Blue Light(e)ning

vx220t1_3_49492e9130677-lightboxThe answer I want to provoke is “there goes someone who knows about cars”.
There are some common metrics: handling and speed being the chief among them, but the thing I really value is rarity. I know that the Boxster is the best value sports car under £30k but if I could afford one I’d buy an NSX. Previous cars have included a Lancia Delta 1500, an Integrale and a Suzuki Cappuccino.

The VX220 Turbo ticked all the right boxes. It was a car you’d only see two of if you were outside the Ace Café; although actually I’ve never been to the Ace Café…
Of course when you make a decision based on such narrow criteria you need a way of justifying an impractical, uncomfortable car with no badge prestige. Mine was fuel economy. Work is 70 miles from home. A 140 mile round trip made the VXT220 the obvious choice. The 32mpg I get is the nearest my argument gets to being rational.

OK, so I know it really makes a Honda Insight or an Audi A2 a better choice, or something comfy. I looked at a BMW 1-series. Hated it. At least I know I’m deluding myself.
I didn’t have a car for three years before I bought the VX. Instead I belonged to The Classic Car Club and had the use of 40 cars. There is a family car – a Renault Scenic, but that doesn’t count.
I did my research. I joined the VX220 owners’ club forum and learnt lots. Then I settled back to going to the Classic Car Club twice a week.

So it was my wife who forced my hand. Last December she deemed four hours a week shuttling cars when I could be helping her or the children, unreasonable. “If you don’t buy a car in the next two weeks I’ll choose one for you”.
This is of course a worse threat than sleeping on the sofa.

So I toddled off to Chiswick Honda to speak to the nice man Ivan and look at an NSX. But £26,000 for a 10 year old car was too steep.

I found the VX220 I wanted on the site. Nice black one in Surrey. A Miltek exhaust and a re-chip yielding over 230BHP – which on a 930kg car is good. High mileage and £15,000. Unfortunately I had my two week deadline and the chap selling it was commuting to and from America, something I also do. We failed to find a date when we would both be in the UK, so I turned to something I could actually get.

Autotrader produced the blue one you see in the pictures, sold privately. Around 13,000 miles, three owners but clearly not had a hard life. There are some things you expect on a VX220. The doors squeak, the heater doesn’t heat and the front is acne ridden with stone-chips. Yup you could tick all those boxes on the car I was looking at. The vendor was asking £18,000. I pointed him to a couple of web sites and he accepted £16,000. We both felt the other might have moved £500 so I guess that it was about right. An April ’03 car, no hardtop (usually seen as a £700 extra secondhand) and it wasn’t Yellow or Silver.
Seven months and 7,000 miles on, the grin still hasn’t worn off. If I think of all the exotics at the Classic Car Club (328, 348, 3200GT, 911 Turbo), none of them went as well or handled as well as the VX220.
And none of them would be anywhere as cheap to run. I know if my Renault Scenic needs a service it’ll be £400 by the time you’ve had the odd bits doing that always appear at a service. Indeed the last service was twice that. How come when I go to the doctor all my ailments disappear, and yet cars do the opposite?

The last service and MOT on the VX220 was £260. No parts, some fluids, all done on time and fuss-free by West End Vauxhall near Brent Cross. There has been a spate of VX owners taking their cars in to dealers and having them test-driven into a ditch, but West End seemed good. I do however think that in future it will go to Thornley Motorsport which has a web consensus of being the place for VX220s.

The extra bonus of the service was that fuel economy improved from the low 30s to the mid 30s. I describe the car as having the performance of a 911 with the running costs of an Astra. Insurance (one SP30 – doesn’t everyone? – London, 42, married, parking in the street) is about £800 with Direct Line as a second car on the Renault policy with some juggling to make the best use of the NCB.

The other costs have been a new windscreen wiper – I only needed the blade, but Eliseparts sells the arm and the blade together. And a Smartnav traffic navigation system. This not only gives me the best route, it warns me while I’m driving if the traffic has changed ahead and re-routes me. It also knows where all the safety cameras are and warns of that too. Costs about £500 and then £120 a year for the routing service. I reckon it saves me about 20 minutes a day on my commute.
Driving from North London to Basingstoke each day in a VX220 might not be sensible. But it is fun.






Simon Rockman