But something was nagging at the back of my mind every time I got into my Ford Focus; it was telling me to live a little, to buy a car I could really enjoy, that I’d be proud to own. My head was telling me I should own a car that was genuinely thrilling and interesting, and who am I to ignore my own head?
So I made a shortlist, the Hyundai Coupe V6, Celica, MR2, Civic Type R, Clio 172 and the Elise / VX220. I won’t go into detail about the others, but stepping out of the Celica and into the Hyundai, was like swapping a pair of slippers for another pair of virtually indistinguishable slippers, except with slightly worse quality stitching. Hopping into the VX was like putting on a pair of running spikes.
It is well documented that the VX is a ‘proper’ sports car, but I wasn’t quite ready for the difference. For a start, there’s the view from the driver’s seat. You sit almost in the middle of the car, looking out over the curve of the front wings. A quick glance in either wing mirror reveals a bulge and an air intake. The interior is uncompromising, bare aluminum abounds, the plastics are cheap and the indicator stalks are straight from a Corsa. It doesn’t feel as special as an Elise, there’s no alcantara for instance, but it is purposeful, spartan, stripped.
Push the start button and the difference between VX and MR2 becomes palpable. The component parts actually feel connected to each other and the feedback from the gear shift, the steering wheel and the seat of your pants is almost intimidating.
The first thing that struck me on that very first slightly-over-compensated turn in was that the VX feels utterly and immovably planted, there is virtually no pitching or body roll. The second blinding revelation was that the steering is totally direct and responsive. Two corners later, I was hooked, awestruck by the capability of the chassis. The car allows even a limited driver like myself to press on hard out of tight corners with total confidence, letting me push on without the sweaty-palmed worry of the more primeval S1 Elise.
So all that was left was to somehow justify and rationalize the decision which I knew I was probably going to make. My rationality in choosing the VX started with its humble 2.2 Ecotec engine. Good for many hundreds of thousands of miles in a Vectra taxi, and hardly stressed by the lightweight VX. Also, in comparison to the K-Series engine offered in a similarly priced Elise S1, a very reliable unit. Good things can also be said about residuals, insurance costs, fuel economy and a host of other boring, albeit comforting financial considerations. And life is too short to worry about luggage space.
So purchase justified, how was the long term experience? In 18 months of ownership I have become accustomed to the feedback, familiarised with sitting about six inches from the tarmac, and used to the wind noise, road noise and those alarming crashes and bangs over small potholes. Even the handling, pin sharp and involving at first, has become the norm. So has the buzz gone? Do I yearn for more power, a rawer experience, a Caterham? No. What I do when I reach ‘saturation point’ is drive a normal car again for a couple of days. Once I’m back in the one piece seat, with the tiny Momo wheel in my hand, almost lying down, legs stretched out in front of me, I remember what all the fuss was about.
Owning a VX will polarise opinions, be prepared for everybody’s point of view about your car. Be warned that the Vauxhall badge on a car as low and angular-aggressive as the VX is the source of massive confusion among the general public. If comments like ‘look at the state of that Tigra’ would infuriate you, rather than amuse, then you should be looking at the Elise instead.
Partly because of the status of the VX as a driver’s car, it commands (varying levels of) respect from people who know about cars, so you’ll get a nod of recognition (that you’re slightly crazy) from Caterham drivers occasionally. Once in a while a Lotus owner will flash their lights at you (this is far more likely on a B road than in town where city slickers with no idea of the lineage between the models abound). It’s an attention and ego thing I suppose, but it does feel good. A special moment is reserved for fellow VX drivers though. It involves a slight increase in heart rate and blood pressure (especially if you spot one in the rear view) and a fumble for the headlight stalk. It’s great having a rare car, and it does make it special when you see another.
Ownership, especially as a daily driver, is a compromise and you’ll pay in all kinds of ways. But, if things like an inept heater, a total lack of comforts (including such luxuries as a glovebox) and a general lack of refinement don’t bother you, then you shouldn’t worry too much about anything else. Servicing has been reasonable and although front tyres (very odd size) are expensive at £175 each, the rears were reasonable at just over half that amount. The only mechanical defect in 10,000 miles has been a replacement pair of engine mounts at £650, unfortunately engine mount failure is an alarmingly common fault, but thankfully it is known as the only major mechanical defect.
There is a variety of tuning parts available for those who desire them and a few specialists who will cater for most needs and budgets. There is also a great website (vx220.org.uk) full of owners armed with technical expertise and opinion. Insurance costs are reasonable too, certainly a fair bit less than an S2000 or an Elise.
So what does the future hold for me and my VX? Well, I toyed with the idea of flogging it after a trip to London. Marooned in 35 degree heat, sandwiched in an aluminum grill between a baking hot engine and the mid-day sun almost made me lose it completely. But the VX is capable of making me forgive it every single time. I really can’t envisage it going any time soon.