Welcome to Old School vs New School, the series where we pick out the cars from the good old days, and pair them with their spiritual successors. Last week it was the Renault 5 GT Turbo vs the Renaultsport Clio RS Trophy. This week it’s the Vauxhall Nova vs the Corsa VXR!
Cast your mind back to the modifying scene of the late-1980s and the go-go nineties. Was it all TSW Venoms, asymmetric Delta bodykits and badly smoothed tailgates with number plates cabletied back on to please the rozzers? It’s easy to be cynical, but the bare bones of what we used to do in those days were pretty similar to what we’re up to today.
Sure, back then it was all about outrageous bodykits, big rims, neon lights, and massive audio installs… but doesn’t that sound familiar? Yep, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Of course, there are some things that were massively popular which have since totally gone out of fashion – everyone used to rock Lexus lights, headlights swaps from random different cars were popular, every other Saxo had four 6-inch exhausts… but a lot of the things that went out of fashion have come back around.
Like what? Well, three-spoke wheels, big aluminium spoilers, wide-arch kits – the difference is that people are focusing more on quality. It’s all in the details, from your obsessively smoothed engine bay to your impeccably retrimmed interior, and there’s a lot more awareness of rare parts; if you spend a year tracking down an obscure OEM+ spoiler that was only available in Austria for six months in 1994, the chances are that people will recognise it when you roll into a show.
The internet has broadened everyone’s horizons, and it’s also inspired a oneupmanship that keeps so many builds truly world-class. The days of building something over the winter and debuting it at a springtime show are largely over, as people are documenting their builds on Instagram, everyone’s open and aware, and it’s all about being the person who’s using the most original ideas to win the most peer approval.
With all that being said, some things really don’t change. At the heart of the tuning scene, now as it was then, we all want to run a car that goes fast, looks cool, and makes rowdy noises. The technology’s moved on, and the bar of quality gets raised time and time again, but we’re fundamentally still doing what we’ve always done. Long may it continue.
That’s enough of the chat, let battle commence!
THEN: VAUXHALL NOVA
There must have been some government mandate or official directive in the nineties stating a minimum percentage of 17-year-olds who had to have a Nova as their first car. It may be the rose-tints talking, but we’re pretty sure it must have been about 90%!
Vauxhall knew their audience too – while everyone started out in crummy 1.0-litre base models, there were loads of sport models to aspire to – the 1.3 SR and later 1.4 SR, the lightweight homologation-special Sport, the bruising GTE and subsequent GSi.
The GTE was a real icon of the scene (the GSi was essentially the same, but the 1991 facelift made it a bit heavier), with its fuel-injected 1.6 and quattro-esque box arches.
The Nova was a posterboy for the newspapers’ anti-cruise crusade, which is basically what makes it such a hero.
VAUXHALL NOVA STATS
Performance: 100bhp, 0-62mph – 9.1s
Top mods: Peco Big Bore 4, 18in OZ Superturismos, smoothed tailgate, clear lights, sticker with some sort of Nova-based pun (‘Novadose’, ‘You’ve just been Novataken’ etc)
Price then: £8,185 (in 1988; equivalent 2018 price adjusted for inflation: £20,865)
Price now: £7,500+
NOW: VAUXHALL CORSA VXR
While the Nova was the go-to hot hatch for modders back then, the Corsa VXR doesn’t quite enjoy the same enthusiasm today, with sales lagging way behind the rival Fiesta ST.
It still has a fervently enthusiastic following among its acolytes though, and the spec is nothing to be sniffed at: the turbocharged 1.6 offers 204bhp and, with the optional performance pack, you get a Drexler LSD and Brembo brakes to go with the standard-fit Recaro seats, Koni dampers and Remus exhaust.
It’s like Vauxhall have already modified it for you in the nineties style and then slapped a warranty on it! What’s not to like?
VAUXHALL CORSA VXR STATS
Performance: 204bhp, 0-62mph – 6.8s
Top mods: AP Racing BBK, Quaife ATB LSD, Dbilas manifold, Astra VXR K04 turbo, Forge FMIC
What would you choose?
Words Dan Bevis