Transmission is a new series, exclusive to Askaprice.com, that presents a snapshot of some of the most important manufacturing turning points in history. Today’s Transmission focuses on Vauxhall Motors, and the models that got the company vast public recognition in the 1970s.

Vauxhall is one of the true British greats of motoring Vauxhall is one of the true British greats of motoring

Many people look at Vauxhall when they're buying a new car, but how did they get so popular? It had been a good few decades since the second world war drew to a close, and Vauxhall was showing signs of serious growth. The company gave a thoroughly unflappable British contribution to the war effort, producing Bedford trucks, Churchill tanks and engineering aircraft jet engines to keep Jerry at bay.

Vauxhall didn’t really taste much post-war success for its efforts until 1963, with its Viva model became the company’s first real mainstream success. Almost every family was able to afford a new car in the sixties, with the sprightly Viva becoming a firm favourite for motorists from all backgrounds. Though the Viva had become a household name, Vauxhall’s Victor model and its other ranges weren’t doing too well in the face of competition from Ford, Chrysler and British Leyland. The company needed a spark of inspiration to close the gap and establish Vauxhall as a real motoring superpower...

The Vauxhall Chevette - 1975

The Vauxhall Chevette was an instant hit with the younger generation The Vauxhall Chevette was an instant hit with the younger generation

The Vauxhall Chevette saw the light of day on 1 May 1975, retailing at £1,593. The Chevette was a light, highly-versatile hatchback that quickly won over the hearts and minds of a younger generation. It looked sharp, it had a wonderfully-responsive clutch complemented with fantastic steering, and – most importantly – it was the only one of its kind at the time.

The very first British-built hatchback of its size, its versatility was one of the Chevette’s key selling points. "It's whatever you want it to be! - A sporty coupe, a family saloon, a handy estate..." crowed Vauxhall’s advertising arm as new models and variations were released in June ‘76.

The public fell instantly in love; Vauxhall gaining a substantial lead over Chrysler and Ford, who had no response to Vauxhall’s clever new car. Ford didn’t release their own hatchback until its Fiesta model debuted toward the end of 1976, with Chrysler releasing its Sunbeam model in ’77. By then the Vauxhall Chevette had become Britain’s best-selling hatchback, proudly holding that title until 1978 when the competition of imported Fiat, Renault and Peugeot models caught the imagination of a hatchback-hungry public.

The Vauxhall Cavalier – 1975

The Vauxhall Cavalier went headtohead with the Ford Cortina The Vauxhall Cavalier went headtohead with the Ford Cortina

With the Vauxhall Chevette about to conquer an unsuspecting British youth, the powers that be at Vauxhall were determined to compete with Ford head-on, and establish themselves as worthy opponents in the motoring world. At the time, the Ford Cortina was the big daddy in the saloon market. The Vauxhall Cavalier was designed to try and play Ford at its own game, whilst introducing fantastic new features that would attract Ford’s core users away from its established product.

The Cavalier had an incredibly well-timed release. Thanks to the tax system at the time, sales to company car fleets comprised a larger proportion of the overall market, especially when it came to middle-weight saloons (more than anywhere else in Europe). The fleet market had found a new option to consider, and the Cavalier’s reliability made it a firm favourite with consumers.

Though it never quite matched the same sales figures as the Ford Cortina, the Vauxhall Cavalier was an unmitigated success for Vauxhall during its lifespan. Vauxhall has since described the Cavalier as ‘the most important, and one of the most successful, Vauxhall cars ever launched’, and pioneered platform engineering, SRi sporting models, 4x4 traction and the first V6 Vauxhall engine during its lifespan.

Vauxhall’s Springboard to Success

The Cavalier and the Chevette models have gone down in legend at Vauxhall. Their market share increased substantially thanks to the success of these two models at the time, and although they still weren’t a match for Ford or Chrysler, Vauxhall’s reputation exploded in a wave of positive press. They had overtaken another high-profile manufacturer, Talbot, and were fast on the path to becoming one of Britain’s most important car manufacturers.

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