The Carchive: The Opel / Vauxhall Senator


Welcome to another visit to The Carchive, where we grease the hinges on the rusty gates beyond which lie a world of obsolescent lies, half-truths and pure old-fashioned marketing hyperbole.

Today were taking a look at an example of an automotive breed which has been in decline for a number of years; the “non-premium” luxury car. It’s the Opel / Vauxhall Senator.

“…when it comes to craftsmanship, attention to detail and advanced technology, there is no such contradiction. Senator has simply the finest, the closest, and the most.”

The Vauxhall Senator (or Opel if you prefer to think of it that way) nameplate had been around since the ’70’s, but reached its zenith with the model described within this volume. Since the beginning it had been built on a platform spun from the Opel Rekord/Omega/Vauxhall Carlton, and that remained the case all the way through. But by the end the Senator had grown so different, stylistically at least, that it was easy to forget you could buy a two-litre station-wagon based on essentially the same substructure.

This particular brochure deals with the Senator “B” which ran from ’87 and ’93 was its final year.

“The Vauxhall Senator is built to raise your opinions of everything a luxury car should be”

Ultimately, it may not have managed quite that, but it certainly raised opinions of what a luxury car from Vauxhall should be. The Vauxhall Carlton had evolved by then to be quite a well appointed, and superbly aerodynamic large family car, and the uppermost models had power and comfort very much on their side. But the Senator still managed to take things that step forward, thanks in no small part to the addition of extra wheelbase.

Stylistically, it was a smooth, sleek, contemporary shape; only really dated by the many pillars. Vauxhall and Opel’s lack of a corporate grille meant they had to invent one, and the french-fry cutter that they came up with was never universally praised; though I rather liked it, and the tail-lamp clusters were seen as good enough to be used on Bristols during the ’90s.


“If total passenger comfort and convenience is the aim of a luxury saloon then Senator achieves this with room to spare.”

By this stage in the Senator program the interior had evolved to something quite a long way removed from what you might typically expect in a Vauxhall. The ruched leather was thick and convincing, ditto the slivers of decorative wood which were well handled and avoided some chintziness. The entire centre dashboard console was clad in finely stitched leather, and the carpets were deep and plush.

There were also head restraints which seemed designed specifically so you can poke the occupants in the back of the head, and huge armrests front and rear. Generally speaking the cabin ambience was well beyond what rival non-premium offerings from Ford, Peugeot, Renault et al could give, and was treading on the toes of various other German marques.

“You’ll find every imaginable cabin convenience, and most are power operated”

The Senator included all the usual electrical gear, covering windows, sunroof, central locking and all that commonplace rubbish that even plebeian cars like Astras would enjoy, but also brought further wonders, like two-zone thermostatic climate control, cruise control, even a three-position electronic ride control. Loads of control, then.


“Perfectly arranged for the discerning traveller”

The driver wasn’t poorly looked after, either. You had the choice of a conventional analogue disply or , as a no-cost-option, a fully digital LCD system with a faux-analogue tachometer, which was frequently decried as gimmicky by the motoring press of the day, but which I firmly believe to be awesome.

Good instrumentation was well worth having, especially as the Senator happened to have the ability to deliver a genuinely thrilling driving experience. Especially if you opted for the great sounding straight-six 24v engine.

204hp doesn’t seem colossal these days, and the 1588kg Senator was no lightweight (although that mass figure doesn’t get you an awful lot of car these days) but it was enough to turn in an impressive performance. 149mph was the quoted, and realistic, maximum speed, with 62 being reached in 7.8 seconds on the way, providing you went for the manual gearbox.

And why wouldn’t you? They were all rear-wheel drive and, considering that the 24v model also came with a limited slip differential, this would seem to be a recipe for fun and games, and sure enough the Senator was capable of performing some of the most gloriously lurid powerslides you ever did see. Sure, it would wallow and heel but would hang onto the pavement gamely, and enjoyment was always on the menu.

The fact that this was a lot of car, available for considerably less outlay than several more prestigious vehicles that didn’t offer a lot more ability, caused the police to become devoted followers of the Senator. White ex-police senators (recognisable immediately by their lack of leather, air-conditioning or a sunroof, and by being white) used to turn up frequently at the auctions.

They’re a lot thinner on the ground today, but I should think that a good example would make an hilarious practical track-day car, especially wearing an ironic police livery….

(Disclaimer: All images are of genuine manufacturer publicity materials, photographed by me. Copyright remains property of GM, whose Vauxhall / Opel division have abandoned any kind of Sedan north of the Insignia. Inevitable, but sad.)

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