From: "Robert Foster" <>
Subject: GM Speedster - UK Auto Express Article (LONG)
Date: Wed, 19 May 1999

from todays Auto Express, here in the UK....

VAUXHALL and sister company Opel have confirmed they are to put the stunning
Speedster Concept Car into production following demand from press and public around the world.

The great news was broken to auto Express when Vauxhall/Opel wheeled out the distinctive yellow concept for our cameras in an on the-road exclusive. At the same time, we had an opportunity to meet the talented team behind the roadster. The car, which was first shown in concept form at the Geneva Motor Show in March, is scheduled to be on sale in UK and other European showrooms before the end of the year. What's more, the exciting two-seater seems certain to be built by Britain's foremost sports car maker and engineering expert, Lotus. Opel's chairman Bob Hendry said: 'The Speedster concept has been very enthusiastically received. That is why we will offer customers a limited edition, production version."

So, for the first time ever, a mainstream manufacturer will be competing against specialist sports car builders such as Caterham, Lotus, Honda, Porsche and NR. The Speedster also sends a warning to Ford of Europe that Vauxhall/Opel will not sit back and allow the blue oval to grab all the headlines with its recently rejuvenated range. And judging by our first close-up inspection of the car out in the open and on the road, the Speedster will be a contender to be reckoned with -Vauxhall badge or no Vauxhall badge on its grille. With a more taut design than the softer, less muscular contours of the Lotus Elise, the Speedster gets our vote in the styling department. Then there are its on paper credentials. Behind the passenger compartment is Opel's new, all-aluminium 2.2-litre, four cylinder Ecotec engine, developing 147bhp, sufficient to see the aluminium and composite car get from 0-60mph in less than six seconds.

The Speedster puts Vauxhall and Opel in the spotlight as car manufacturers that are going places fast, who need no longer be considered merely as makers of mass-market family motors. The Speedster s role, put quite simply, is to transform the public image of the companies.

That's the view of Niels Loeb, the latest talent to arrive at the design HQ in Russelheim, Germany. Loeb, Australian-born assistant chief designer of Opel, can take just about al I the credit for the Speedster s exterior, while Steven Crijns is responsible for its wild interior. Under the eye of Martin Smith, lobe drew on the company's latest design DNA, and projected it further forward in a more radical, in-your-face fashion.

Speaking about the origins of the idea, Lobe explained: "We first asked the question, what is Opel today? Wethan asked ourselves, what will Opel be in the next century?

"The main conclusion was that we were not regarded as an aspirational brand, so we're setting out to put that right and win over more youthful customers." But how did the Speedster come about? Where was the seed planted among the sprawling industrial setting that is Opel's Russelheim headquarters?

The need for more convincing actions in repositioning the brand was an obvious starting point. But, according to Loeb, there was also the incentive of Opef celebrating its centenary of production this year, and the approach of the new millennium. You might have thought that penning the Speedster would be a designer's dream, but, according to Lobe, it became a headache. For a start, the project was only initiated last July, while the first full-scale model was displayed to top brass in October, when the green light was given to proceed. Loeb explained: 'There was not much time for the project, as we had to have a second concept ready by March for Geneva. In addition, the team was comparatively small, although the enthusiasm of all involved ensured no one minded putting in late hours:'

The Speedster's interesting exterior features include its front and rear lamp clusters. Aluminium extrusions contain the bulbs and lenses, and although they look innovative and expensive, they are cheap to make. Another neat detail is the upturned exhaust system, mounted vertically so it cuts right through the central axis of the body.

When it comes to modifications for the production car, Loeb is wary about giving too much information away, but he says the team will have another look at the C-pillar and possibly the ffat expanse of the engine cover. Apart from these tweaks, it seems that what you see here is what you'll get. Although the two concept cars have been designed by Opel, their chassis came from Hydro Aluminium Automotive Structures - the Birmingham-based company responsible for the 3,200 Elise chassis built each year. Working in conjunction with Opel, Lotus's new body engineering centre, near Coventry, then took responsibility for building up the concepts.

If all goes according to plans, Lotus will secure its tender to build the Speedster at an approximate rate of 7,000 cars a year, and Hydro Aluminium would supply the bonded, extruded aluminium chassis.

Lotus was owned by General Motors between 198&93, so it's ironic that the two companies should be reunited in such spectacular fashion. As with the Elise, the newcomer will comply with crash test regulations for Europe, Japan, the Asia Pacific market and Australia. However, given the low volume production of the Speedster, it is not likely to be offered for sale in the US.

The Speedster, though, is sure to be a perfect dynamic complement to the more relaxed, less aggressive approach taken by the forthcoming Vauxhall Astra coupe and, a little later, the Astra cabriolet.

What it won't be, however, is a blatant imitation of the Elise. It will boast extra creature comforts as well as delivering a markedly different and less frenzied driving experience. Standard equipment will include airbags for the driver and passenger, anti-lock brakes and air-conditioning. A fully carpeted floor, soundproofing, padded seats and a snug-fitting, solid lift-out targa panel will also be offered. However, Loeb and Crijns are determined to keep such details as the bare aluminium trim and pedals, and the minimalist instrument binnacle.

Although engineers from Lotus have been heavily involved with the running gear and drivetrain development, the Speedster driving experience will be tamer than that of a Lotus, and feature a neutral handling balance more suitable for less experienced motorists. The extra weight of the Vauxhall/Opel engine will also have an influence on how the car behaves, according to Lotus, calling for different suspension settings to those of the Elise. Despite weighing in at 800kg, performance from the Speedster will still be impressive, with a potential top speed of 138mph. Opel also claims that fuel consumption will impress, with the 2.2-litre unit returning 40mpg in day to-day driving. The newcomer's all-aluminium, four-cylinder engine will be modified for use throughout Vauxhall and Opel ranges, where it will also be offered in 1.8-litre spec. Low exhaust emissions are a major feature of the unit; compatibility for direct-injection systems is another.

Unfortunately, though, it's not all-good news. There will be plenty of Lotus Elise owners left feeling a little hard done by, given that to all intents and purposes, the Elise and Speedster are identical. Some will no doubt be disgruntled that their once unique Lotus is no longer considered to be such a refreshingly different approach to sports cars. Others may even prefer the styling and additional creature comforts of the Opel-designed Speedster.

But, ultimately, the majority of enthusiasts will surely be grateful that a mainstream manufacturer such as Vauxhall/Opel has had the courage to go ahead with a project for such a niche product.

As a result of this commitment, customers will be able to buy the Speedster and have it serviced at their local Vauxhall dealer. The newcomer opens the sports car door to a much wider audience.

Source Auto Express May 1999