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…

Performance Vauxhall - - THE BIG PICTURE -

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!

STRONG START

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.

COM­FORT ZONE

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.

SHAPE SHIFT

“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?”

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