Car Mechanics (UK)

Cava­lier be­hav­iour

- Vauxhall Motors · Iceland · Austria · Belarus · Vauxhall Cavalier · Belgium

‘The Cava­lier went down­hill, iron­i­cally while go­ing up­hill’

If you have a retro clas­sic, take note: be­ware of mega-low-mileage cars. Back in 2006, the friend of a friend asked me to re­move an im­mo­biliser from a Vaux­hall Cava­lier as it was play­ing up roy­ally. The job took little more than an hour and, ow­ing to the fact the el­derly owner was re­lated to some­one I knew, I made little more than a packet of fags for my trou­bles.

I’ll make no ex­cuses for the fact that the Cava­lier in its third gen­er­a­tion is one of my all-time favourite cars. I owned one of the last ever Lu­ton­built ex­am­ples, which was a twin-cam 2.0 GLSI. Even now, its gutsy en­gine, good fuel econ­omy, abil­ity to sit in top gear in the out­side lane and sheer DIY friend­li­ness gives me a warm fuzzy feel­ing in­side. I’ll go on record stat­ing that the Cava­lier MKIII was per­haps the great­est all-round Vaux­hall of the era.

Soon after com­plet­ing the im­mo­biliser job, the owner sur­ren­dered his li­cence and asked if I would be in­ter­ested in buy­ing the car. I had no use for it, but I did put him in touch with some­one who was after a de­cent saloon car as a dis­tress pur­chase. Said ac­quain­tance bought the 9500-mile H-plate 2.0i Lu­ton flyer for just £1000 and seemed pleased as punch ini­tially. Un­for­tu­nately, the honeymoon pe­riod was short­lived.

After a month or so of daily grind, the plug leads failed, fol­lowed by the coil pack, and a nasty oil leak de­vel­oped from the cam car­rier. Yours truly was hired to cure the leak and fit­ted a tim­ing belt and water pump at the same time. About two weeks later, fur­ther fun en­sued when the al­ter­na­tor de­cided to draw a cur­rent rather than gen­er­ate one.

By now, my friend had ploughed con­sid­er­able money into the Cava­lier, con­vinced it would even­tu­ally be­come re­li­able. How­ever things went down­hill fast, iron­i­cally while the car was go­ing up­hill slowly. A tow­bar had been fit­ted to the red retro rep-mo­bile after the new owner in­her­ited a big caravan from a de­ceased in-law, so his wife and two fed-up chil­dren were packed into the car for a week in the Lake District. The hol­i­day was cut short after his wife got caught short on the M6 after stop­ping for a ‘splash ’n’ dash’ at Cor­ley ser­vices.

Any­one who knows the var­i­ous rest stops along the M6 will know that Cor­ley has a gru­elling bank when head­ing north­bound. It’s a long, grind­ing gradient that has many a truck on its hands and knees crawl­ing through the gears, though chances are you wouldn’t re­ally no­tice in the aver­age car. In all fair­ness, a fu­elin­jected Vaux­hall Cava­lier 2.0 loaded to the gun­wales and with an ABI Monza nailed to the bumper should still give a good ac­count for it­self, but soon after build­ing up speed on a hot sum­mer’s day the Cava­lier de­cided enough was enough. With­out any warning, the Vaux­hall started knock­ing like Woody Wood­pecker, fol­lowed by the oil lamp illuminati­ng and a quick rise in tem­per­a­ture. At this point, eva­sive ac­tion took place by pulling onto the hard shoul­der.

The fi­nal straw

As they were rat­tling along at a snail’s pace try­ing to make it to the next call box, there was an almighty BANG and that was that. All around the car and in its wake was a com­bi­na­tion of oil and metal pieces. Lift­ing the bon­net revealed a jagged hole in the en­gine block that, to quote my mate, “a fox could hide in”.

To cut a long story short, the car was re­cov­ered and a se­cond­hand en­gine was fit­ted, after which the owner’s mis­sus de­creed that the car was to be sold at any cost. His brief flir­ta­tion with the Cava­lier MKIII own­er­ship was cur­tailed be­fore fur­ther ex­pen­di­ture threat­ened his wal­let, mar­riage and san­ity. He ended up weigh­ing in the car for scrap after van­dals dropped a brick through the sun­roof.

I re­call some­thing sim­i­lar hap­pen­ing to a family haulage firm with a small fleet of three-year-old ERF trac­tor units ac­quired from an easy­go­ing con­tract. They were cas­caded into a very dif­fer­ent work­ing en­vi­ron­ment wherein, one by one, they suf­fered spec­tac­u­lar en­gine or driv­e­line fail­ures. This was not so much an is­sue with the trac­tors them­selves as the fact that they had never worked hard in their previous job. Now that they were se­ri­ously earn­ing their corn, it be­came ap­par­ent that they had never been run in prop­erly. This un­for­tu­nate event cost the com­pany tens of thou­sands of pounds in a rel­a­tively short space of time.

The moral of the story is a sim­ple one: although it’s nice to bag an older car with al­most zero mileage that still looks and smells like new, you must treat them gen­tly at first. Run them into a daily grind care­fully, just as if they were brand new, and be pre­pared to recom­mis­sion them in terms of new tyres, hoses and flu­ids. Oth­er­wise nei­ther you nor your Cava­lier will be laugh­ing.

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