Vauxhall

These are the ten cars that made my 2016, and why

IT’S been a whirlwind year of motoring adventures. Over the past 12 months I’ve driven 88 different cars and been to 34 classic shows, but a couple have left particularly big impressions, and for very different reasons.

These are the automotive memories that’ll stick out more than most…

 

Porsche 928

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Where: Southport, Merseyside

Confession time. I’ve had my fair share of Ferraris, Astons, Jaguars and TVRs, but until 2016 I’d never driven any kind of Porsche. No 911s, no Boxsters, nothing. But what a car to start with. Wonderful looks that have barely aged in four decades, a thumping great V8 soundtrack, plenty of straight line shove and handling to die for.

 

Vauxhall 6hp

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Where: Luton, Bedfordshire

How can a car that only does 18mph be so tricky – and a bit frightening – to drive?  This 112-year-old is one of the stars of Vauxhall’s heritage collection, and for one morning its custodians were brave enough to let me have a go. The steering’s by tillar, none of the pedals do what you expect them to do and it has just two gears – but boy is it rewarding when you finally get it right.

 

Wolseley Hornet Crayford ‘Heinz 57’

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Where: Swanley, Kent

Regular readers will already know I love Minis. I’ve owned two and over the years sampled many a Cooper, van, Moke and just about every other derivative besides, but this just about tops the lot. It’s one of only 50 convertible versions of the Wolseley Hornet created by Crayford as prizes to give away to the winners of a Heinz competition back in 1966. It’s Half a century on it’s still bloody brilliant to drive.

 

Ferrari Testarossa

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Where: North York Moors, somewhere near Whitby

It’s one of my favourite Ferraris and it was in the North York Moors – home to some of the best roads you’ll find anywhere in the UK. You might think the Miami Vice poser might not be the best car for this sort of territory, but the Testarossa handled more deftly than any of the armchair critics would have you believe. It didn’t disappoint.

 

 

Ford Mustang

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Where: Birkenhead, Merseyside

It’s a blisteringly hot summer afternoon, you have a bright red Ford Mustang convertible at your disposal – oh, and it has a V8 for good measure. It didn’t matter a jot that the summer afternoon in question was in Birkenhead rather than Beverley Hills. Everybody loved the ‘stang, including the guy grinning behind the wheel.

 

 

Volkswagen Up!

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Where: Stelvio Pass, Italy

I have longstanding affection for the Up!, honed after many weekends using a company-owned one on Classic Car Weekly adventures. What turned out to be jolly good fun on the Cat and Fiddle road in the Peak District translates into equally smile-inducing motoring on the Stelvio Pass in the Italian Alps. It might have only had 60bhp at its disposal but its size and agility made it a perfect partner, embarrassing plenty of quicker cars up there. Hire car motoring at its best.

 

Messerschmitt KR200

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Where: Scarisbrick, Lancashire

Until 2016 I’d never driven a bubble car – and then I got to drive three in one day! The BMW Isetta and Trojan 200 were huge fun but for ultimate kicks the Messerschmitt KR200 is in a different league. Super-sharp, yoke-operated steering, a tiny engine that thrived on revs and a centrally-mounted driving position made this a drive quite unlike any other. Utterly exhilerating.

 

 

TVR Chimaera

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Where: The Golden Mile, Blackpool

Over three wonderful days I fell just a little bit in love with a TVR Chimaera I borrowed. It was very, very good on the roads criss-crossing the Trough of Bowland (keep an eye for the forthcoming feature in Modern Classics magazine) but the real highlight was cruising into Blackpool at the height of the Illuminations. It was a huge privilege to bring this piece of the resort’s motoring heritage home for the night.

 

MGB GT

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Where: Glencoe, Scottish Highlands

Not just any MGB GT, but my MGB GT, and it was finally on the spectacular journey I’ve always wanted to do with it. Wonderful roads, spectacular scenery – and it actually got there AND BACK without breaking down!

 

Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow

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Where: Southport, Merseyside

I wasn’t even behind the wheel – that job I left to Bryan Glazer, the car’s owner – but this was the most important journey of my motoring life. On 29 July a blushing bride hopped out of it – and she’s now my wife. Then I got to do a champagne-fuelled lap of my hometown of Southport in it. It was the motoring moment that left the biggest impression on me. Well it had to be, didn’t it?

Additional photography courtesy of Richard Gunn and Classic Car Weekly

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How Vauxhall helped me win my favourite car game

The VXR8 is hugely powerful - but in the real world there are better performance buysAS GAMES for car nuts go Real Life Top Trumps is definitely one of the better ones.

It’s one anyone can play, as long as you’ve got at least one similarly inclined mate willing to take you on. All you need do is pick an automotive superlative of your choice, go through all the cars you’ve collectively ever driven and whoever nails the biggest (or smallest) number in their bucket list wins. Whether it’s the fastest, the priciest, or the quickest to 60mph, whoever can blag or buy a car with the most impressive stat wins. It doesn’t even need to be the stuff of supercars either; it’d be equally fun trying to one-up one another with who can get the lowest MPG.

The on-off round of Real Life Top Trumps I’ve been playing with a pal over the last few years involves seeing who can get a go in the most powerful car. Regular readers will remember I smiled like a schoolboy given his whoopee cushion when someone was brave enough to let me have a go in the 542bhp Jaguar XKR-S. I was confident victory was mine – right up until about a fortnight, when said mate went on a track day and landed a few laps in a 550bhp Lamborghini Gallardo. It’s exactly the sort of experience you can buy someone as a birthday present, so don’t think quick thrills in really powerful cars are the preserve of Premier League footballers and the sort of drug dealers you’d find on Miami Vice.

But now I’ve managed to pull back into the Real Life Top Trumps lead, and it’s all thanks to the cheapest new car you can buy with upwards of 500bhp.

Bet you didn’t expect said car to be a Vauxhall. The VXR8 GTS mates a 6.2-litre V8 with a supercharger to rustle up 585bhp – making it more powerful and cheaper than either the BMW M5 or a Jaguar XJR. It’ll also, seeing as we’re talking stats to impress your mates down the pub with, get to 60mph in 4.2 seconds before growling loudly all the way to 155mph.

Mash your right foot to the floor and there’s a whine from the supercharger as this preposterously ample family saloon gets lugged towards the horizon so quickly it feels like it’s been tied to one end of an enormous elastic band. For a split second its sheer get-up-and-go is intoxicating – and then you have to rein it in instantly for fear of propelling yourself into the nearest village at three-figure speeds.

It’s got the same one-track charm as the old VXR8 – only everything happens so much more urgently. If you want a go-faster Vauxhall then the clever money’s really got to be on the Insignia VXR, which might not have anything like the power but thanks to its slicker tech, smaller size and four-wheel-drive is by far the better ground coverer.

The VXR8 is the one I’d take for winning Real Life Top Trumps – but it’s the Insignia VXR that really wins you over.