Vauxhall Cavalier played an important role in Vauxhall’s history.
Along with the company’s other 1975 debutante, the Chevette, it went a long way to restore the Luton company’s reputation after years of being branded as a maker of cars that could do nothing well other than rust. Of course, that wasn’t true – but bad reputations are hard to shift. These thinly-disguised Opels proved dependable in service and good to drive, and thanks to a nice mix of British and German design, Vauxhall Cavalier now make appealing and well thought of classics.
Vauxhall Cavalier (1988 – 1995) Exterior
Vauxhall Cavalier MkI (2.0GSL)
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Rust killed most of these, and despite being more resistant than the previous generation of Vauxhalls, there are still plenty of corrosion hot spots to look for. First, check the sills – both inner and outers can rot – and also look closely at the jacking points, which are also vulnerable. The floorpan is also susceptible, so look out for damp carpets, and an overall musty smell inside. The front wings can suffer, inside and out, at the joining seam, but that will be obvious, even from 10 paces. Finally pay close attention to the battery tray under the bonnet, and the inside of the A-pillar, which can rot, compromising the strength of the car. Cosmetic rot will be much easier to spot, but still costly to deal with, so scabby doors or wheelarches can lead to further heartbreak.
ENGINE AND GEARBOX
The 1256cc engine, available from 1977, is a doddle to maintain, and aside from getting rattly (easily sorted with a set of feeler gauges), there’s not much to worry about. Watch for rusty core plugs and seized water pumps. The cam-in-head engines (1.6- and 1.9-litres from launch, 2.0-litres from 1978) are also tough, and easy to work on, although are known for developing oil leaks thanks to poor seals, pose few problems. Carburettors aren’t brilliant, and most will have been changed by now. Also, automatic choke mechanisms get sticky, and most will have been changed by now, which means some cars will now have the aftermarket manual chokes. Parts are all readily available.
Not much to report here. Gearboxes are tough, but diffs can get whiney with high miles, while the springs, dampers and axles are all tough and superbly engineered.
INTERIOR AND ELECTRICS
To be fair, there’s not a lot to go wrong with the Cavalier’s electrics – wiper stalks can fail, as can in the instruments (thanks to voltage meter failure), and it’s not unknown for the heater blower and windscreen wipers to start playing up – this is easily spotted as the fuses will start to blow increasingly regularly. All are simple DIY fixes.
Interior trim and parts are generally no longer available new, but aren’t too hard to find online secondhand.
A good Vauxhall Cavalier is still a joy to drive, and a superb reminder of how simple life was for professional drivers 40 years ago. They’re still relatively cheap, but with numbers still thinning, that can’t remain the case for much longer.