Opel Ascona C 1.6

It's difficult not to notice the Opel Ascona, even from a distance, for a number of reasons.
Firstly, this one's bright green. Secondly, it doesn't bare the proud red griffin on the front like it should. And thirdly, its conspicuous in its abscence.

Addressing those things in order, it's not too often you see a multi-shaded scabby old motor in a severely dubious shade of grun with brown rust and grey filler splattered about the place. Especially not in Powisle, home of the Warsaw University Library. With its genteel air of riverside apartments, tree-lined avenues and views across to the Royal Palace, this is not the usual haunt of a ropey old Opel.

And Opel it is. For an Englishman like myself, this is confusing as it ought to be a Vauxhall Cavalier, with its distinctive heraldric badge. At the end of the day, both companies are GM, but I'd like to point out that GM bought Vauxhall first and therefore all Opels are Vauxhalls, and I don't care if they're built and designed in Germany, Japan or Australia - they're still all Vauxhalls.

For a car this badge-engineered, you'd think its continued presence on the roads of Europe would be guaranteed. After all, 1.7m units were churned out of factories in Russelheim, Luton and Antwerp, and sporting its lighting badge it was the biggest selling car in Western Germany. It also sold as the Holden Camira, the Isuzu Aska and the Chevrolet Monza, in various engine configurations, body styles and trim levels.

The example in the photos is a 1.6 S hatchback, spurting out 82bhp of fury from its single-carbed powerplant. It's one of the very early models, before they tried to prettify the line with different grills or clear plastic indicators. What that means is that, as it stands, it's at least 24 years old, with all the battlescars to prove it. The interior might be a hideously dated mess of brown vinyl and tweed uphostery, but mechanically it was perfectly suited 1980s motoring, with its front-wheel drive and transverse mounted engine.

This car was designed from the ground up to be GM's most stable platform; all versions of the J-platform on which the car is based were meant to compete in the fleet markets for regular heavy commuters. While the Kadett and Astra went toe to toe with Ford's Fiesta and Escort in the small car section, the Ascona put up a valiant effort not just against the Cortina/Taurus, but against that love-muscle supplement of the city suit, the Sierra. And performed admirably too, racking up the miles, and the sales, among middle management in countries all over the world.

Rather alarmingly for a car this popular then, is the fact that in Britain it is one of the most scrapped cars of the last 30 years. It is this that makes the Ascona so noticeable - that really, it should still be so profilic on the roads that you don't notice them. The ones that are still knocking around are mainly in the same condition as this one too; a roll of gaffer tape and a tube of instant gasket away from a safety certificate failure. About 10 minutes after I took the photos, I saw the same car struggling its way up the Warsaw escarpment to the city proper, fat old man behind the wheel, wisps of blue smoke curling behind. There was no love between the driver and the car, just a simple working relationship between man and beast.

The Opel Ascona is a failure of its own success. Sold in the thousands, it was never going to be recognised as a classic, or indeed as anything special. It was bought, used, abused and dumped. So take a good look at the revolting paintwork and garish indicators; production dried up 20 years ago, and rather than being put out to pasture, like the sheep dog of yore, too many of these have been taken to the end of the field and shot in the back of the head.

It's worth noting that the Daewoo Espero, assembled in Warsaw's FSO factory directly over the river from where I found this Ascona, is little more than a tarted-up version of the same car, built on GM's J-platform. It's still very much a common sight on the roads of Poland, and owes its continued existence to the furrows ploughed by its hard-working older sister.