I’ve owned and enjoyed many Vauxhall Astra GTEs over the years – too many to count! My interest began when my good friend Bobby took me out in his white Astra 16v before I’d even passed my driving test. It made such an impression on me, I decided there and then that I just had to have one for myself! They are great fun to drive and when I was younger they were very popular among my friends, for obvious reasons. I even managed to roll one over many years ago, but that’s another story...
This particular car is my first Leather Edition, or ‘Champion’ as some people also like to call it. Originally released in 1989, it featured Anthracite leather trim on the door panels and Recaro seats, plus the leather symbol or ‘hidemark’ on its external badges. For £17,303 – a premium of some £1500 over the standard GTE – it also offered unique 15in alloy wheels and pearlescent red coachwork. It was only supplied to dealers in the London area and it’s believed that just 250 or so were sold in the UK.
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I’d casually looked at a few GTEs, but they were either advertised for too much money or I wasn’t in a position to buy a project at the time, but then this one came up.
I’d placed a bid on eBay, but didn’t win the auction in the first place. When the ‘buyer’ didn’t turn up, the seller got in contact and I decided to go for it, although I did think: ‘What have I let myself in for?’ when it turned up on a trailer a few weeks later. It was in worse condition than I’d expected, but I decided to crack on with it. These cars get under your skin, so I couldn’t abandon the project before it had even started.
The hardest part of the restoration was the initial strip-down stage, at which point I uncovered just how much work would be required before the car would be ready for the road again. It took nearly 12 months to complete the renovation project, but that was mainly due to simply finding the time to work on it – I needed a friend to help me with the welding and filler work, so we could only get together when he had some free time. Luckily, I work in a bodyshop, so have the use of equipment there, and also people to ask for advice or help when needed.
I had a nightmare trying to get hold of the leather interior, as they are very rare now and therefore command a sizeable price tag. After months of fruitless searching and following up dead-end leads, I ended up importing one via a very helpful chap in the Netherlands. The seats needed some repairs, but they are all good now. I do need to get the door cards retrimmed when I have the chance, as they aren’t as fresh as I’d like, but they’re OK for the time being.
Parts aren’t readily available, so I had to shop around during the restoration – eBay was a happy hunting ground, along with owners’ forums and groups, particularly the Astra Mk2 Owners Club forum. I also got a lot of parts through John Garrington, who managed to source me lots of hard-to- nd bits and was a great help all round! The person I bought the car from is also well-known in the Astra Mk2 scene for parts sourcing, so I got quite a few bits through him as well.
I finally fitted new suspension bushes and steering arms, brake pads and replaced all the pipework underneath the car. The underside was cleaned and painted, so it is now as fresh as the day it left the factory. I couldn’t put a figure on the amount this car has cost me, as most of it has really been man-hours and calling in favours from my friend Andy – but it has absolutely been worth it. I don’t use the car as much as I’d like, but it gets to a few shows and events during the summer months
The car has had new sills, front wings and repairs to the rear wheel arches (these had already been replaced but needed putting right). Various other body repairs were undertaken before a full respray. the fresh paint was done at Spraytone Ltd, near Chester – a great job it is, too!
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A problem with the engine cutting out a few seconds after starting was eventually traced to a very well-hidden aftermarket one-way valve in the fuel line that had been fitted the wrong way round! Daniel then carried out a major service including all belts, water pump, thermostat, rocker cover gaskets and also cured an oil leak from the oil filter housing. Finally, he painted the rocker cover, cleaned out the inlet system and checked all gasket seals.
When Daniel bought the car, it needed a full interior. He sourced one from a chap in the Netherlands, called Servais, who packaged it all up well on a pallet for Daniel’s courier. Servais was also very handy as a source of other parts. The interior was advertised as needing a few repairs; Daniel had them carried out by a local coach trimmer, who did a tidy job.