Per ardua ad astra. Many of you will recognise this as the stirring official motto of the RAF. If, unlike Shed, you're not a devoted student of Latin, the English translation of it is 'through adversity to the stars'.
For many company car drivers in the late 1980s, the adversity you had to go through in order to get to the Astra you wanted was the fleet manager, who was often a sweaty bloke with a boiled sweet addiction and a BO problem. You thought you were well worthy of a redtop 2.0 GTE but he would only give you a blacktop 1.2 E, grrr.
The redtop Mk 2 'E' GTE of 1988 was a twin-cammer that chucked out 156hp/150lb ft, which in such a light car (997kg) was enough to deliver an impressive 7.0-second-0-60mph time. Twenty years later the Astra was into the facelift version of its fifth 'H' generation and the folk on the production line at Ellesmere Port were sending today's very shed – a 1.6 Turbo SRi – out through the gates and into the wide world.
How did things change for the hot Astras over those two decades? Well, even with 178hp (10hp up on the 2.0 Astra Turbo that it was replacing, and more than 20hp up on the Mk 2 GTE) the gen-five 1.6 Turbo SRi didn't bring quite as much acceleration-inspired colour to a passenger's cheeks as that old GTE did, based on a fag packet rounding-down of its 7.8-second-0-62mph time to 7.6 for the 0-60. That's what safety-boosting weight will do to a car's performance.
It was a handy engine though, that turbo 1.6, with minimal lag, good refinement on the motorway, better performance than the outgoing gen-five 2.0 Turbo and 6mpg better economy too at 36.7mpg. Bottom-end urge was especially impressive thanks to the 170lb ft of torque that came in at under 2,000rpm and continued to 5,500rpm, with 196lb ft of overboost available in five-second chunks and a well-ratioed six-speed box to keep things boiling along. No wonder Vauxhall used the same unit in the usefully rowdy VXR Corsa.
The Astra SRi's ride and handling weren't quite up to Focus standards but they weren't far off. There was strong grip and very little traction scrabble. The dampers were switchable to a Sport setting that hefted up the steering and sharpened up the throttle response.
Our shed doesn't appear to have the desirable pano roof option but it does have the Exterior Pack which (Shed thinks) amounted to colour-coded front and rear air dams, a boot spoiler and five-spoke 18in Penta alloys which look to be in good fettle here. Leather loveliness on the inside, no big worries on the six-month-old MOT cert, and an Astra-sized boot to toss your takeaway wrappers into, all for a quid short of our £2k maximum. Job's a good 'un.
Now, as Shed sometimes says to the postmistress, here's a small diversion. Shed chose not to cover it here because he did one quite recently and this one will probably have been sold by the time this story goes live anyway, but if you're looking for a summer car at what seems like a good price here's a 2009 Mk 3 MX-5.
It's only a 1.8, so it’s just 124hp, but it has no stated faults, not many miles and an unconcerning MOT history, all for a measly £1,750. All it seems to need is a thundering good wash. Of course, there might be all sorts of other nastiness lurking beneath the surface grime. Shed knows that from the rare occasions that he has a proper wash.
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