From its launch in 1980, the Astra has been one of Vauxhall’s success stories. On the approach to the retirement of the Astra Mk 1, the Ellesmere Port plant in Cheshire was retooled to be able to manufacture the Mk 2 which was launched in October 1984. The Astra had already become one of the best-selling models for Vauxhall, but in 1985 the Mk 2 won European Car of the Year as well as helping the company to outstrip Austin-Rover in sales for the very first time.
Soon after the Mk 2’s launch, the GTE version appeared. Its ‘hot hatch’ rivals (high-performance hatchback cars) included the Ford Escort RS Turbo, Volkswagen Golf GTI and Peugeot 205 GTI, but the 8-valve engine that was released first was a flop in comparison with much poorer performance than expected.The dual overhead cam shaft 16-valve XE engine that replaced it in 1988 is famously known as the ‘red-top’ due to the red spark plug cover – it was a popular change giving the GTE a much-needed boost of power and helped solidify the Astra Mk 2 GTE as one of the key hot hatches of the day.