Somewhere in academia there is no doubt a research paper into why we gain greater appreciation for certain things over time, and it’s a phenomenon almost certainly linked to the weird and wonderful condition that is nostalgia.
With cars though, there might be something else in it. Most go through a natural cycle over time. First they’re fresh and new, before their shine, both literal and metaphorical, slowly wears off. The unlucky ones will probably endure a few years of decrepitude before being scrapped, while the fortunate survivors may live on as a classic – restored, preserved, and increasingly appreciated as each year passes.
Appreciation for their styling goes in a similar cycle – or at least, that’s what we’re inferring from the way the third generation Vauxhall Astra like this week’s Unexceptional Classified looks surprisingly handsome three decades on from introduction.
The third-gen Astra looked good new, too, but as part of that inevitable cycle became first invisible, like most popular cars, then fizzled away into being old-hat as newer generations stacked up ahead of it. Now it’s emerging out the other side, and its rounded ‘90s curves, distinctive details like that rear wheel arch blister and the glassy cabin all seem more appealing.
That’s as true of a relative base model as it is of sportier Astras. Our classified is a 1.4 LS, the smallest engine offered in an Astra and producing only 59bhp in this form. Its trim line meanwhile sat above that of Merit and L, but below GLS, Si, CD, SRi, and of course GSi, depending on your number of doors. Vauxhall did like its expansive model designations.
But as alluded to, its styling is none the worse for its lowly status and bargain-basement engine. Somehow its bright red paintwork has avoided turning either orange or pink, and someone’s done a good job with the trim restorer as the black plastic elements look great too.
Aside from some bolster sag and a little discolouration to the driver’s seat, and wear to the gearshift gaiter, the interior has stood up remarkably well for nearly 150,000 miles. Then again, it should – this was a car introduced during the peak era of the rep-mobile. As an earlier model this LS was built before Vauxhall standardised airbags across the range, but you do get a rev counter to keep tabs on that eight-valve 1.4. And while we’re on a nostalgic push, how luxurious did full door trim panels feel back in the day? No self-respecting owner could be seen with a car whose exterior paintwork filtered through to the cabin.
Astras of this era were not, it has to be said, among the best in their class to drive, with steering that contemporary road testers described as ‘woolly’ (an adjective that needs to make a comeback, we reckon) and initially at least, a bunch of carryover engines from the previous generation. The reasonable number still lurking in the classifieds suggests what they lacked in flair they made up for in durability.
At only £995, it’s one of our cheapest Unexceptional Classifieds in ages, too. With a year’s MOT and only a few minor things needing attention before the next (like those murky numberplates) it could be the ideal low-cost and low-effort steed for next year’s Festival of the Unexceptional.
Not to mention, not such a bad looking car either – but that could just be nostalgia talking.