Hammond’s Icons: Vauxhall Monaro
"It sounds like God on the bog after a balti…" Richard drives Australia's finest V8 export
Posted: 09 Dec 2013
This is the Vauxhall Monaro VXR, and it has ventilated and grooved brake discs. Dammit, now I've blown the only geeky technical info in the first sentence. Thing is, there's really bugger-all else to the VXR. This 500 edition has a 6.0-litre supercharged V8 in the front, powering the wheels at the back. It looks like, well, like it does in the pictures. And it's got ventilated and grooved... oh bugger, I've told you that already.
It followed the first-generation Monaro 5.7-litre V8, and when the VXR went on sale in the UK in 2005, 45 per cent of the entire year's quota had been sold within a month. There are those, then - me very much included - who are immediately seduced by any opportunity to buy what is essentially an engine with a car attached.
Not that it's an unappealing thing to look at. ‘Presence', I guess, would be the nicest way you could describe its appearance. I'd like a straighter line here and there, something a bit more old-school muscle car, but I guess even muscle cars must move with the times. A bit. It's got suspension at the front and at the back and, well, there it is. It's about noise, simplicity, rugged appeal and charm in a friendly bouncer kind of way.
And the VXR delivers it in appropriately huge servings. The V8 sounds exactly as it should do, and I can't help myself starting to sneer in what I hope is a faintly menacing manner as I pull away. For a hefty lump, it's definitely not slow: 0-62mph takes all of 4.9 seconds, and the top speed is 185mph. There are 493 lazy bhp slouching about under that long bonnet, being provoked into action by a mighty 500lb ft of torque. It lopes, does the VXR, and I love a car that lopes.
The VXR did gain a louder exhaust and headers - and this 500 version also received that supercharger - but it was as much, I suspect, for the noise as for any Nürburgring-inspired idiocy. And rightly so. The gearbox is hilariously, joyously terrible: changing gear is like trying to pull a stick out of a reluctant bear's mouth. But it doesn't matter. If you expected anything else, you just got in the wrong car.
There is a steering wheel, which is connected to the front wheels, which can be turned in order to change direction corresponding to the angle of turn at the aforementioned wheel. Alternatively, you can do what anyone who owns one of these must do, which is to steer entirely and only with your right foot. The pedal you'll find there is not connected directly to the rear wheels as a replacement steering control, but that's very much how it can appear.
The VXR was given stiffer springs over the standard Monaro, and it can, if need be, slouch its way round a corner in a vaguely seemly manner. But why anyone who wants a VXR would be interested in doing such a thing is entirely beyond me. Add in that big, lazy engine and the occasional bit of assistance from the steering wheel, and even a muppet like me can drift about the place like a hero.
In truth, I had already determined that if, for some reason, I was unable to drift the Monaro VXR, I would kill myself. As I'm clearly not dead - and I am, I can assure you, a man of my word - you can deduce the results for yourself. It does precisely and only what it promises to do. And if those things - namely sounding like God on the bog after a balti and charging like an angry bull after a particularly annoying matador who's just prodded it in the knackers and called its mother a cow - don't move you, then enjoy your Prius.
Oh, did I mention the brakes? They're alright. Ish.
Words: Richard Hammond
Pictures: Justin Leighton
This article first appeared in the December 2013 issue of Top Gear magazine