The Firenza, Lotus Carlton and VXR8 all came achingly close to topping their Ford and Renault rivals
Grinding them to dust was easy with the 16-valve red-top engine (its spark plugs were crowned with a blood-red cover), whose superb Cosworth cylinder head extracted 156bhp and 150lb ft from 2.0 litres, that torque figure making short work of your tread blocks.
There were hot Vauxhalls before the second-gen Astra GTE, of course, from Victor VX 4/90s and Viva GTs to Cavalier SRis and Nova SRs. But the red top marked the point when Vauxhall’s fastest routinely offered fat slabs of power and torque, fired roadwards with an abandon rarely impeded by dynamic finesse.
The cars improved as Astra VXRs romped towards a mighty 300bhp, the last VXR GTC fast-laning motorways with surprising civility. Most VXRs, though, are like a night out on Jåger bombs, the intense burst of euphoria burning out with your tyres.
A happy exception was the rare Corsa VXR Nürburgring, which could slice up a track almost as keenly as a RenaultSport Clio and ride a bump with panache. If many hot Vauxhalls have failed to achieve the full boil of fast Fords, occasionally Luton shakes us with a startling, superheated machine. Like the arrow-nosed 1973 Firenza HP (aka droopsnoot), the rampant Chevette HS, the slickly re-imagined Lotus Elise that was the VX220 and an array of rare, rebadged Holden saloons and coupés that often impressed deeply with their V8 thump and unexpectedly balletic suspensions.
You could never accuse Vauxhall of not trying. The company has persistently attempted to top Ford, Volkswagen, Renault and the rest with its hot hatches and, sometimes, it has got achingly close. But for the very best high-velocity Vauxhalls, you must look to the maddest, from Firenza to Lotus Carlton to VXR8. Here’s hoping that the PSA Group allows Opel, the brand behind all these cars, to go mad again.