Classifriday: Time warp Astra GTE
Step right back to the '80s in this £16k hot hatch time capsule
Strike up a conversation with anyone about 1980s hot hatches and you can bet your Miami Vice box set that the first cars they’ll mention will be the Golf GTi and its 205 nemesis from Peugeot.
Source: Modern Classic Car Co
But there were plenty of other important players back in the early days of the hot hatch scene, including the car you see here, an almost perfectly preserved, unrestored Mk1 Astra GTE.
Looking almost as fresh as it must have done on the day it was delivered in August 1983, it would be the perfect set of wheels to take to this weekend’s Performance Vauxhall show at Santa Pod.
This particular car has a great backstory, having been kept for the first 32 years of its life by its original owner, whose obviously well-heeled parents had bought him the GTE as a 21st birthday present.
He laid the car up in the 1980s when life changes and a company car came along, recommissioning it ready for sale in 2015 with an overhaul of the brakes and fuel injection system.
Almost 32 years, but only 75,309 miles and one more owner later, it’s up for sale for £15,995. Which isn’t even enough to get you into the most basic miserable 100bhp version of a new Astra.
Fancy it? It's being offered by the Modern Classic Car co in Glasgow. Follow the link at the bottom to find out more. But first…
What's so special about the Astra GTE?
GM was seriously late to the front-drive hot hatch party. By the start of 1980, the Golf GTi had been on sale for over three years and when the new front-wheel drive Astra/Kadett did appear at the back end of 1980, there was nothing to tickle a hot hatch fan's fancy.
A warm SR did appear soon after, but it only had the same 90bhp as other 1600cc Astras and looked like someone had forgotten to paint the bottom half of the car.
Then finally, in mid-1983, GM unveiled a genuine GTi rival, the GTE ('E' standing for 'einspritz', or 'injection' in German. So what did GM offer '80s hot hatch fans to tempt them away from rivals' showrooms?
Looking at the tech spec there's nothing revolutionary to set it apart. No twin-cam head to match the Strada Abarth, just a simple ohc engine. No Escort-style independent rear suspension, just a simple beam axle with drum brakes at the back.
But the Golf GTi didn't have that stuff either. It was doing fine, and served as a great template. So under the GTE's bonnet there was a 1.8-litre eight-valve engine from the Astra's Cavalier/Ascona big brother producing 115bhp and 111lb ft of torque.
Corners were taken care off by fitting a 14in alloy at each one wrapped in the 185/60 R14 rubber that almost all hot hatches wore before mahoosive fifteen inch rims became normal. The suspension was firmer and lower, too.
The silver car headlining this post features some colour coding on the bodykit, but white cars also got colour-matched wheels and bumpers for the full 1980s experience.
And inside there was a proper pair of genuine Recaros when most rivals offered inferior copies. Which at least helped to deflect attention from the awful hard plastic dashboard.
According to this bragging advert quoting test figures from one car magazine, the GTE was good enough for 0-62mph in 8.5sec. Maybe they conducted the acceleration runs down that huge hill from Luton airport because none of the other mags seemed to get anywhere near that, most failing to escape the nines.
Still, that, and a 116mph top speed, was entirely competitive in the early 1980s. And although the GTE was criticised for the unassisted steering's slothful four turns between locks, it won praise for its ride, handling and usability, as well as its performance.
But the Mk1 GTE's light burned only briefly. Come 1984 there was a new slippery-looking Mk2 Astra, and its GTE version wasn't far behind.
Sadly, that short production run and GM's abysmal 1980s rust record means you're more likely to spot a UFO than a first-gen GTE three decades on. Car mortality monitor howmanyleft.co.uk reckons there are only 27 MK1 GTEs still registered for the road in the UK, though there are obviously more Opel versions across the Channel.
Here's the link for the original advert:
And if you want to know more about this weekend's Performance Vauxhall Show: