Opel Astra. Not a name usually associated with classic cars. However, in my present neck of the woods, it’s certainly not a common sight. And this is the Italian-made drop-top, too. Guess it’s time to give the Astra G its fifteen minutes of fame on CC.
Just like its predecessor, the Astra G was GM Europe’s C-segment workhorse. Most were saloons (both two- and four-doors, and in both hatchback and notchback variants) and wagons. Since its 1998 launch, it was built around the world, from Australia to Egypt, under a host of marques and names: Holden Astra in Australia, Vauxhall in the UK, Chevrolet Viva in Russia and so on. And just like the Astra F, the Astra G also went shopping for a tailor-made two-door body in Turin.
As the new millennium approached, The Bertone name still had some of the old magic, but the carrozzeria was not doing well. Nuccio Bertone died in 1997 and his widow Lilly took the reins of the business, but the glory days were long gone. There was discord within the family about the future of the firm as fewer and fewer automakers were still calling on Bertone’s services.
The last two major active contracts that Bertone had going by the year 2000 were with Fiat and GM Europe, and the latter was essential to the Turin factory’s continued operation. Opel had started using Bertone in 1986 with the Kadett cabriolet. Since that time, GM Europe had kept the relationship going, switching to the Astra F in 1993.
By the late ‘90s though, it seems GM were starting to have second thoughts about the viability of the Bertone deal. The Astra G Coupé was already in the works though, so production went ahead. It was premiered at the 1999 Frankfurt Motor Show and soon became available (as shown above) in Vauxhall guise as well. The drop-top followed a year later.
When looking at Bertone’s last specials and concept cars, those made after Nuccio’s demise, there seems to be a huge amount of GM. Sure, there were the odd BMW or Aston Martin designs, as well as the Italian marques of course, but it seems Bertone were trying very hard to curry favour with their last big customer, and perhaps angle for a new low-volume production deal.
Alas, GM did not bite. Although the Opel/Vauxhall Astra continued its relentless progression through the alphabet with the introduction of the H series in 2004, design and production of the “TwinTop” two-door, as it became known, was done in-house. The Bertone Opel line was closed in 2005; things then unraveled pretty quickly: Lilly Bertone sold her shares and the coachbuilder was declared insolvent in 2008; the next year, Fiat bought the Grugliasco factory. Now reduced to a styling bureau, Bertone lingered on until 2014, when the remaining branch filed for bankruptcy.
So this is more than just another Opel. It’s also the last throes of a grand old name whose influence on 20th Century car design was almost unparalleled. And it’s not a bad-looking car, either.