Remember the press ad for the Mk2 Vauxhall Astra Convertible? Pictured from left to right: Lamborghini Miura by Bertone, Maserati Khamsin by Bertone, Ferrari Dino GT4 by Bertone and Astra Convertible by Bertone.
‘This new Astra Convertible is designed by some Italian geezer named Bertone, luv. That sounds more exotic than Gary and Tracey’s Escort Cabrio.’
Vauxhall went to great lengths to promote the topless Astra’s Italian breeding. ‘Surprisingly enough, not all Turin schoolboys dream of playing centre forward for Juventus. Nuccio Bertone dreamt of designing cars.’
Almost the entire copy was devoted to the history of Bertone, from the Arnolt-MG to the Fiat X1/9 and Lancia Stratos. ‘In the Eighties, Bertone was invited to take on a project for us at Vauxhall. The car which came purring out of Turin was the Astra convertible, a sporty British soft top in the same tradition as the MG that started it all 40 years ago.’
You can’t blame Vauxhall and Opel for wanting a slice of the convertible pie. The German coachbuilder Karmann had two fingers in the zwetschgenkuchen: the VW Golf Convertible and the Escort Cabriolet. The latter being Britain’s best-selling drop-top. For a alternative Italian flavour, Peugeot offered the Pininfarina-penned 205 CTi.
From a styling perspective, the Mk2 Vauxhall Astra Convertible was the least successful of the foursome. The Mk2 Astra’s slippery, ‘pear drop’ design didn’t respond well to the angle grinder treatment. Fine from the front, but awkward to the rear of the B-pillar, especially with the roof up.
Its rivals were more appealing. The Golf looked classic and classy, the 205 elegant and charming, the Escort… well, the Escort looked perfect for the British market.
On the plus side, the flagship version of the Astra Convertible was powered by a detuned version of the 2.0-litre engine found in the contemporary Astra GTE hot hatch. A terrific engine, albeit a little out of place in a car designed for posing rather than hooning.
Not that this mattered. The GTI, XR3i, GTE and, to a lesser extent, the CTi badges on these affordable drop-tops were more for show than go. Performance, ride and handling would have been low on the list of priorities for the target audience. Showing off was the order of the day. Looking good at the drive-thru. ‘Do you want fries with that scuttle shake?’
CAR was quite dismissive in its assessment of the Astra Convertible. ‘Astra not as entertaining as Golf or Peugeot. Understeers quite badly, lots of scuttle shake. Steering not communicative. 2.0-litre engine produces masses of torque low down in rev range, but modest 185/60 Pirelli tyres not wide enough to handle it.’
Ouch. It’s surprising, then, to see that Car & Classic says that ‘these cars are praised for their shake-free shells and their sporting looks’.
We’ll gloss over that, because this is a rare opportunity to buy a Mk2 Astra Convertible. When was the last time you saw one on the road? The styling, while not particularly ‘sporting’, has aged better than expected, but you might want to avoid parking it alongside some of Bertone’s other efforts. The Astra or a Fiat Punto Cabriolet? Answers on a postcard to the usual address.
The auction car has covered 62,000, ahem… shake-free miles, and bidding has reached £3000. Will it reach the reserve? Will the ‘continually flickering speedo’ (CAR’s words, not PetrolBlog’s) be a distraction on the journey home from Yorkshire? Place a bid to find out.
PetrolBlog is oddly ambivalent about the Mk2 Astra Convertible. The convertible versions of the Mk3 and Mk4 Astra have aged better, and the latter could cost as little as £1000. ‘That Bertone fella did a much better job on the subsequent versions, didn’t he, luv?’
Images courtesy of Car & Classic.