MONSTER POWER VX SPEEDSTER
Ihaven’t cleaned the car in months,” smirks Neville Contractor, the owner of the 521bhp VX220 that we find ourselves in the company of on a particularly sunny day in the South West of England. “I’ve built it to go fast, not for it to sparkle in the sunlight. Besides, the owner of a £250k supercar doesn’t care how many stone chips are decorating the front end of my motor – he just wants to know why his ridiculously expensive machinery has been comprehensively outpaced by a tiny black Vauxhall!” he laughs.
Neville bought the low-slung two- seater back in 2007. Up until that point, it had been in the possession of Alex Osborn, head honcho at Pro Alloy Motorsport. “Alex had been using the vehicle as a development tool to assist with his company’s efforts in producing high-performance parts for the VX220. I knew that I wanted an example of the model that had already been tuned to Stage 4, and it made sense for me to buy the Pro Alloy car as soon as it was advertised for sale,” he says.
Packing 295bhp, an uprated fuel system and a variety of engine cooling parts, the Sapphire Black belter provided Neville with oodles of fun on the nation’s highways in the months following its arrival at his Bristol residence. Even so, he felt that there was room for improvement, and he began to tinker with his new toy’s Z20LET powerplant before driving to the Norfolk headquarters of Vauxhall tuning firm, Courtenay Sport, for a lengthy rolling road session.
Pushing the limits
“A remap pushed the car’s abilities beyond the 300bhp mark by adding a further 15bhp to its power output,” he tells us. “Then I buried my head in an extensive library of engineering manuals, I studied the workings of Formula One cars and I spent
most of my evenings chewing the fat with a number of wellrespected tuners. Furthermore, I joined a large number of online motoring forums in a bid to expand my knowledge regarding the principles of engine design and development,” he adds.
Simon ‘Chip’ Comins and MIGweb regular, Steve Milton, became two of Neville’s key allies in the next phase of his VX220’s transformation, and Steve helped to compile an equipment list that would result in a comprehensive rebuild of the car’s two-litre turbocharged lump. Standalone management, a strengthened block, Farndon connecting rods, ARP bolts, C20LET pistons, under-piston oil jets, a skimmed and ported cylinder head, Arrow solid lifters, an upgraded valvetrain and custom profile camshafts were just some of the items that found their way into the super speedster’s engine bay.
A fresh round of fuel system upgrades included the application of high-flow Siemens injectors paired with Bosch and Sytec pumps, while airflow improvements were introduced in the
“The airbox emptied my wallet of a tenner. Without a doubt, it’s my favourite part of the whole car.”
form of an enlarged throttle body, a Klassen aluminium inlet manifold, an enlarged top hat, a Garrett GTX301R turbocharger, a Nortech tubular exhaust manifold and a heat-wrapped 3.5in exhaust system.
“Steve assembled the engine while I treated the car’s transmission to a Courtenay Sport lightened flywheel, a Helix four-paddle clutch and a Quaife limited-slip differential,” explains Neville. “The whole process was an exciting engineering challenge made thoroughly enjoyable by the fact that the VX220 provides the perfect platform for getting to grips with the dynamics of sports car design and engine tuning. That’s just as well, because my hope was to push past the 420bhp mark!” he smiles.
A return to trip to Courtenay Sport followed the installation of the rebuilt Z20LET. Neville was delighted to see his black beauty produce
485bhp on the East Anglian outfit’s rolling road, although he was less impressed by the fact that his Vauxhall’s factory airbox was preventing trapped ponies from galloping free. Reasoning that an intake system designed to cope with 220bhp might well be restricting the performance of his revitalised ride, he nipped down to B&Q for supplies before constructing a bespoke inlet chamber from within the confines of his garden shed!
“I made the airbox out of plywood. It houses two OE paper air filters and has an internal volume that is almost double that of the item that it replaces,” he reveals. It might sound unusual, but this wooden wizardry has left a lasting impression on its creator. “I added increased diameter inlet pipework before testing the effectiveness of the new part by putting it through its paces during a spirited stint along my local dual carriageway. To my amazement, I had to ease off of the gas when the front end of the car started to lift skyward!” he gasps.
A subsequent rolling road session suggested that Neville’s flair for DIY cleverness had rewarded him with an additional 70bhp. It’s an achievement that he is very proud of, and he considers it to be an excellent example of what a petrolhead can accomplish without having to pay for the products and services of a professional tuning firm. “The airbox emptied my wallet of a tenner,” he says. “Without a doubt, it’s my favourite part of the whole car.”
That’s a bold statement, especially when you consider the fact that the appearance of this VX220 has been enhanced with an aggressive wide-arch aero package; comprising a lightweight front clam, extended rear quarters and custom side skirts, the kit was expertly moulded to the Vauxhall’s body by Ashley Talbot and James Middleton at Cambridgeshire race car builder, Relentless Performance. Wheel arch vents were introduced to each of the car’s front corners at the same time, while a custom front splitter and a carbon-fibre rear wing provide muchneeded downforce that helps to pin the diminutive dream drive to the asphalt.
A set of Team Dynamics Pro Race 1.3s boasting a staggered fitment fill the enlarged wheel arches with ease, while a set of wound-down Nitron coilovers help to improve the car’s handling by working alongside suspension upgrades that include an Elise Parts anti-roll bar. It probably won’t surprise you to learn that Neville educated himself in the dark arts of ‘vehicle attitude’ before fabricating his own automotive geometry and wheel alignment equipment at home, resulting in custom toe-in, camber and castor settings for his tidy two-seater.
It hasn’t all been plain sailing, though. “The engine started burning oil at an alarming rate,” he continues. “Unfortunately, it got to the point where I was left with no choice but to commission another build. Once again, Steve Milton carried out the work, and I’m pleased to report that the car is now running without fault,” he adds.
A fresh map dialled in a respectable 521.4bhp and 425.9lb/ft of torque just as we went to press. That’s an extraordinary amount of power for a car that weighs just 940kg,
“I had to ease off of the gas when the front end of the car started to lift skyward!”
but don’t expect to see Neville bombing around your local racing circuit; despite experimenting with different exhaust systems, the car has proved too noisy for track use. “It produced 107dB during a Castle Combe static sound test, and that increased to 124dB when the car was driven in anger. Apparently, creating that much of a din is deemed to be wholly unacceptable at the majority of the UK’s motorsport venues!” he groans.
Further exit-gas pipework alterations designed to reduce noise without affecting the car’s performance are planned for the coming months, as is the application of a big brake kit. One thing that isn’t on the cards, however, is a jet wash. “I really can’t be bothered to clean it,” chuckles an unapologetic Neville. “It’s blisteringly fast in a straight line, it’s quick around corners and it eats supercars for breakfast. I couldn’t care less that it’s displaying all the hallmarks of a VX220 that gets driven hard!” he roars.
It might not be about to bag any ‘show and shine’ awards, but this is a great Griffin that has certainly won our respect due to its owner’s determination to concentrate on function over form in an effort to extract big power from his pride and joy. The fact that the car looks great is an added bonus – just don’t go asking Neville to get busy with a bucket and sponge any time soon!
There’s precious little space in the front compartment
Hopefully neville will sort the exhaust
noise issues and hit the track soon