Car thieves. You’ve got to hand it to them – they know a desirable Shatchback when they see one. So much so that, in 2003, the Vauxhall Belmont was the most stolen car in Britain.
You can also hand car thieves a long custodial sentence, but that’s another story.
The targeting of the ageing Vauxhall Belmont is unlikely to warrant a chapter in the Big Book of British Car History, but it deserves a slot on PetrolBlog.
Were the ne’er-do-wells after the Belmont for its whippet-like pace, first class accommodation and stylish good looks?
After all, at its launch in 1986, Vauxhall drew comparisons with ‘the bygone days of travel’, presenting the Astra saloon as some kind of luxury Grand Tourer.
“Laden or unladen, the Belmont, like the Blue Riband liners of yesteryear, combines an uncommon level of comfort with a rare turn of speed,” said Vauxhall, optimistically. “Why not book yourself a maiden voyage?” it asked.
Later advertisements would pitch ‘Belmont Class’ alongside First Class, Business Class and Club Class airline travel. Lofty ambitions for a three-box Astra.
It kind of worked. Nearly 50,000 Belmonts were sold between 1986 and 1991, which justified its existence as a standalone model. Back then, Shatchbacks had their own badges: the Belmont was to the Astra what the Orion was to the Escort and the Jetta was to the Golf.
There was a Belmont to suit all corners of suburbia, from the poverty-spec L for the end-of-terrace to the ambassadorial CD (Corps Diplomatique) for the four-bed-detached. Monsieur, with this three-box luxury saloon you’re really spoiling us.
That’s not all, because there was even a sporty Belmont SRi, a kind of Diet Coke version of the full-fat GTE. Kleenex tissues, tins of travel sweets and National Trust stickers had never travelled at such velocity.
Sadly, the Belmont’s fall from grace was almost as rapid, helped in no small part by the criminal underworld. In 2003, the Home Office named it the most stolen car in Britain, with 99 stolen per 1,000 registered.
That year, there were 7,291 Belmonts registered in Britain. By 2004, the number had fallen to 3,932. Today, the number stands at 50.
The usual problems of rust, mechanical failure and this country’s irrational desire for shiny new things are the factors behind the Belmont’s downfall, but joy-riders played their part. If a Belmont wasn’t burning on the Blackbird Leys estate in Oxford, it was wrapped around a tree on the outer ring road.
The Belmont was a victim of the industry’s crackdown on car crime. Technology had made it “virtually impossible to steal a new car without access to the correct keys”, said the chief executive of the SMMT at the time, which meant that old Vauxhalls and Fords became the default choice for joy-riders armed with little more than a screwdriver and a coat hanger.
Sixteen years on, the Belmont is no less difficult to steal, but the keyless car theft ‘epidemic‘ has turned the SMMT’s quote on its head. Who needs car keys when a car can be driven away using a relay device? Progress, what progress?
Time has been kind to the Vauxhall Belmont. Far from looking like a lazy booted version of the Astra hatchback, the Belmont has the whiff of a junior executive version of the Cavalier. No wonder the joy-riders of the housing estates of Britain took such a shine to it.
Today’s criminals target the likes of the Volkswagen Golf R, BMW X5 and Mercedes-Benz GLE. Proof, if proof were needed, that everything was better in the old days. Even stolen motors.