Words & photos - Daniel Bevis
Ah, Vauxhall. Stalwart of the British motoring landscape. A perennial presence in our transport ecosystem. And this, the Monaro VXR 500, is the crowning achievement of the brand, no?
Er, no. It’s actually an Australian muscle car with an American engine, if you want to get all nitpicky. Although the rebadged Holden does share a basic architecture with the Opel Omega, kinda, which at least claws it back to the right continent to be a little more Vauxhallish. And that 6.0-litre Corvette LS2 V8 features a Harrop supercharger fitted by UK dealer Greens of Rainham – so you could never call it a British car, but I guess elements of it are British enough to justify the Griffin badge. Maybe. Ah, it doesn’t really matter does it?
What does matter is the power – because there’s loads of it. Loads. That extravagant blower swells the bent-eight’s output to a neatly round 500bhp, and it roars and snorts like a freshly opened can of angry lions attacking the sky with unsilenced snowblowers, if you can imagine such a thing. And here’s a recommendation you can take home with you: if you get a chance to drive a VXR 500, turn off the traction control and see how long a pair of rubber streaks you can leave on the tarmac. Simple pleasures, etc.
This is a car built for drag racing, fusing American and Antipodean cultures to craft a machine that’s purely focused on dispatching straight lines in short measure. Any time spent doing so in a smoky state of perennial broken traction is, of course, a fringe benefit. As are those various other niceties that you discover while driving the thing around – the snickety gearbox, although necessarily beefy, feels weirdly like the delicate item in a pop-up light MX-5; the seats are comfy (both front and rear), the stereo is OK, the boot’s sort of usable, and the handling really isn’t that bad – a little imprecise, but you hardly notice as you’re generally steering it with the tail anyway, desperately hanging on to the wheel as you explore ever-madder angles.
But all of these details are a mere sideshow to that engine. It’s loud. It’s brawny. It angrily throws horsepower at the rear tyres in brutish, violent gobs. This is a hilarious car to drive – improbably quick and extraordinarily shouty.
You know, Enzo Ferrari used to say that he wasn’t interested in handling, that he 'built engines, then attached wheels to them'. A flavour of that spirit can be enjoyed here. You could never mistake this car for a Ferrari of course, but the nature of being a fabulous engine with a car wrapped around it makes them very much kindred spirits. And it’s an absolute hoot.