Elise underpinnings are evident but it is better equipped
￼Turbo’s midships 2.0-litre four has 197bhp and 184lb ft
The interior is bare, but better equipped than others in its class
Boot space isn't ideal for every day use
The Astra-derived engine produces 216bhp
The VXR220 does 0-62mph in just 4.2 seconds
The Droopsnoot Firenza not with standing, Griff Rhys Jones’s professor was right when, in the company’s ill-fated TV commercial, he said: “The VX220 is the sexiest car Vauxhall has ever built.”
In fact, the model is more admired today than it ever was. A tidy example of the VXR220, the most powerful of the three versions and launched in 2004, will set you back around £25,000, which is just a few thousand short of its price when new. At the other extreme, the ‘cooking’ 2.2 model – the launch version of 2000 – starts at around £7000. In between is the 2.0-litre Turbo, prices for which open at around £11,000.
Vauxhall canned Rhys Jones’s ad perhaps because it saw his nutty professor as a commentary on its own barmy efforts to pass itself off as a sports car brand. The public weren’t fooled; by the end of 2000, the car’s first year on sale, only 450 had found homes. Still, those few souls who did commit were onto a good thing.
The car was the product of a partnership between Lotus and Vauxhall. It was built at Hethel and shared crucial parts, including the stiff, aluminium chassis tub, with the Lotus Elise S2. It also benefited from Lotus’s glassfibre bodywork and suspension tuning know-how.
But being a mainstream car maker, Vauxhall’s instincts were to tame its new roadster by giving it a longer wheelbase and a wider rear track than the Elise, plus a driver’s airbag and ABS. It chose 17in wheelsover the Elise’s 16s, too, although it stopped short at air conditioning and electric windows. Finally, in place of the Elise’s Rover K-series engine, it dropped in the Astra SRi’s 144bhp all-alloy 2.2-litre unit. Weighing just 875kg, the rear-drive VX220 could rocket from zero to 62mph in 5.6sec.
There was nothing Vauxhall could do about the car’s Griffin badge, though. Folk couldn’t get excited about a hot Vauxhall and the VX220’s sales stumbled. Even rattling the tin with the lairy-looking Lightning Yellow special edition of 2001 didn’t help. What did was the VX220 Turbo model of 2003. The iron-block motor pushed the car’s weight to a portly 930kg but its 197bhp and 184lb ft ensured the new version could crack 0-62mph in just 4.7sec.
In 2004, the 2.2-litre engine was dropped, leaving the Turbo to fight the VX220’s corner until, later that same year, Vauxhall unleashed the last-gasp VXR220. Limited to just 60 cars, it was a lightened version of the Turbo tweaked to produce 216bhp for 0-62mph in 4.2sec. The following year, Vauxhall pulled the plug and the VXR220 was no more.
Today, it’s the mid-price Turbo that buyers seek but the 2.2 is no orphan and, in any case, condition and provenance should be your priority. An example of what a cherished car looks like is this advert for a 2001-reg 2.2: “New gear cables, new Polybush engine mounts, new Pro Alloy radiator and header tank, uprated roof cable, tons of service history.” Yours for £7500.
Did you know?
Although the VX220 is often thought of as little more than a re-clothed Lotus Elise, it shared 141 components – about 10% of the total – with Hethel’s car. Most of those were related to the aluminium chassis tub, which was bonded together to increase its stiffness.
How to get one in your garage:
An expert’s view - Jon Seal, Jon Seal sportscars
“I’ve got two: one for the track and one for the road. Although prices have risen, they’re still good value compared with an Elise of the same era. The hardest thing is finding a good one. There weren’t many to begin with and today there are even fewer. I reckon there are probably just 50 remaining that you could truly describe as collectable. As for the VXR220, there’s only about that number left in total, and we’ve got three of them in stock.”
ENGINE - A rattly timing chain on the 2.2 engine needs urgent replacement. Dip the oil several times to get an average reading. Viewed from the rear, check there are no oil leaks from the right-hand spark plug due to over-tightening cracking the cylinder head.
The 2.0-litre turbo has a cambelt that should be changed every four years or 60,000 miles. Perished hoses, loose jubilee clips and a seized recirculation valvecancauselowboostpressure.
COOLING SYSTEM - Check the radiator for a leaky bleed nipple, cracked fins and perished plastic end caps.
WHEELS, BRAKES AND SUSPENSION - Sloppy handling is probably worn bushes. Check for leaky damper seals. Ensure the alloy spring mounts haven’t crumbled to bits. Inspect the condition of the brake hose to the servo, and the rear hub securing bolts.
RECALLS - There have been four, concerning front brake caliper bolts, driver’s airbag and the possibility of rear wheels fracturing. (Unaffected wheels are stamped ‘HT’.)
BODY - Peer through the front grille to check the crashbox. Lift the boot carpet and look for signs of crash repair. Check the lights are sound because a single front light costs as much as £1000. Inspect the door tops, bootlid and front and rear clams for cracked paint caused by moisture ingress. Check the front clam isn’t cracked at the base of the windscreen.
INTERIOR - Ensure the boot release works. If it’s raining, expect a few water leaks.
Also worth knowing:
Although Vauxhall stopped producing front and rear clams long ago, you can get them from various suppliers, including lotushardtops.com. A front clam costs £1000 and a rear £1794.
How much to spend:
£7,500-£10,995 - Early private-sale 2.2s with up to 130k miles but in reasonable condition and with lots of history for around £7500, rising to £8995 for 2002-reg cars with around 70k miles.
£11,000-£12,750 - Dealer-sale 05-reg 2.0 Turbos with up to 80k miles for around £11,500 and some tidy, low-mileage (around 30k), 02-reg 2.2s nudging £12,500.
£12,800-£14,995 - Nice Turbos at a range of ages and mileages; some bargains among them.
£15,000- £19,995 - Cherished low-mileage Turbos with good provenance, many around £17k.
£24,000-£26,000 - Low-mileage VXRs with solid histories.
One we found:
VAUXHALL VX220 TURBO, 2005/05, 76K, £11,950
This Turbo has been resprayed black at some point but we’ll forgive it since it’s being sold by a respected specialist, so we’re confident it’s sound as a bell. It’s a standard car with “good service history”, a smart red and black interior and no mechanical issues.