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Night and Day

A drop-top show-winning Astra for day and a 300bhp Astra VXR for night. James Pearson has this Maxing game licked!

Some people may look at James Pearson and think the Bedford local has lost the plot. He rents a garage from his brother-in-law just to keep a car he paid £900 for out of the elements. Meanwhile, he gives a special edition Astra VXR Racing, worth at least seven times the price of the garaged car, a good pasting on a daily basis. But those people are all missing the point, right?

"He rents a garage from his brother-in-law just to keep a car he paid £900 for out of the elements"

Sure, James might not be all that normal – after all he’s painted the underneath of his Astra convertible, including the inner arches and refuses to drive it in the rain – but he definitely has a firm grip on the plot. Rather than worrying about voiding the warranty or terms of a finance agreement, or wrapping a standard car up in the hope it will be a good investment, he’s gone to town on a cheap car where experimenting doesn’t matter so much. Plus, he’s had a good time doing it and won enough awards to make dusting the trophy shelf a nightmare.

“It may not be a real Max Power type car,” admits the 36-year old, “but aside from painting the exterior and fitting the air ride, I’ve done it all myself with a bit of help from mates.” It’s true, the standard bumpers don’t scream Max and the car looks like a standard colour (even if he does insist there’s a blue pearl added) yet, when you factor in his hot VXR for being a rascal in too, it’s the Max Power spirit incarnate.

By day the 1.8-litre Astra cabriolet allows James to travel the country and experience the joy of car shows, geeking out with fellow Vauxhall nuts about the rare Irmscher bonnet extension and wing mirrors. By night he has the tyre-destroying power of the VXR to play with, popping and banging away in the darkness. And for any time in between then the precision engineer can be venting his OCD on the pair of them.

“On our wedding day I went outside and saw a group of his mates standing by James’ car. They wanted to write ‘Just Married’ on the rear screen but none of them were brave enough to touch it!” recalls his missus, Vikki, trying to point out just how precious he is about his mint Astra.

"She bribed him into marriage with the offer of air ride as his wedding gift"

To be fair, she was only able to see that as she bribed him into marriage with the offer of air ride as his wedding gift. “Well, it wasn’t really a bribe, more the thing that sealed the deal,” suggests the Bedford local.

Still, as MAXERS partner in crime Dan points out as we stand there avoiding wife Vikki’s death glares, it’s definitely better than a cappuccino maker or some other contraption destined for life in a closet (a bit like Dan? – Millsy). It’s made even more impressive by the fact an off-the-shelf option wasn’t an, um, option.

That meant getting The Install Company in Leicester to make custom struts to fit the bags to and, as a consequence, wedding guests got chicken for their mains rather than some prime steak. Probably! Either way, with gifts like that she’s definitely a keeper.

And James likes to show that suspension off. In fact, he loves the look of it so much he almost refuses to drive the car on looks alone as it naturally has to ride at a reasonable height. Tucked behind the immaculate 8.5x18 TSW Valencia front wheels are some pretty meaty 4-pot Brembo brakes, but don’t ask him what they’re like ‘cos he’s never driven the car hard enough to find out. With this car he’s most definitely happier tinkering with it, polishing anything in sight and showing off the double 12in sub install and almost-pointless-but-still-cool screens in the headrests. And if he can nab a show 'n' shine trophy off the VAG boys then so much the better. For everything else there's his Astra VXR.

By this point it's getting pretty late and while listening to James' polishing and cleaning routines is cool and stuff, we definitely want to see what his VXR is all about. Obviously it's not escaped his OCD as there are plenty of nice touches like all the interior lighting being swapped for red or white LEDs. And those spiked rocker cover bolts are all kinds of awesome. But how does it go?

Following behind it's got all the spits and bangs you'd expect, a brief flame popping as he launches into the night. The diesel Maxers Mobile Golf is doing a reasonable job of keeping up... until James finds some traction! Dan's inside the VXR and witnesses James fighting with the steering wheel. "People slate the VXR as it's not quite as polished as something like a Golf GTI," admits James of it's raucous personality. "But I like it. Fighting to keep it under control, at least it feels like you're really driving something!".

We head to an industrial estate and mess around as only three men, a near 300bhp car and the cover of darkness can, coming to the conclusion that James may well have found the best of both worlds. Aside from the Vauxhall badge the differences between his two cars might be like night and day, but together the pair are about as awesome as anything tucked under Jakki Degg's bra! And that's pretty high praise!

Vauxhall Astra Bertone Cabriolet


1798cc z18xe 16-valve • Toyosports stainless steel decat manifold • custom built Flow Dynamics manifold back stainless steel straight through to quad back box exhaust system • polybush exhaust mounts • ported and polished throttle body • de-restricted air box • Vectra C CDTi air intake • K&N panel filter • Irridium NGK plugs • remapped and run on V Power • 90% of engine wiring re-loomed or new conduit • 120 amp alternator • new radiator • new air con condensor • air con motor polished • new thermostat housing, thermosat and sensor • new coolant bottle, various nuts, bolts and fixings, powdercoated brackets etc • polybushed engine mounts • full Roose Motorsport hose kit along with extra hoses made to suit • professionally painted engine cover and fuse boxes • professionally painted strut brace to match hoses • polished bonnet lifters • fully chromed engine bay including bonnet skins, air box cover, cam cover, manifold cover, dip stick handle, fuse box cover, battery cover, header tank cover, power steering bottle cover, maf surround cover, strut top covers, battery clamp and all polished caps.
Front wheel drive • reconditioned f18 gear box • new LUK clutch & flywheel
Airlift Performance air ride with 3P management • custom front shocks and Bilstein b14 rear shocks • new wishbones & trackrod ends all powder coated • new droplinks • powdercoated rear axle • running 2 degrees of negative camber to suit wheels in the arches • Mk5 Whiteline rear anti-roll bar powder coated with custom brackets to allow for the air bags
Uprated 4 pot Brembos (red) with VXR 321 Mtech drilled and grooved discs on the front • rears fitted with Mintex pads and 264 Mtech drilled and grooved discs • braided lines on front • Brembo dot 5.1 fluid • new hubs, brake disc guards, callipers and all calliper components
8.5x18in TSW Valencia wheels repainted in hyper silver with polished lip • 215/35/18 Kumho Ecsta Le Sport KU39 tyres • Custom made gel resin centre cap badges • polished valve stem covers and polished valve caps.
Full respray in OEM Chianti Red semi pearl paint • GM GSI front bumper with new grills and fog surrounds • Mk1 Cupra R front splitter painted gloss black • genuine Irmscher bonnet extension • genuine Irmscher wing mirrors • Mk4 Bertone side skirts • skirt extensions painted gloss black • genuine GM GSI arch spats • genuine Irmscher rear corner arch spats • BMW 3-series style lip spoiler • OPC rep customised bonnet grill with carbon wrap and chrome logo • front window pillars, rear bumper strip and roof hide away lid carbon wrapped • chrome angel eye headlights with new GM rubber surrounds • fitted with 6000k hid kit • uprated LED halo bulbs and uprated xenon bulbs for high beam and fog lights • new GM side indicators • new GM rear number plate light holder with LED bulb fitted • new scuttle and upper and lower window screen rubbers • gloss black wiper arms • new GM griffin boot badge and Bertone rear quarter badges • new genuine GM chrome boot strip • new GM aerial rubber with shortened aerial • GM rear parking sensors • gel number plates • whole underside of  vehicle and arches have been stripped right back and treated, etch primered, undersealed, stone chipped, painted and lacqured • new heat shields
Leather interior changed for plush black leather with extending lumber support • GM leather arm rest and GM rear headrest inserts • custom trimmed ski-hatch in black leather with x2 ports • GM windbreaker • custom trimmed GSI steering wheel in black leather with colour matched leather lower section • black leather Bertone gear knob • black leather handbrake and gear lever gaiters • GSI pedals • complete colour-coded centre console to match the car with Irmsher chrome dial rings • full white LED dash conversion • tailored black floor mats • chrome Richbrook Vauxhall door pins • new GM Bertone chrome sill trims
Flip out DVD headunit • 7.5in monitors fitted into the headrests • uprated Ground Zero component door speakers and tweeters all round • rear door speakers enlarged to ground zero 6.5in components GZIC 650x • Ground Zero GZIC 650X 6.5in 2-way component front speakers • custom boot build housing 2x 12in Sony Xplode 1300W subs • 2x Sony Xplode 480W amps • 3 farad power cap carbon wrapped • power cap and amps set under a Perspex false floor lit by red LEDs • subs lit by white leds • Dynamatted boot • fan-cooled amps • custom engraved polished plates • functional yet  decorative fire extinguisher • 4awg power and earth wiring throughout and 8awg speaker cable • custom built Airlift set-up with compressor and tank within the boot build
Max Power • 147 bhp Max torque • 146 ibft

Owner Spec

Name: James Pearson
Job: Precision Engineer

What's that in the middle of your bonnet underside?

A Vauxhall Richbrook tax disc holder

That's a blast from the past!

Yeah, well I didn't need it for a tax disc any more so thought I'd upcycle it

How very green of you?

That's what I'm all about. Now, wait here I've got to go and top up the VXR with 99ron so that I can have a proper blast!

Vauxhall Astra VXR Racing


Z20leh 2-litre turbo 16v • MTC full silicone hose kit including crossover delete with Pipercross oversized cone filter • Courtney Sport uprated recirc valve and actuator • MTC Stage 3 intercooler with hard pipes and enlarged top hat • chrome engine bay covers (heat shield, brake res, fuse boxes) • RND motorsport remap with launch control and ignition cut •  new boost solenoids and red silicone vacuum lines • repainted rocker cover with chrome spike rocker cover bolts • 2.75in Enhance pre decat, 2.75in straight through decat system • Remus back box embossed with VXR logo on tip
TA coilovers • new drop links and bump stops
Standard VXR callipers • 321mm MTech drilled and grooved discs •  Brembo pads
Factory finished Power Red including Racing Edition colour coded extras in Sapphire Black • Maxton design front splitter and skirt extensions • Hekko wind deflectors • colour-coded fog light surrounds with new smoked fog lights •  new headlights and rear lights • all bulbs changed to bright white led •  factory tinted windows • de-badged rear end • VXR Racing door pillars and sill plates
Factory 19in Ronal’s refurbished in gloss black (as per factory spec) •  235/35/19 Nankang NS2-R tyres • 3mm spacers all round.
Standard VXR Racing limited edition full leather heated seats with the VXR logo stitched in with red stitching • leather door cards, steering wheel and gear knob with red stitching •  Piano Black centre console and steering wheel controls • all centre console incl. stereo, window switches etc. changed to white and red LEDs • auto wipers and lights (optional extra) •  Pro Sport boost gauge white lit where air vent used to be with Piano Black surround • VXR floor mats
Max Power 296bhp • Max torque 313lb-ft

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