Vauxhall Astra GTE 16v | Spotted
Red top 2.0-litre, white on white and a digital dash – behold '80s hot hatch perfection
By Matt Bird / Monday, 4 September 2023 / Loading comments
The demise of the hot hatch is sad to witness. Especially as there is still demand for compact, fast, family-friendly cars – just now higher riding ones that aren’t quite as good to drive. And cost more money. Hot hatches were always so popular because they offered so many attributes under one roof, just as well suited to the school run as they were a Sunday morning blast. They should still be a success, and in a way they still are, albeit in the form of SUVs derived from hot hatches. Credit is due here to manufacturers like Hyundai, for still offering something for everyone with the i20, i30 and Kona N.
Most of the rest of them ought to hang their heads. There’s currently nothing remotely sporty from stalwarts like Peugeot and Renault, with Ford having (in)famously pulled the plug as well. Perhaps there’s hope to be gleaned from electrification – especially with funky little concepts like the ID GTI out there – but for a genre once populated by just about every manufacturer the current situation looks pretty dire.
Vauxhall was, of course, a mainstay of the segment for decades, offering up SRIs, GSIs, GTEs and VXRs of all shapes and sizes. Now there’s an Astra GSe plug-in, and the least said about that the better, really. Again, we won’t write it off just yet, given the state of flux the industry is currently in, but the future doesn’t look brilliant for fast, fun-to-drive hatchbacks.
To the back catalogue once more, then, and one of Vauxhall’s true greats. A car that’s achieved PH Hero status, no less: the Astra GTE 16v. Three and a half decades ago, hopes were not high after the disappointing GTE 8v. But as well as the legendary red top engine, churning out almost 160hp alongside healthy torque, Vauxhall attacked the Astra’s chassis. The 16v was a whole inch lower than the eight-valve, with bespoke dampers, a chunkier rear anti-roll bar, more negative camber and even a wider rear track at the back. It was a proper overhaul, with the results to show it. Autocar declared it hot hatch king in 1988, ahead of the 205 GTI and Golf Mk2 GTI, no less.
The GTE wasn’t just white wheels, digital dash and a punchy 16-valve engine, but that sure as heck didn’t harm its cause. The Astra looked great, went like stink and boasted some look-at-me tech as well. A hot hatch of the 1980s needed nothing else.
History then wrote a tale for the Astra familiar from so many other hot hatch icons. That gem of an XE motor was taken for other projects (back when GTEs were cheap), they were wrapped around immovable objects (when they were cheap) or they were disposed of via scrappage schemes (when they were cheap). Maybe the 16v wasn’t quite as popular as some rivals, but they definitely used to be seen a whole lot more than now. HowManyLeft makes for grim reading: it has a peak for GTEs on UK roads at 7,600 in 1994; by 2005 that had already fallen to fewer than 800. Just five years after that it was 180 and at the most recent count there are just 64 in a roadworthy condition. (More encouragingly, there are 563 SORN’d, but you must wonder what state they’re in by now.)
All of which makes this example borderline exceptional. A 1989 G-reg example in Snow White with the ‘Rainbow’ sports seats, it’s covered just 64,000 miles with four owners. Its previous custodian had had the keys since 2010; recent long-term ownership is good to see for classics like this. Or certainly preferable to seeing it passed from pillar to post as folk aim to make some money.
The GTE has been part of a modern classic collection of more than 30 cars, the owner only now deciding to sell as they want to ‘change direction’ with the portfolio. The ad suggests the Astra has lived a ‘cosseted life’ for the past decade, and the condition would attest to that, with great paint, trim and upholstery. The digital dash looks as good now as it did 35 years ago. As the front foglights are fully functional, the next owner is compelled to drive around with them illuminated at all times. What a cracker.
Perhaps we’ve become inured to crazy classic car prices in recent times, but it might even be said that £16,995 doesn’t look like silly money for a GTE this good. Certainly, it’s very easy to find numerous Escort RS Turbos, 205 and Golf GTIs for more, and precious few that seem any better. Move fast, before somebody else tucks it away for another decade…
SPECIFICATION | VAUXHALL ASTRA GTE 16V
Engine: 1,998cc four-cyl
Transmission: 5-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Power (hp): 158@6,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 145@4,800rpm
0-62mph: 7.8 seconds
Top speed: 135mph
MPG: 33.4 (Autocar road test average)
Recorded mileage: 63,596
Year registered: 1989
Price new: £9,879.48 (1987)
Yours for: £16,995
Source: Read Full Article