521BHP VX220


Performance Vauxhall - - FRONT PAGE - WORDS Dan Furr PHO­TOS Matt Woods

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

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