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Premium Member
19,135 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 ·
As our fleet did consist solely of 3 Mk2 Astras, I thought I'd give the 1.3 it's own thread. From here on, it shall be referred to as the "Mk2", as the other two were called "the estate" and "the GTE". Keeps things simple.
The story really begins sometime in 1997. I bought my first Mk2 Astra. A 1.3GL in Gazelle Beige:

That's it next to my brother's. Mine was awesome. It had 47k on it when I bought it for £750 to replace my Orion (yes, I used to be a Ford man!). It was so more specced than the Ford it was unreal. Rev counter, adjustable steering wheel, 5 speed box, velour interior. The feeling of quality was far and beyond the Orion I actually felt quite posh driving it. This is the car that got me into DIY due a local garage nearly killing the engine, so I decided I was the only one to touch my cars from then on. In 18 months of use, I'd increased the mileage to 78k! I decided Vauxhall was the marque of choice for me. So I looked for, and found, a 5 door GTE, which I paid £650 for. In hindsight, it was a dog. Arches repaired, albeit very well, with filler, oil leaks, no service history and bald tyres.
I drove it for a couple of months, not realising just how badly this thing was running. Then, in preparation for the MOT, I removed the sill covers... and found absolutely nothing underneath. I was speechless. I didn't know what to do, so jammed the sill covers back on. Then a few days later I was out in town near college, just parking up one lunch time, when there was a soft pop and a huge cloud of steam from under the bonnet. I'd had enough, and walked into the nearest branch of Barclays and secured a 1k loan. Sod it I thought, I want something nice and modern, simple and reliable.
So I decided I wanted a 1.3 again. Nice, simple, economic motoring, just not white. I looked at about 8 I think. All expensive, scruffy and with high miles. I finally settled on mine in September 1999; a F reg 1988 Tiffany silver 1.3L with 104k miles for £1000, got it for £925 and the guy said he'd put a new MOT on, which he did. It was his son's girlfriend's car. She'd had it for a few years as she worked through college. Now in university in London, she barely used the car and it'd covered just 400 miles in the last year. It had sat in their car port covered in dust. But it started and drove fine. Original wheel trims and radio present. Sadly this is the days before digital cameras, so no 'just bought' pics.
First stop was Dad's work to wash off the thick dust. It looked mint! I remember being so chuffed! On the drive home the wheel wobble nearly broke my wrists, so the wheels from the dead GTE (still in the garage) went on as I'd had to fit 4 new tyres to the POS. This is largely how it stayed for a couple of years with the addition of the grey front indicators. This is it on a trip to the Motor Museum at Bealieu:

The car got a lot of use. By this time I was confident to replace the cam belt and water pump myself. Because of my dad's job, I was able to change the oil and filter every 3k miles with Elf 10/40 semi. I got into motor sport a little, and took part in a few road rallies, and even a few rally action days. The poor thing got the **** kicked out of it and never gave me any bother. Sure the back box broke off and a wheel bearing was grumbling after one of these rally days, but I was always able to get to work/ college with no fuss. The rally days basically involve a marked out track on an army training ground, and you ragged the hell out of the car all day. You just queued up and went from 9am to 5pm!
Over the following years I did various mods to the car, like LXi alloys, a facelift but still grey bumper, the front seats from my old GTE (now broken for spares and scrapped) and eventually I bought a scrapper 1.8i CD for it's interior and bumpers and it's engine for a Nova project I had on the go. I saved up and had the top half resprayed due to lacquer peeling. I also had the CD bumpers sprayed. It looked superb! I remember finally fitting the CD interior the first day I picked Sharon up for our first date (we're now married!)
The rallies also continued, now with Sharon as navigator:

Eventually greed set in and again I wanted something more powerful, or slightly different. But this time I was smart and kept the Mk2. Insurance was an issue, so any car I had alongside only tended to be insured for a month at a time. The list included a G reg Mk2 5 door SRi bought cheap as it had a fault which I found out when I managed to roll it, a Fiat Tipo (digi dash tastic!) bought cheap as a accident victim, fixed up and sold, a Nissan Sunny Coupe (always loved these), sold on after someone hit it, my old beige Astra was given back to me as a present and, finally, when I was able to afford to insure 2 cars full time, I plumped for a 2.0 8V Mk3 Astra. Some may remember. I started to be more active in MIG about this time.

The Mk3 proved troublesome for the first few months. Alternator failure, heater matrix failure followed by head gasket failure meat I spent more time in the faithful Mk2. Eventually I sorted the problems and the mk3 started to prove reliable. Sharon couldn't drive at this point so the Mk2 sat idle for long periods of time. It never failed to start though.

Premium Member
19,135 Posts
Discussion Starter · #2 ·
Then Sharon passed her test. She had a Nova, but loved driving the Mk2. Plus the Nova, a silver SR has less than 30k miles on and we wanted to keep it in good condition. I was pleased the Mk2 was back in use, I felt guilty about it sitting idle. This carried on for the next couple of years. I had the sills replaced as a quick fix for the MOT one year. The job was good, but I never got around to getting them painted and blended properly.
We moved house and I finally got the garage I always wanted, so there was frequently a project car around like a XE Nova, and a Vectra I bought cheap. So Sharon registered the Mk2 in her name and insured it under her own policy so I could insure other cars. She had commutes of varying degrees, from under 10 miles to over 20 each way. The Mk2 never let her down. It always had oil leaks and a smell of hot oil, but it never worried me. Until one night Sharon phoned and said the smell had got so bad she was worried. So she drove straight hoe and into the garage. The oil leak from the head gasket had got so bad the inside of the o/s front wheel was coated of oil! The Mk2 didn't leave the garage for a week, mileage around 150k. I took my time and removed the head, cleaned it up, even renewed the valve stem seals and re-ground the valves (my first time!), all using genuine GM parts. For some reason I also sprayed the head and cam carrier silver. It looked pretty good! It also started on the first try and ran fine with no smoke and entered into daily service straight away. Sometime afterwards, I fitted a Mk3 GSi rear beam with rear discs and fitted lowering springs.
By this time, the daily grind was starting to take its toll. The rear arches were rusty, behind the bumpers had almost gone and I'd sourced better condition bumpers.

Still not bad for a 17 year old Mk2! So of it went in May 2005 for new arches, a rusty bit on the front n/s wing and a tart up of the sills.

Again, on it's return, it looked stunning:

I also bought a silly twin exit exhaust that was way too loud (so I put it on the Mk3), a boot carpet and glove box from a 38k minter in the scrappy and some Vauxhall mats:

I bought a 4 branch manifold for a 1.3 Mk1, but it didn't fit, but this is the oldest pic of the post-head gasket engine:

I even tried some Speedlines on it! But these rubbed on the new arches so they came off and were sold. This was in prep for PV2005. I also fitted a GTE under bonnet carpet. Weirdly, in the background Rusty was around getting a spare bumper fixing from me to repair his GTE which I bought a couple of years later (and has it's own thread)!

This was the time we fitted twin 40s to Sharon's Nova and the two cars ran along side each other up the strip at Santa Pod. The first run I 'beat' Sharon, second time she 'won'. We got times of around 19 seconds! I got back and found the accelerator pump on the carb had seized! Simple quick fix. The Mk2 went back into daily service. Sharon now had a 60 mile round trip everyday, as well as a few trips to see Take That in Birmingham, Manchester and London and a trip to Leeds for her work. It stayed almost anonymous due to it's reliability. The Mk2 just gets you there, no fuss. The only niggling issue was annoying brake judder. As I didn't drive it much, this largely went un-noticed.
Then, one day last year, I jacked the front up to attempt a small bit of welding in the inner front arch. When I let the car down on the stand, I noticed the wishbone came down with the jack! Closer inspection revealed a horrible sight:

The Mk2 had needed patches there for years, but I'd never really looked at it. The end nearly came for it. We'd just decided to scrap Sharon's Nova after a seemingly minor bump resulted in a bent chassis, so I was in a sort of 'clear the dead wood' mood. I was also appalled Sharon had been doing so many miles in a potentially dangerous car. The wishbone was actually resting on the floor! Luckily, after a cool-off period, I asked Keith from trusty old Station Bodyshop to come and give his verdict. He barely saw the floor before declaring it an easy job and quoting a couple of hundred. Whilst it was waiting to be picked up, I got on with a front suspension rebuild with Eibach springs, new GM shocks and (for some reason), 5 stud hubs and Turbo rims! So the Mk2 went into the body shop on a trailer as the wishbone had now broken away completely. It got up the trailer under it's own power though! It looked like this:

It passed MOT too. So now it had 288s as well as lovely new metal:

Bigger rear brakes too:

With newer low profile tyres:

Sharon loves the Mk2 so much; she insisted it took her and her dad to our wedding, with the infamous Tom Williams as her driver:

And we're up to date! The Mk2 still does it's 60 miles a day with no problems. It's had a reconned steering rack to try and stop the brake judder with no success. I think it's Sharon's driving style (keeping the footbrake on after leaving the motorway). It's now on just under 190k and runs like clockwork even on cold mornings.
But again, the miles are taking their toll. The mk2 is solid, and even passed it's MOT with just a couple of advisories, but it's looking a little tired. The rust on the front n/s wing has bubbled again, the paint has got thin on the tops of the wings and roof has started to peel again. The bottoms of both rear doors are rotten.
We've been quoted 1k to have essentially a bare shell repsray with new rear doors I have in the shed. Trouble is, if it goes back into 60 miles a day, the new paint won't last long, so Sharon may be looking for (at my suggestion) a newer, safer car to commute in, or if she changes jobs, the Mk2 can go into semi-retirement at 20 years old! I'll update in due course.

What a long post! Thanks for reading.

38,604 Posts
More more more! Dan have you any updates? Was just reading this and reminiscing my time when I live in Portsmouth. I drove the mk2 and remember it being faultless. :)

Premium Member
19,135 Posts
Discussion Starter · #9 ·
Well yeah there's a few bits. The Mk2 was put through two sessions at Combe last Saturday as I thought it was going to rain. It didn't, but it was awesome fun. Really we had to get out of the way of all the other cars in the session, then once we had a clear track, it was time to see how the mk2 handled itself. I'm fairly confident of the handling; a quick recap of what it's got:
Eibach springs (proper 'small block' ones
New GM shocks
21mm front ARB
Mk3 GSi rear beam (more negative camber) with external ARB.
16" wheels with 195/45 tyres.

I found I only used 3 and 4th gears. I can't remember speeds except the fasted down the home straight was about 95MPH by the end, but I didn't have to scrub much off for the bends. Looking at the pics it was rolling a lot less than it felt. I had no understeery moments and barely any tyre squeal. The brakes were about as warm as a longish trip on normal fast roads, and there was minimal tyre scrubbage.
Really I need a few more sesions to really get to know the limits, but I certainly didn't reach them on the track.
I managed not to get lapped at all, an Evo was about 2-3 corners behind at the chequered flag, so it wasn't far off.
On the way home it seemed to drive just a little smoother to me and it clocked over to 197k too. And been getting Sharon and me to work everyday since without fail. :)

There were some pretty good pics taken, will put some of the best in here later.

Premium Member
19,135 Posts
Discussion Starter · #10 ·
Here are a couple of pic of the Combe sessions in April. It absolutely loved it, as did Sharon and myself.

A couple of months later the back box starting to sound a little blowy and a quick inspection showed it to be in a poor state. I think it has been on there over 5 years, so it wasn't so surprising. The rest of the system looked fine, so I duly ordered a new box. It's a chrome oval tailpipe version from a SRi. The original one was £25. Surprise surprise it's now £65, but I ordered it anyway. It's not nearly as good, I'm guessing it's 'aftermarket specification', as it doesn't have a chrome pipe anymore, just a shaped metal tube. Still it feels much more solid than a cheapy factors back box.

Old one was proper dead!

New one not as exciting to look at, but I reckon it should last at least as long.

As some of you may be aware, a certain 'boy band' have reformed and started touring again. This means Sharon has to go and see them. Several times. So the mk2 duly took her to Manchester at the weekend, again, without missing a single beat. On the way back, the mileometer clocked round for the second time!

It's driving better than ever, too. Last night I popped over to see nrj who has a Belmont CD. I managed to bag (with Benn's help) the seats, door cards, central locking and front bumper as handy good condition replacements. The Ford central locking has stopped working, so I will replace it with pukka GM stuff soon.

Premium Member
19,135 Posts
Discussion Starter · #11 ·
So I got around to replacing the central locking with GM stuff, which now meant the boot locked with doors as well. But we still didn't have remote locking like I did with the Moss alarm and Ford stuff. A link on the Mk3OC took me to RightClick, a very good site almost devoted to all things keyless entry. The kit itself is fairly ordinary; basically a remote controlled relay, but also has outputs to control an immobiliser, a flashing LED, siren, boot pop and window closure. It also comes with an awesome flip-key in the remote, and a wide choices of key blank to choose from. I ordered one and fitted the LED behind the drivers side speaker vent. The wiring side is the same for any remote kit. The common of the lock and unlock relays is tied to ground, the normally open of the lock relay is tied to the brown/red, the unlock to the brown/white of the central locking relay. You can take the power and ground for the unit itself from here, too. As I'd wired this all myself from scratch I had to do a little swapping round of wires. If you have factory stuff, simply replace the dummy motor switch in the driver's door for a motor. Mk3 Astra/ Cav and later already has motors in the driver's doors. Then it's a brown wire to each indicator. I usually go to the back of the stalk as it's easier. You need the black/ green and black/ white wires here. Connect it all up and make sure you still have separate sides when you indicate!
All that was left was to take the key blank to a key cutter and have it copied to the mk2's key. Simple. No, not at all. I was told by two seperate places that the key blank was wrong, simply because the shoulder of the key is too long, and this is the point they use as a reference for their little machine. I said OK, use the pointy end? One guy tried but his bottle went as soon as his tool touched the key. "It's not going to work, it's the wrong key blank mate."
I was getting annoyed by now as it's a return to the usual saying that if you want anything done properly, do it yourself. I was trained as an indentured apprentice for the mechanical workshop at the start of my 'career', so I've done my time filing and chiselling bits of metal into interesting shapes, so I wasn't going to be beaten by a poxy key.
I got out my finest set of needle files. :rolleyes:

Clamped the key and blank in me vice.

And carefully set-to. You can see where the bit on the left is broader then the key for a few mm. This is all that was stumping the 'professionals'. It's actually very nice metal to work with and filed easily. I was surprised how well I was able to follow the contours of the original key.

It actually worked first time and only took a few minutes, which is handy as I have the patience and attention span of a Goldfish with ADHD which is why I can't do bodywork at all. It was a bit sticky when removing the key, so I re-checked it and was able to shave a few more peaks off. I also ran a rotary wire brush over it and put on a light coating of oil.
Next up was to take the generic blank out of the remote and fit the key. This is fairly straight forward but a bit fiddly as you have to fit the spring and button in, then wind it up a few turns so there's a fair bit of tension on the spring so it pops out properly when you hit the button.

When you specify the key banks you can also get stickers for the key itself:

I was so chuffed I went for a brochure-esque type shot:

I'm so impressed I'm going to order sets for the GTE and Sharon's Nova. I was surprised to fine a Nova key is the same style but is a mirror image, so this is worth remembering.


This is the one I ordered. Very good value for the price. There's different types of remote and key and you can even order a kit with motors if your car has none (like Sharon's Nova).

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