RE: Vauxhall Astra GTE (Mk1): PH Heroes

RE: Vauxhall Astra GTE (Mk1): PH Heroes

Tuesday 20th November 2018

Vauxhall Astra GTE (Mk1): PH Heroes

Among first-gen hot hatches, the Vauxhall Astra GTE is now half forgotten. It deserves better



Vauxhall hot hatches have had a chequered recent history. A reputation for lots of power, but in a chassis that can barely handle it, has dogged Luton's performance offerings, first with the Astra GSI Turbo, then into the Astra and Corsa VXR models, all enthusiastically potent but severely lacking in finesse. News that the latest Corsa would reinvigorate the 1990s GSI brand had our hopes up, but that turned out to be something of a damp squib too.

Maybe the badge Vauxhall really needs to bring back is that which adorned its earliest front-wheel-drive hot hatches: GTE. Arguably, the GTEs were its greatest and best-loved hot hatch efforts, laden with raffish charm and styling that utterly trounced rivals in terms of pure, lairy aggression.

Try staring down this Mk1 Astra GTE, for example. Go on, we dare you. Five'll get you ten you'll blink and look away. Big, glaring eyes, a jutting chin spoiler and a blacked out grille make it look murderous, and a rear end that seems to sneer at you resentfully as it pulls away only completes the effect. From the side, the Astra's equally handsome; neatly proportioned and canted back over its tail as though it's straining to pull away.


Inside, things are slightly less convincing. The velour-clothed Recaro seats are fabulous, of course, but the rest feels rather cheap; the dashboard with its paper-thin plastics, tacky dials and the odd, U-shaped gear knob, all shared with standard Astra models. Mind you, it is of its time; few hot hatches did things any differently, and it wasn't until later in the 1980s that interior embellishments started to pop up in them with any regularity.

Start the Astra up, and you're greeted by an off-kilter thrum, the automatic choke only just doing its job of keeping the engine alive when it's cold. As the car warms up, though, the idle steadies, and soon you feel confident about exploring further up the rev range.

What you find is pretty terrific. The GTE is powered by the 18E engine, a version of the 1.8-litre OHC Family II engine seen in Vauxhalls right through to 1995. With just 115hp it might sound asthmatic, even for the standards of the day - but out on the road, probably thanks to the Astra's lightness, it punches way above its weight.


Even low down there's a solid glob of torque to get your teeth into. In fact, so giving is the engine in the lower half of the rev range that you find yourself tempted to change up at about 5,000rpm thinking it might be all done. Keep it spinning to the red line, though, and you discover there's plenty more where that came from; rather than tailing off, the amount of shove you get just seems to grow, only really falling away a fraction before you hit the 6,500rpm red-line. It'd be overstating things to call this a VTEC-like performance, but for an old eight-valve lump it's really very compelling.

What's more, if you hold your gear right up to that point, you find the revs drop straight into a perfectly juicy nugget of torque when you change up, encouraging you to keep going. And from about 2,000rpm onwards there's a glorious hard-edged induction warble to go with the acceleration, overlaid with a fantastically old-school exhaust rasp.

That engine really is what this car is all about, its flexibility, sparkle and downright brawn dominating the driving experience. But don't take it from that that the chassis is a poor relation. True, it doesn't quite have the outright precision or playfulness you'd find in a Mk1 Golf GTI; the steering is rather heavy at low speeds, and if you try to flick it from one direction to another there's a little slop in the suspension that causes the body to hesitate before it settles. While we're talking flaws, the gearbox could be more precise and the wooden brakes mean you often find yourself standing on the pedal to scrub off speed.


Nevertheless, the GTE is still terrific fun to drive. Once you're up to speed, the steering's weight improves significantly. The rack isn't that fast, so the GTE never feels darty or zingy, but the nose does respond the instant you turn the wheel, and so progressive is it that you always know exactly where you are, which gives you such confidence in the front end that you find your entry speed creeping up and up. Happily, the GTE rides brilliantly; firm but pliant, ensuring only the most jarring bumps make it through to your behind, with the outcome being that those mid-corner lumps don't knock you off line.

As a result, it's very easy to build up a rhythm and find yourself flowing happily from corner to corner, surfing on that lovely wave of torque and savouring that buzzy engine note having forgiven, or at least forgotten, the niggles. On a British B-road, the Astra GTE is right at home, and able to maintain its speed so well that there are much more powerful hot hatches it could probably stay with.

Ultimately, in the pantheon of these first-generation hot hatches, the Mk1 Golf GTI still has the edge over the Astra GTE. It is the more precise car, tauter and slicker, and endowed with a more solidly built interior. But the Astra's brawny engine, lairy styling and sweet, flowing chassis nevertheless make it a joy to drive, and a hot hatch that deserves to be better known. If Vauxhall could bring back the GTE badge on a car imbued with as much character and charm as this one, it'd be on to a seriously good thing.


SPECIFICATION - VAUXHALL ASTRA GTE

Engine: 1,796cc 4-cyl petrol
Transmission: 5-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Power (hp): 115@5,800rpm
Torque (lb ft): 111@4,800rpm
0-60mph: 8.5 seconds
Top speed: 115mph
Weight: 998kg
MPG: 37.5
CO2: N/A
On sale: 1983-1985
Price new: £6,739 (1984)
Price now: from £5,000 (LHD) / £8,000 (RHD)








Author
Discussion

rix

Original Poster:

1,990 posts

129 months

Tuesday 20th November 2018
quotequote all
Bit of rose tinted glasses here. Has the author driven either the mk4 GSi or Corsa VXR? Both are prettty good, the Corsa in particular being actually quite fun and lively. I haven’t driven a mk1 but with the exception of lightness, are you really suggesting it was a ‘better’ car?

blade7

8,456 posts

155 months

Tuesday 20th November 2018
quotequote all
Lifted straight from the pages of Max Power?

neil-1323bolts

576 posts

45 months

Tuesday 20th November 2018
quotequote all
When Vauxhalls were pretty good , how things have changed , I would have loved one if these back then but could not afford the insurance so had to make do with the cav sri , which at the time felt very brisk , loved the recaro seats , great memories

Edited by neil-1323bolts on Tuesday 20th November 23:57

s m

17,239 posts

142 months

Tuesday 20th November 2018
quotequote all
blade7 said:
Lifted straight from the pages of Max Power?
I think EVO mag did much the same article last year

https://www.evo.co.uk/vauxhall/astra/18646/vauxhal...



Edited by s m on Tuesday 20th November 23:52

Mr Tidy

7,686 posts

66 months

Wednesday 21st November 2018
quotequote all
I really like them - much better looking than the MK2 that replaced them.

Strange how 115 bhp is considered a bit feeble now - the XR3i of that era only had 105 bhp and the MK1 Golf Gti had 112 bhp in 1.8 format!

I bought a 1982 Capri Injection in 1984 because I wanted something a bit quicker!

But some years later I had a 1992 Cavalier SRi and it was a great car.

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ChemicalChaos

8,929 posts

99 months

Wednesday 21st November 2018
quotequote all
Yet more lazy Vauxhall slating with regards to power and chassis. Try driving an equivalent age hot Escort and I think you'd find it even more tinny, coarse and tackily built, with much worse ability to cope with its power. 80s (and 90s) Escorts were appalling, yet, everyone rose-tintedly creams themselves over anything blue oval whilst sneering at the Griffin.

In a modern example, the Astra H 2.0 turbo is less powerful than a MK5 Golf GTi, but was capable of lapping Anglesey 2 seconds quicker due to it's superior handling.
Everyone fawned over the Revoknuckle suspension on a Focus and how amazing the handling effects were, but the Astra array used a nearly identical setup without shouting about it.

blade7

8,456 posts

155 months

Wednesday 21st November 2018
quotequote all
s m said:
blade7 said:
Lifted straight from the pages of Max Power?
I think EVO mag did much the same article last year
I wonder if the author of the EVO article would be flattered by the comparison...

StescoG66

1,031 posts

82 months

Wednesday 21st November 2018
quotequote all
Loved these on the day. I remember the Opel Kadett version of the same car did a warm version - 1.6SR ,- which I would have bought except the insurance was more than the price of the car!!

Any chance of a Primera P10 eZX features PH? Nostalgia kicking in here. H303 CNS no more...... And I miss it.

dirty doug

397 posts

134 months

Wednesday 21st November 2018
quotequote all
A40 TVX

My 2nd ever car back in 1990/1

I had mine lowered on some springs bought via mail order, 'twas 1990 after all, & fitted some spots which fitted nicely using the factory pre-cut holes & adding an extra relay. Remember when cars used to be easy to work on...

On soft, sticky Yokohamas like A088's IIRC, it used to corner with the gods in my mind anyway.

Oh and all the white ones came with the optional orange rust wings & doors.

Cracking little car at the time

Alucidnation

9,941 posts

109 months

Wednesday 21st November 2018
quotequote all
8.5 to sixty from 115bhp isn't too shabby either, although weight was a lot less back then

rtz62

1,615 posts

94 months

Wednesday 21st November 2018
quotequote all
I had a Prairie Yellow XR3 (not an ‘i’ !) when these came out and that had 96 bhp.
But back then it felt quite quick.
I looked at one of these and got very close to pulling the trigger, but ultimately bought an XR3i and very soon after an RS1600i which felt so much more special.
To be fair I regret not having owned the Astra but have no real reason why other than it was quite iconic and representative of its time. Although I’d possibly go for a red, silver or black one in hindsight, the white screams ‘Joan Collins shoulder pads!...

s m

17,239 posts

142 months

Wednesday 21st November 2018
quotequote all
blade7 said:
s m said:
blade7 said:
Lifted straight from the pages of Max Power?
I think EVO mag did much the same article last year
I wonder if the author of the EVO article would be flattered by the comparison...
Richard Meaden

cobra kid

3,261 posts

179 months

Wednesday 21st November 2018
quotequote all
Good God, what a mess!

lee_erm

753 posts

132 months

Wednesday 21st November 2018
quotequote all
Never understood the love for the MK1 Golf GTI and it's position as the benchmark which all old hot hatches are compared too.

The GTI had slow, heavy steering. A thrashy engine which didn't like to rev. It was a bit wallowy. A 205 GTI it wasn't.

Edited by lee_erm on Wednesday 21st November 07:53

Belle427

3,541 posts

172 months

Wednesday 21st November 2018
quotequote all
My first introduction into the sports car world back in 1991.
I was 18 and forget the insurance cost but I had to have one at all costs!

irish boy

2,338 posts

175 months

Wednesday 21st November 2018
quotequote all
Can’t believe they only made them for 2 years. Surprising.

Never had a mk1, but did have a mk2 16v. Properly quick back then with 156 odd horse and sub 7 second 60. Only thing could keep it honest was a friends maestro turbo, which I then bought off him a couple of years later. Would love either back, but not at today’s inflated classic prices.

Vanordinaire

3,579 posts

101 months

Wednesday 21st November 2018
quotequote all
One of my mates worked for a national car hire firm when these first came out. He managed to wangle free use of one for the weekend. I fondly remember sliding around Edinburgh's cobbled streets and the surrounding countryside all weekend, we spent more on petrol than beer that weekend!
I seem to remember a really high tech LCD dash though rather than the analogue one shown in the article...or was that the Mk2?

viggyp

1,547 posts

74 months

Wednesday 21st November 2018
quotequote all
I loved these and did prefer the handling of the Mk1 GTE compared to the Mk2. Back in the early/mid 90's these were everywhere in North London and a few mates owned them. Used to have the odd little battle with them when I had my Strada Abarth 130TC smile Those were the days.

I know the majority were white but I seem to remember them coming in red, black and silver which was the rarest colour I believe. Have I missed any other colours?


Esceptico

1,595 posts

48 months

Wednesday 21st November 2018
quotequote all
These came out when I was learning to drive. Too expensive to buy and insure so none of my friends had one. Consequently I lusted after one but by the time I could afford one the world had moved on and I bought a second hand 205 GTi. Probably for the best because around about that time a friend's brother did get an XR3i, which (being charitable) was st so perhaps the GTE would have been the same.

OldGermanHeaps

1,996 posts

117 months

Wednesday 21st November 2018
quotequote all
The mk1 handled noticably better than the mk2, which became even better if you combined the best of both. In my a plate mk1 i fitted the pas rack, braking system, engine, gearbox and digi dash from a mk2 16v. With sticky rubber and spax suspension it made an excellent b road blaster and quick enough to earn me a ban.