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Vauxhall VXR

The Monaro VXR 500 claims to be the fastest Vauxhall since the Lotus Carlton. Can it really do 185mph?

Evo rating
Price
from £35,995
  • Burbling V8 engine, pulls strongly to 150mph, value for money
  • Looks a bit nasal, suspension set-up questionable for high-speed bumps

This is reckoned to be the best bit of autobahn around here, though to be honest I’ve seen better. For five or six miles it’s nearly flat and nearly straight. That’s fine at 125mph, but reach for higher speeds and those ‘nearly’ bits put air between the sole of your right foot and the carpet. And once you’ve hefted the Monaro’s gearlever back into sixth at around 150mph, heard the revs drop and felt the engine labouring against much longer gearing, the last thing you want to do is lift.

What you want is to see three empty lanes stretching straight and level as far as the horizon so that you can keep the throttle pinned and hear the revs picking up slowly but surely. In sixth, each fine 200rpm mark on the tacho is worth 8mph on the top speed, so from 150 a climb of less than 1000rpm is all you need to make the claimed top speed of 185mph-plus. Put like that, it sounds easy.

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It’s eight o’clock in the evening and we’ve been waiting a couple of hours since it got dark for the traffic to die down. In the service area that we’ve chosen as our base we’ve taken some photos, filled the Monaro with 100-octane V-Power and raised the tyre pressures to 41psi all-round. Oil and water levels have been checked and I’ve run a hand over the tread and sidewalls of the P Zeros, a task made less easy by the optional suspension pack that tucks them right up into the arches.

Since the sun went down, the service area has gradually filled with trucks laying up for the night. Some now have mini satellite dishes perched on their wing mirrors and flickering light behind drawn cab curtains. We’re not here to break any laws, yet it feels like we’re lying low. The bank job would be off, though, because it soon becomes apparent that there’s a big game on just down the road in Dortmund. The Monaro attracts the attention of successive coachloads of blue-and-white-clad footy supporters making final pit-stops.

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Then at around 7pm a white Passat with green stripes parks up nearby. After a few minutes two Polizei officers wander over. Photographer Morgan, still making busy with his cameras, has a chat. I sit tight, wondering if I should unstick the VBOX display that I’ve taped into the left-hand corner of the instrument binnacle.

‘They were fine,’ says Morgan once they’ve driven away. ‘They sucked their teeth when I said it had 500 horsepower and then asked how fast it would go. I told them 300kph and the bloke said proudly, “Germany is the only place in the world you could do this!”’Indeed. A few years ago, on the autobahn that runs south to Ingolstadt, I did over 200mph (320kph) in a Ruf Turbo R. It was a doddle. The car felt terrifically stable and immensely powerful, and got to 190mph in remarkably little distance. The Monaro is going to be more of a challenge.

In theory it should have no trouble eclipsing the previous fastest Vauxhall, the Lotus Carlton. On an epic trip for Performance Car, I saw an indicated 170mph-plus a couple of times in the Hethel-fettled Carlton. It wasn’t planned – at the time we were five-up with a boot full of photography gubbins and overnight bags – it just seemed rude not to give it its head. At 2am we found ourselves in the wrong country, out of fuel and with the wrong paperwork, but that’s another story…

The original 5.7-litre Monaro VXR matched the pumped-up Carlton’s power output. Then came the slightly gutsier 398bhp, 6-litre VXR. Now we have this, the supercharged VXR 500 with a thumping 493bhp (500 PS). Developed and sold by Greens Vauxhall as an aftermarket conversion with Vauxhall’s blessing, the über-VXR is said to raise the Monaro’s top speed to over 185mph.

A smattering of ‘500’ badges apart, it looks very much like the Phantom Black 6-litre VXR I ran as a long-termer for a year, except that the optional suspension pack drops it so far that even unladen it looks like it’s got a full boot and a cockpit heaving with heavies. This ground-hugging stance should help it at speed, though what has become apparent on the run from the UK is that the ride quality is still remarkably supple and, less encouragingly, that body movements over big bumps at speed aren’t as tightly checked as you’d hope. It feels almost as if the ride height has been reduced but the spring and damper rates remain the same.

There is a much harder-edged car in here, though. Twist the key and the V8 booms into life with a deep, rich, resonant rumble. Our long-termer also had two fat oval tailpipes revealing that the optional stage one exhaust was fitted, but here the wonderful V8 howl comes with the added thrill and spice of supercharger shriek. Then there’s the very Australian-sounding (and also optional) ‘Ripshift’, mate, which reduces the throw of the gearlever and gives every gearchange a heftier, more mechanical feel. The VXR 500 feels and sounds serious.

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Indeed, for a V8 enthusiast like me, the VXR 500’s engine is endlessly entertaining. Pulling away, the rumble is mellow yet remarkably deep-chested, a heady, heavy pulse. Take third, press the throttle deeply from tickover, and at 2000rpm the belt-driven supercharger kicks in, physically and aurally. Morgan reckons its dry, discordant whine sounds like metal being turned furiously on a lathe, and he’s right, though I prefer the image of a huge-engined, lightly muffled American race car with straight-cut gears waa-waar-ing out of the pits. It’s almost as evocative on the overrun, the tailpipes spewing a thundery, crackle-tinged fusillade. If you enjoy Bullitt for the soundtrack as much as the action, you’ll catch yourself making double-declutch upshifts in the Monaro.

Then you wind down the window and discover that everyone outside is treated to a much bigger, scarier mix. Full-bore through a tunnel is frankly terrifying. Imagine idly flicking on the stereo when you get home only to discover that the kids have wound the volume round to 11 and left The Prodigy’s ‘Smack My Bitch Up’ in the CD tray.

It’s an engine with a bite to match its bark, too. The push in the back is gratifyingly substantial, and consistent too. It’s tempting to upshift at around 5000rpm, but the V8 will spin happily and usefully right through to 6000rpm and beyond, the supercharger whine getting ever higher pitched. Not that we had any need to get anywhere near that close to the red line on the run through France, Holland and Belgium. This was undertaken mostly in the massively long-striding sixth gear, its 40mph per 1000rpm giving a cruising engine speed of little more than 2000rpm and contributing to a surprising average of almost 25mpg.

In sixth the big V8 will pull decisively from tickover, provided you can bear the almost painful low-frequency resonance that throbs through the cabin like a sine sweep, and once we’re into Germany we discover that at 100mph there’s enough pick-up to see keenly driven (i.e. wrung-out) ordinary cars soon dropping back. However, a couple of opportunistic forays up to 150mph while tailing our long-term Audi RS4 have raised a slight concern. Changing up from fifth it feels like you’ve dropped into seventh, so big is the step. A quick mental calculation reveals that the intergalactic gearing gives a theoretical top speed of about 250mph in sixth. However, if memory serves, the Lotus Carlton was similarly long-legged.

It is time. Six minutes past eight to be precise, and I can wait no longer because, although the forecast wasn’t for rain until tomorrow, a very light drizzle is now falling over the service area. Last night we arrived too late and too tired to make a run, and we’re heading back tomorrow, so, to put it mildly, this is an unwelcome development.

I’m in denial about it as I drive the few kilometres to the target autobahn. Morgan and Roger Green are heading for a bridge that crosses over it to get some atmosphere shots, but the game might be up before it has even begun because I’ve soon got the wipers on a medium-speed intermittent sweep. I busy myself by checking the VBOX is up and running. The Monaro’s trip computer allows you to have a large digital speedo and comparing it with the VBOX display shows that, incredibly, it’s absolutely accurate at 100mph.

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The drizzle hasn’t eased as I pass the derestriction sign, but there’s little traffic. I nail the throttle in third, the supercharger shrieks and the fat numbers on the digital speedo start to climb rapidly. Fourth goes home, then fifth, and after a slight curve I know that the road runs straight for four bridges.

Decision time. Keep it nailed or abandon the run? There’s no other traffic. Guessing this might be the best chance we get, I push my right foot down even harder and the carpet yields a fraction more. At 145mph I slot sixth. The revs slump. Drizzle is turning to rain but there’s still a clear couple of kilometres ahead. The digits are climbing slowly now, though, achingly, frustratingly slowly compared with the rate at which straight road is being eaten up. The last number I see before the fourth bridge zips overhead is 158. And breathe…

That was a lot of effort for a speed that I reckon the VXR could attain on Millbrook’s high-speed bowl. Still, I console myself with the thought that the bumps which have the Monaro squashing itself into the road and then floating slightly afterwards are no bigger than those on the bowl and that, at over 150mph, I’d rather be pointing straight than cornering hard when I hit them. I peel off at the next junction, find a side road and download the data as rain peppers the windscreen. A measly 160.4mph says the VBOX.

I ring Morgan and Green and find they are already back at the hotel contemplating dinner and a beer, having decided that it was too wet for photos. I’d love some scoff and, boy, a beer would slip down very nicely, but I know that if we walked out of the restaurant and found a clear, starry sky above, I’d be gutted.

So, two hours later I’m settling myself back into the seat of the Monaro. I can’t see any stars, but as the V8 booms into life there’s only a fine drizzle falling on the windscreen. The VBOX display shows a row of glowing red zeros. ‘If it don’t feel good, I ain’t gonna do it,’ I tell myself and immediately wonder why I’m talking to myself in John Wayne’s voice rather than my own. Whatever, the autobahn beckons.

Question: what are thin, black and go muu-eeerrr? Answer: wiper blades on a dry screen. This is good. I take the looping slip-road onto the autobahn and ahead are the tail-lights of just a couple of cars. Hammer time. (Jeez, has MC Hammer wrestled the wheel from John Wayne?) The V8 bellows, the supercharger whines, and this time when I get into fifth I wring out the V8 to the very end, into the red paint, pulling back into top only when the shift light blinks. It feels like it’s helped, sixth picking up the charge at 155mph.

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A distant Bridge Four is picked out by the Monaro’s main beam, and a glance down reveals the car’s digital speedo is showing 163mph. That’s better. I keep my foot in for what feels like an age after I first felt the urge to lift, and glance down again just before I actually do. And the bloody speedo still says 163mph. How can that be? I know it’s accurate, but this time it must be wrong – I’m sure the engine revs were still climbing. I squeeze the brakes hard.

For a moment I’m majorly pissed off that I’ve run so close to the edge of my comfort zone for no apparent gain, but the VBOX later shows that, for whatever reason, the Monaro’s speedo stops at 163mph. The true peak speed is revealed to be 166.4mph. That’s still about 20mph down on the claim, but I reckon it’s worth a weissbier back at the restaurant, where Morgan and Green are, respectively, picking the steak and lobster from their teeth that the beer has failed to dislodge.

The irony is that when I throw open the curtains the next morning the day is bright and sunny. We breakfast, check out of the hotel, pack our bags into the cars and then head for the UK via the autobahn that witnessed last night’s efforts. There’s not much scope for speed on the chosen section and, soon after, roadworks restrict traffic to two lanes and 80kph for a good few miles. However, when the autobahn reverts to regular, three-lane, unrestricted and very lightly trafficked business, it seems rude not to make the most of it.

I gun the Monaro and, behind, the RS4 chase-car seems to be attached by a tow rope – until we get to 150mph. Then the VXR starts to draw away. I haven’t got the VBOX fitted, but when the Monaro’s digital speedo grinds to a halt at 163mph and the engine keeps on pulling, the RS4 drops back much faster.

Turns out that the Audi’s limiter chimed in at 165mph. I kept the Vauxhall nailed a while longer and, before braking, saw the tacho needle just beyond 4200rpm in top. That’s 170mph. Given another four or five kilometres, the VXR 500 might have made over 180mph. Given another 10 kilometres it might have made ‘185mph-plus’.

Truth is, it doesn’t really matter. Like the Lotus Carlton, the supercharged Monaro is so engaging and so fast below 150mph that its top speed is practically irrelevant. This much is clear when we exit the Chunnel and tackle the M2 and M25. Even at a legal cruise or a stop-start 50mph, the Monaro’s 500bhp delivers aural entertainment second to none. And when the M11 suddenly stretches before me, empty, level and straight for a mile or so, I feel able to resist…

To see the video for this story, click here

Specifications

EngineV8, supercharged, 5967cc
Max power493bhp @ 6400rpm
Max torque500lb ft @ 3200rpm
0-604.9sec (claimed)
Top speed185mph+ (claimed)
On saleNow (Greens, 01634 246755)
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