Currently reading: Used buying guide: Vauxhall VX220
The VX220 was unlike any Vauxhall before it or since - here's how to get one in your garage

The noughties gave us some true future classics, although not all were appreciated equally at the time.

Take the Vauxhall VX220, which made its debut in 2000. The two-seat roadster may have a following today, but it failed to ignite the wider buying public’s enthusiasm during the early years of the new millennium – despite its eye-catching looks and a genesis that involved the expertise of one of the finest sports car makers in existence.

Because under the skin, the VX220 shared much with the contemporary Lotus Elise as the product of a partnership between Lotus and Vauxhall. It was built at Hethel and shared many crucial parts with the Elise S2, including the stiff, aluminium chassis tub. It also benefited from Lotus’s know-how with glassfibre bodywork and suspension tuning.

Being a mainstream car maker – and to put a bit of distance between the VX220 and the Elise – Vauxhall opted to temper 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 wheels over the Elise’s 16s, too, although it stopped short of adding air-con and electric windows.

Rather than the Elise’s K-series powerplant, a strong, 145bhp 2.2-litre Ecotec petrol engine was shoehorned in, which was enough to propel the 870kg VX220 to 62mph in 5.6sec.

In 2003, the option of a 2.0-litre turbo petrol unit from the Astra GSi became available, resulting in blistering performance, as a 0-62mph time of 4.7sec attests, despite being heavier than the previous model, at 930kg. The new VX220T also sported cosmetic changes, such as large side air intakes and a spoiler.

Thrill seekers today usually opt for the Turbo, but the 2.2 shouldn’t be overlooked as a car to deliver a sense of occasion and driving pleasure.

In 2004, the 2.2 unit was dropped, leaving just the Turbo. Vauxhall gave the car one last hurrah in the same year when it released the thumping VXR220. Using the Turbo’s powerplant, the VXR220 hiked power from 197bhp to 217bhp and was lighter than its Turbo sibling. Getting a hold of one today can be difficult as only 60 were built.

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Unfortunately, when the VX220 was new, badge snobs couldn’t see past the Griffin on the front and the VX – although it shares little with the Vauxhall Corsa or the Vauxhall Astra – was often overlooked in favour of more premium-badged vehicles. In mainland Europe, it fared better, having been given the more fashionable Opel Speedster moniker.

Today, things are a little different and the VX220 is finally getting the recognition it deserves as a quick, distinctive, likeable, modern classic.

What we said then

9 August 2000: “The VX220 has a strong 2.0-litre engine, and when it’s attached to a turbo, it pushes the lightweight body along to 60mph in less than 5sec. The gearbox is well matched too, being usefully slick and helping to power along the car whether it is tackling twisty country lanes or even cruising on the motorway. Even so, you will still get around 30mpg overall, which is pretty good for a car that delivers almost supercar levels of handling and performance.”

How to get one in your garage

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An expert’s view

Jon Seal, Jon Seal Sportscars: “This is a lovely car and tremendous fun on the right roads. The only problem is VX220s are thin on the ground now: I’ve only got one in stock. As for prices, there are asking prices and there are real prices. I think right now, it’s hard to sell as people are asking way too much for them. I guess they are at least still relatively good value in comparison to the contemporary Elise.”

Buyer beware

Engine: The 2.2 Astra-sourced engines have a reliable reputation. Listen for any rattles on start-up as the VX220’s biggest pitfall can be the timing chain, which is known to bow out at around 60k miles. When accelerating, listen for any knocks at the rear, because this could be the harsh sound of engine mounts failing, which can mean a £300 repair bill. The 2.0-litre Turbo unit has a cambelt, which requires a change at 60k miles.

Transmission: The gearchange is naturally clunky but you shouldn’t have any problems getting into first or third gear. If there’s any hesitation, get ready to walk away because, should it fail, replacement gearboxes are expensive to fit and are becoming less common.

Body: It’s mostly glassfibre and split into three sections: a front clam, centre section and rear clam. Although the clams can be purchased from specialists, they can be expensive to buy or repair and many insurers might write the car off even after a low-speed accident. Windscreen repairs require the full windscreen – including plastic surround – to be removed, which involves removing or shifting the front clam. Paintwork blistering can occur if the car has been left out in frosty weather.

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Brakes: Although the 2.2 came with ABS, the units can fail and owners are known to disconnect them. Check for override switches on the steering column, as this could have been fitted by the previous owner. Being an older car, it’s worth pumping the brake pedal to get the brake fluid flowing before setting off – especially if it isn’t a daily driver.

Interior: When the VX220 was released, the heater was rather useless and many owners upgraded them using a third-party heating matrix. The door sills are made from glassfibre, and if sat on, they can crack. If a sill protector is in place, it could be masking a nasty surprise. Look for any water ingress in the boot as there are a few relays in there, leading to various electrical gremlins if they get wet.

Also worth knowing

A Lightning Yellow special-edition model limited to 100 was offered with the 2.2 from 2001. It has a numbered plaque, from one to 100, although there’s no performance difference.

Of the estimated 9160 VX220s built, only 1465 remain at the time of writing.

Various 2.2s have now been supercharged using GM bits, taking the cars to more than 220bhp and rivalling the VXR220’s performance.

Beware accident damage. In a car like this, it’s common and the glassfibre panels are fragile. If you must opt for a Cat D or C car, be very thorough about checking repair work.

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How much to spend

£9500-£12,499: Once, you could get a VX220 for a lot less, but with prices on the rise, it’s not quite so easy. About £9000 will get you a 2.2 high-miler needing some work and £12,000 should net a 70k-mile car in decent condition.

£12,500-£16,999: Turbo variants are in this price range, but you’ll be looking at high-milers or category write-offs. Tidy 2.2s can be found, alongside supercharged converted cars.

£17,000-£26,500: A clean, low-mileage Turbo can easily be found here, and if you’re lucky, you might stumble on a VXR220 or two.

One we found

Vauxhall VX220 Turbo, 2006, 32k miles, £22,950: This four-owner car is a great, low-mileage example and includes the necessary cambelt change alongside various subtle touches such as VX220 stitched headrests and an aftermarket air filter. There’s a full service history, too.

Matthew Macconnell

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