Opel Speedster: It’s All About Smiles Per Gallon

“My car is not just a piece of sport equipment. I regard it as an extension of my body.

“I want to feel the road. Everything between the surface and me, in essence, is the car, so it has to be reduced to the absolute minimum of parts for that reason. I always want to be two steps ahead of what the car is going to do, and it is my goal to understand why. Every noise the car makes I can assign to one of its parts because I have changed almost every single one of them.”

These are the words of Thilo, one of the Rhine-Main lightweight community’s longtime members.

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The car Thilo owns is an Opel Speedster, otherwise known as a Vauxhall VX220 or Lotus Type 116. Using the word ‘own’ doesn’t do relationship any justice though, because any other person of sound mind would’ve parted ways with this car a dozen times over considering the sheer number of letdowns it’s provided. I’m not talking about a blown bulb here or a loose knob there, but I think there are less life-threatening alternatives for leaving your comfort zone then losing the rear on a twisty road because of a failed track rod. In the time he’s owned it, the Speedster has provided Thilo with the most joyful, terrifying and emotional hours of his life. And it still keeps on delivering.

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As a kid of the 1980s I was spoilt by cars. I still am, and I admit I still love drawing them secretly if there’s a minute to spare. The most exceptional and fascinating one of them all was that angular, mid-engined and extreme Italian supercar we all know and many of us adore. Then, in 2001, when I was 18 and got my driving license, there were rumours that a German manufacturer was be going to build a mid-engined sports car. Pictures of the concept began to circulate and I was hooked. Several months later I finally saw one in the flesh on the streets of my hometown: then and there I decided that one day I’d own one myself. In 2014 I finally made my dream come true, becoming the owner of a perfectly configured Speedster in great condition.

The Binary Lightweight Universe

Underneath the sharp and well-defined fibreglass surface of the most extreme road-legal Opel in history you’ll find an aluminium frame similar to the one in the more curvaceous Lotus Elise and Exige models, its sister cars. However, some say the Speedster doesn’t deserve to be called a fully-fledged vehicle, rather an underdeveloped prototype. That’s actually quite logical considering the tiny budget Opel had at its disposal for development compared to its volume-production models. Legend has it that the Germans took everything that was good from Lotus and replaced it with Opel parts which were not entirely the better choice.

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Inside, the Speedster provides no luxury whatsoever, but you’ll never find yourself bored. The car is so full of character that – if it doesn’t break down on you – it just makes you smile. And it continually raises big question marks above the heads of curious bystanders. Is it a Smart? Is it a Tesla? Is it a Ferrari? Is it a Lamborghini? No, it must be a kit car for sure. Which reminds me of two traits any person seriously considering to buy a used Speedster should have: self-irony and a want to suffer.

The Rarity Paradox

Can you remember the last time you saw a Lotus Elise or a Opel Speedster on the road? Even though the chances might be higher in Europe and parts of Asia than in the rest of the world, it’s a real shame that these models have become so rare, especially the latter as it hasn’t been produced for more then a decade now and every season their number is prone to drop further. This all said, if you do encounter one of them in the wild there’s a very high chance you’ll find another dozen of them in tow. Such was the case with this meet.

Owners of these vehicles are extremely dedicated and proud of them. The guy with the Exige arrived from the airport with his lu­ggage still in the cabin, for the sake of not letting the occasion slip.

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At the meeting location things quickly became more frenetic; cars in all colours and stages of completion appeared from out of nowhere, some screaming highly, some growling deeply. Old friends were reunited, new friendships were made, petrolhead talk was enjoyed, and then, finally, the day’s main event was upon us: driving.

There’s No Fox Like An Old Fox

If you’ve ever had the opportunity to get into a Speedster’s seat you might have thought that these cars are just for the young. But truth be known, age doesn’t play a key role in this community; there are both young guns in their twenties and veterans approaching their seventies, and everyone in between. Funnily enough, it’s the older owners who seem to drive the wildest machines. When 300hp meets a sub-tonne weight, things can bite your neck quite unexpectedly, especially on wet roads, hence, experience and driving skills come in quite handy. Add to that a rather challenging weight distribution of 40:60 front to rear, semi slicks, and no electronic aids apart from a rather crude ABS, and you really need to have your wits about you to pilot one of these cars at speed.

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An entry-level, naturally aspirated Speedster 2.2 developing roughly 150hp – like the one I currently own – is nowhere near the fastest car you’re ever going to see these days, though. Even basic SUVs are likely to outrun you, and strangely, a considerable number of them actually try. But the fun these cars deliver is not defined by the power figures or the power-to-weight ratio; it’s their ability to make people smile. And that’s not just the grin you’ll be getting behind the wheel when throwing it around a corner – it’s also those from other people around you.

Meet The Veterans

The second guy I’d like to introduce to you is Dieter. Like Thilo, I invited him to tell me about his connection to his car, and Dieter’s answer was of a more technical nature – no surprise when you consider the fact that he’s a trained toolmaker and mechanical automotive engineer. In his earlier years he prepped and raced cars like a Steyr Puch 650TR 2, a hot Mini Cooper S and a Volkswagen Golf to compete in autocross and circuit events. In 2003 he got infected with the Speedster virus and in 2006, aged 56, he finally bought his own one.

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Remember how I said that many people look at the Speedster as a prototype with shortcomings? Dieter’s car definitely doesn’t fall into that category; he’s made a number of improvements to address the common weak spots, and so effective have they been that he now produces small-batch upgrade parts for anyone in the community who wants to take a leaf out of his book. His Speedster is definitely of the potent breed; it develops 302hp and 435Nm from a ‘stage 3′ turbo kit, while maintaining a weight of just 878kg (1,935lb). Given the output, many other areas of the car needed to be addressed and subsequent upgrades have included Sachs race suspension, lightweight ATS wheels, 308mm race-spec brakes combined with Lotus Exige ABS, an organic clutch, and a bigger fuel tank. Dieter regularly visits the Tyrolean Alps where the light and powerful roadster is the perfect tool for carving up the amazing roads set amongst a beautiful landscape.

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The best thing of all is that owning a car like this is achievable. No more, no less. Add to that a strong community and a team spirit that makes old and new members of the crowd feel welcome, and what I acquired was not just the car. It was a way of life.

Oliver Selzer
Instagram: speed.matters

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34 comments

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1

I am so glad this is here.
I don't even think I've heard the name opel speedster since I played NFS Hot Pursuit 2

2

John, this is very much appreciated! It seems like a pretty long time, though! ;)

3

I know Opel Speedster or Vauxhall VX220 mainly because of Opel Eco Speedster, I always love it over Lotus Elise because of the design elements... although the car seems to never caught on.

4

Yeah, it's a shame they didn't come up with a successor yet. IMHO there's a serious lack of similar cars. The new Alpine brings a bit of hope, at least!

5

I never even knew this car existed. It's just so cool! I want one but to import it into the US would be a hassle... I'll just settle for my new MAZDASPEED3

6

Great article! Well written and a fine way of describing the philosophy behind owning a car like this. As an Opel guy (Manta B) it's nice to see the marque represented here. I've always found the Speedster to be an interesting car, even though I can't see myself owning and driving one. I guess it's just a bit TOO sporty and flashy for me. It was interesting to read up on the Speedster's less than glamorous development decisions. I guess it makes the car all the more charming with it's faults and all. I can totally understand that, kind of like a diamond in the rough thing.

7

This is awesome! A main influencer for me as a child considering car culture was my uncle. He had a red and a black Manta B back then and now owns one of the rare convertible versions. Really cool cars! The Speedster is quite a different animal, though. ;)

8

Holy crap...this brings back a lot of memories of playing Need For Speed Hot Pursuit 2. Good times...

9

This was my exact same reaction! High rate of speed...oh yeah!

10

Congrats for that Article ( even as a VW guy , the former historical enemy of OPEL ;) ) , and funny that it´s coming up now, as a friend and myself talked about the speedster and his not so lightweight successor GT while checking out the Alpine during the season opening of the Klassikstadt just a Week ago

I´ve got to thank you for bringing some german car culture on SH , as we got some more to show aside from manufacturers and companies like KW,RUF,etc ( no offense to them!)



And I never thought to see that much number plates on SH showing my own and nearby districts :)

11

There's a lot to be explored in German car culture. I don't think I've seen many of the traditional German tuners on here. German engineering is at a really high level in terms of innovation and quality. I had the distinct pleasure of working with a German team with the OSU/GFR Formula SAE car. We won many championships too.

12

Also, I've heard that cars built for the German domestic market do not usually have drink holders, because Germans take driving distractions very seriously. That's like the total opposite approach to America. But, it makes sense with the Autobahn. You don't want dumb people on the road when you're going 200+ mph, I'm pretty sure of that.

I've also heard that it takes a lot of certified education to get a driver's license.

13

Now this is funny – you probably walked right into me at the Alpine Center opening! What's your Instagram, if you have one?

You need to thank the folks at Speedhunters, Paddy in particular! ;)

14

haha, okay coincidences...
Insta: derriddlar

Well for sure goes the thanks also to the SH Team and some crossed fingers that there is more coming from ´our ´ car culture ;)

15

Man, I can't believe I almost forgot about the Speedster until now.
A really fun-to-drive mid-engine sports car that won't break the bank :)

16

Are these “related” to the Saturn Sky/Pontiac Solstice?

17
researchisyourfriend

nah, this preceded that. the Opel GT however is the one that's nearly the same car as the Solstice/Skyy.

18

The term 'future classic' gets used far too often nowadays but the Opel Speedster/Vauxhall VX220 is a car that surely fits that description.

19
James Kovolenus

To be honest, I had completely forgotten about this car! thank you so much for bringing it back into the light! The speedster, Exige, Miata, ECT... all amazing cars with one goal in mind, making the driver smile :)

20
Jay Soh Tsu Chung

Ah yes... the Speedster... brings back so much childhood memories from Need For Speed. I consider it as the "most luxurious Lotus".

21

Speedster owner since 2009, I am really happy to see this article on SH. The Speedster, especially Supercharged, is an absolute smile generator - the title say it all. Thanks for sharing about this very niche model !

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22

This one's beautiful!

23

What a delightful post! loved reading about these cars and the photography is superb!

24

"Can you remember the last time you saw a Lotus Elise or a Opel Speedster on the road"
I can indeed. As soon as the season starts, theres actually quite a lot of them (more Opels than Lotus tho) where i live.
When the sun is out, you can see at least 3 of them in a town 10km from my place.

25

Now you want me to know where this happens to be? Sounds like paradise to me!

26

around the Aachen area of Germany (pretty much one of the westernmost cities, lies to the border of the Netherlands and Belgium)
paradise to you, hell to me, i absolutely loathe the Speedster's design for some reason haha

27

Isn't prostitution legal in Germany? How could that be bad? You're lucky dude. I have to go to skanky a** Nevada to sleep with some shady women.

28

yeah mate, could even tell you where youll find said district in Aachen lmao

29
Mateusz Bartczak

Thank you for putting a big smile on my face - both story and photos are just phenomenal. Nice to see some Opel love here - especially because I own lightning-badged car myself (N/A Astra G OPC here). They might not be as powerful as their counterparts but still can deliver proper thrills on twisty roads.

It's amazing how fresh the Speedster looks despite all of years that passed. And in red/black combination... it looks just right.

30

Thank you for your kind words! Yeah, the Speedster definitely aged well! Timeless and outstanding work by the design team if you ask me.

32

I remember going to Hethel when I was young (Maybe 12ish) for a factory tour and the very last VX220 was leaving the production line. Something to me never was never quite right with the car. Perhaps literately the badge?

The badge didn't feel right being on the exact copy of the Elise Interior. Maybe it is just me.

Back in the 90's Vauxhall even gave the Carlton even had its own black badge which to me solved that issue.

Overall however, the car looked spectacular, perhaps better than the Elise of that era.

33

For some pedestrians the car's cool factor drops by 90% when you mention the manufacturer. Like written in the article: before knowing the hard truth it's at least a Ferrari or Lamborghini. :D

34
George Wilson

Hello. I am a Canadian who recently purchased an Opel speedster(imported). You mentioned Dieter sells some parts, I am interested in contact info to Dieter and anyone else I can contact with regards to performance related parts as well as general parts. Thanks George

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