The office car park was a competitive place in the ’90s. Status was everything, it was the differentiator between the average and the successful. Flash and cash mattered. Who had the sharpest suit, who had the fullest Filofax, who has a Psion personal computer? It all seems trivial now, but back then, it meant something. Or at least it did within the world of the sales rep. And of course, this extended to the cars within said car park. You could have the newest Psion, you could even have a brick-esque mobile phone, but if you were clutching them while getting out of a 1.4 Astra Merit, nobody cared. The car was the basis on which all other status was built.
It was Ford that started this. Clever marketing and ‘grade strategy’ meant the same metal could be highly desirable, or laughably poverty spec. For example, if you had a Sierra 1.6L, you were going to get no respect from your sales peers. If you had a Ghia, though, red ropes would part and colleagues would keenly slip their telephone number into your briefcase. It was clever, and it also shaped the way Ford’s peers would be marketed. Peers like Vauxhall, for example. Arguably the other side of the coin for many, Vauxhall was the one to give Ford a run for its money. And never more so than it did in the ’90s. The Vauxhall Cavalier, by then in its third generation, was arguably a much better car than the Sierra. Modern, safe, stylish. Get one of these in 1993 and you were king, get a CDX and you were the boss. Literally, probably.
But all good things must come to an end. The race for mid-sized family car superiority is one that never stops, and soon the Sierra was replaced by the Mondeo, the Cavalier by the Vectra. The Emperor had new clothes, so the old ones were tossed aside. And now there are very few left. As such, if you want to relive the heady days of ’90s business, the time to buy one is now. What’s left is rare, and it’s only going up in value.
AN INTRODUCTION TO THE MK3 VAUXHALL CAVALIER
The Vauxhall Cavalier had an impressive production run. Launched in 1975, it wasn’t killed off by GM until 1995. Over that time, it went through three generations. It’s the final, third-generation we’re looking at here. The Mk1 and Mk2 are classics already, so it’s only logical that the Mk3 will follow suit. Some would argue that it already is a classic, and in the case of rare halo models like the 4×4 Turbo and the 2000 GSi, we would be keen to agree.
The Mk3 Cavalier was an important car for Vauxhall. Ford had changed the way we thought about cars with it’s new approach to ‘grade strategy’, by which we mean different trim levels of the same car. The Cortina was one of the first cars to do this, and Vauxhall responded by implementing a similar trim range with the Mk2 Cavalier. By the time the Mk3 arrived in 1988, the need to offer a range of trim options was even greater. As such, the Cavalier was available with a 1.4 and non-painted bumpers, or with 2.0, body-coloured bumpers and even leather trim. It could be had in luxury trim in the guise of the Diplomat, or as a fairly basic model as per the L. Wind-up windows and all. In 1994, the Cavalier was given a facelift, and was also made available with a lovely 2.5 V6 engine so as to better compete with Ford’s Mondeo which offered the same.
It was also a car that was big on safety. The ’90s were the birth of car safety as we know it today, by which we mean as a feature on which people would base their buying habits. We wanted airbags, we wanted impact protection, ABS, safety cells and crumple zones. EuroNCAP was yet to be formed, but even so, crash-testing was something people wanted to see before they chose what to buy. Vauxhall’s marketing department were quick to capitalise on that fact, and created an ad campaign featuring myriad Cavaliers being smashed into things, all to the tune of Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer, naturally.
Vauxhall, however, did more than its rivals when it came to performance. The Cavalier was a car in the spotlight thanks to the British Touring Car Championship. With John Cleland at the wheel of one of the BTCC cars, the Cavalier was often seen on the podium. Vauxhall wanted to cash in, so offered more than one performance model. You could have an SRi, or a GSi to start with, then a V6 SRi and even a 4×4 Turbo complete with six-speed manual transmission. That latter car, the 4×4, is the most sought after today, with prices starting at around £7,500.
WHAT SHOULD YOU LOOK FOR?
There are a few things you need to look for on the Mk3 Cavalier. The most crucial is rust. In the ’90s, cars were made from steel that was more soluble than Alka-Seltzer. As such, rear arches, boot floors, sills, bulkheads, front panels, front wings, and even the roof can and will rot away at the first mention of moisture. Not only are you looking for rust, you’re also looking for repairs that are decent, and not a bodge. If you get the opportunity to get underneath any prospective purchase, take it. Have a good poke about.
Something else to look for is modification. The Cavalier was a Max Power favourite for years, and even the hum-drum 1.6 didn’t escape the hands of overenthusiastic twenty year-olds. If a car has been modified, it’s not the end of the world. However, you need to be aware that parts are getting hard to find. Furthermore, modifications could mean that the car has been driven somewhat less than gently in the past. If it were any other car, we’d say avoid the modified ones, but as they’re so rare, you may need to consider one. So be warned.
Finally, there is the general stuff. Crash damage is something you need to look for, so look at the front chassis rails and also the boot floor, as these will indicate if it’s ever been hit. Mechanicals are pretty stuff, and service parts are still by and large readily available. However, one that’s been looked after is of course better than one that hasn’t. But if it does need some work, it’s easy to work on. And finally, there is the matter of wear and tear. As we mentioned, mechanical parts are easy enough to find. Body and interior stuff, not so much. If the seats, dash, carpets etc are knackered, that could be a headache. Same if the bumpers are damaged. This is especially the case on the now rare GSi, as it had different bumpers to all the other models.
WHAT ARE PRICES LIKE?
For the 1.6 and 1.8 models, you can pick them up for well under £2,000, though as with anything this age, cared for, original examples will be twice that. The same can be said for the 1.7 diesel models, but if they’re on the road in 2021, the chances are they will be very leggy indeed. That said, there are low-mileage exceptions. CDX models, tend to be a touch more, while a decent Diplomat will come in at over £4,000. If you want a sporty model, the SRi can be had from £5,000, while the V6s models might be a touch more. GSi models are rare and incredibly sought after, so expect no change out of £7,500. If you want a 4×4 Turbo, which is to all intents and purposes the halo model, you can easily spend £10,000 on getting a good one.
WHY SHOULD I BUY ONE?
The Vauxhall Cavalier is an important car. It was once a ubiquitous thing, and it was once a car people strived to own. Sure, it’s been replaced by newer models, but that takes no charm away from it. It was and still is a good car. It’s handsome, they drive very well indeed and in performance specification, they can be outrageously fun. The Cavalier often gets overlooked, as people want the Novas and the Astras. But don’t follow the masses. The Cavalier is a bit of a classic bargain right now, but soon that won’t be the case. Get one now, before the wider car world hones in on it. Money for the Mk1 and Mk2 is strong right now, and the Mk3 is going to follow suit. A sharp suit at that. With a Psion in the pocket.