ASTRA GTE QUICKSILVER
The Irmscher-kitted, Connolly-trimmed Mk2 Astra GTE Quicksilver is a unique factory design exercise now in the hands of an enthusiast present at the project’s grand unveiling in 1987…
Every now and again, a manufacturer stuns motor show attendees with a surprise design study. Taking the form of a wild and wacky prototype – often based on an existing production model – the purpose of the presentation is to ‘test the water’ as far as automotive styling and the tastes of the car buying public is concerned. If a crowd signals its approval, then the car maker in question can begin to introduce elements of the custom creation to its production line. In contrast, if the assembled masses register hatred for what’s been unveiled, then the design team responsible for generating such negative feedback know they need to go back to the drawing board.
Whatever the response, these automotive anomalies usually end up mothballed and left to collect dust in the private collections of whichever manufacturer commissioned the work in the first place. Porsche, for example, has a huge collection of one-offs stored in an underground vault beneath its museum in Stuttgart. Most of the cars hidden within only see the light of day when they’re wheeled out for the occasional exhibition. Few have ever seen the road.
Anybody who has visited Vauxhall’s fantastic Heritage Centre in Luton will know just how crowded the facility is. Designed to accommodate fewer cars than currently call the place home, our favourite manufacturer simply doesn’t
have the available space to house an endless stream of historic Griffins. On the plus side, a lack of room means some of the cars held in the company’s historic collection have made their way into private ownership over the years. Cars like the extraordinary Mk2 Astra GTE known as Quicksilver.
“A bold new concept in car body colour design” is how Vauxhall described the peculiar-looking hot hatch in press materials ahead of the car’s unveiling at the 1987 British Motor Show. “I remember it well,” says IT technician, Colin Burton. “I attended the event with a few mates. We witnessed Quicksilver being promoted on Vauxhall’s exhibition stand. I recall thinking how daring the designers who worked on the project had been,” he says. Little did he know that three decades later, the Astra he was eyeballing would be sitting in his garage!
Quicksilver was designed and assembled to commemorate the twenty-fifth anniversary of Vauxhall’s Ellesmere Port production facility. A standard Polar White 1.8-litre GTE was lifted off the assembly line before a small team at “the home of the Astra” set to work under the guidance of John Taylor, a senior designer within Vauxhall, and the man responsible for the performanceenhancing styling of the Carlton Thundersaloon. Taylor also designed the famous ‘V-grille’, a key feature of Griffins from the mid-1990s onwards.
He envisaged a radical restyling of the GTE using heavily modified versions of body panels available to buy through Vauxhall’s official styling partner, Irmscher. He was also keen to take advantage of a then-new paint technology known as Diamont. Offered through BASF and applied to Quicksilver by the company’s Inmont division, the process involves repeatedly blending metallic colours in advance of a liberal application of clearcoat, resulting in a unique appearance with a deep, lustrous and hardwearing finish.
Award winning, Diamont would go on to become a commonly used process of production remaining popular to this day. Taylor recognised its potential to allow for the blending of different shades across the length of a car. In other words, he realised that with a steady hand, a sprayer could start at one end with silver, and work his way to the back, where a
gradient-like effect could be stretched to finish in black. Consequently, Polar White soon made way for a startling finish over heavily modified Irmscher bumpers, wings and rear quarters. A red keyline added an injection of vibrant colour to the proceedings. The same accent has been applied to the rim of specially-painted CD Design fifteeninch five-spokes and the GTE’s familiar rear wing.
Step inside Quicksilver, and you quickly realise that Taylor didn’t do things by halves. Sumptuous Connolly hide covers front sports seats, door cards, inner rear quarters, the glove box lid, centre console, lower dash, gaiters and a three-spoke MOMO steering wheel. Continuing the theme of a gradient, the leather has been carefully designed to reflect the silver-to-black displayed on the car’s exterior panels. There’s more than just a retrim going on here, though. Look at the rear seats. There’s no typical Astra hatchback folding functionality. “They’re custom-designed fixed-position seats with a padded centre arm rest,” confirms Colin. “Even the headlining is bespoke!” he gasps, pointing out the twin-tone leather residing above our heads.
As you might expect from a car designed to wow through its looks, Quicksilver remained in a standard state of mechanical tune. After all, why bother trying to improve the performance of an Astra which looked destined to spend its life on static display in Ellesmere Port’s reception area as part of Vauxhall’s heritage fleet?
“Other than the occasional run out to main dealer events and a spell at the Heritage Centre, the car remained as an exhibition piece at the factory until being sold to a dealer in South Tyneside during the summer of 1989,” continues Colin, suggesting space was an issue at Vauxhall’s Luton mini-museum even as far back as the late ‘80s! Not much is known about what the Quicksilver’s role was during the fourteen years immediately after it left the manufacturer’s custody, but a lack of miles covered leads Colin to believe this unique GTE was treated as a showroom display piece. During the same period, he bought and sold a variety of Droop Snoots, a Mk1 Cavalier Sports Hatch, a Firenza, Nova SRs and a GSi, but he often wondered what became of the unusual Astra he’d enjoyed staring at many years beforehand. The answer lay in a succession of classifieds advertising the car for sale between 2003 and 2012.
“The original buyer sold Quicksilver to a collector in Cleveland,” he tells us. “The car then passed through a privately held collection of cars in Manchester before being sold at an auction of classics offered at Sandown Park in 2011. A short while later, a specialist dealer in Surrey advertised the car for sale at a fixed price on eBay.”
Colin struck a deal with the seller and added his name to Quicksilver’s logbook in 2012. After changing the timing belt, fluids, filters, a faulty expansion cap and replacing perished rubber bushes for new items, he took the car for an MOT. We’re not kidding when we talk about the lack of miles covered; the test certificate highlights just sixtynine miles from new, and eighteen of those were achieved driving to the test centre! Not that the car wasn’t in need of additional work. After all, this was a GTE never intended to venture out onto the public highway, meaning its cosmetic updates weren’t applied with the rigours of high speed in mind.
“The front bumper featured a giant cavity spanning the width of the panel,” sighs the Griffin nut from Nottinghamshire. “The resulting hole was intended to promote airflow, but in reality, all strength had been removed from the part. There’s no way it would have stood up to being subjected to prolonged periods of road use. To counter the
“I RECALL THINKING HOW DARING THE DESIGNERS WORKING ON THE PROJECT HAD BEEN”
problem, I filled each end of the slot, leaving about a third of the hole open at its centre. I then covered the areas I’d filled with black paint in an effort to keep the look of Taylor’s original design.”
The car’s chassis equipment was also in need of attention. Mismatched rear lowering springs, hastily applied non-concentric wheel spacers and knackered Pirelli P600s necessitated the purchase of a Bilstein B12 suspension kit (comprising B8 shortened dampers and Eibach Pro-Kit lowering springs), the removal of the spacers and the addition of fresh Avon rubber. Wheel arch liners had to be reinstated following their removal by Taylor’s team, and the bottoms of each Irmscher wing needed to be corrected due to a less than desirable fit.
HORN OF PLENTY
Orange side repeaters – an ill-advised addition during a previous owner’s custody when an over-zealous MOT tester refused to award the car its first ticket without the parts in place – were replaced with smoked flashers. Additionally, Colin needed to fit a horn activation switch to the retrimmed MOMO steering wheel after Taylor’s men neglected to do so (the car was MOT’d with the standard GTE steering wheel in place). He also added a period-correct Racal in-car telephone, just like Vauxhall had done when Quicksilver was new.
Other than this minor recommissioning work, the car is the same as it was back in 1987. Colin has enjoyed adding many miles to his unusual Vauxhall, which is often seen at classic car shows, including those local to his home in Nottinghamshire and Vauxhall-organised events hosted at the Heritage Centre. Pleasingly, he’ll be displaying the car on the Performance Vauxhall stand at PVS this year.
“I don’t use Quicksilver to go to the shops and back, but I enjoy driving the car on sunny days and whenever there’s a show I can get to,” he smiles, acknowledging more than 4,200 miles now registered on his car’s iconic digidash. It’s great to see what was supposed to be a static display of adventurous factory design in use as a taxed and tested road car, and who better to take care of the specially styled Mk2 Astra GTE in question than someone who was present when it was first unveiled all those years ago?!
1.8 is close to being in the same condition as when new
Colin won’t be chucking the weekly shop in here any time soon
And you think your Champion’s leather is impressive?!
“Hello, is that The Sweeney?”