Find of the Week: 2001 Vauxhall VX220

The Find of the Week this week is a British German British car. It was never sold in Canada, and it's the only time GM and (later) Tesla have ever sold a car based on the same platform. It's a Vauxhall VX220.

At the end of the 1990s, champion of lightweight and being on the edge of solvency Lotus needed to build an updated Elise. The car would no longer pass safety standards in Europe. But Lotus, not surprisingly, couldn't afford to build a new platform on its own.

So Lotus made a deal with General Motors. GM would make an investment in the platform, and in turn would get a new model engineered by what might be the best sports car maker on the planet.

It was a good deal for both. Lotus was almost perpetually in need of cash, which GM provided, and GM's European brands, Opel and Vauxhall, were in need of something a whole lot more interesting to bring some attention to the brand. The likes of the Vectra and Omega weren't exactly setting showrooms on fire.

The Speedster concept car was shown at Geneva in 1999, and two production models quickly followed: an Opel-badged Speedster, and the same but right-drive Vauxhall VX220. Which sounds like some sort of toxic gas from a 1990s action film. So it's a Brit-badged version of a German Opel that was originally designed by a British carmaker. Which is owned by a Malaysian company. Clear as mud.

While the Elise would use a 1.8L engine borrowed from Toyota, GM's cars used GM engines. The VX220 got GM's then-new 2.2L Ecotech engine. A competent powerplant that could produce 147 hp and 150 lb-ft of torque. That's more than 20 hp over what the Lotus could offer. 

And this is where the car really impressed. While GM wasn't exactly building featherweight cars at the time, Lotus was probably the king. So the VX220 2.2 managed to tip the scales at just 870 kg. That's light enough to toss in the bed of most full-size pickups. For the entire car.

It's thanks to the aluminum honeycomb chassis that was reinforced with fibreglass combined with a fibreglass body. Just adding a passenger is enough to seriously impact the power to weight ratio. Good thing there are just two seats, and a small front trunk.

The flyweight Vauxhall and Opel combo handled like a Lotus with the build quality you'd expect from GM. Slide between the extruded and boxy frame rails - they're bare and exposed here, so watch the sun - and your backside is nearly on the pavement. The gearshift pokes out at you prominently from just to your left.


Even power steering is left out in search of lightness and direct handling. But this Vauxhall does get a driver's airbag. That's something the Lotus wouldn't have for a few more model years. Look through the fat steering wheel and the car has a motorsports-style Stack instrument cluster.

This car is for sale in North Vancouver, BC. It gets one of the best colour schemes for the model with silver paint and brown leather seats. The matching brown top really helps set the car off.

The low mileage car has less than 38,000 km on the odometer since it was new in 2001. The seller says it has never been winter driven and it comes with a full service history.

Since the VX220 has only just recently cleared the 15-year mark for importation, and since less than 8,000 were built between the Opel and Vauxhall versions, you're not likely to see another one on the road. But unlike most extremely rare cars, this one is mostly GM underneath. That means that most mechanical parts should be much easier to locate should you need them.

Oh, and that connection with Tesla? The original Tesla Roadsters, which the company sold from 2008 to 2012, were also built on that Series 2 Elise platform. That car started to appear not long after the death of the VX220 and Speedster. Because Lotus doesn't sit around for long.


Mid-engined lightweight Euro-roadster 8/29/2018 1:53:58 PM