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Vauxhall Astra GTE

Published: 21st Jun 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!
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Vauxhall Astra GTE
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Fancy owning a motorsport legend for road and track use? Paul Davies looks at true classics that made their names on stages and circuits, and still provide fine drives today

The Astra’s most famous (or was it infamous?) moment came in 1987. Swapping five hundred for less than two hundred brake horsepower, five times Le Mans winner Derek Bell had agreed to drive the Vauxhall on the RAC Rally of Great Britain. But disaster struck on the first day. The GTE’s engine failed after taking in water at the water-splash on the Weston Park special stage, and ‘Dinger’s’ first rally was over almost before it began. But that wasn’t the end of the affair. The similar, also UK-prepped, GM Dealer Sport cars of Malcolm Wilson, Pentti Airikkala, and David Metcalfe succumbed to the same watery fate. Only the German-built Euro Sport cars of Josef ‘Sepp’ Haider and Mats Jonsson continued, their injection intakes differently positioned!Certainly the GTE had sufficient high spots to be a candidate for Sporting Heroes, but somehow it never recovered from that RAC embarrassment. True Derek went back the next year to finish a credible 21st, and also won his class on the race/rally Autoglass Tour. Beforethen the car had won British Group N (showroom spec) rally titles in the hands of Brian Wiggins and the Group A (modified) championship with Airikkala. Usually a class winner, the Astra (or Kadett GSi) also had its moments on the international rally circuit. ‘Sepp’ Haider claimed overall victory on the 1988 Rally of New Zealand, and in ’89 Malcolm Wilson – pre-Ford rally boss era – logged top ten finishes on three world championship events.In 1990 Louise Aitken-Walker drove a GTE to victory in the World Ladies Cup. On race tracks the GTE was a winner, John Cleland taking victory in the 1989 British Touring Car Championship. All this was the Mk2 Astra, GM’s secondtry answer (after the Mk1, has its own cult following) to the VW and Peugeot ‘hot hatches’ of the era. Initially with an eight-valve engine and output of 130bhp performance was mediocre, but with two litres of Cosworth developed, twin-camshaft, 16-valve, power the later XE motor was high technology. Standard tune was 156bhp, and in modified trim over 220bhp was the order of the day. In the UK it carried the Vauxhall Griffin, in the rest of Europe the Opel blitz; and when homologated for motorsport it tended to be whatever the local showroom required. The engine would also power the Cavalier and theCalibra Coupe of the day, and the GM Lotus single seat racers on Grand Prix tracks. Top of the range was a hot 200bhp turbo. Nowadays the Mk2 GTE is an affordable and quick, road, trackday, or club competition car, but it’s the XE engine – replaced by the more environmentally friendly Ecotec unit in 1993 – that’s made the deepest impression on petrol-heads. Easily available, eminently tuneable, for a time it was everyone’s favourite for engine swaps, transverse front-wheel drive or in-line rear, from Mini (really!) to early modelEscort. It fits neatly into Opel Manta coupes, and both Westfield and Caterham found space for it in their hot rods.

Vauxhall Astra GTE Summary

Production

1986-1988 (8-valve); 1989-1991 (16-valve)

Technical

Engine: Transverse mounted, four-cylinder, in-line, cast iron block. 1998cc. 8 valve cylinder head to 1998, then twin camshaft Cosworth developed 16-valve alloy cylinder head. Bosch fuel injection.
Power: 130bhp (8-valve); 156bhp (16-valve); rally engines to 220bhp.
Gearbox: five-speed all synchro (six-speed on Grp A rally car).
Drive: Front wheels.
Suspension: Front McPherson strut with coil springs; Rear coil springs with trailing links.
Brakes: Disc front and rear.
Steering: Rack and pinion.

Claim to fame

BTCC winner in 1989; numerous rally wins in Group N and Group A; 1st NZ Rally (WRC); 1st 1990 Ladies Cup (WRC).

Famous names

Derek Bell, Louise Aitken-Walker, Malcolm Wilson, David Metcalfe, Pentti Airikkala, Andrew Wood, Brian Wiggins, Russell Brookes, Mats Jonsson, Josef Haider, John Cleland.

Where to buy

Almost anywhere, but you’ll have to look hard! Check the owners clubs, local classifieds, internet, Total Vauxhall and of course Classic Cars For Sale.

What to look for

It may be fairly new as a classic, but body rust is still a problem – all over. Mechanicals are reliable. Check for repaired accident damage, and remember the GTE was Britain’s most stolen car back in the late eighties! Beware GTE look-alikes that hide a 1.4-litre engine.

What to pay

A grand will buy you a fair runner with potential, but you’ll need £5000 for a more pristine example.

Clubs

http://www.astraownersclub.com; www.astra-mk2.com; http://www.vodc.co.uk

Maintenance, tuning and sport

New enough for a Vauxhall dealer to still have many stock parts, specialist bits via clubs and e-bay. Both 8-valve and 16-valve engines will take power hikes to 220bhp and beyond with the right Mahle pistons. Standard injection can be replaced by twin Webers, or throttle bodies and uprated management systems. Kent (http://www.kentcams.com) has a good range of camshafts. Top tuners are QED Motorsport (http://www.qedmotorsport.co.uk); Courtenay Autosport (http://www.courtenaysport.co.uk); V-Tuning (http://www.vtuning. com) and Autosprint (http://www.autosprint.co.uk).

Competitive Rating: 7


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