5 Surprisingly underrated fast Vauxhalls
Despite the rough stigma, they've produced some great cars
Traditionally, it was always fast Fords that led the parade of common man performance. Ever since the MK1 Lotus Cortina in 1963, Ford has always found a way to spice up their everyday cars and while doing so, created (quite literally) a league of legends.
You only have to mumble names such as the Capri RS3100, Escort Mexico, Sierra Cosworth and Focus RS, to get a brawny petrolhead feeling all warm and fuzzy. My dad used to have a fast Ford and I'm sure yours did too at some point - they really were that popular.
However, mention a fast Vauxhall to anyone and chances are, you won't get quite the same reaction. They were the sorts of cars that lived in the shadows of their more popular competitors. But from what I've read, those who owned old Chevette HS' and Astra GTEs will say that they were magnificent things.
That got me thinking: what other fast Vauxhalls (and Opels for everywhere else) have seemingly flown under the radar without much recognition? Coming up now is a list of my top five.
This quirky little thing was a result of a joint collaboration with Lotus. It was a simple, lightweight mid-engined sports car with plenty of go-power and a capable chassis which was shared with the highly coveted Lotus Elise.
While it and its twin, the Opel Speedster, were big hits at the time, nobody seems to remember them today.
It came with two 4-cylinder engines: a 2.0 litre unit with 145bhp and a turbocharged 2.2 litre unit with 200bhp. Each were plentiful in a car that only weighed 875kg - making it lighter than the Toyota MR2 of the time!
Want to know a couple of more fun facts? One was badged as a Daewoo to be displayed in an airport near Seoul, South Korea. And both the Vauxhalls and Opels were assembled at the Lotus factory in Norfolk. Next time you find yourself in a pub quiz, you can have it on me.
It's almost as if the Insignia VXR (or OPC for those outside the UK) was a fantastic car which just didn't get enough attention drawn to it.
It was powered by a meaty 2.8 litre turbocharged V6 making 325bhp, some could say this was one of the ultimate Q-cars of recent times. Understated enough to be passed off as a diesel, yet fast enough to scare the totally unexpected daylights out of your passengers. Then again, it did come with a 170mph top speed...
I'm also pretty certain that this is the sort of car that requires your own opinion: journalists from Autocar and Parkers complain of the lack of feel in the steering and relatively delayed speed, whereas owners' reviews show some pretty high praise in the way it drives. Perhaps the press were too spoilt when they had these on test...?
The Vectra received a pretty miserable reputation for being catastrophically uninspiring - most notably from Mr Clarkson in the late 1990s. While it's understandable that he withheld the opinion that he did, he didn't have the GSI on test.
Vauxhalls with the GSI badge usually meant they were the fast ones - and this one was. The Vectra had a 2.5 litre V6 making 192bhp and could hit 60 in 7.8 seconds - so a pretty nippy thing even by today's standards. For 2001-02, the engine was expanded to 2.6 litres and production was limited to just 500 GSIs for those final two years.
In total, only 4,400 of these things were ever made; a lot of which were killed off for the same reasons as any '90s performance car - making them extremely rare today. Of those 4,400, only 354 were estate versions!
Cavalier Turbo 4x4
Image credit: Opel. Rather confusingly, the MK3 Cavalier was called the Opel Vectra for anyone outside of the UK.
This was also a real sleeper of its time: a Vauxhall saloon that could do 0-60 in just 6.4 seconds and could plough onto a 150mph top speed. The 2.0 litre turbocharged engine in this thing was a thing of genius. Best of all: it looked as subtle as the Cavalier your dad drove.
Despite its beastly performance (which bear in mind, wasn't far off a BMW M5 of the time), nobody seems to remember the Cavalier Turbo. Once again, this is an amazing example of a fast car that flew under almost everyone's radar. Some could say this is even the thinking man's Sierra Sapphire Cosworth.
Nevertheless, as far as Q-cars from the 1990s go, this is one of my personal winners. A great bargain too, as they're currently worth a whole lot less than a Sierra Cossie ;)
Calibra DTM Edition
Calibras are starting to become appreciating classics these days: they've become a lot rarer and people are starting to become fond of the win-win combination of elegant styling and reliable running gear.
The one that's of special interest to me however, is the rather cool DTM edition. It was made to celebrate the Calibra's participation in the Deutsche Tourenwagen Meisterschaft championship in Germany; and while it wasn't mechanically different from standard Calibras, it did come with some tasty BBS wheels, lowered suspension, special paint schemes and a little spoiler on the back.
As with the standard Calibra, you had a choice of a 2.0 litre 4-cylinder engine with 134bhp, a 2.5 litre V6 with 168bhp or even a 2.0 litre turbocharged 4-cylinder with 200bhp. The latter also had 4WD, thus effectively creating a coupe version of the Cavalier Turbo 4x4 we just looked at.
That performance in a coupe body with DTM-inspired add-ons? Come on, who wouldn't want that!
Thanks for reading
So, there we are: those are my top five picks for quite underrated fast Vauxhalls. I will have missed a dozen, but what others would you have? Feel free to get in the comments.
Otherwise, I hope you enjoyed reading and remember to stay well and stay safe.