As you may have seen, we recently crowned the Lotus Elise as the best performance car of the last 25 years. That was the Series 1 model for reasons pertaining to its impact on the sports car world upon its launch in 1996 and because it took a landslide victory in our best sports car poll as voted by you. While Lotus arguably moved the game on further with the S2 and S3, the S1 will go down in history as the car that broke the mould. Or helped to redefine it, at least.
Also on our shortlist for the sports car poll was the Vauxhall VX220, which didn’t even make it into the top 12 finishers. Strange, seeing as it’s based on the Series 2 Elise and was even assembled at Hethel. There were differences, mind, with the original VX220s using an Astra-sourced 2.2-litre four-cylinder engine, albeit upgraded to 145hp, rather than the Rover K-Series motor in the Elise. And while Lotus would eventually go down the supercharged route, VX220 would find its gains through turbocharging. Two different approaches to one platform, though our poll proved there was a clear favourite.
Perhaps this will win you over. Vauxhall only released a single special edition for the VX220 Turbo, and boy did it make it count. In 2004 it launched the VXR220, a limited run of 65 cars with more power and an array of chassis upgrades that’d ultimately result in the fastest, most focused version of the VX220 there ever was. To be fair, the power increase was relatively marginal; 220hp to the Turbo’s 200, courtesy of an upgraded turbocharger, a freer-flowing air filter and a good old remap. But that’s still plenty for a car weighing 930kg, and it meant the VXR220 was the most powerful of all the S2-based models until the arrival of the Exige S two years later.
Really, though, it was all about the upgrades you couldn’t see. The car sat 10mm lower on upgraded Bilstein springs, while those menacing five-spoke Speedline wheels were wrapped in stickier Yokohama rubber. The brakes were also upgraded, as was the brake servo for better, more manageable stopping power. The result was, effectively, Vauxhall’s take on the Exige S. Reviewers at the time praised the improved body control and resulting high-speed grip, while being just as useable at a potter as the regular VX220.
However, this VXR220 may feel a tad different, because it’s been treated to a selection of tasty mods. Namely, Nitron dampers and a Larini 2.5-inch turbo-back exhaust system, with the latter likely adding a few horses into the mix. It’s recently benefitted from four new Speedline rims (which look magnificent) and a fresh set of Yokohama V105 tyres that have yet to turn a wheel.
It's clearly been cherished and there’s a stack of paperwork detailing a decent amount of work that’s been carried out in the name of preservation. And that’s quite important, because it’s thought that only 40 of the original 65 VXR220s still exist, so they need to be protected at all costs. The good news is that, despite their rarity, values are very much in the realm of reality. The seller’s asking for £25,950 for this 53,000-mile example, which is only a slight premium over a VX220 Turbo and is a fair bit cheaper than the equivalent Exige. Hard to see it sticking around for much longer, in that case.
SPECIFICATION | VAUXHALL VXR220
Engine: 1,998cc four-cylinder, turbocharged
Transmission: five-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 220@6,300rpm
Torque (lb ft): 210@4,800rpm
Year registered: 2004
Recorded mileage: 53,000
Price new: £29,995
Yours for: £25,950
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