Vauxhall Cavalier

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Vauxhall Cavalier
1994 Vauxhall Cavalier LS
ManufacturerGeneral Motors
Production1975–1995
PredecessorVauxhall Victor
SuccessorVauxhall Vectra
ClassLarge family car

The Vauxhall Cavalier was a large family car sold primarily in the UK by Vauxhall Motors, the British subsidiary of General Motors (GM), from 1975 to 1995.

The Cavalier was based on a succession of Opel designs throughout its production life, during which it was built in three incarnations.

The first generation of Cavalier, launched in 1975 and produced until 1981, was based on the existing Opel Ascona with a few minor visual differences.

The second generation of Cavalier, launched in 1981 and produced until 1988, was launched simultaneously with the identical new generation of Opel Ascona.

The third and final generation of Cavalier, launched in 1988 and produced until 1995, was based on the first generation of Opel Vectra, which was launched and discontinued at the same time.


Mark I (1975–81)

Mark I Cavalier
1975 Vauxhall Cavalier
Production1975–1981
Body style(s)2-door coupé
2-door saloon
3-door hatchback
4-door saloon
Engine(s)1.3 L I4
1.6 L I4
1.9 L I4
2.0 L I4
RelatedOpel Ascona B

Launched in 1975 as a 1976 model, the Cavalier was a restyled version of the German Opel Ascona, produced initially at the GM plant in Antwerp, Belgium and subsequently at Vauxhall's Luton plant. In the Vauxhall range it replaced the slightly larger Victor, which was falling a long way behind the Ford Cortina in the British car sales charts, and was being overtaken by the Morris Marina and Austin Maxi.

The original Cavaliers were available as two and four-door saloons, and with a two-door booted ("three-box") coupé body as used for the Opel Manta. The cars came with a choice of 1.6 and 1.9 L inline four cylinder engines in the saloon: only the 1.9 L engine was available in the coupé.

It was revised in 1978 as the 1.9 L became a 2.0 L engine and the 1.3 L OHV engine from the Vauxhall Viva and Vauxhall Chevette was used to create the entry Cavalier 1.3 variant. At the same time, a three-door hatchback known as the Sports hatch (also seen on the Manta) was added to the range.

All Cavaliers shared similar bodywork to the Opel Ascona but had the slanted nose of the Manta to give them the distinct "droop snoot" front end, while the coupé also had a front air dam. The Chevrolet Chevair in South Africa was a variant of this model, featuring the grille of the Opel Manta and different engine choices.

Vauxhall, from 1978 until 1979, offered the Cavalier coupé in convertible format called the Centaur. Only 118 of these were made and fewer than 30 were believed to have survived by 2007. The cars were developed by Magraw Engineering and sold through Vauxhall dealerships on behalf of Crayford. The Centaur is basically a Cavalier GLS coupé 2-litre with the hard roof replaced with a soft top leaving a T-bar for strength. The floor pan was also strengthened.

Despite being the same car mechanically, the Opel Ascona was sold alongside the Cavalier in the UK until 1981, when GM decided to phase out duplicated models with the Opel brand in the UK, and merge remaining dealerships with those of Vauxhall. The Opel Manta (and Monza) remained available, giving the Opel brand a "sports" position.

The original Cavalier was a strong seller in Britain, even though it never quite matched the runaway sales success of the Ford Cortina.

Trim levels:

  • L
  • LS
  • GL
  • GLS


Mark II (1981–88)

Mark II Cavalier
Vauxhall Cavalier.jpg
Production1981–1988
Body style(s)2-door convertible
2-door saloon
4-door saloon
5-door estate
5-door hatchback
LayoutFF layout
PlatformJ-body
Engine(s)1.3 L I4
1.6 L I4
1.6 L diesel I4
1.8 L I4
2.0 L I4
RelatedChevrolet Cavalier
Holden Camira
Isuzu Aska
Opel Ascona C
The estate version employed rear body panels supplied by GM's Australian subsidiary.
The Cavalier Cabriolet was never a big seller.
The second generation Vauxhall Cavalier was a version of the third generation Opel Ascona C shown here.

A new front-wheel drive car was introduced in August 1981, using the same underpinnings as the Opel Ascona. On its launch, it offered class-leading levels of fuel economy and performance which had previously been unthinkable for this sector of car. This model was part of GM's family of compact "J-cars", along with the Ascona, the Australian Holden Camira, the Brazilian Chevrolet Monza, the Japanese Isuzu Aska, and the North American Chevrolet Cavalier, Pontiac Sunbird, Buick Skyhawk, Oldsmobile Firenza, and Cadillac Cimarron. In the UK, the new Cavalier was a huge success and challenged the supremacy of the Ford Cortina as the company car of choice. Following the British public's reluctance to embrace the Ford Sierra's radical styling, the Cavalier overtook the Sierra in sales and became the best selling car in its class in the UK through much of the 1980s. It was Britain's second best selling car (behind the Ford Escort) in 1984 and 1985, and at its peak, this version of the Cavalier came with the choice of 1.3 or 1.6 L engines derived from the smaller Vauxhall Astra (also sold as the (Opel Kadett), while for 1983 a 1.8 L engine was launched, which had electronic fuel injection. A diesel 1.6 L was added about the same time, while the 1.8 L was supplemented by a 2.0 L in late 1986.

This model was produced as a four-door saloon and five-door hatchback. An estate version (based on the Holden Camira wagon with rear body panels imported CKD from Australia) was also available. The two-door saloon was soon dropped from the Cavalier range, although remained part of the Ascona range in other markets. A convertible, based on the two-door and converted by Hammond and Thiede in Germany, was subsequently offered.

The Thatcher government in the UK created a tax break at 1.8 L, with any company car having a larger engine than this attracting higher personal benefit taxes, thus effectively giving the Cavalier an advantage over its rivals soon after its launch.

By the end of its life cycle, the top of the range version was the powerful 2.0 SRi130, which had 130 hp (97 kW) and could exceed 120 mph (193 km/h). This had the same engine as the Astra GTE 8v (20SEH), though it was more powerful owing to a better exhaust route.

For the first time, Vauxhall began exporting cars in left-hand drive to other European countries, badged as Opels, which was a boost to GM's confidence in its once-troubled British subsidiary. In November 1987, the then head of Vauxhall, John Bagshaw, told Car magazine that the Asconas built in the UK were considered of equivalent quality to those built elsewhere in Europe, adding that "they can't tell them from the German ones". When the Cavalier was first introduced, the cars were built at GM's plant in Belgium, but production quickly moved to Luton. The estate version's panels were built by Holden in Australia.

The last Cavalier Mark II to be produced was the Cavalier Calibre. Based on the SRi130 with styling from Aston Martin/Tickford and the bodykit, sports suspension and exhaust being produced by Irmscher, it was a limited production run of only 500 cars. The car came with a very high specification including a trip computer, Recaro seats, power windows and power steering. It cost around £13,000 when released in 1987.

Vauxhall sold 807,624 examples of the second generation Cavalier between 1981 and 1988. In August 2006, Auto Express magazine named it as the country's sixth most scrapped car of the last 30 years, with just 6,343 still in working order. The only car to cease production after the Cavalier Mark II, and which disappeared at a greater rate, was the Skoda Estelle (which was withdrawn from sale in 1990).

Trim levels

  • Base (1.3 petrol, 1.6 petrol)
  • L (1.3 petrol, 1.6 petrol, 1.6 diesel)
  • Li (1.8i petrol)
  • LX (1.6 petrol)
  • LXi (1.8i petrol)
  • GL (1.3 petrol, 1.6 petrol, 1.6 diesel)
  • GLi (1.8i petrol)
  • GLS (1.6 petrol)
  • GLSi (1.8i petrol, 2.0i 114 bhp (85 kW; 116 PS) petrol)
  • SR (1.6 petrol)
  • SRi (1.8i petrol, 2.0i petrol 114 bhp (85 kW; 116 PS))
  • SRi 130 (2.0i 128 bhp (95 kW; 130 PS) petrol)
  • CDi (1.8i petrol, 2.0i 114 bhp (85 kW; 116 PS) petrol)
  • Convertible (1.8i petrol)
  • Estate (1.6 petrol)
  • Estate L (1.6 petrol, 1.6 Diesel)
  • Estate GL (1.6 petrol, 1.6 Diesel)

The "i" suffix stands for Fuel Injection.

Special editions

  • Commander (1.6 petrol)
  • Antibes (1.6 petrol)
  • Club (1.6 petrol)
  • Calibre (Same 2.0 fuel injection engine of the SRi 130)


Mark III (1988–95)

Mark III Cavalier
1990 Vauxhall Cavalier III Notchback
Production1988–1995
Body style(s)4-door saloon
5-door hatchback
LayoutFF layout/AWD
PlatformGM2900
RelatedOpel Calibra
Opel Vectra
Saab 900
1990 Vauxhall Cavalier III Hatchback

The last Cavalier was introduced in October 1988 for the 1989 model year, being Vauxhall's version of the Opel Vectra "A", again available as a saloon and hatchback. There was no estate version in the Opel line-up, and as the Vectra was not going to be sold in Australia, there was no prospect of Vauxhall turning to Holden for a replacement. The Vectra name was not adopted at this model change as Vauxhall feared reviving memories of the much-maligned Vauxhall Victor. Early Victors had been viewed in some quarters as excessively corrosion prone, but the Victor was becoming a very distant memory by this stage: the Vectra name would eventually appear on a Vauxhall in 1995, with the Cavalier Mark III's replacement.

In place of the Mark II Cavalier's angular exterior was a more rounded appearance. There was also a new economical 1.4 L petrol engine. The biggest changes to the range were the addition of 2.0 L 16-valve engines, better known as the "red top" or XE. This was fitted to the GSi 2000 and later SRis. Also made available was a four wheel drive system, fitted to a 2.0iL model (8 valve SRi spec) and on a version of the GSi 2000. There were two diesels available: a 1.7 L, 60 hp (45 kW) from launch, and an 82 hp (61 kW) 1.7 Isuzu-engined turbodiesel from 1992. The early SRis were fitted with the 2.0 8-valve engine from the previous Cavalier model, which produced 130 hp (97 kW).

Despite the lack of an estate body style, the Cavalier topped the large-medium family car sales charts in Britain in 1990, ahead of the Ford Sierra, Rover 400 and Austin Montego. Its best year for sales was 1992, when it was Britain's second best selling car behind the Ford Escort. It did not lose top spot in its sector until it was overtaken by the Ford Mondeo in 1994.

Vauxhall came up with a new coupé, the Calibra, developed from the Cavalier Mark III, to replace the discontinued Opel Manta. The Calibra was well received, notably for its sporty although cramped interior (largely based on the interior of the Cavalier) and its streamlined styling which in turn, enabled the Calibra to have the lowest drag coefficient of the period at 0.26 for the 8v model (0.29 for the rest). A few variants were made: the 2.0 litre 8-valve, 2.0 L 16-valve (the same engine in the proven Cavalier Gsi2000), the turbo version (again, the same engine used in the very successful Cavalier Turbo), the 2.5 L V6 and finally the 2.0 L 16-valve "Ecotec".

A facelift in the autumn of 1992 saw the Cavalier's 1.4 L engine dropped and a 172 hp (128 kW) 2.5 L V6 added to the range. At this time the GSi 2000 was replaced by a new four-wheel drive version badged simply "Cavalier Turbo" with a turbocharged version of the 16-valve engine producing over 200 hp (150 kW). Most of the range now had airbags and anti-lock brakes as standard (the first car in its' class to do so). The exterior design was also freshened up, with a new-look grille, headlights,rear lights and bumper mouldings. Finally for the 1995 model year, the new 2.0L Ecotec engine was launched replacing the previous 16-valve "redtop" engine, with a reduced power output down to 136 hp (101 kW), compared to the 150 hp (112 kW) of the previous engine. The 2.0 L 8-valve engine in the SRis were replaced in 1992 with a 115 hp (86 kW) engine, due to emission problems when fitted with a catalytic converter.

Production of the Cavalier ceased in late 1995 when it was replaced by the Vectra, though stocks continued for about one year afterwards and several P-registered versions (August 1996 to July 1997 period) were sold.

The third and final incarnation of the Cavalier was a big improvement over its predecessors (and most earlier Vauxhalls) in terms of durability, with the rust problems that had plagued Vauxhall for years finally being conquered. This was reflected by the fact that Mark III Cavaliers were still a common sight on Britain's roads more than a decade after the end of production.

This version of the Cavalier (sold in Continental Europe as the Opel Vectra) shared its mechanicals with the Saab 900 that was produced from 1993 until 1998, and continued until 2002 as the Saab 9-3.

Trim levels were:

1988–1992 range

  • Base (1.4, 1.6 petrol)
  • L (1.4, 1.6, 1.6i, 1.8, 1.8i, 2.0i petrol, 1.7 diesel, 1.7 turbodiesel)
  • GL (1.6, 1.6i, 1.8, 1.8i, 2.0i petrol, 1.7 diesel, 1.7 turbodiesel)
  • CD (2.0i petrol)
  • SRi (2.0i petrol)
  • GSi (2.0i 16v petrol)

1992-1995 range

  • Envoy (1.6i petrol, 1.7 diesel, 1.7 turbodiesel)
  • LS (1.6i, 1.8i, 2.0i petrol, 1.7 diesel, 1.7 turbodiesel)
  • Colorado (1.8i Petrol)
  • GLS (1.6i, 1.8i, 2.0i, 2.5 V6 petrol, 1.7 diesel, 1.7 turbodiesel)
  • V6 (2.5 V6 petrol)
  • CD (2.0i (C20NE))
  • CDX (2.0i (X20XEV), 2.5 V6 petrol(C25XE), 1.7 turbodiesel)
  • Diplomat (2.0,2.5 V6 Petrol, 1.7 turbodiesel)
  • SRi (2.0i petrol)
  • Turbo (2.0 16v 4x4 petrol 6 speed Turbocharged (C20LET))

External links