A rare trip out leaves Campbell hungry for more


Author: Russell CampbellPublished:

I’m not allowed out of the office too often. I’ve yet to drive a Porsche, and can only dream of a Ferrari. Instead I get to hear others talk about their escapades. Not a terrible situation to be in, of course.

Nonetheless, when Elliott saw fit to loosen the editorial harness and let me scamper off to Vauxhall, I was pretty chuffed. The visit to the firm’s Heritage Centre was the highlight of my career so far.

Situated in Luton – a place where you don’t exactly trip over highlights – VHC is a treasure trove for enthusiasts. Many of the firm’s models are on display – including a recently acquired 5hp (the first Vauxhall built) and an apparently levitating Victor, all situated in an authentic garage setting.

Even more surprising was that Elliott, in his infinite wisdom, hadn’t sent me just to look – there was driving to be done, too.

Vauxhall had laid on a range of Youngtimer classics and a handful of moderns covering the bread-and-butter cars that have made the Griffin badge a common sight on our roads. Encapsulating those best of all was a Cavalier CD auto of the mid-to-late ’80s.

It turned out to be the biggest surprise of the day, for me, with a comfy interior dressed in period velour, a willing engine, nicely weighted steering and a subtle ride. Kickdown even revealed a surprising turn of speed. Driving the twin-turbo diesel Insignia (there was nothing else left at the time) left me cold in comparison.

The Chevette came as a breath of fresh air with not much more than a steering wheel, pedals and a choke. The three-door is pretty, too, with coupé-esque looks. It was quite a different driving experience: gearchanges required thought, but added extra satisfaction because of it; the steering was nice and weighty (before turning disconcertingly light at speed); and the car had a nippy feel that belied its 1.3 litres.

Personally, though, I prefer a bit more go and that was something the Astra GTE was sure to offer. It would be easy to feel sorry for the GTE. Same-era Golf GTIs are lauded over, but the Astra has been largely forgotten.

That’s a shame. With go-faster bodykit, hip-hugging seats and an ‘LCD electronics’ dash’ there’s much to get excited about, but it was the engine that left a lasting impression.  Free-revving and rorty, with induction and exhaust noise in equal measure – everything you’d hope for from a sporty four-cylinder.

Time in the Astra flew by – maybe too quickly, given that Vauxhall had nearly shut up shop on my return – but it served as a good reminder of what I like in a car: quick, light, raw, and forget about the sat-nav.

Now, Vauxhall, what about that Lotus Carlton?



did you get to drive the carlton?!

Russell Campbell

Nope, just the cars I mentioned, sadly. Maybe next time!

Coventry Climax

During the eighties my father must have had six or seven Cavaliers (Mk I-III) inflicted upon him as company cars, and without exception they were truly horrible. To read the words Cavalier and classic in the same paragraph sends a shudder down my spine...


Nice write up! I am particularly impressed by the condition of the Vauxhalls, not to mention insanely jealous. I absolutely love the Vauxhall Cavalier CD. I remember when I was a young lad driving those. Now I’m trying to get my hands on one of those cars for old times’ sake. By the way any idea if any of the cars from the heritage centre can be bought? I would really really love to see if I could purchase one. I am the sort that is addicted to driving different cars, sometimes I don’t really care if I have the cash or not, I would just go for logbook loans or something just to own a particular car.

Carl Garrison - logbook loans

Add your comment

  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <p> <br> <img>
  • You may quote other posts using [quote] tags.

More information about formatting options

You must be logged in to comment
Type the characters you see in this picture. (verify using audio)
Type the characters you see in the picture above; if you can't read them, submit the form and a new image will be generated. Not case sensitive.