PetrolBlog goes to the Vauxhall Heritage Centre

As I ventured up to the Vauxhall Heritage Centre in Luton this week, I started to ponder the influence Vauxhall has had on my life. On the face of it, I would have said very little, I don’t consider myself to be a Vauxhall fan. But as I began to think back over the past 20 years, the Griffin has had more impact than I gave it credit.

I distinctly remember lusting over a MK3 Astra GSi when I was at college. It passed me every morning as I walked down from the train station and was by quite some considerable margin, the car I lusted over the most. Then, once I’d passed my driving test and sold my Daihatsu Charade XTE, I moved on to a Viva HB. It was a green Deluxe model, complete with 1.2 litre engine and an automatic box. I loved it, although looking back it probably wasn’t the most sensible choice for a young chap about town.

And then, a decade ago I bought a Vauxhall VX220, before selling that and buying a VX220 Turbo. So in actual fact, I’ve spent an eye-watering £40,300 on Vauxhall products in my time. Ouch. Oh, and the Viva accounted for the £300 bit of that total.

So in financial terms at least, I have a greater affinity to Vauxhall than just about any other automotive brand. Who’d have thought it?

Inside the Vauxhall Heritage Centre, Luton

But then any petrolhead would welcome the chance to have a poke around Vauxhall’s Heritage Centre. It’s an Aladdin’s cave of old Vauxhall cars and memorabilia, with models ranging from the start of last century, right up to the modern age. There are two chaps working full time keeping the cars in optimum condition, so it’s good to see a brand investing so much in its past.

Upon arrival at the centre, I was greeted with a line-up of Vauxhalls old and new, each one available to drive. To the right, there was a new Corsa, Insignia, Astra VXR and Insignia, with a static ADAM also on show. But it was the cars on the left that caught my eye, namely a Chevette, Astra GTE, Nova and Cavalier. I knew which cars I wanted to drive! But before that, I took a wander around the garage.

Vauxhalls lined up at the Vauxhall Heritage Centre, Luton

The garage itself is split in two, with the pre-war start appearing in the first tier and the later stuff in the main building at the back. Naturally I headed for the more recent metal, which is laid out in a kind of chronological order. To the left you’ll find the likes of the Cresta and Victor, with the more modern Vauxhalls on the right. I headed to the right!

These are some of the highlights.

Vauxhall VXR220, number 001

Vauxhall VXR220 number 001 at the Heritage Centre

Can it really be eight years ago since the VXR220 was launched? It’s a significant car in the history of Vauxhall because it was the first car ever to wear the VXR badge.

As if this wasn’t enough, it could accelerate to 60mph in just 4.2 seconds, before reaching a top speed of 155mph. This was thanks to a hybrid turbo and remap that took the power to 220bhp from the standard VX220 2.0 Turbo engine. Only 65 were built, so they naturally command quite a premium over the standard VX220.

As I’ve said before, my heart still belongs to the normally aspirated VX220, but given the chance to spend a few hours with the VXR220, I may just change my mind!

Lotus Carlton

Precision parking - Lotus Carlton and Vauxhall OmegaNaturally, there’s going to be a Lotus Carlton in a collection such as this. Legend is a much overused word these days, but in the case of the Lotus Carlton, it’s fully justified.

I doubt I can tell you anything here that you don’t already know, but to be honest, the headlines say it all. A price tag of £48,000 (in 1993!), 377bhp and a top speed of 180mph, from what is essentially a modified Carlton GSi. A proper hero.

The heritage car is number 820 and used to be a press car. So it was probably nicely run in!

Check out the precision parking alongside the Omega.

Vauxhall Astra Coupé 888

Vauxhall Astra Coupé 888 at the Heritage Centre

It’s a car I never really paid much attention to when it was new, but the Bertone-styled Astra Coupé is ageing rather well. And if you’re in the market for an Astra Coupé, it’s got to be the 888, surely?

When it was launched ten years ago, it had more than a passing resemblance to the Ford Racing Puma. For starters it was blue, with this colour carried over into the interior to an even greater extent than the Puma. It was prepared by Triple Eight, the same firm that worked on the successful British Touring Cars of the time. Contemporary reviews praised its pace, but criticised its overly harsh ride and poor driving position.

Today you can pick one up for less than £4,000, which for a limited edition, Touring Car inspired car looks like good value. In fact, top twitter chap Adam Baker @_munch has one for sale on eBay. Have a look here.

MK1 Vauxhall Cavalier 2000 GLS

MK1 Vauxhall Cavalier 2000 GLS at the Heritage Centre

It’s all too easy to get excited about super-car taming two-seaters, Touring Car inspired coupés and Lotus legends, but the Cavalier deserves its place in the automotive hall of fame. Not only does this particular example look super smart, but back in 1980, this was the car for the everyman. The car that took on the Ford Cortina and, depending on who you talk to, won. The car that took thousands of sales reps up and down the motorways of Great Britain. And the car that took excited families on day trips to the coast.

The MK1 Cavalier represents the very essence of museums such as this. I use the word museum loosely of course, because these are working cars that are often let out on to the streets around Luton. But whilst the private collections and motor museums around the world will covet and collect the fine and wonderful, its cars such as the Cavalier that would have touched more of us. Ask for the public’s opinion on the Astra 888 and you’ll be greeted with a blank expression. Ask them about the Cavalier and they’ll regale you with stories of delight and disaster.

Which is why I had to have a go in the Cavalier 2.0 CD parked outside. More on this in a future blog.

There were a number of other Vauxhalls to look at, including Cavaliers, Vivas and even a Vectra. It was also a pleasant surprise to see an original and immaculate Calibra on show. It’s surprising how good they look when they haven’t been ‘chavved-up’.

In fact, it was a real privilege to be given the chance to take a look around the centre and well worth the 500 mile round trip to get there. The fact that I got to drive four of them was a real bonus. More on this very soon.

I’ll leave you with a gallery of photos taking inside the Heritage Centre. Stay tuned for a review of the Chevette L, Astra GTE and Cavalier CD. Coming soon.

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Gavin Big-Surname
The chief waffler and founder of PetrolBlog in 2010. Has a rather unhealthy obsession with cars from the 80s and 90s, and is on a one-man mission to collect the cars nobody else wants. Also likes tea and Hobnobs.

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