Vauxhall has been a stalwart of British life for as long as anyone can remember; ubiquitous, dependable, occasionally exciting – much like BBC Two or McVitie’s biscuits.
Splitting its time evenly between sensible-trousers everyman fare and progressively offbeat stuff, the marketing mix that the accountants approve has always ensured that the man on the street can afford a reliable and practical Vauxhall with a frugal engine, while his boisterous neighbour can shell out for the souped-up variant with the shouty motor and racy stripes. For every dozen Merits or GLs, there’s a GTE or VXR to ensure an entertaining balance.
As with all institutions, there’s a central ethos woven through their product development, and this is a malleable and evolutionary thing given the sheer ocean of time that the company’s been about. In 2015, this ethos manifests itself as the Nine Worthies of Vauxhall.
For those unfamiliar with the concept of the Nine Worthies, it’s a set of historical and scriptural characters agreed upon in the Middle Ages to represent completely the concept of chivalry. A bold play for a car manufacturer? Possibly, but just look how well it works…
Alexander the Great
Alexander III of Macedon took the throne at the tender age of twenty, and spent most of his ruling tenure on a military campaign through Asia and Northeast Africa, creating one of the largest empires the world had ever known by the time he was thirty. His mighty vision stretched from Egypt to Greece, he was undefeated in battle, and he tenaciously sought ‘to reach the ends of the world’. It’s exactly this sort of plucky tenacity that informs the new Adam Grand Slam.
The turned-up-to-11 variant of Vauxhall’s infinitely customisable baby hatch offers something unprecedented for the model: a visible exhaust tail. But wait, there’s more to it than that! The eager turbocharged 1.4-litre motor serves up 148bhp, and you also get uprated suspension, lo-pro Continentals, punchy brakes, spoilers that actually do have an aerodynamic effect and, if you tick the £1,610 (!) option box, the finest Recaros ever to grace a Vauxhall.
It’s genuinely wonderful to drive. The Adam Grand Slam is just the thing to sweep across continents and stuff the deeds to all the cultures it encounters into its knapsack; as youthful and vibrant as Alexander the Great, and with the pluck and power to match.
A Trojan prince, Hector was the greatest fighter in the Trojan War. He led the people of Troy and their allies in defence of the city, smiting 31,000 Greek assailants – but that was just work, necessity, duty; Hector was known for his tender nature. He was a courageous man, but also a courteous one. A family man, thoughtful, peaceful, even-tempered. This, to Vauxhall, is the spirit of the Adam Rocks.
As you can see, it’s a slightly pumped-up version of the cheeky Adam. Remember when Rover announced the Streetwise variant of the 25, jacking up the suspension and adding some plastic cladding to create an ‘urban on-roader’ (which obviously just means ‘car’), and everyone sniggered?
Well, snigger no more. Audi are all over this with the Allroad models, and it works just as well on the Adam. It’s got a 113bhp three-cylinder turbo motor, which is plenty if you need to speed away from marauding invaders with swords, and its chunkiness means you’ll be able to bump across battlegrounds with alacrity. It’s also stuffed full of toys – try sticking the heated seat on while rolling back the canvas roof, it’s rather lovely.
Gaius Julius Caesar was instrumental in the disassembly of the Roman Republic and the founding of the Roman Empire. He was an uncompromising and unmatched military strategist, with a keen awareness of the wants and needs of the populus. If you want to achieve something on the scale of what he achieved, there’s no advantage in being a shrinking violet – you have to wear your intentions on your sleeve, and not be afraid to shove them in people’s faces.
This approach manifests itself in the new Corsa Turbo, showcased most logically here in a shade of searing green that’s so bright, it’s actually knocked the Earth slightly off its axis. Celestial bodies have died for that paint.
This peppy little terrier reprises the long-lost 1990s notion that a turbo is something to shout about (because it was, and is, and should be, even though everything’s turbocharged nowadays) by having a shiny badge on its rump that proudly boasts TURBO. In capitals, like Death in the Discworld novels. ‘TURBO’ carries a lot of weight here. The rorty Corsa’s lower and stiffer too, and has huggier seats. That’s the kind of forthrightness that really shouts ‘Caesar’.
Now, the Nine Worthies have always been grouped into a triad of triads. We’ll ignore the religious proclivities of these groupings and instead focus on these sets in terms of shared nature; kindred spirits under the Vauxhall umbrella. Ready for another triad, then? Here we go…
Joshua was Moses’ assistant, becoming the leader of the Israelite tribes after Moses died. He led the tribes on the conquest of Canaan, allocating the land amongst them as he went. Notably, when he and his men were battling an alliance of Amorite kings, he commanded the sun and moon to be still so that he may conclude the battle in continued daylight. You can’t argue with that kind of clout.
And it’s that sort of no-nonsense approach that informed the creation of the ineffably splendid Cavalier of 1975. You got such sensible stuff as rear-wheel drive, a 2.0-litre motor and chunky chrome bumpers, along with the biblical flair of a solid hectare of lurid velour, with matching carpets and dash. In this instance, we’re looking at the colour scheme to end all colour schemes. Roll this Rostyle-shod guv’nor into Canaan, they’d be giving up the goods without a word.
Also, Joshua lived to the ripe old age of 110. Sure, the MkI Cavalier may be a rare sight on Britain’s roads today, but this particular one will undoubtedly march that far into the future with a certain dogged determination.
Not just some bloke called David, but rather the David who was the second king of the United Kingdom of Israel. He was a righteous king, a poet and a musician, as well as a courageous warrior. His humility came from a keen sense of his own foibles, and he was eager to educate others about their own imperfections in a helpful rather than patronising manner.
That’s the MkII Cavalier all over. Stalwart of the 1980s travelling salesman scene, there’s never been a car as self-aware as this. In swanky CD spec, as we see here, you get such fripperies as electric windows, multispoke alloy wheels, front foglights, and an automatic gearbox.
Yes, it’s painfully aware that it’s front-wheel drive, eschewing the tail-happy format of its predecessor, but this pushes it onward to strive harder for success. In its day, it was King of the Commuters.
No, not that Judas. Another Judas. This Judas was a valiant and gifted military commander (which is something of a theme here, isn’t it?), whose surname came from the Aramaic word for ‘sledgehammer’. Speaks volumes about the kind of guy he was. Not one for subtlety.
If a total lack of subtlety is your bag, you’ll love what Vauxhall pulled out of their magic hat to fulfil this position within the second triad. The Royale may be a relatively restrained – if caddishly rakish – fastback from the outside, but wait until you open the door. All hell breaks loose, it’s like stepping into one of the gangster’s living rooms in Goodfellas.
Every square inch is swathed in either luxurious velour or wood-effect trim, the whole interior treating your senses to a swirling miasma of shades of brown. It’s a symphony in beige, with topnotes of green and yellow. The thudding 2.8-litre straight-six is a fringe benefit, but this is largely a simple exercise in the importance of flair. A sledgehammer to the senses.
The third triad sees Vauxhall going a little off the wall. The logic behind this is that chivalry and valour are nothing without passion – and there are few things as fragrantly infused with human emotion as our final trio…
Godfrey of Bouillon
A medieval Frankish (yes, ‘Frankish’) knight, Godfrey – who has little, if anything, to do with bouillon cubes – led the First Crusade, during which time he also became the first ruler of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. The second son of noble blood, he sold all of his land and used the money to gather an army of knights to liberate Jerusalem.
He was tall, imposing, possessed enormous physical strength, and once beheaded a camel with a single blow of his sword. For some reason.
The Vauxhall that channels Godfrey’s spirit is the Chevette HS. Launched in 1976, it was basically a Firenza HP stuffed into a pumped-up hatchback. Its rally-flavoured aero addenda and oh-so-seventies side-stripes spoke of gravel-spitting performance, and the twin-carb’ed slant-four twin-cam under the bonnet backed that up in spades.
It snorts and spits like a rally car, it’ll eagerly wag its tail on demand, and its guts are plastered in tartan. If there was ever a Vauxhall that could rapidly de-bonce a camel, this was most assuredly it.
Charles the Great, aka Charlemagne, was a consensus builder. In the Middle Ages, he united Western Europe and laid the groundwork for what was to become modern France and Germany. He progressed from the Frankish throne to being the King of Italy, before becoming the first Roman emperor in Western Europe since the collapse of the empire three hundred years before.
He’s the ‘Father of Europe’ – solid, dependable, acting with clarity of vision, and thoroughly sensible… with a little flair.
Just like the HB Victor estate, then. This is a gloriously faux-American hunk of family-friendly load-lugging splendour from 1964, offering chrome, two-tone chic, an airy glasshouse, and probably the coolest Blaupunkt push-button radio that money can buy to this day. Like Charlemagne, it doesn’t do things the easy way – the gearbox is a pain in the arse, frankly, and you can’t take any manner of corner at over 30mph without hearing a whinnying scre-e-e-e-ech – but it makes you work for consensus, and that’s its charm.
It’s slightly jarring to drive, which makes it all the more satisfying once you’ve got the hang of its foibles. The Victor makes you feel like a slightly aggrieved 1960s dad; ‘Quiet in the back there, I’m driving.’
Oh, and the boot is huge. Plenty of room for the paraphernalia of European conquests.
The legendary King Arthur led Britain’s defence against Saxon invaders. Arthurian legend has evolved into a befuddling, sprawling entity, seeing him relentlessly defending Albion from threats both human and supernatural. He was married to the delectable Guinevere, he implemented a chivalric order in his court with a Round Table for his knights to congregate around, he had a magical sword. The complete hero package, then.
But yes, the quintessentially British Worthy of Vauxhall’s line-up is an Australian with an American heart. The Vauxhall Monaro is basically a Holden Monaro, hewn from chunks of Uluru by sweaty men in cork-strewn hats, although the basic architecture lies in the Opel Omega, which brings it back to Europe to a degree.
Under the bonnet of this example, the Monaro VXR 500, is a 6.0-litre LS2 V8 – y’know, like you’d find in a Corvette – to which Vauxhall dealer Greens of Rainham have strapped a Harrop supercharger, providing a nice round 500bhp. And like King Arthur’s all-things-to-all-men philosophy, it’s a surprisingly logical all-rounder; you can physically fit adults into the back seats, the boot is usably not-small, you can even get decent-ish mpg if you’re sensible.
But who wants to be sensible? Turn the traction control off and leave sodding great black lines all over Christendom – why not, eh? It’s what Arthur would have done. You can pretend you’re chasing away Saxons if it helps.