Tuesday 21 December 2010

Realworld Rides: Vauxhall Signum 2.2i Design Irmscher

Enough has been said about the Vauxhall Vectra, a car damned by its quest to be the ultimate motoring all-rounder. GMs' Mondeo fighter sought to be classier, more Germanic, more of an all-rounder than the opposition, and ended up doing absolutely everything about eighty per cent as well as it needed to be done.

And the Signum? Well, to this day nobody quite knows what the idea was all about. We kinda understand the need for an estate car which wasn't an estate car, traditionally the station wagon has held a kind of Grecian 2000, Antiques Roadshow, Male Pattern Baldness kind of stigma. Nobody with any youthful leanings would opt for one, and those who had really reproduced themselves into a corner did the job properly and bought a Renault Espace.

By creating what was ostensibly an estate car but with the emphasis on passengers rather than freight, Vauxhall, no, let's be honest here, there's no such thing as Vauxhall any more... Opel thought they were onto a winner. There was provision for rear seat entertainment packages, individual rear seats, drinks chillers and myriad other cool gadgets, all intended to somehow de-tweedify it and emphasise its non-estate-car-ness. Unmoved, the public responded by buying Mondeo Estates, which, somehow managed to be almost cool anyway.

Which leads nicely to the car you see presented before you. Opel UK did actually manage to sell some of these confusingly pitched vehicles, probably through heavy discounting, and presumably taking sales away from the Vectra Estate they had in the range anyway. I actually experienced a twinge of excitement when I was told that I had a Signum to sample, I had never driven one before and I like trying new cars.

Then a funny thing happened. I approached the car, noting from some distance that it appeared to have Astra VXR wheels on it. Curious, I thought, and then clocked that it also had the full Irmscher dress-up kit attached. To a Signum. To remind those of you at the back, this is not a performance car.

Once installed into the figure hugging seats that all Design models of Signum have fitted, I cracked the throttle open and was greeted by further novelty. In their wisdom, somebody had fitted some kind of sports exhaust. It was loud. Not a nice loud, no Lancia Stratos at full chat sensation, but a drony, stifled, midrange groan and a guarantee of tense, nervous headache at journeys end. Furthermore, as I tentatively launched; no that's too dynamic, I hiccuped the Signum onto the Southend Arterial, an attractive girl on a bicycle turned round to see what was making all the noise. She saw me. She saw my face. And she saw that I was behind the wheel of a Vauxhall Signum with a bodykit and a “sports” exhaust.

I'm embarrassed. I have to get out of this car.

On the open road came the opportunity to forget about the visual crimes the exterior was committing and put The Beast through its paces. This didn't take long because it had a normally aspirated 2.2 with a five speed manual gearbox. I began to wonder if, while spec-ing this car, the customer had been on a quest to create the most ironic car that had ever been built, if it had been a 1.9DTi he would have succeeded with honours.

Such musings were soon overridden by a new concern, as it became apparent that the VXR wheels had had a catastrophic effect on the cars behaviour at speed. Forget tramlining, it was as if I were driving along the East Coast Main Line. The Signum was changing direction at every ripple as if passing over a set of points. Excellent wrist exercise, though, my hands were working the wheel like Mr T to keep her heading in some kind of straight line.

Additionally, for my further enjoyment, the Bernard Manning-width rubber was providing a full-on soundtrack throughout the entire audio spectrum. If I am ever father to a hyperactive ten year old with an attention deficit disorder, and he ever freaks out in a cymbal and gong factory, I already know what it'll sound like. I couldn't wait to stop driving and wait for the tinnitus to gradually fade away.

So I'm embarrassed and now I've gone deaf. I really have to get out of this car.

I zoned out for the rest of the journey. My brain went into a sort of self-preservatory autopilot, abandoning any further interest in the driving experience, (if you have to know, it felt like a long wheelbase Vectra with daft wheels and no power) until I got back to the office. Arriving with much booming of exhaust to the consternation and intrigue of everyone within earshot, amounting to most of our industrial estate, such was the row that one of the chaps came out remarking:

“So that's what was making all that noise? I thought you'd shown up in an F40”

I looked at the rear of the car to investigate this “sports” exhaust installation, expecting one of the Halfords-issue fart cans you see hanging limply from the tail of a bright orange Saxo. But no, what I was greeted by pushed the car beyond the limits of irony and into hilarity. There, purposefully mounted below the oh-so-necessary rear splitter were two rectangular-section dual tailpipes, a superb visual oxymoron when you note their proximity to the Vauxhall Signum 2.2 badging.

A quick recap, in order of amusingness:- Signum, Design, 2.2, Irmscher Bodykit, VXR wheels, quad exhaust. What in blazes would drive somebody to spec that? All that kit would have cost thousands from the factory and contributed exactly zero to the residual value of the car, so nobody in their right minds would have paid for it from new unless they had a pathological hatred for retaining money.

Maybe it was one of those bizzaro dealer-specials. Drive-Rite Vauxhall possibly had a dull as ditchwater Signum 2.2 in stock for ages and ages and wanted to market the Irmscher range of official add-on tat, so they bolted the latter to the former and ran it as a demonstrator until a fool and his money turned up to be easily parted. Yes, that must have been it.

In case you've forgotten, it's a Signum 2.2-litre, with a bodykit, VXR wheels and four exhaust pipes. Four!

Perhaps most tellingly, at the time of my drive the car was six years old and had only covered thirty thousand miles. And I'll bet that, to avoid the driver being seen and heard by public eye, most of those miles were travelled under cover of darkness.


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