It was the phrase “epic V8 super-truck” that did it. When Vauxhall launched the E3 version of its £51,500 Maloo pick-up last year, it used those stirring words to switch us on to its British-badged, Australian-built ‘Holden ute’ – longer than a Mercedes S500, as powerful as a 6.2-litre Chevy Corvette and pretty nearly as quick as either.
The Maloo was never going to be a big seller, even if business users were promised a VAT-free purchase at about £42,000. The expected few dozen copies found their way on to UK roads – built to special order – and all too soon it was time for the much-photographed chrome yellow demonstrator to be sold. However, before it drove off into the sunset, Vauxhall was determined to give it a rousing send-off, with Autocar’s help. The famous Shelsley Walsh hillclimb – world’s oldest motor racing track still in use – had never had a record for commercial vehicles in its 107-year history. How about using the Maloo to establish one?
The track organiser, the Midland Automobile Club (MAC), agreed to muster its best timekeeping marshals under clerk of the course Dave Nursey. On a quiet, sunny Wednesday, Vauxhall’s Simon Hucknall, late of Autocar’s road test team, brought the big yellow beast from the company’s Luton stable to the track, where I – an occasional and none too distinguished competitor at Shelsley – would have a go at setting a respectable time.
In bald description, the Maloo is not the ideal racing car. Its 5.1-metre length and 1800kg kerb weight put it dimensionally on a par with a Jaguar XJ, and most of its mass is carried over the front wheels – not ideal for off-the-line traction. But it also has strengths: an ultra-docile Yankee V8 whose plentiful peak power (425bhp) and torque (405lb ft) are delivered low in the rev range, a fuss-free six-speed manual gearbox with heavy-duty clutch, and an electronic launch control that utilises the ABS paraphernalia and a mechanical limited-slip differential to tame rubber-frying wheelspin. Actually, the Maloo’s power-to-weight ratio isn’t so different from that of the Corvette C6, which is why its healthy 0-60mph time of 4.9sec compares quite well with the sports car’s 4.4sec.
Shelsley Walsh is a short, steep hillclimb of just 1000 yards (914 metres) and seems deceptively easy to drive at first. But the closer you look and the quicker you go, the more of a challenge it becomes. There’s a steep uphill start, so you must get your car’s departure position and engine revs just right. After the hint of a right kink, the road disappears left between banks into Kennel Bend – easy in a road car as long as you feel okay about giving it full throttle into a blind bend. Then it goes left again into Crossing, a corner that goes on longer than you expect and needs both precision and bottle, because a powerful car like the Maloo is accelerating hard all the way through, so its chassis balance is changing all the while and there’s no room to stray off line.