I think both vehicles are hideous in their own way, with the BMW being the bigger offender. The grille makes me think of a basking shark.

    2. Hi Charles. That’s a good suggestion. It may take me a little while to get around to it, but I will.

  14. The main ingredient of the Astra J’s undisputed appeal seems to be the execution of the DLO-shape vs. its roofline (this btw goes also for the Astra H’s, esp.the GTC).
    No matter how well they are resolved, it will sadly never be anything but a shallow copy (or an “inspired evolution”) of the Megane II 3-dr rear side glass execution.

    What is even weirder, that very Megane II ‘truc’ was applied
    to two cars that could conceptually never be further from it.

    Both the H GTC and the J 5-dr (and especially the stunning J GTC), with their pronounced tumblehome and almost supercar-like flank inclination (in the case of the J GTC,
    delete the ‘almost’), are miles away from Megane II pompous,
    coach-like flanks, sci-fi rear end, and general glasshouse eccentricism. While the J Astra / H GTC are an hommage
    to the archetypal desire for a beautiful car, the Megane II is too sober, too upright and, while alluring, it is far from elegant (especially to blame are its almost morbid lack of tumblehome, and the dismissive, coffin-shaped
    headlights – coupled with way too angular lines
    in its grille/bumper apertures, deleting any perceived
    aero performance).

    Beautiful as they are, it will never cease to be bizarre to borrow
    a legendary design trick in isolation, and paste it to a car whose aesthetic goals are so profoundly different.

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