It’s daybreak in Monaco. The morning sun rendering Casino Square in a lavish gold - warming the twelve glistening cars awaiting us.
I’d spent the previous night in The Hermitage - the most luxurious hotel I’ve ever visited - and ate breakfast underneath a ceiling designed by Gustave Eiffel (yes, that Eiffel).
I was reluctant to leave, but we had to hit the road. Ahead of us was a 540-kilometre journey which would end at the Geneva Motor Show.
The cars we’d be driving were provided by Vauxhall, a mix between some from the company’s heritage fleet and brand new Astra Sports Tourers.
The oldest car on the trip was a T-Type 20/60 Golfer’s Coupe from 1930, and the fastest was VXR8 with a 6.2 litre supercharged V8 capable of 0-60mph in 4.2 seconds.
Exciting times ahead.
I hopped into the car (I was in one of the new Astra Sports Tourers first) and started off by driving the Monaco Grand Prix Race Circuit.
I’d always imaged driving this circuit in a Ferrari or McLaren, not a Vauxhall… but it’s still an amazing experience. The elevation change really struck me, as well as the poor road surface.
After a quick (not record setting time) lap around the streets, we ventured off to our first stop, a coffee shop in Entrevaux.
Driving out of Monaco is a strange experience, it’s easy to get lost in a rabbit run of tunnels that plough through the mountain.
Within 30 minutes you’ve travelled from palm trees and deep blue water to snow-covered mountains and icy roads. It’s a strange duality that you never see in the UK.
We arrive at Entrevaux, a medieval castle that’s morphed into a historic town over the years. We had a quick bite to eat, then switched cars. I was now in the 2008 Astra VXR Nurburgring.
It felt wrong starting up the VXR Nurburgring in the quiet little town, with its brash Remus Sports exhaust echoing around the ancient streets. Its pimped up racing stripe, white rims, and faux-carbon fibre were a stark contrast to the cobblestones.
We sped off up the twisty mountain roads, but quickly came to a crawl as ice and 5-inches of snow covered the road (the image above was taken a few days before the snow).
The torque-y, 250BHP Astra wasn’t exactly well suited to this weather. The car was sliding all over the place, and if you even thought about using the accelerator pedal the wheels would spin.
Still it could be worse, this was someone else on the trip:
Despite the treacherous conditions, we arrived at our hotel in one piece.
We spent the night in a chateau, which I’m pretty sure was haunted.
The next morning we had a chance to drive some of the cars which we’d missed from the previous day.
For me, that was the 1930s Golfer’s Coupe. It’s the first pre-war car I’ve driven, before they really started to think about ergonomics.
After crunching through the gears (this was before synchromesh remember) we managed to get the old whip up to speed. The brakes were surprisingly decent, but handling was akin to steering a large ship.
We built up a large queue of disgruntled French commuters behind us and then headed back to the hotel.
This is the coldest I’ve ever been in a car, with the open top roof and absence of heating, combined with Grenoble’s harsh climate and a distinct lack of headwear and gloves. This is despite wearing the World’s warmest jacket, an Evolution Arctic Pro from Musto.
Once back at the hotel after a (very) short outing, we set off to Geneva in the monstrous VXR8.
The change was laughable. I now had 577 BHP on tap and a 0-62 mph time of 4.2 seconds.
Despite being the cheapest way to get 500+ bhp, the VX8 was actually pretty refined.
The cabin was comfortable and well made, and cruising on the French autoroutes was a breeze.
Of course, the fun really starts when you stop at a péage booth, then floor the throttle when going through the barriers.
It helps that I didn’t have to fill the car up, because a claimed economy of 18 mpg and massive 373 grams of CO2 produced per kilometer means this car won’t be cheap to run.
We arrived at Lake Geneva for a quick coffee stop, then switch into the Victor FB Estate for our final leg into Geneva centre.
I loved the FB Estate. The seats were like soft leather armchairs, and there were no seat belts to stop you from hurtling through the window. It also looks slightly reminiscent of a hearse, which I also like.
We rolled into Geneva with no problems. Amazingly, only one car had to be left behind, a stunning VX4/90 race car, which couldn’t deal with being driven slowly.
A future Vauxhall
After spending two days looking at Vauxhall’s past and present, it was now time to look at a Vauxhall of the future.
At Geneva Motor Show the company unveiled their GT Concept, an attractive, compact sports car based on the Opel GT from the 60s.
It features a more powerful version of Vauxhall’s 1.0-litre engine, with power running to the rear wheels. It weighs less than 1,000kg, so it should be efficient, but most concepts now feature electric or hybrid powertrains, so it’s disappointing not to see that here.
The large doors are a key innovation here, with integrated seamless windows and a clever hinge at the front arch which makes getting in and out of the car easier in tight spaces.
There are two cameras mounted behind the wheel arch which replace traditional wing mirrors. The images from these cameras are displayed on circular screens in the cockpit.
The headlights feature ultra-modern LED projection technology, creating three-dimensional beams which increase visibility but reduce glare from oncoming passengers.
We love the concept, it’s an attractive little thing, and we’re excited about the technology that could start popping up in road cars.