An Astra VXR turbo and forged bottom end mean this Corsa VXR is punching well above its weight!
PHOTO Chris Wallbank
* Z16LER with low compression pistons
* Courtenay Sport manifold & K04
* EDS remap and software
* Steel con rods
* Quaife LSD
Back in 1986, if you’d told a Nova SR owner that in just 20 years time, Vauxhall’s smallest hot hatch would have a shade under 200bhp in standard guise, he wouldn’t have believed you. If you told him that it would have a diddy 1.6 motor, one of those new fangled turbochargers slung over the side and that it could be tuned to 300bhp, he’d probably have collapsed!
There’s no doubt that engine tuning in the hot hatch world has advanced in leaps and bounds over the last few decades – carbs have been replaced with MFi, MFi has been replaced with EFi, and the latest generation of turbos offer fantastic performance with minimal lag. On the other hand, the formula for a truly great hot hatch remains the same – plenty of power, an excellent chassis and fantastic looks.
Tom Hall probably appreciates this more than most, as his daily driver is this stunning Corsa VXR. He bought the car completely standard back in October 2010 and, as is often the case, planned to enjoy it in standard form. Then a Remus exhaust system from a VXR Arctic popped up for sale just five miles away.
“It was up for a real bargain price – to be honest it would’ve been wrong not to buy it,” he laughs.
This one modification really did open up the proverbial floodgates, and a whole host of parts found their way onto the Corsa in quick succession. Tom eventually got it up to a very healthy Stage three spec, with over 240bhp being put through the front wheels thanks to an EDS remap, a large FMIC, plus supporting fuelling and induction mods.
All the best builds go astray at some point or other though, and this was certainly true in Tom’s case. In August 2010, not that long after he had really begun to get to grips with the Corsa, the Z16LERs fourth piston ‘went.’
“It started running really badly when cold, and a compression test revealed that it’d died,” he recalls grimly.
The ‘piston number four’ problem is something that’s dogged the Corsa VXR for a number of years now, and results in the piston cracking between the rings. The cause has been put down to a variety of reasons, ranging from owners not allowing their cars to heat up and cool down properly, to the car being tuned too highly for the OE cast pistons to cope with, or rotten luck.
Whatever the cause, the cracked piston could well have spelled the end of Tom’s ownership of the Corsa, had he not seen it as a golden opportunity to go for more power.
“It was after this that I decided to really go to town on the engine. It set me on the path to where it is now.”
At the time of writing, Tom’s Corsa sports an enviable spec, including low compression Wossner pistons, steel con rods, a Courtenay Sport exhaust manifold and, after his original turbo went pop in an impressive cloud of oily smoke, the hybrid K04 from an Astra VXR. If there was ever an argument for hunting out the silver lining in a tuning disaster, then this is it.
The 1.6 now dishes out 343bhp on demand, with a very healthy torque figure of 319lb/ft, too. Not that Tom’s anywhere near finished – there are plans afoot to bring the rest of the engine up to the standard of the bottom end.
“I’ve got a set of valve springs and an inlet camshaft on order. After that I might fit a GT28 and go for 400bhp,” he says with a grin.
That well and truly takes care of the ‘power’ component in our recipe for the perfect hot hatch – though all that grunt being pushed through the front wheels has necessitated the fitment of a Quaife LSD. This, combined with the Pi lowering springs, Forge subframe brace and rear strut brace, ensures that the Corsa is able to handle all that grunt. The brakes are similarly up to the task, Tom having installed the 345mm front discs and calipers from a Vectra VXR and fitted braided lines all round. When the 7x17in Team Dynamics alloys and Toyo tyres are factored in too, it’s clear that this Corsa really has undergone a transformation in the handling department.
“With the diff fitted it’s just brilliant, a real go-kart of a car. It’s probably my favourite mod.”
Making a Corsa VXR really stand out is a tricky thing to achieve, especially if you don’t want to go down the fibreglass body kit route (we’re glad the vast majority of VXR owners manage to resist). Tom’s undoubtedly managed it though, firstly by fitting a gloss-black rear diffuser that wouldn’t look out of place on a BTCC car, and secondly, by really going to town on the VXR’s bonnet.
“It’s a full carbon fibre one with Focus RS bonnet vents grafted into it.”
Both the diffuser and the bonnet really help to break up the Flame Red, especially when the gloss-black Team Dynamics Pro Race alloys are taken into consideration.
This really is a car to show just how far engine tuning has advanced in the last 25 years. The fact that Tom now has a 1.6 pushing out more power than many tuned Astra VXRs says a huge amount, not to mention the fact that there’s undoubtedly more to come. Yet in other respects, this car isn’t so different from a heavily tuned Nova – the recipe of big power and an entertaining chassis will never get old.