Is it possible to look at a white Vauxhall Cavalier GSi and not instantly think of John Cleland flying over kerbs in his troublesome BTCC racer? The fast but often airborne 2.0-litre Vauxhall was once described by Cleland as the worst racing car he’d driven, despite the fact he’d used one to win the 1995 driver’s title and had secured numerous pole positions and race wins prior to that. The Cavalier wasn’t lacking in pace, that much was clear from its 1990 introduction, but it did have a tendency to bite. Hard.
So extensive were its troubles that Vauxhall even experimented with a rear-wheel drive version, which used a BMW M3 back axle, to see if the chassis’ love of hopping, skipping and actually leaping over bumps could be reduced. But the altered drivetrain robbed too much power from the high-revving 270hp four-cylinder for the project to move beyond testing. The front-driven Cavalier 16v was never to be tamed; Cleland’s talents (and bravery) ensured that it remained balanced on that knife-edge of rapid performance, with only occasional incidents to remind everyone of the battle he continuously fought inside the cockpit.
Somewhat ironically, the racing car’s shortcomings were what made it such a television favourite during the early to mid-nineties. Footage of white Cavaliers two-wheeling their way around British circuits without encouragement were frequently replayed on the telly and posters were placed on bedroom and dealership walls alike. There’s little doubt the coolness of those images played into the minds of roadgoing motorists, who were given the opportunity to 'buy on Monday' so they might emulate Cleland on the B road home.
For Vauxhall, introducing the GSi 2000 was essential to sprucing up a fairly dreary range. And for the average motorist, particularly those who were not interested in the products of the Blue Oval, the GSi Cavalier was an affordable family car with 150hp. Like the racer, it had a 2.0-litre 16v motor and when painted in white, it did a decent impression of the Cleland machine – well, at least when it was parked, anyway. Plus, with four doors and five seats, it didn’t sacrifice any of the regular model’s practicality in order to offer sub-nine-second 0-60mph pace.
To emphasise its speed, the GSi was given beefier bumpers and alloy wheels, but the makeover was largely a discreet one. So discreet, in fact, that the interior remained a boring mix of black and grey plastics with a plain steering wheel, cuboid gear lever knob and pedals that looked like they were shared with the base variant – largely because they were. But the 140mph speedo and rev counter that displayed up to 8,000rpm was for some evidence enough that this was a sporting Cav with genuine BTCC links.
Unsurprisingly, the road car didn’t have the rambunctious handling of the racer; it was too soft and forgiving for anything like that. Chassis balance was neutral, and the Cavalier could be hustled along a route, but it was by no means something to set your hair on fire. Instead, the GSi was more traditionally Germanic in its approach – it was a rebadged Opel Vectra Mk1, after all – that could, if you really asked it to, be coaxed into a little lift-off oversteer. That quick, predictability earned it plenty of fans.
Still, even those of us to remember the GSi through the most heavily rose-tinted spectacles might never have expected to see asking prices creep up as high as today’s Spotted. This 1992 car is a one-owner from new, 27,000-mile-old garage queen, one that’s all original and has been so lovingly cared for in its 27 years that even the pedals look brand new. Could it be the best-kept GSi in existence? Quite possibly. The £19,995 asking price suggests that the seller believes it is.
SPECIFICATIONS – VAUXHALL CAVALIER GSI
Engine: 1,998cc, four-cylinder
Transmission: 5-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Power (hp): 150@6,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 145@4,800rpm
First registered: 1992
Recorded mileage: 27,000
Price new: N/A
Yours for: £19,995
Click here for the full ad.