A rare trip out leaves Campbell hungry for more

| 4 Oct 2012

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?