STAMP OF APPROVAL: Whether its an Astra GTE (bottom left), classic Vauxhall Chevette HS (centre) or a current Astra (top), Ellesmere Pete continues to put vehicle's through their paces at Ellesmere Port. Images: Vauxhall/Opel
CHESHIRE, England – On Tuesday (Dec 9 2014), Vauxhall’s Ellesmere Port factory celebrated its five-millionth vehicle to rolling off its production line in Cheshire, England. To coincide with this achievement and in celebration of 50 years of production, the factory released an awesome video revealing a vehicle sign-off like no other.
And in January 2014, Vauxhall’s sister factory in Luton, England produced a quirky clip showing stunt driver Paul Swift performing incredible stunts behind the wheel of a Vauxhall/Opel Vivaro van.
Not to be outdone by Luton, Ellesmere Port produced an extreme car sign-off, which, the automaker says, “has evolved from clandestine ‘testing’ in the factory during the 1960s and 70s, to one of the most comprehensive quality validations in the motor industry.”
Vauxhall said: “In 1964, when the first Viva rolled off the line, Ellesmere’s workforce was as passionate and skilled as it is today, but one employee, known simply as ‘Ellesmere Pete’, developed a finely-honed test process, now used as a rubber stamp by the factory on all the vehicles it makes.”
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Gallery: Vauxhall's Ellesmere Port factory's five-millionth car
“Pete works during the factory’s downtime, using Ellesmere's vast 'Body Shop' to put randomly selected Astras through a variety of tough tests. Suspension components are only signed off after Pete has launched an Astra into mid-air and had it land safely, while steering geometry is analysed by completing a half-circuit of the body-shop on two wheels.”
The process has remained the same, from the earliest Viva to contemporary Astras. The video highlights some of the vehicle's Pete has test-driven at the factory while showing him through the ages.
Pete admits to some favourite test-drives around the factory: “The Firenza Droopsnoot was a cracker. It had so much poke that the biggest challenge was not clipping some of the machinery while drifting between production lines. When I got my hands on the first Astra GTE back in ’82, it was by far the fastest thing I’d put through the stillage-chicane in the body shop. I could hit 100km/h on a good day.”
Ellesmere Port’s factory director, Stefan Fesser, said: "Ellesmere Pete is a legend in GM circles, but I wasn’t convinced until I saw the breadth of his high-speed testing in the plant, and the detailed reports he generates. And you know what? After 50 years, he still does a fantastic job of validating the great quality that comes with every car we produce. Long may he continue.”
Vauxhall/Opel started building vehicles at its Cheshire factory in 1964 and has been responsible for all Viva models (a nameplate that will return in 2015), the Chevette and all six-generations of Astra from 1982. An average of 100 000 units have been produced in each of the 50 years.
EP is gearing up to produce the seventh-generation Astra in 2015. The automaker said: "As the lead manufacturing factory in Europe for the new model, the factory is taking on an additional 300 staff in January 2015 as part of a equivalent R2-billion investment by parent General Motors."