I read an amusing story recently. A woman had a cat as a pet for many years and allowed him to come and go as he pleased. She found out years later that when she left for work, her loyal cat would stroll down to the nearby school and roam from class to class, getting lots of pats and attention along the way. The faculty and students were so used to seeing this cat that he became somewhat of an unofficial school mascot. The owner’s cherished cat, with whom she would sleep in the same bed each night, had a secret life.
My beloved first car had a secret life, too.
Growing up, I read Australian car magazines religiously. There was a time, however, when I would also purchase British car magazines. Car, What Car, Top Gear, Test Drive, Autocar… whatever I could get my hands on. It prepared me well for my visit to Europe this year because I didn’t see anything unfamiliar. Well, except for this: a convertible version of my first car, a variant I had no idea existed. I must have missed it in the magazines. While Aussie buyers like my parents had a choice between only the sedan and hatchback, European buyers could purchase not just the typical wagon variant but also a convertible. This little kitty was strolling from its suburban home down to the beach to play in the sun.
Designed and built by Bertone in Italy, the Astra Cabriolet maintained the look of the four-door sedan of which I owned an example.
The overall look was much more elegant than the previous Opel Kadett/Vauxhall Astra Cabriolet which, with its roll bar, looked like some cut-rate, third-party conversion. Or an Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme.
We received the next two generations of Astra Cabriolet here in Australia but missed out on this one. Although the following generation seemed to be modestly successful for a convertible, the Astra arrived super late in its model cycle (1996, as a replacement for the rebadged Toyota Corolla known as the Nova) and thus was looking a tad dated at launch. Given how brutally style-conscious the convertible segment is, the Astra’s looks would have been a hindrance. The car itself – as much as I loved it – was not regarded as being a class leader at the time of its belated Australian launch. Nor was it considered a class leader in 1991 when it rolled into European showrooms.
Cabriolets used 1.6, 1.8 and 2.0 four-cylinder engines, power ranging from 71 to 116 hp. Apparently scuttle shake wasn’t too bad, either. Although not the best handler in its class, I found the Astra to be quite fun-to-drive and I appreciated its zippy 1.8. And yet, I just can’t imagine my first car in convertible form. It’s such a peculiar concept to me. While I wasn’t looking, my trusty little sedan was gallivanting around Europe as a cabriolet.
Photographed in Alexanderplatz, Berlin in September 2018.