12 April 2004

Vauxhall will almost certainly market a new two-seat roadster from 2005 – but it will not be the much-touted Lightning. Instead, Luton is to market a rebadged and regrilled version of the Pontiac Solstice, the car upon whose so-called Kappa platform the Lightning was based.

The difficulties and costs of engineering the Lightning have been outweighed by the more pragmatic approach of reworking the Pontiac. Although the Solstice does not go on sale in the US before the early summer of 2005, redesigning the nose and engineering the car for right-hand drive – or selling the first batch with left-hand drive – should be feasible for an on-sale date before autumn ’05.

Vauxhall’s plans for the Lightning were impeded by forthcoming pedestrian impact laws, which apply to all cars sold in the EU after autumn 2005. Engineering the car speedily enough to avoid the legislation would have been tight and expensive, particularly for a sports car.

The legislation requires a 70mm deep gap between the top of the engine, the suspension towers and the underside of the bonnet – difficult to achieve on a low-slung roadster – or alternatively, the fitment of a pyrotechnically deployed bonnet that lifts itself clear on impact. The Vauxhall version of the Solstice, which will probably retain the Lightning name, will be pitched at the best-selling Mazda MX-5 and MG TF, though its bigger 2.4-litre engine means it will be positioned towards the top end of these ranges. Prices could start at around £18,000.

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The Solstice is currently quoted at 170bhp, but may produce slightly more power in its final form. The four-cylinder, twin-cam, 16-valve Ecotec engine drives the rear wheels via a five-speed gearbox, while suspension is by double wishbones all-round – classic roadster mechanicals. The Vauxhall would be built alongside the Pontiac at GM’s Wilmington, Delaware factory in North America.

The first chance to see the Solstice on UK soil should come this summer, at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in June, when Vauxhall plans to display an example.

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