VXR owner Andy Peel has turned this storming Arden Blue hatch into one of the quickest Vectras we’ve ever featured.
WORDS Dan Furr
PHOTO Chris Wallbank
A large part of what encourages us to shower affection on a particular brand of car can frequently be traced back to a time before we were old enough to take our driving test. More specifically, it isn’t unusual to hear of modern-day Vauxhall enthusiasts who cite their parents’ Mk2 Cav, Astra GTE, or even gas guzzling Viceroy, as the inspiration for their obsession.
Fast forward to the present day, and many of us are now able to get hold of a performance Griffin of our very own. For some, this equates to hunting out a near-perfect replica of the chariot we were hauled around in as kids, whereas others want to buy the up-to-date equivalent, often in the form of a VXR.
Vectra C owner Andy Peel knows this familiar story only too well, and can pinpoint the moment his love affair with Vauxhalls began. “My dad had a bright green Viva,” he recalls. “It was a great car, and I was lucky enough to learn to drive in it. Then, when I passed my test, it was given to me as a gift,” he smiles.
The seventeen-year-old Andy was in his element when prowling the mean streets of his native Middlesbrough in the vinyl-roofed roadster. It wasn’t long, however, until the lure of a 1.3-litre Opel Kadett D won him over, and the Viva made way for the unusual German-edition of the Mk1 Astra. Complete with its Pistachio Green paintwork, the Kadett was a right-hand drive import that hinted at a time when Vauxhall and Opel were competing with one another for sales in the UK domestic market.
Andy owned a succession of other German four-wheelers as the years went by, although these came in the form of luxury barges from non-GM brands. “I love big, comfortable motors, and ploughed through a few Audis, Mercedes’ and various BMWs,” he continues. Unfortunately, these autobahn stormers didn’t live up to expectation, and a frustrated Andy was unprepared to compromise. “They were so drab,” he frowns. “I’m a firm believer that a car should excel in all areas, but these were such a disappointment that I decided to revisit the Vauxhall scene.”
Searching for a car that ticked all the right boxes resulted in the purchase of a Vectra C GSi. The naturally aspirated, 3.2-litre, V6 lump delivers a smooth power curve with bags of torque, and Andy confirms that they’re a comfortable place to be when the throttle opens up. “I was so pleased with the car that I signed up to the Vectra-C Owners Club forum,” he says.
Unfortunately for the GSi, its days were numbered with almost immediate effect; the wealth of project threads and VXR showcars on display at the website tickled a turbocharged itch that Andy couldn’t resist scratching! “The VXR edition Vectra C looks fantastic, and I could see that owners were improving on standard power with some fairly minor tweaks,” he says. In fact, a basic remap can take early 250bhp examples and give them some extra poke to match the 2008 release, which delivers close to 280 ponies in stock form.
Before long, eBay produced a low-mileage Arden Blue VXR that was generating a lot of interest, but nothing in the way of a bid. Andy decided to make a cheeky offer and was thrilled to be driving the 2006-plate Vectra home a short while later. “The guy wanted a quick sale and I wanted a standard VXR,” he grins. “I promised myself that I would leave the car with its factory setup, but things didn’t quite work out as planned!”
The GSi had received attention in the form of replacement wheels and lowering springs, but the VXR’s 19in diamond cut alloys filled each arch nicely, and Andy’s gut feeling was to leave well alone. That said, he couldn’t help but eye up other areas for improvement as he gave the car a thorough once-over. “There were some poorly fitted window tints that needed to be replaced, and I undertook a full SMD dash light conversion while the work was in progress,” he says.
Temptation also reared its head when Andy began to question the factory audio, and a CD70 dash-integrated full colour sat nav upgrade (not to mention a subwoofer) appeared thereafter. He acknowledges that this marked the point of no return as far as modifying his Vectra was concerned!
Just a few weeks into ownership, Andy concluded that the stunning factory rims were producing a ride that was much harsher than he had been used to. Bucking the trend, he opted to reduce the size of his wheels by replacing them with a set of 18in gloss-black Team Dynamics 1.2s. “The changes transformed the look of the car to such an extent that I thought I’d continue the black and blue theme elsewhere,” he explains.
Subsequent tinkering has culminated in a gloss-black vinyl roof wrap (although Andy is keen to point out that the Viva was not necessarily the inspiration!) joined by wrapped fog light surrounds and a covered rear chrome strip. Additionally, a replica touring car rear diffuser ensures that this VXR looks very tough.
All that was left for Andy to do was apply the aforementioned ECU tweak to bring the Vectra up to the same level of power as its later contemporaries... or so we thought! “I went for a different map in a bid to push for 300bhp,” he sighs. Pretty soon, that desire for more power resulted in heavy modification to the Remus exhaust, a three-inch downpipe and a Forge intercooler. An Insignia VXR turbo has also made an appearance – an item that simply bolts on in place of the standard unit.
The Vectra seemed to respond well to the changes, but the factory clutch slowly started to complain, and a dyno session proved that the car was losing power. “It pumped out just 228bhp on the rollers,” grumbles Andy. “There was something desperately wrong, so I booked the car in at Courtenay Sport for a conclusive diagnosis.”
A series of power runs verified that the source of the problem was the new map – the duty cycle of the fuel injectors was misbehaving, and this was contributing to a significant drop in the level of boost.
Determined to sort the running issues once and for all, Andy asked Courtenay to reconfigure the map. The results sit close to their Stage 3 offering, although the Vectra now needs increased capacity fuel injectors to take full advantage of the reprogrammed ECU and to maximise the potential of the Insignia turbo.
An uprated flywheel and five-paddle clutch have replaced the OE items, and both are more than capable of handling the impressive 419lb/ft of torque and over 340bhp that was proven on the Courtenay rolling road. “The difference is akin to night and day,” beams Andy. “The car covers ground at an almighty rate and now performs without fault!”
With plans for a leather interior and a Courtenay Sport enlarged radiator, it’s clear that Andy hasn’t finished playing with the Vectra just yet. He is also thinking about modifying a VXR8. And if that happens, come rain or shine, we’ll be there to see it!
Huge thanks to the members of Vectra-C.com, VXROnline.co.uk, and everyone else who has helped me along the way. Special thanks to my wife Christine for being so understanding when it comes to boys and their toys!