It is unlikely that many people placed an order for the Vauxhall Belmont in the expectation it would bestow significant amounts of charisma on them. It was definitely not a car for cutting a dash at the office party, or for posing in general. Its purpose was to transport drivers and their sample cases from one travel tavern to another. And today, David Walker’s 1990 1.6GL is one of only 27 left on the road.
The Belmont, named after the London hotel, debuted on the 15th of January 1986, and Vauxhall claimed “it’s not just a booted Astra,” even though that’s precisely what it was. The new model had the same wheelbase as its hatchback counterpart but was almost nine inches longer. The Belmont’s role in the Vauxhall line-up was to rival the Ford Orion and the Volkswagen Jetta, saloon versions of the Escort and the Golf, respectively.
The exceptionally over-the-top launch advertising boasted that the Belmont “like the Blue Riband liners of yesteryear, combines an uncommon level of comfort with a rare turn of speed.” In addition, it was “a formal and elegant saloon with a distinctive appearance” capable of negotiating “the twistiest Route Départementale or Alpine road with an unruffled grace.” This certainly sounded a good deal more glamorous than “it can cope with the rigours of the A32 to Alton,” even if that would have been more appropriate.
The boot’s 19.4 cubic feet capacity was more relevant to potential owners; one of the largest in its class and ideal for the “business motorist.” At the time of the Belmont’s launch, rising fuel costs led many firms to opt for company cars that were smaller than the Ford Sierra, Vauxhall Cavalier and Austin Montego. It was also UK-built at Ellesmere Port, an important consideration for many fleet buyers, who still tended to buy British in the late 1980s.
The Telegraph’s motoring correspondent called the Belmont “generally unmemorable, though I liked its quietness and refinement.” While finding “much that is good” about the Belmont, Motor complained about its ride, gearchange and “mediocre accommodation for passengers.” Autocar was more optimistic, believing it had “tremendous appeal” and looked set “to steal sales from many of its closest rivals.”
Vauxhall expanded the range in 1987 with the fuel-injected SRi and, shortly afterwards, the CDi flagship. Russell Bulgin described the latter in the August 1989 edition of Car as displaying an “innovative use of velour to cover virtually every surface.” In his view, “If you like sitting in Middle Eastern departure lounges, the Vauxhall will hold instant appeal.” However, with its reassuringly sober “Epsom cloth seat trim,” the entry-level L was far more commonly seen in the nation’s car parks.
Sales of the Belmont ended in 1991 with the launch of the Astra Mk3, which used the same badge for hatchback and saloon versions. Vauxhall had sold only 40,150 examples over the past five years; too many buyers tended to opt for the Cavalier. Thirty-two years later, H 441 HPM receives many startled glances from members of the public, who regard it as hailing from a lost world of Inspiral Carpets CDs.
“My second car when I was 18 was a red H-reg Belmont, and I’d always wanted another one,” says Walker. So, when this one came up on eBay, it was a no-brainer. “It is a lot of fun – you know you’re driving the car, and the car is not driving you, unlike modern machines with too many extras.”
Walker owns a fleet of Vauxhalls dating from the 1970s to the 1990s; we will feature his Royale saloon later in the ‘rarest car’ series. His Flame Red Belmont cost £8,556.53 when new, with the GL trim level offering a realm of modest luxury, namely a sliding roof, a driver’s sun visor with a ticket pocket, and “Matlock” velour upholstery.
A decidedly sensible What Car? report encapsulated the appeal of vehicles such as Walker’s Belmont: “That the Belmont does not set the pulse racing is perhaps proof of the success scored by its designers.”
Nearly 38 years later, the Belmont is guaranteed to cause a modest sensation.
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