Breaking the Mould / #Vauxhall
Nope, we haven’t made a typo, this really is a VXR-R… find out why in the feature.
HOT RIDE: ASTRA VXR
WORDS JARKLE PHOTOGRAPHY CHRIS WALLBANK
AN ASTRA VXR WITH AIR RIDE, 20IN VOSSENS AND A HEALTHY 321BHP...
It took Vauxhall a long time to make their mind up regarding their range-topping brand. While the boys in Essex decided that ‘RS’ should be their undisputed halo range in the ‘60s, Luton took rather longer and straight up dithered. Between the ‘70s and the early part of the 21st century we were treated to HSs, HSRs, SRis, GSis, Turbos and finally, the VXR. This indecision undoubtedly enabled Ford to steal a march on Vauxhall, and it’s only relatively recently that the latter’s VXR range has begun to approach the levels of appreciation enjoyed by other comparable brands. Still, the VXR brand has delivered some seriously cool cars over the last decade and a bit, everything from bonkers re-badged Holdens to stupidly powerful family vans (take a bow Zafira VXR), and it just keeps on delivering.
Top of the tree has to be the latest Astra J VXR, a car that bristles with tech, looks fantastic, re-defines what a performance front-wheel drive Vauxhall can do, and can go toe-to-toe with the likes of the Focus RS. Then we have the example here, a car bought brand new by Bryn Williams in 2014.
“I’m known for driving my cars pretty hard and for going through a fair few gearboxes,” Bryn explains with a grin. “My last car was a Corsa SRi that I slowly converted to full VXR spec and I destroyed a fair few M32 gearboxes on that, so I wanted a car with a warranty.”
Various Corsas were weighed up and rejected before Bryn finally settled on the all new VXR, put his deposit down, jumped in the car and drove direct to Thorney Sport to well and truly void said warranty. What started out with a discussion about the pros and cons of Stage 1 tuning ended with Bryn driving off in an Astra boasting one of the firm’s Stage 3 VXR-R packages. While this doesn’t involve any alteration of the internals or turbo, it does see the Astra given a stage 3 remap, induction work and free-flowing exhaust system, all of which left Bryn with a handy 307bhp, a figure that jumped to 321bhp once the box-fresh A20NFT had loosened up a bit (just over 60 miles had clicked over on the odometer at the time of the VXR-R conversion). “I’d be lying if I said I noticed a massive improvement in performance after all that work, mainly as I’d driven the car fairly conservatively up until then, but in the months since it’s really come alive,” Bryn explains. “350bhp is on the cards for next year, possibly more if I opt to fi t a larger turbo...”
The VXR-R package came with a whole host of badges, stickers and wheel options, though this latter aspect of the kit posed something of a conundrum; the wheels offered were performance based (Team Dynamics Pro Race being the most popular), and while there’s no doubt that these are fi ne, lightweight alloys in their own right, they aren’t exactly a rare sight on bright blue Astra VXRs. In the end Bryn bit the bullet and fitted some Team Dynamics (though they weren’t Pro Race 1.2s) and ran them for several months, only deciding that they needed to go when he took the fairly drastic step of fitting an air suspension kit to the car.
“That wasn’t a decision I took lightly but I can honestly say it’s been one of the best modifications on the car, and one that’s made it a whole lot more usable.”
First, a bit of background. A set of posh Bilsteins found their way under the arches within weeks of Bryn’s name appearing on the V5, all wound down about as far they could go with the ‘helper’ springs removed. The resulting ride was, perhaps unsurprisingly, crashy and deeply uncomfortable. Throw in the fact that he kept gouging his splitter on all but the most pathetic of speed bumps and it becomes all too clear why Bryn eventually went all out and had Plush Automotive fit an air kit with twin 400cc compressors, Air Lift Performance struts and HPDT rear bags. Bryn admits that yes, he did have some concerns about compromising the poise and handling of his VXR, but the air kit has so far proved much better than the previously mentioned Bilsteins. “The only real issue associated with the kit was that it meant I had to change wheels,” he recalls. “Yeah the Team Dynamics were nice and very lightweight but they weren’t exactly a ‘show wheel’ and I thought they looked out of place on such a low car.”
So what did he opt for? In the end Bryn took advice from his friend, a man with something of a thing for high-end wheels and someone who took him to Auto Werks, a local firm specialising in posh alloys in all manner of fitments. The Astra’s PCD isn’t exactly god’s gift to fitting fancy wheels but there were options and Bryn finally plumped for the rims that grace the car here, stunning 20in Vossen CVTs with their faces ceramic polished. Not only do these wheels stand out from the more commonly seen Team Dynamics, 3SDMs and Rotiforms, they also fitted perfectly right out of the box and with no need for arch work.
This is one of those cars that really shouldn’t look as good as it undoubtedly does, and if you’d asked us beforehand whether fitting air suspension to an Astra J VXR was a good thing we’d probably have replied in the negative. Yet it does, and then some. Part of that’s down to the fact that seeing such a new car on its belly is a novel thing, though the extensive programme of smoothing, shaving and deleting that Bryn’s put the car through also plays a part. Flushing the boot was one of the more challenging aspects here, mainly because on the latest VXR the Vauxhall badge actually serves as the release mechanism so deleting it involved fitting a boot popper at the same time. Both front and rear bumpers were given the same treatment, while any chrome trims were relegated to the bin and replaced with perfect paint. It’s all very subtle and won’t be spotted unless you’re a fully paid up VXR perv, but then perhaps that’s the best indication of smoothing done well.
This has been a fast paced build, with the car taking shape over the course of a year or so, but he’s already working on a custom centreexit exhaust, some other exterior details and, when the package is available, more power. Fair play!
Smoothing the badge (and boot release) was hassle but the results speak for themselves.
TECH SPEC: #Vauxhall-Astra-VXR
TUNING 2.0 #A20NFT
with Throney Motorsport Stage 3 #VXR-R
package and Stage 3 remap, #Thorney-Motorsport
panel filter, Pace front mount intercooler, Piper sports cat, #Flow-Dynamics
cat back exhaust system, #Forge
front lower brace.
STYLING Astra J VXR in #Arden-Blue
, smoothed front and rear bumpers, smoothed boot with boot pop relocated, dechromed, colour coded roof rails, smoked rear lights, tinter windows, black sun strip.
CHASSIS Air Lift suspension setup comprising #AccuAir #AccuAir-E-Level
management, twin 400cc compressors, performance #AirLift
front struts, #HDPT
rear bags, 4 gallon seamless tank, I-level, #Bilstein
rear shocks, 20in #Vossen
CVT with ceramic polished faces, 235/30x20 Nankang NS-2, #Brembo
four pots, Hel braided hoses.
INTERIOR Full leather #VXR
interior with blue stitching and custom blue seat belts, one off boot build with x2 compressors, x1 tank and colour changing LED lighting.
THANKS Richard, John at Thorney Motorsport, Dave at Auto Werx, Luke at Plush Automotive, Si at Still Static, Dan at Flow Dynamics, Mo Miah at Specialist Tint ltd, Stuart at Ultra Finish, Slammed UK and Sump Scrapers.
“Stunning Vossen CVTs with their faces ceramic polished”
Blue belts are an awesome detail Plush Automotive install is a quality affair as always Vossens will get more popular in 2016.
First Vauxhall: A Grasshopper Green 1400 Sri.
Worst part of the build: Probably the bit that’s ongoing – trying to sort the centre exit exhaust!
Best part of the build: Dropping it down right after fitting the air suspension.