History of Vauxhall Family Cars

13th Jul 2022

By Kenny Longdon

Vauxhall Family Cars

There's a fair chance someone you know either has a Vauxhall or has had one. As a popular British car manufacturer, the brand has been favoured with all walks of life here in Great Britain.

With best-sellers like the Corsa and Astra being hugely popular for many generations, nowadays we see the likes of the Mokka, Crossland and Grandland also selling well.

Yet, back in the day, it was probably the Cavalier that you saw nearly everywhere on UK roads. It's a classic 'my Dad had one of them' kind of cars. So, without further ado, let's take a look at some of the most popular Vauxhall Family Cars throughout history.


01 January

Cavalier Mk I (1975 to 1981)

Cavalier Mk I

In 1975, the very first Vauxhall Cavalier was introduced. It was heavily based on the Opel Ascona - Opel being the European sister company for Vauxhall, in simple terms.

The Cavalier was an affordable family saloon but was actually pitched as a fleet vehicle - a trend you see with the likes of the Vauxhall Insignia in more recent times. The first British-built Cavalier rolled off the production line in Luton in 1977.

It quickly became one of the best-selling cars in Britain. You could also get your Cavalier in either a saloon, coupé or sportshatch.


01 January

Vauxhall Carlton Mk I (1978 to 1986)


Marking a front in the executive sector, the Mk I Carlton was essentially a restyled Opel Rekord. Its mission was to tempt buyers away from other '70s cars like the popular Ford Granada and the Rover SD1 - which of course proved tricky as they were the stand-out cars of the sector and era.

Like many big Vauxhall cars of the era, it proved popular with police forces and fleet sales. Especially in 1983 when it received a facelift. It got rid of the hate it or love it droopsnoot nose, and like many Vauxhall models of this era, it very much looked like a rebadged Opel. It did the trick though, and sales picked up.


01 January

Vauxhall Royale/Senator A (1978 to 1986)


Shortly after the Mk I Cavalier, Vauxhall introduced the Royale, which was offered in a saloon and cool looking coupé. It was later anglicised and therefore renamed the Senator in 1984.

This was the '70s, so the Royale had some potent engine choices, which of course today sound tiny in comparison. A 2.8-litre which used old-school carburettors pushed out a modest 138bhp. This was later increased to a meaty 3.0-litre V6 with a smidge under 180bhp.

Although the saloon was the obvious choice for families, the coupé was a looker for its time and now pretty unique and rare.


01 January

Cavalier Mk II (1981 to 1988)

Cavalier Mk II 

August 1981 saw the launch of the Mk II Cavalier. A car which Vauxhall hoped would increase its UK market share. However, it sold much more than Vauxhall had projected, with over 800,000 units being snapped up.

The boxy lines of the 5-door hatchback proved popular with most, with the saloon falling out of favour. Overall it was just a decent car that ticked a lot of boxes that buyers in the 1980s wanted. Therefore, the Mk II Cavalier was comfortable, offered a decent driving experience and for its time, was quite quick too.

Sales were decent, often appearing inside the 'UK Top 10', as many Vauxhalls have done in the UK for decades. The Mk II Cavalier really was a success story for Vauxhall and was going to be a hard act to follow for the new model.


01 January

Vauxhall Carlton Mk II (1986 to 1994)

Lotus Carlton

Interestingly, the Carlton was not as popular as the Senator, well, until Vauxhall got Lotus involved to add a bit of spice to Carlton proceedings.

Lotus were famous for making sports cars, so the idea of fettling a large saloon may have seemed rather bizarre, but with a 3.6-litre engine and two turbos, the Lotus Carlton was a proper weapon. In 1990 the Lotus Carlton could go from 0 to 62mph in a tad over five seconds - that's really fast these days so over 30 years ago it would have been mad. No wonder people wanted to ban it, and ironically, it was favoured by criminals meaning the regular Carltons would have had no chance keeping up with it.

A regular Cartlon was still a safe bet for family business, and you'd be more than happy at the time with one. Until a Lotus Carlton overtook you on the M1 that is...


01 January

Vauxhall Senator B (1987 to 1994)


With plenty of space, the Senator B was a great car to pile in lots of things, and it was therefore great for family life.

The previous generation Senator was a hit with the police force, as was the Senator B too, thanks to the large capacity engines, which would be good for going about catching bad guys in the late '80s and early '90s.

Badge kudos was very much part of the '80s, it still is today, and you were doing well if you had one of the top-spec CD trim Senators, which had the 24 valve 3.0-litre engines as well as features like an air conditioned glove box for keeping drinks cool. Some even had a digital dash - this was the '80s after all.


01 January

Cavalier Mk III (1988 to 1995)

Cavalier Mk III

Into the late '80s now and another Cavalier. Although not as popular as the Mk II in terms of overall sales, this shape is perhaps the most recognisable Cavalier to many. A car that you may be familiar with as a lot of people bought them due to their affordability and popularity, mimicking the Mk I and Mk II that had gone before.

Gone was the early '80s boxyness, and in came a more streamlined and curvaceous approach. This Cavalier was also a hit on the race track - most notably in 1995 in the hands of John Cleland in a white and yellow Mobil 1 sponsored touring car, in which he won the BTCC (British Touring Car Championship). This certainly helped make the Mk III Cavalier arguably the coolest - again helped with the popular sporty models such as the SRi.


01 January

Vauxhall Omega B (1994 to 2004)


The successor to the Senator and Carlton, the Omega was another big-engined brute, set to be the executive flagship for Vauxhall, and also suitable as a plush family saloon.

You could get engines up to a 3.2-litre V6, but none would get near the pace of the Lotus Carlton that had gone before it. Probably best as people tried to get that particular model banned.

Ride and handling were very good, and again the big saloon was a favourite with fleet sales and Police. Despite its large proportions, the agile chassis made it feel a lot more compact that it was.

German quality mixed with typical Vauxhall value was often expressed when speaking of the Omega, which is high praise indeed.


01 January

Vectra B (1995 to 2002)

Vectra B 

The Vectra was Vauxhall's answer for the Cavalier replacement. As sometimes in a car's history a manufacturer will often give the name a refresh. Could it carry on the success? In short, not really.

It didn't really have the respect of the Cavalier which had gone before it, and after motoring icon Jeremy Clarkson slated it when the car was new on Top Gear, well, it wasn't going to do the 'dull' Vectra any favours.

Some say it was the name, as if the Cavalier name stayed it could've been a much better story, as people respected the old car, and its name. However, on the plus side the Vectra B was very much a workhorse being popular with taxi drivers and the like, and usually was a pretty dependable, easy to maintain car.


01 January

Vectra C (2002 to 2008)

Vectra C 

With the arrival of the Vectra C in 2002, Vauxhall hoped to change the views of the Vectra B which had gone before it.

A new design language was apparent, but it still presented itself as a forgetful design, but like its legacy the Vectra C was a decent enough workhorse. Interior style was bland but did feel what the Vectra did do well was offer decent comfort.

After all, the Vectra was a company car and taxi favourite. It was more about getting the job done and not worrying too much about flair and impressing people. It could eat motorway miles with ease and return over 50mpg in some specs, which was excellent back in the early noughties.


01 January

Insignia - First Generation (2008 to 2017)


In 2008 Vauxhall replaced the Vectra with the Insignia. With some saying the Vectra's problems could have been blamed somewhat on a name change, maybe going with a new name this time was actually the right move to try and get away from the stereotype that the Vectra had created.

Like the Cavalier and Vectra, the Insignia was another popular fleet choice thanks to decent economy, many specifications, comfortable ride and dependable character. The car was a lot more stylish than the car it replaced, but again it wouldn't be worrying the competitors in any beauty or style contests.

You could get an arguably more attractive Sports Tourer version, which is Vauxhall speak for estate. This offered a slightly bigger boot too with 540 litres (regular hatchback 530 litres) but you do get 60 litres more than the regular hatchback model with the seats folded flat - 1,530 litres as opposed to 1,470 litres.

Search Used Vauxhall Insignia


01 January

Vauxhall Ampera (2011 to 2019)


A car which quite frankly was well ahead of its time. The Vauxhall Ampera is essentially a re-badged Chevrolet Volt for the UK, with the latter being the US equivalent.

Although a 4-seat hatchback its larger proportions were suitable for family life, but its party piece was of course its ability to travel on electric power alone, as the car is a PHEV. You can complete around 40 miles in pure electric, which will then divert to its petrol engine.

Interior wise is like that of an Insignia, but you get a funkier digital screen because of its electric nature. Styling is also funky and looks a lot more interesting than the Insignia of the same era. Back in 2011, people didn't really understand electric PHEV cars; most still don't, but in a weird way this car now makes more sense. Looking for a used PHEV, the aptly named Ampera may be a quality and shrewd buy.

Search Used Ampera


01 January

Insignia Grand Sport - Second Generation (2017 to 2022)

Insignia Second Gen

In its last incarnation, the second generation Insignia was a bit of a surprise as it was a vast improvement, especially in the looks department. It also had a new name, well, part of it, and therefore from 2017 onwards it was known as the Insignia Grand Sport.

Grand may be a nod to the size, as this new second generation was rather capacious. Sport however, well that may be more hard to figure out as it's not exactly a sports car. That said, the Insignia Grand Sport is a much sleeker, and much more premium feeling Insignia and can bow out with its head held high.

The Insignia looked a lot more premium and felt it too, in this guise. It ensured for a great all-rounder car that offered space, performance, style and comfort.

Search Used Vauxhall Insignia

Find your own Vauxhall family car with Evans Halshaw

Car manufacturers have some rather interesting histories. The Vauxhall family car one shows how some cars hit it off with customers, whilst others don't go as planned.

With Vauxhall, the dependability and affordability aspect has always been there and with the latest models offering state-of-the-art technology and attractive styling, it's no wonder why the likes of the Corsa have started to hit the best-selling charts.

With the family car now going the way of the SUV, it looks like the Vauxhall saloon car will now just be a moment in history, but quite an interesting one at that.

Whichever Vauxhall interest you, we have a comprehensive selection of new and used stock which is waiting for you to test drive, contact your preferred Evans Halshaw Vauxhall to find out more.