Rob buys a pinksh Vauxhall Corsa Active

I accidentally bought a car. A PetrolBlog kind of car. The sort of thing which you’d skim past in the pages of classified ads and never select while searching online, not even for an intrigued glance.

I suspect this has happened to a few of you, but unusually this purchase didn’t involve alcohol or any well-known internet auction sites. I found myself the owner of an additional car on a cold but bright morning in early February. I hadn’t intended to buy a car that day and neither was I flush with cash. It’s just that the deal was too good not to scrape the cash together.

My arrival at a friend’s house had coincided with him moving a car from his driveway onto the street so I could borrow a trailer stored at their house. In the normal course of conversation I couldn’t help but comment on the brand new Fiesta he’d just moved. New job – lease car – basically summed up the situation. I gestured to their old car sitting forlornly in a corner of their yard.

“What are you doing with the old one?” I asked.

“Scrapping it. The scrap man is coming tomorrow to collect it.”

“Why? it looks OK. What’s wrong with it?”

“The air conditioning doesn’t work.”

“Is that all?”

“Well, the heated rear window also doesn’t work and the left indicator occasionally doesn’t self-cancel.”

“Anything else?”

“No, it all works.”

In essence the story came down to the fact that the current owner didn’t know much about cars, didn’t have the time or inclination to sell it privately and so had contacted some of the online companies clamouring to buy your old car for cash.

The sums of money offered had been so pitifully small that the highest offer had been made by a local scrapyard. Without any noticeable hesitation I rounded the offer up to the next multiple of £10 and it was immediately accepted. Later that day I dropped cash round, and a week later become the owner of an unbelievably cheap three door Vauxhall Corsa Active. Clearly General Motors’ choice of limited edition names is still heavily ironic, for reasons which you’ll find out a little later.

Vauxhall Corsa Active badge

Although I’ve owned a variety of different marques, Ford is usually my favoured choice. Currently I own a 2005 Mondeo TDCi and I really like it. But a 49,000 mile Corsa with only three owners from new, some months of MOT remaining and virtually nothing wrong with it made me buy it.

At the time of writing we’ve run it for a week and have discovered a few additional niggles. The wiper blades badly need replacing and the gearshift linkage is in need of throwing away and replacing with something that actually works. And the paint quite obviously needs a T-Cut. However apart from that it drives well and I’ve successfully covered 300 miles over the last few days.

So how is it?

Well, this Corsa sports Vauxhall’s suspiciously unreliable three-cylinder 1-litre power plant. I use the word ‘power’ in the loosest of senses (Corsa ‘Active’, remember?). As with most small engined vehicles it will maintain a decent pace on the road but getting up to anything substantial (like, say, 60 mph) takes quite a lengthy period of time.

Sixteen point eight seconds in fact, which was presumably a factory statistic involving many revs and a side-step off the clutch so let’s call it eighteen seconds for the sake of reality and mechanical sympathy.

Once again I find myself driving like a slight lunatic but only on roundabouts and junctions where momentum is king. Driving a car with only 58bhp means you take every opportunity to conserve your speed because it has been so painfully gained. However the lack of any significant acceleration, and the desire to avoid the brake pedal with such ferocity that you would imagine a bear trap surrounds it, all adds up to 44mpg in mixed driving which is more favourable than my beloved Mondeo diesel. Just.

Inside a Vauxhall Corsa Active

The power-assisted steering is so light around town that it reminds me of Jeremy Clarkson’s description of the steering in an old Datsun, which involved a steering box full of yogurt and a steering wheel attached to a long whisk. By spinning the steering wheel you would gradually induce a rotation of the yogurt which would ultimately turn the front wheels in the desired direction of travel. This Vauxhall is similarly light but with an admittedly faster response. That said, it weights up quite nicely at speed. See previous paragraphs for what we mean by speed here.

I’m not going to demean it by mentioning anything about handling or roadholding or comfort. It’s not that sort of car.

However, equipment is relatively decent. Apart from the non-functioning air conditioning and heated rear screen, we find electric windows (2) and electric door mirrors (2), all of which operate correctly, and remote central locking which sort of works most of the time. There’s a decent CD player/radio and a clock which also shows the ambient temperature and, if the radio is switched off, today’s date.

Vauxhall Corsa Active dashboard

There’s a heater which heats up things, whilst opening the windows (electric – did I mention that?) cools things down, so that’s the climate control taken care of. It has such niceties as headlights, wipers and doors which both open and close.

The engine thrums away and the three cylinders give it an odd note, akin to a V6 recorded in stereo on a mono tape recorder. Listening to it, one of my children commented on how fast we must be going and then estimated our road speed at nearly 20mph more than we were actually doing, which in these days of constant speed cameras is probably a good thing.

Interestingly it doesn’t appear to be any slower with four people in it than with only one but that’s possibly because my stopwatch doesn’t count that slowly.

So am I going to flip it for a quick profit?

No.

This is not a car which leaves you with a wide grin after driving it, but it does provide a sense of travelling lightly and a back-to-relative-basics experience. There’s almost no interference in the art of driving. Brakes don’t anticipate an emergency, it won’t park itself or tell you when you’re imminently going to reverse into something. There’s no seat belt warning metaphorically shaking it’s index finger at you to nanny you into wearing one. No dings, beeps, bleeps or flashing neon strobes. You control it. It does not control you.

You use a little bit less of our natural resources, spend a bit less on fuel, a lot less in tax and things like tyres. It keeps you warm and dry and in the traffic snarl ups which punctuate everyday commuting it’s literally no slower than my other car.

I will work on the principles outlined by James Ruppert’s Bangernomics to run it, spending as little as possible while keeping it safe and functional. However there are a couple of things which I need (ahem) before I implement this policy so come payday I will be ordering a kit to enable me to install an old Pioneer CD player in the dash which allows me to play music and podcasts direct from my mobile phone, and a dashboard mount to hold said phone in place.

2003 Vauxhall Corsa Active

Some time spent refreshing the paintwork should result in a shiny red hatchback which will make it look a little less, well, abandoned. An oil and filter change should keep the engine ticking over a while longer, especially as according to the sheaf of receipts it had an £800 engine rebuild less than two years ago after the cam belt let go.

A 1-litre Vauxhall Corsa is not a dream car for me, but it is a surprisingly satisfying addition to the family. And when the weather gets a bit nicer I will of course abandon it in favour of my motorcycle, the purchase of which is another story altogether.

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ABOUT AUTHOR
Rob Griggs-Taylor
Rob grew up with a paternal family of speed freaks. Even his ageing grandfather managed to obtain a speeding ticket in his Ford Orion. With some of his earliest memories involving his dad’s customised Morris Minor saloon it’s no coincidence that he’s grown into an ageing petrolhead. His dad’s Minor had an engine twice the size of the original but the exterior was completely standard, a Q-car in the truest sense of the word, which perhaps explains Rob’s liking for similarly quick yet discreet vehicles. It also once had a wheel fall off which similarly explains Rob’s OCD in relation to correctly torquing down wheel nuts. Only two things stand between Rob having a fleet of Q-cars: a lack of significant engineering skill, and a lack of money. Apparently with one you need less of the other so not having either is a bit of stalemate in this regard. He has made up for that sad state by buying a Bangernomics motorcycle instead, and by having a wife who was smart enough to choose a Ford Puma which he occasionally steals (err – borrows) for a blat up the back roads. Within the speed limit obviously.

7 comments

  1. May 7, 2015
    Peter Counsell

    The mats, man. What about those mats?

    Reply
    • May 7, 2015
      Rob Griggs-Taylor

      They came with the car, Peter. And they are *seriously* hard wearing!

      Reply
    • May 9, 2015
      Gavin Big-Surname

      I wondered if anyone would notice them!

      Mind you, it’s impossible not to notice them…

      Reply
  2. May 9, 2015
    Ben

    If it is just a re-gas, gotta to sort that air-con out over the summer!

    Reply
  3. May 20, 2015
    mat

    Great article, we had one of these for a year or so, the 1.2 with the extra cylinder in a lovely shade of turquoise, it was slow but it never failed mechanically. Just leaked – rear light cluster gaskets filled the boot with water, bcm cover leaked into the passenger footwell and the brake servo seal failed and leaked into the drivers footwell.
    Other than fixing the leaks (new seals, gaskets and “plumbers mate” silicone sealant) we spent next to nothing keeping it on the road,

    Any chance of an article on the “new” Mondeo

    Cheers,

    Reply
  4. May 20, 2015
    Rob

    Thanks Mat!

    Have a read of this while you’re waiting for an article on the ‘new’ Mondeo!

    http://petrolblog.com/2011/07/rob-writes-the-luxury-sports-car/

    Reply
  5. June 23, 2015
    Tom

    I had a Corsa B with that 3cylinder unit. Sounded raspy and Porsche-esque when you gunned it – but it was really just smoke and mirrors…frenetic but ineffectual, bit like a hamster pushing a filing cabinet (thanks Richard Porter for that brilliant analogy!). Getting to 60 was frustrating. And it is notoriously unreliable. I still remember all the gremlins I had to deal with before my brother wrote the wretched beast off.

    I had to laugh at the reasons for selling (aircon doesnt work, have to cancel blinkers BY HAND!!! QUELLE HORREUR!!). Some people would have a massive culture shock in anything made before 1995! All cars have come with aircon since they had roofs – they’re called the window winders….

    The C-shape Corsas like this I can sadly see disappearing very fast soon, which is a shame as they are pretty decent motors, albeit not for those who look for driving pleasure but just something that does everything competently. But due to their ubiquity and fridge-on-wheels blandness, they’ll end up in the same piece of automotive heaven as such delights as the Kia Shuma or Hyundai Lantra. Unlike the Nova and Corsa B before them, they’re too heavy and wallowy to be turned into red-top transplant hot rods.

    However don’t expect to be able to maintain it yourself…my brother had a 53 plate one and you couldn’t even do an oil change on it due to the weird-shaped nut that plugged the sump. And these are meant to be bread-and-butter, mass-market everyperson cars, ideal first cars etc.

    Reply

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