Previously known as the Kadett, it was GM's first front wheel drive car produced for sale, launched in 1979 and is still manufactured in an updated form today. The Astra is now built in Germany, Belgium, the UK, Brazil South Africa and India, as well as being assembled in completely knocked-down (CKD) kits in other countries.
All models were designed as three or five door hatchbacks and estates or station wagons- Opel versions being known as 'Caravan'. In the UK, the first Vauxhall Astra models were originally sold alongside the identical Opel Kadett, but this was discontinued, along with the Chevette (a Vauxhall version of the old rear wheel drive Kadett).
The 1979 model was a wholly new design. It featured a new engine design with an overhead camshaft, aluminium alloy cylinder head, hydraulic valve lifters, with capacities of 1300 and 1600cc. Later, an 1800cc version was introduced for the Kadett GSi/Astra GTE model. For the 1984 model, capacities were raised to 1400cc, 1800cc and a new 2000cc engine, again used on the GSi/GTE. In addition, a 16-valve twin-cam version of the 2000cc engine was developed for a high performance GTE model, yielding 156 bhp in manufactured form. This range of engines was also used for later models of the Corsa, Cavalier, Vectra, etc.
The 1984 model was also developed into a more conventional "three box" design with a boot (trunk), badged as the Vauxhall Belmont in the UK and the Opel Monza in South Africa. A convertible version was also available, for the first time, and the Kadett model was introduced in Brazil.
The 1991 model was known as the Opel Astra, although the Kadett name was retained in South Africa for the hatchback, with a high performance model, known as the 200T, being offered on the local market. A cabriolet was also offered, this time designed and built by Bertone in Italy.
This model also became available in Australasia, first in New Zealand in 1995, and then Australia in 1996, badged as a Holden. The first models were imported from the UK, but the current model is imported from Belgium. The original Holden Astra was in fact a rebadged Nissan Pulsar, sold in Australia in the mid 1980s.
The current model Astra was launched in Europe in 1998, again including a Bertone-designed cabriolet.