Words & photos - Daniel Bevis
The MkII Cavalier stirs up a surprising amount of nostalgic fondness among some people. Take this 2.0-litre CD, for example, which I recently borrowed from Vauxhall’s Heritage fleet. I pulled over on a country lane to take a few photos and, as I was propping open the bonnet, a postman stopped behind me in his van. I thought he’d assumed that I’d broken down – this was a remote spot, the sort of road that you wouldn’t drive down unless you had a reason to do so – and he was being a good Samaritan. So my opener was ‘Thanks, everything’s fine, I’m just taking some photos’. But it turned out that he hadn’t stopped for that reason. He’d stopped because his dad used to have an identical grey 2.0-litre CD, and he’d been overwhelmed by a vast wave of nostalgia. He asked if he could have a look around. I told him to help himself. So he climbed into the back seat, luxuriating in the revelry of memory for a moment, then cracked open the boot and had a good poke around, sat in the front passenger seat and played with the stereo and the heater, then pored reverentially over the engine. It made his day, he seemed genuinely overjoyed.
‘Is it for sale?’ he asked. ‘Sorry,’ I had to admit, ‘it’s not mine.’
‘Hmm,’ he pondered. ‘Well, you could just, y’know, give it to me…’
I’d have loved to, I really would. But, selfishly, I was rather enjoying driving the thing, and I had to be on my merry way. The MkII is a surprisingly entertaining steer, far more so than I’d expected. What looks like a standard travelling salesman-spec block of utilitarian functionality actually turns out to be something of a delight. The 2.0-litre 8v OHV motor could never be described as a firecracker, with its 113bhp pushing along 1,100kgs, but it’s spritely enough, and the three-speed auto ’box, while a little slow-witted, is eager enough to help the thing scamper from a standstill with some degree of gusto. Sure, the handling’s a bit wallowy and the damping’s rather harsh by modern standards, but it’s got an airy glasshouse and nice squodgy seats, and it does have one vital ace up its sleeve: it’s a survivor. It wasn’t that long ago that MkII Cavaliers were everywhere, but when was the last time you saw one on the roads?
Driving this car, you receive a lot of double-takes and raised eyebrows, and it’s all very heartwarming. People miss the Cavalier. Their parents had them. They aspired to them. And now there aren’t many left. So take it from me, there’s a lot of joy to be had here – it’s not the most accomplished motor ever hammered together, but its big heart and cheerful persona more than make up for it. The MkII Cavalier enjoys that most rare and aspirational quality that all manufacturers aim for… people actually like it.