When the wraps came off the Cavalier at the 1975 London Motor Show at Earls Court, it was a genuine surprise, catching the media – and potential – buyers off guard. But the stylish saloon and coupe combination was soon attracting rave reviews, hitting the market in the dying days of the Cortina Mk3, when it was looking its weakest. Initial road tests were also complimentary. What Car? magazine was certainly complimentary, and in a group test alongside the Cortina and Morris Marina (both of which the Cavalier trounced), it concluded, ‘Vauxhall’s version of the Opel Ascona has helped put the previously ailing Luton firm on the road to recovery – and it’s easy to see why. The Cavalier is a good handling, sporty saloon aimed directly at the Cortina…’
The magazine went on: ‘As far as driver appeal is concerned, the Cavalier must be one of the best – perhaps the best – conventional saloon at the price. Its steering is accurate and responsive at all times, and it is not too heavy at parking speeds. Its cornering ability on smooth roads is excellent, although the well-located rear axle can hop about if the surface is poor. The ride may be a little firm for some tastes, but he ride/handling compromise is near perfect.’
Buyers certainly liked it, but that caused problems itself. Early availability was poor, with dealers clamouring for stock, while the waiting list grew. With production limited to a shared factory in Belgium, this was always going to be the case, while production at Luton was prepared and the Victor FE (now known as the VX range) wound down.Text here ...
The Cavalier Mk1 was tweaked rather than facelifted throughout its life. In April 1978, the 1.9-litre model was upgraded to 2.0-litres and 100bhp (and 110bhp for the equivalent Manta GT/E, which again we didn’t see in the UK until 1983), giving the Coupe a genuine 110mph potential top speed and a sub 10-second 0-60mph time.
Like the saloon, What Car? was impressed by the Sportshatch. In a group test pitching the Sportshatch in 1.6GL form against the Alfasud Sprint, Ford Capri and Renault Fuego, there were plenty of nice things said about Vauxhall’s seemingly less than soulful Cavalier. ‘Although its rear tends to go out if treated roughly on corners, there is not the same degree of sliding in wet weather as there is with the Capri. The steering is quite light, which means that any breakaway is easier to control, and during most driving, the Sportshatch is predictable and controllable’.
The Cavalier Mk1 lasted six years, before being phased out in favour of the front-wheel drive Mk2 in August 1981, and during this time proved a strong and steady seller.