Buying used: Vauxhall VX220

Buying used: Vauxhall VX220
Buying used: Vauxhall VX220

Now being recognised in its own right as a quick and reliable sports car, the Vauxhall VX220 is finally on the way up

The VX220 was launched in 2000 as “the sexiest car Vauxhall has ever built.” Its un-sexy manufacturer’s badge held it back somewhat in the showrooms – just 450 were sold in its first year – but it’s a measure of its new-found appreciation that you’ll now have to pay up to £26,000 for a low-mile VXR model.

More hopefully, you can get an early 2.2 model for as little as £7000, or an ‘in-betweener’ 2.0-litre Turbo from about £11,000.

The VX220 was a partnership project between Lotus and Vauxhall. Built at Lotus’s Hethel HQ, it’s sometimes referred to as nothing more than a restyled Elise. In fact, although sharing major parts like the stiff aluminium chassis tub with the Elise S2 and making use of Lotus’s glassfibre and suspension knowledge, only around 10 per cent of the total number of components were common to both cars.

 

Vauxhall decided to defuse the twitchy Elise a little by extending the wheelbase and rear track and adding a driver’s airbag and ABS. The VX’s wheels were 17-inchers instead of the Elise’s 16s. No air conditioning or electric windows were specified and the Elise’s Rover K-series engine was replaced by the Astra SRi’s 144bhp all-alloy 2.2-litre engine. The whole thing weighed just 875kg, rocketing the rear-drive VX220 from 0 to 62mph in 5.6 seconds.

A 2001 Lightning Yellow special edition of 2001 didn’t spice up sluggish sales, but the 2003 Turbo model did. Its iron-blocked engine took the weight up to 930kg but the 197bhp and 184lb ft more than compensated, endowing the new model with a 0-62mph time of 4.7sec.

The 2.2-litre engine was dropped in 2004, but the same year’s VXR220 sent the VX out with a bang. Lighter than the Turbo, it had 216bhp for a 4.2-second 0-62mph time. Only 60 VXRs were built between 2004 and the end of the whole model run in 2005.

 

Mid-price Turbos are most popular among buyers these days but the 2.2 is not short of admirers either. It’s all about condition and history. Jon Seal, of Jon Seal sportscars, is a recognised VX220 expert. He runs two cars himself, one on the track and one on the road. “Although prices have risen, they’re still good value compared with an Elise of the same era,” he says.

“The hardest thing is finding a good one. There weren’t many to begin with and today there are even fewer. I reckon there are probably just 50 remaining that you could truly describe as collectable.

“As for the VXR220, there’s only about that number left in total, and we’ve got three of them in stock.”

Things to look out for

If you hear a rattle from a 2.2’s timing chain, change it immediately. Don’t be satisfied with one oil-dipstick check: do it a few times to get an average reading. Check for oil leaks from the right-hand spark plug (seen from the back). Over-tightening of the cylinder head bolts can cause cracks.

The 2.0-litre turbo engine uses a cambelt rather than a chain. You need to change that every four years or 60,000 miles. Low turbo boost can be down to leaking hoses, loose Jubilee clips or a seized recirculation valve. Radiators suffer from leaky bleed nipples, cracked fins and perished end caps.

If the handling seems a bit wobbly that is most likely to be worn bushes. Leaky damper seals and crumbly alloy spring mounts won’t help either. Take a close look at the condition of the servo brake hose and the rear hub securing bolts.

Front brake caliper bolts were the subject of a VX recall, as were the driver’s airbag and cracking rear wheels. Sound wheels will have ‘HT’ stamped on them.

Accident impacts can be detected by looking through the front grille at the front crash structure and by lifting the boot carpet for signs of repair. Make sure the boot release works and that the front lights are OK because a single replacement light can be as much as £1000.

Check the door tops, bootlid and front and rear ‘clam’ bodysections for flaking paint. That’s probably caused by water getting in. Fully watertight VXs are rare.

A crack to the front clam at the base of the windscreen will be another big bill. Vauxhall stopped making replacement clams ages ago, but you can find them at suppliers like lotushardtops.com for £1000 (front) or £1794 (rear).

One we found: a 2005/‘05 Turbo with 76,000 miles for £11,950. It’s had a black respray, but on the plus side it’s being advertised with ‘no mechanical issues’ by a respected specialist.

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