PH Blog: Astra timeline

Pity the fast Astra. In four generations, history and journalists have not been kind to the poor Vauxhall hot hatch.

Mk1 was a short-lived car
Mk1 was a short-lived car
Ever since the first Astra GTE appeared in the early 1980s, Vauxhall's offering has been the perennial bridesmaid, the also-ran in many a hot hatch battle. Opel and Vauxhall know this, though, and the new Astra VXR, despite being the most powerful front-drive Vauxhall ever, has had some serious engineering thrown at it. We're at Rockingham today to find out just whether Vauxhall can consign the fast-but-unruly rep of the Astra to history - and we'll tell you whether it's succeeded or not on PH soon - but for now it's worth taking a quick look back at some of the new car's ancestors.

The Mk1 GTE certainly doesn't fit the mould of the uncouth fast Vauxhall. In fact it's a bit of a forgotten gem. When was the last time you saw one on the road, for example? Quite - and yet you'll see plenty of 205 GTIs and Golf GTIs on the road (though perhaps not so many Escort XR3is).

Second GTE was quick - joyriders loved it
Second GTE was quick - joyriders loved it
Despite the glitzy white wheels, it's a more sophisticated thing than you'd perhaps credit, handling with some aplomb and with a 1.8-litre fuel-injected engine good for 115hp. It was only on sale for around a year or two before the swoopy aerodynamic Mk2 arrived.

Of all the fast Astras, perhaps only the Mk2 GTE 16v, with its 150hp power output and consequent susceptibility to theft by the joyriding community, really got to sit with the rest of the gods on whatever the hot hatch version of Mount Olympus is. And even then its reputation was built more on slightly lairy power then anything in the way of finesse, though it more than deserves its place as a PH hero for that alone.

Mk3 GSi was, erm, not brilliantly received
Mk3 GSi was, erm, not brilliantly received
This is perhaps the car that got the Astra its rep. Blessed with a solid 150hp from its 2.0-litre motor, it was always quick, but despite the power from the 16-valve 'redtop', and the involvement of Lotus with the handling, the GSi (as it was now badged) was just too stodgy to be considered a hot hatch contender.

And the others...
Vauxhall did of course produce a 200hp turbocharged GSi version of the Mk4 but, umm, we didn't have any of those to photograph. Nor, curiously, did we have an Astra VXR, the new car's direct predecessor.

Vauxhall has high hopes for new VXR
Vauxhall has high hopes for new VXR
But that car's fast-but-unruly reputation is what brings us to the latest Astra VXR, a car that now carries a history of wild-but-fun hot hatches on its shoulders with a Drexler limited-slip diff, trick HiPer Strut suspension and a whopping 280hp. Has GM finally tamed its wild-child hot hatch? We'll find out soon...I for one just hope it hasn't gotten too sophisticated.








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  • Funkateer 16 Jun 2012

    sidaorb said:
    Had a MKII CDi which used the same 1.8i lump, great car, loved it until the door locks got punched, then the ignition before becoming a statistic.

    Always loved the MKI and seem to remember a few 'specials' over the years at various car shows with Calibra lumps dropped into them.

    But have to say my favourite Vauxhall Hot Hatch was..............

    I quite liked its German cousin...

    My Dad had a Kadett Coupe in the late 70s, followed by a Kadett 'D' - same as the Astra MkI - which became my first car. cloud9

    Edited by Funkateer on Saturday 16th June 09:21

  • MarkwG 16 Jun 2012

    LuS1fer said:
    Vauxhall also had issues with many 4x4 models and had to convert them to FWD, possibly temporarily, but I recall it was a farce at the time.
    It certainly wasn't a farce - the GSi was available as 2 or 4wd from the showroom, I had friends who ran both. The 4wd market for basic saloons from standard manufacturers wasn't fledged enough to risk launching the top model as 4wd only. The 2 litre 8v was also available in both with a lower spec, however once the Turbo launched to replace the GS1 only 4wd was available, as I recall because the power delivery was such that front wheels probably wouldn't be able to cope on their own. At the time, other manufacturers were on the 4wd bandwagon, including Ford, Audi (Audi having kicked it off, & Renault. They all had learning issues of sorts, as mentioned above, as much to do with poor user understanding as anything else.

  • Crafty_ 16 Jun 2012

    LuS1fer said:
    Vauxhall also had issues with many 4x4 models and had to convert them to FWD, possibly temporarily, but I recall it was a farce at the time.
    Vauxhall never converted any cars to FWD, owners may of done, but Vx never did it.

    The transmission was designed and made by getrag.
    Basically the transfer box is pretty similar to the way an automatic gearbox works - hydraulic pressure is applied and a series of clutches (6 from memory) are engaged, taa daa, we have drive. It would disconnect when you touched the brake.

    The system had two problems : it probably wasn't quite robust enough and user expectation/car needs weren't set.

    Robustness - Like anything the t-box had a service life, this was greatly affected by maintenance. Run equal tread tyres and keep the fluid changes regular and it'd have a good life. Abuse it and the life could be shortened quite dramatically.

    User expectation - The care and service life issues weren't communicated to users (or even in some cases dealers), lots of people were quite scared of the box.
    Vx should have decreed more frequent fluid changes and provided more instruction on the use/care of the box.

    When I sold my turbo it had over 100k on the t-box and it was in perfect working order, the P.O. had looked after it and so did I. Unfortunately many owners didn't know (or didn't care) how to look after the car, hence the tales of woe.

    Haldex is a variation on the theme but is much more robust.

    Loved my turbo, sold it 9 years ago, 10 years old, 180k on it and had been modified for over half its life.. Half of me still thinks I should of kept it. I guess its baked bean cans by now frown

  • s m 15 Jun 2012

    traffman said:
    Going from most of the mk2 astras pictured here , i thought i'd just say see you all at Billing!
    My old one is still about and taxed till the end of the year - let me know if you see it there!

  • traffman 15 Jun 2012

    Going from most of the mk2 astras pictured here , i thought i'd just say see you all at Billing!

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