5 times Vauxhall was seriously cool
Some brands have the odd moment of coolness – Peugeot and Mitsubishi, we’re looking at you – but others have a surprising string of hits that actually lead to one hell of a company heritage. Vauxhall is very much one of those and once you trace back through its history, the brand has some seriously cool models that are still loved to this day.
Founded a staggering 161 years ago, the company went on to accumulate a breadth of experience in rallying and the British Touring Car Championship, leading to the trickling of performance technology down into its road cars. Here’s the pick of the bunch.
Otherwise known as the Opel Speedster, the VX220 is a car synonymous with the glory days of Gran Turismo. Built at the Lotus car plant in Hethel and revealed at the 1999 Geneva Motor Show, this was a huge leap for Vauxhall in the sportscar market.
Endlessly talented in the cornering department, the ‘220 was actually faster than its Lotus sister in a straight line, especially when in 200bhp turbo guise. The 2.0-litre turbo could reach 60mph in just 4.7 seconds, making it one of the quickest cars of the early 2000s thanks to a kerb weight that was well under 1000kg.
It once sat in the shadow of the Mk1 Golf but the Astra GTE is now a bonafide cult classic that is now seen as an under appreciated hot hatch legend. Its boxy dimensions are as ‘80s as it gets and with the later twincam engine under the bonnet, the GTE was ready and raring to bloody the noses of MG with its Maestro Turbo and Peugeot with its 205 GTI.
The recipe of the hot Astra may have been slightly diluted in the next few generations (excluding the manic gen 5 Astra VXR) but the GTE is now coming into its own as a rapidly appreciating classic in its own right, much in thanks to performance that was ahead of the game back in the day.
The Monaro was brought into the limelight in the UK through the exploits of Mr Clarkson, most notably on a beach when pitted against the brutish Jaguar S-Type R and the gangster Chrysler 300C.
The Vauxhall came out on top, charming the three musketeers with its tendency to oversteer and its grumbling Aussie V8.
Its peak of coolness was probably the Maloo pick-up. In its most potent form (referred to simply as the VXR8 in later life), this unique beast had a snarling 6.2-litre supercharged V8 under the bonnet that produced a staggering 537bhp to the rear wheels.
A Vauxhall muscle car that can beat a BMW M3 into submission? We’ll take a piece of that.
I’m a little obsessed with early 2000s performance cars, machines that would be classed as only ‘slightly warm’ in this age of 500bhp super saloons and 300bhp hot hatches. A car that perfectly fitted that noughties mould was the Astra Coupé with its oh-so-motorsport OZ rims, a rakish rear wing and a touring car pedigree.
Styled by Bertone, the 2000-2005 Coupé came with everything from a 123bhp 1.8-litre to a rather zesty 190bhp turbocharged engine, coming at a time when Vauxhall was very much associated with the hot hatch and sporty saloon market.
The Zafira VXR was probably a tad more ludicrous but the slightly smaller and better-looking Meriva is a lesser-known package that would make hot hatches of the time think twice about a drag race from the lights. Produced during the mid-2000s MPV boom (before the domination of the SUV), the Meriva VXR took the engine from the crazy, torque-steering Astra and did its best to make dads cool once again.
If you squint hard enough, the Meriva takes on a fairly classic teardrop shape, making it seem surprisingly aerodynamic for a vehicle that could easily transport a couple of human and canine friends. The 17-inch alloys and a swollen bodykit were complimented by a turbocharged engine that featured overboost, ideal for those tactical overtakes when taking the kids on their holidays to the beach.
It has been making cars since 1857 and under new ownership it is still pumping out VXR products, as well as pretty little shapes like the GTC and Insignia Sports Tourer. Will the company be able to match the coolness levels of the past however? Comment with your thoughts below!