The cars : Vauxhall Viva development story

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

The Vauxhall Viva helped restore the fortunes of the Luton-based manufacturer, after several years of decline. It was a small saloon which went head-to-head with a number of British mainstays – and proved to be remarkably successful in the process.

Between 1963 and 1979, it sold 1.5-million examples – not a bad effort, and one that’s only really being appreciated, decades after it disappeared off the scene.

The watershed Vauxhall 

Vauxhall’s first post-war small car was something of a late arrival to the party. It was a bold new start for Vauxhall – a baby car produced at an all-new factory at Ellesmere Port in Cheshire. But, by the time it was launched in 1963, rival small family cars such as the Austin A40, Ford Anglia 105E, Morris Minor and Triumph Herald were well established and selling like hot cakes to new drivers, getting into their first cars.

Despite the late entry, the Viva HA did well during its four-year production run, selling more than 300,000. The Viva owed a lot in terms of styling and design to its cousin, the Opel Kadett A, so it was very functional in appearance, lacking in some of the flair of the opposition. The mechanical package was spot on, though – with a four-speed all-synchromesh gearbox, rack-and-pinion steering and disc brakes up front as an option.

The range soon expands

It made a good impression at launch. Motor Sport magazine commented in its 1963 road test, ‘This General Motors’ inspired Vauxhall Viva is quite the most notable conventional-layout rear-drive, strip-steel suspended small car to be announced for a very long time. It is by no means a mini-car – indeed, in body width, seating space and luggage-boot size it will be acceptable to most families.

‘It can out-perform all its competitors and undercuts them on purchase price. Issigonis/Moulton-wise eyebrows can be raised over the suppleness of the suspension, but clearly the Vauxhall engineers have sought to combine reasonable roll-resistance with all-round riding comfort in a leaf-spring layout. They have very nearly succeeded.’ Praise indeed…

Vauxhall certainly saw that the demands of an increasingly affluent marketplace were met with frequent updates, and improvements in specifications. The more desirable variants – the De Luxe and the SL90 – boasted 54bhp from their 1057cc engines, but the Viva’s main claim to fame was in being the first Vauxhall to emerge from the Ellesmere Port plant near Liverpool.

The second-generation Viva was a vastly improved product over its predecessor. It’s not that the old car was particularly bad – just it lacked finesse and charisma, something that the Vauxhall designers worked very hard to inject into the HB.

Adding style to the undoubted function

So the HB received more attractive and trendy ‘Coke bottle’ styling when launched in 1966. It was also larger, and much more accommodating. Aside from the engine, an enlarged (to 1159cc) version of the HA unit, little was carried over from the previous model, which was quite a feat considering that car’s short four-year life span.

The main improvement was in the suspension, which was completely new and quite advanced, and this resulted in quite excellent handling. The Viva’s appeal was further widened with the arrival of the high compression 60bhp SL90 version.

Adding racing appeal

The Vauxhall Viva Brabham (above) was a short-lived model designed to add a little panache into the range – in the way that the Cooper did for Mini or Lotus did for the Cortina. Given that, you’d be expected to think that it was a fire-breathing homologation special capable of seeing off some serious machinery.

Not so – if anything, the Brabham was a bit of a dealer special in that it was all show and not enough go. It did receive a mildly-tuned version of its 1159cc engine. It featured twin Stromberg carburettors, reworked exhaust manifolds and an uprated camshaft, which delivered a very useful 68bhp.

The interior was upgraded and the bodywork treated to some nice stripes – but, in the end, it remained in production for a mere year before being ousted by the Viva 1600.

In 1968, the Viva GT (above) was added to the range, taking over from where the Brabham left off. It was powered by the 1975cc engine from the Victor, fitted with twin carburettors and mated with a close-ratio gearbox. With 104bhp, it was a genuine 100mph car, and a credible rival to the Cortina GT (if not quite the Lotus). It looked the part, too, with bonnet scoops, a black grille and contrasting bonnet.

It went well, too. Motor Sport magazine’s Bill Boddy said in his 1970 road test, ‘We found this so-called Grand Touring Viva a car which devoured the miles quite effortlessly. It is docile in top gear, yet accelerates very usefully from 50 to 80mph, for example, while at the British legal cruising speed of 70mph the 1975cc engine runs at well below 4000rpm. It says not to exceed 6250rpm on the tachometer, but there is seldom any need to go to anything like this extreme to extract very ample performance from this quick Vauxhall. Indeed, maximum power, 112bhp, is achieved at 5400rpm.’

He then concluded: ‘The engine, carburetted by twin variable-choke Zenith 175 CD-28s, started readily, idled rather frenziedly at 1000rpm and ran quietly unless really working – it has the toothed-belt drive to the single overhead camshaft and is inclined in the car at 45 degrees. In give-and-take driving, including a little motorway motoring, we obtained 28.1mpg, which is excellent for a high-output 2.0-litre. This Vauxhall Viva GT created a generally favourable impression and is the best of the current range of Lutonian products’

A new style for the ’70s

When the Viva HC arrived in 1970, few would have believed that it was to be the last of its line. However, the creeping integration between GM’s German and British operations would gather pace during the 1970s, and one victim on that was going to be the Viva – that, though, was yet to come.

In 1970, it arrived on the scene, with smart new styling, but underneath, it was little changed, with the engines and platform carried over from the HB, although the engine capacity of the base version was enlarged to 1256cc. However, the range was about to grow significantly – the Viva HC was available as a saloon, estates and as a coupé.

Coupe style with the Firenza

When the the Ford Capri exploded onto the scene in 1969, there were far reaching ramifications. For one, every rival manufacturer wanted to build an alternative and cash in on the craze for European Pony cars. The Firenza was Vauxhall’s attempt at a Capri rival, although its sales never came close to those of its Blue Oval rival.

It was launched in 1971 and clearly bore a family resemblance to the Viva HC it was based on. Effectively, it was just a Viva HC, but with a more swooping fastback roof – and yet it worked very well indeed.

Engines were shared with the Viva too – so that initially meant the 1159cc entry level model and a rather enjoyable 1975cc version. But changes that echoed those made to the Viva in 1972 meant 1256cc, 1759cc and 2279cc four-pots, with the largest of the lot developing a very lively 110bhp. In 1973, the Firenza name was dropped, with them becoming known as the Viva E (base model), and plusher Magnums instead.

The great droopsnoots

The Firenza HP – nicknamed the Droopsnoot – was the ultimate variation of the Viva HC theme. It was launched at the London Motor Show in 1973, and was developed as a more appealing version of the underwhelming Firenza. It combined an HC coupé body with a glassfibre nosecone designed by Wayne Cherry.

It was powered by a tweaked 2279cc slant-four that kicked out 131bhp and twin-Stromburg carburettors – and looked the way it did due to considerable aerodynamic work. In all, it was quite an advanced package, especially so with a dogleg five-speed ZF gearbox to add an air of sophistication.

The streamlined front was aerodynamically effective, giving the Firenza HP a maximum speed of more than 120mph. But due to its high cost, the HP wasn’t a success – a mere 204 had been built by the time it was dropped in 1975 – which didn’t compare well with Vauxhall’s target of 1000 per year.

Vauxhall used the left-over nose cones on 197 HC estates, to create the even more appealing HP Sportshatch, which was launched as a last-minute addition at the Earls Court Motor Show in 1974.

By the first facelift in 1973, a range of new engines was ushered in, with the old 1159cc entry-level unit being up-gunned to 1256cc. Also, the 1.6- and 2.0-litre cars were expanded to 1759cc and 2279cc. To make the higher-powered cars stand out, they were re-badged as Magnums, and the coupés became knows as Firenzas.

It was in entry-level form that the Viva soldiered on until 1979, when it was pensioned off in favour of the Vauxhall Astra.

Keith Adams

Keith Adams

Editor and creator AROnline at AROnline
Created www.austin-rover.co.uk in 2001 and built it up to become the world's foremost reference source for all things BMC, Leyland and Rover Group, before renaming it AROnline in 2007.

Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Classics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...

Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasible adventures all across Europe.
Keith Adams

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71 Comments

  1. Yes, a relatively unsung hero of the sixties and seventies – where have they all gone?

    The Viva also formed the basis for the Panther Lima, the lovely concept Vauxhall Equus built by Panther for GM (why did they never build that?), the Aussie Holden Torano, the Chevrolet Can Am V8 in South Africa, lent it’s suspension to the Jensen Healey and Panther J72, and also it’s 2 litre engine dimensions to Lotus.

    The Droopsnoot Firenza ran twin strombergs, unfortunately not fuel injection which only appeared on the one-off Silver Bullet concept car (which still exists owned by Dave Boon), whilst the Sportshatch appeared in 1976 (in extra dark wine and red stripes only). The one-off ‘prototype’ Sportshatch (the silver one in the photo) appeared with little explanation at the 74 show (that car also still exists). With red carpet, tartan trim, de-chromed colour coded bumpers, and black headlining, it preceeded that trend of the 80’s by some margin, nevermind the droop front end that spawned the same style for Escort RS2000, Chevette, Cavalier, and, at a push, the Calibra (the Vauxhall’s all being designed by the Droopsnoot Styling Chief, Wayne Cherry).

    A little biased being an ex-Vauxhall apprentice, I fondly remember my 1256 Viva, my 2300 Magnum, and still have my Sportshatch today. Yes, there’s some rose tinted thinking going on – like most 70;s stuff, they did have some foibles and weak points of which I’m well aware.

    • I’m sure it’s just a typo, but you mean the Holden Torana, not Torano. It soon left its Viva roots and became a somewhat larger car, famously available with 4, 6 and 8 cylinders.

    • Just adding to the HPF corrections here. Yes it ran Strombergs and not injection, plus the gearbox was a rather agricultutal five speed dog leg first ZF and not Getrag as stated. (The Chevette HS & Later VX4/90’s ran the Getrag box)

  2. I have a lot of affection for the HC having owned 2 Magnums and 2 Firenzas in the past. As you say, very underrated cars that, in my opinion, suffered from appearing, shall we say, a little basic when compared with their blue oval rivals and from a confusing multi-named model line up..

    Just a small observation, with the arrival of the HP Firenza, the name became reserved for just that model and the HC range became a little confused. The Magnum nameplate was used on the saloon, Coupe and Estate for the more upmarket versions with 1800 and 2300 engines from that date. Also, the 1256, 1800 and 2300 engines were found in the last year of Firenza flat-front production, as well as the short-lived Viva 2300 SL. All of these were effectively replaced by the Magnum.

    As well as using up HPF nosecones with the Sporthatch, the remaining Coupe body shells were used for a limited run 1256 Viva E Coupe when the HPF and Magnum Coupe were axed. The Magnum name was dropped in 1977 and the “posh” HC became the Viva GLS, available in Saloon or Estate and with 1256 or 1800. The limited run Viva E proved so popular that a saloon version became part of the line-up as an entry-level model.

  3. It’s interesting that while the Kadett A and Viva HA were quite similar, the models then diverged, with the HB being much better than the Kadett B, which carried over more of the original Kadett A.

    Then in 1970, instead of replacing the Kadett B, Opel launched the Ascona A which was instead sold alongside it.

    Thus effectively the larger engined Vivas/Magnums were replaced not by a version of the Kadett C, but were instead replaced by a version of the Ascona B!

    • @maestrowoff – the Ascona B of course was also-known-as…. the Cavalier (with a redesigned nosecone reminiscent of the droop-snoots). So the Viva wasn’t replaced by the Astra at all but the Cavalier. The Chevette had taken over the mantle of the UK Kadett by that point and was replaced by the Astra.

      • The Cavalier was a bit bigger than the Viva, and the Viva stayed in production for several more years afterwards until the Astra was launched, so both partially replaced it (though in reality it just died of old age)

        • The Ascona A was pretty much the same size as the HB/HC Viva and was originally intended to be the Kadett C which would have mirrored the change in size Vauxhall made with the HB four years earlier. Instead Opel made it an additional model. By that time Vauxhall was looking at enlarging the next HD model (and changing the name) to compete with the Cortina. Opel were obviously thinking along the same lines too, enlarging the Ascona B over the previous A (Of course, the comparable British Ford Cortina and the German Ford Taunus were largely the same car by 1970-76) so combining the two projects into one made sense when Vauxhall got into serious financial trouble.

        • Vauxhall have a thing with confusing model ranges.

          Take their current small car range, you have the ‘new Viva’, the evergreen Corsa (which in reality is more of a facelift of the previous model) and the Adam, or if you want more “family” small car you can have the Meriva (to be replaced by the Grandadland X) and Mokka. When they were also marketing Chevrolet you also had the Matiz/Spark and Aveo into the mix.
          The Astra having moved, like the Focus, into the blurred boundary between small-large family car where the Cavalier and Sierra might have once been popular.

          • Yes, it’s confusing for the brand when you try to sell a normal European supermini (Corsa), a budget small car (Viva/Karl) and trendy city car (Adam) all under the same badge.

            To me Fiat’s branding is also confusing, because they’re selling aspirational models (500, 124 Spyder) with the same Fiat badge as VFM hatchbacks lime the Turkish made Tipo.

  4. Were there any differences between the Opel OHV and Vauxhall OHV, heard that both were originally conceived as 700cc engines before growing to 993-1196cc and 1057-1256cc production engines?

    Also curious to know whether both engines were capable of growing beyond their existing 1196cc (Opel) and 1256cc (Vauxhall) displacements?

    • I think it was Billy Blydenstein (RIP) who stroked the Viva engine out to first 1350cc, then 1500cc. Lots of torque, still economical; but like his 2600 OHC conversions, tended to “nip up” on the bores if they got a bit hot. An easier and more practical way to get more power was to fit a Weber 28/36DCD twin choke carb’, which gave economy on the first choke and power on the second. The pushrod engines suffered from weak pressed steel rockers – the pushrods tended to puncture them, which reduced a lady friend of mine to tears! The timing chains also only lasted 40-50,000 miles, which was a nuisance – for whatever reason, replacement was regarded in the trade as an “engine out” job.

      • Read Billy Blydenstein saying that the 1256cc engine was capable of being reliably tuned to around 72-80+ hp.

        For some reason was envisioning the Viva engine (and Opel OHV) having the potential to grow into a -1600cc max Vauxhall equivalent of the Ford Kent unit, though it seems that unlike the Viva unit only the Opel OHV was used in FWD form via the Nova. Than again it seems there were plans to produce a diesel version of the 1256cc Viva unit as well as a 45 hp 989cc version for the FWD Vauxhall Scamp concept.

  5. Yes, picked up the sporthatch brochure from Ormskirk Motors – John Price the dealership owner had just one car in and a few (now) super rare brochures. And, ahem, Ellesmere Port is in Cheshire, not Merseyside. BTW, Ford’s Halewood plant was in Lancashire – if memory serves – until local government re-organisation

    • Roger, do you still have, or know of the Sportshatch brochure. Never seen one, would be interesting to see if you still have a copy.

  6. My Uncle had a Blue Viva, and my great Uncle criticised him stating it would rust away.

    It did and he replaced it with – wait for it – a Fiat Miafiori! His next car was a Vauxhall Cavalier Mk2 which was actually bomb proof.

    Problem with Vauxhalls post-war until the Opel invasion was that they rusted even more profusely than every other British motors.

  7. My experience of cars throughout the 50’s and 60’s was that the Vauxhall rust reputation was one of those inexplicable myths that comes along every now and then in car history. Of course they did rust but absolutely no more than a Hillman, Humber, Ford or some Daimlers! Even when I was a child and only my father and a handful of other residents owned a car on our estate, one guy had a 3 year old Minx on its side under a tent in the garden – completely rebuilding the underside. Years later, my father had a Daimler Conquest Century Automatic – it was a nightmare chasing the rust bubbles and general decay.
    I think Ford had a pretty good time in the 50’s – their Mk 1 Consuls and Zodies – even the Mk 2 versions didn’t rust so bad as some of the Rootes, GM and continental stuff but by the time of the Mk 3 Cortina came along they were up with the best of the rusties!
    I am biased as well no doubt – I delivered new HB Vivas all over the country for a year or so. I loved them to bits and when on the return journey – and thus in a 30,000 mile used one – I would have such fun and take on Escorts, Heralds and 1100’s with confidence. They were so sure footed, chuckable and controlable from the throttle – even with such modest BHP.
    In those days – mostly pre motorway – I used to leave Swindon at 4 in the morning and drive to Liverpool; get a lift to Elsemere Port and drive a new (un PDI’d) car back. Get in another new one and drive back to Liverpool – getting a lift again to EP and the drive another new one back – arriving home st about 8 in the evening. Great days!
    I got to drive lots of cars and my favourite was the HB but the Fiat 124 ran a close second and then the Simca 1000 – I do have a soft spot for rear engines.
    I think I’ve had 4 or 5 HC’s – the Estate was just brilliant!

    • Umm, Vauxhalls did rust very badly from about 1957 to 1962, the PA Velox and Cresta and the F Victor being particularly susceptible. I once met a car salesman who had refused a 3yo F Victor p-ex because the boot floor had completely disappeared! The PB and PC Crestas, and FB and FC Victors, were much better; but the HB and HC Vivas and FD Victors had a very bad reputation for inner wing corrosion. These panels were used to mount the bonnet hinges. I once saw an FD Victor in a scrapyard, where the inner wings had rusted so badly that the bonnet hinge on one side had torn out of its mounting. HC Vivas were notorious for rust in the windscreen pillars; I had a very unnerving accident in my Viva 2300 when a trailing arm rusted through as I drove along. This seems to rather agree with Stuart’s post below.

      • A truly anorak point on the rust front – early HC Vivas had wings which sloped upwards on either side of the bonnet to quite a sharp point above the vertical drop over the wheels. These wings were found to retain mud and moisture and rusted badly. To their credit, Vauxhall retooled the wings to blunt the point, from about 1973. The earlier wings then became known as “raised lip” wings.

  8. Here in Australia, I had an orange 1300cc Torana (TA series, 1974)from 1991-’92. Had a plastic front grille which was quite novel for the time. However, as the body had been strengthened to take the local roads & the far more common in line six cylinder engines, it was a slug. One local hill that my next car, a 1300 Corolla hardtop from 1980 could just get over in fourth, the Torana was screaming in second.

    Before we left the UK to come to Aus, in Leeds my parents had a 1973 white HC 1300 two door which went far better than my Aus version. This was in 1983 & it had a fist sized hole at the base of the drivers side windscreen as well as holed floor in the back which filled with water during the rain. Don’t make ’em like they used to? Thank goodness!

  9. My cousin’s husband has restored a 1965 HA Viva.

    It needed a fair amount of derusting, as well as some work on the engine.

    Luckily the later 1256cc engines had a lot of common parts with the earlier 1057cc, so it was fairly easy to source spares.

  10. In my younger days I owned two of the models mentioned here. My first car was a Viva HC (reg. WDD 234J) which I owned for two years in the mid-1970s. A slightly hideous lime green colour, it was pretty reliable and a bit out of the ordinary because at the time first cars were usually early Cortinas or some old Hillman or Mini.

    A few years later I had an 1800 Firenza (like the one above but mine was white). The roughest dog of a car I’ve ever owned; not unreliable but I could never get it tuned to run smoothly or quickly. I had to stick with it for two years until I could afford to get rid of it.

    • We had the same issues with our first Magnum, a 2 door 1800 saloon. The Zenith carb on the early 1800s was a piece of junk. We ditched ours for a Weber and it totally transformed the car.

  11. You’ve saved me a job here Keith – I was going to blog about the sports models. At the other end of the spectrum, the HA spawned the boxy van, which kept going until 1983, largely due to BT fleet orders; and IIRC was offered with 18bhp and 24bhp engine options to stop the drivers caning them! The HA estate was the Bedford Beagle, which was a van fitted with side windows by Martin Walker Ltd. Brabham built an HA Brabham Viva with lowered suspension, but it was only available as a dealer-fitted conversion.
    On the other hand, I didn’t know the HB Brabham was available as an estate – but I can’t argue with your picture.
    There was a gent working in Rolls-Royce Derby who owned a light blue HB Brabham 2-door, which he ran until the early 80’s at least as a learner car for his wife.
    The Brabhams went well, but if driven fast could get down to about 20mpg – as thirsty as an OHC car. Less exotic Vivas were good for 35-45mpg.
    The HB estates were launched shortly after the saloons; the 4-door saloons were later still, but close to the launch of the Mark 1 Escort 4-doors. All were well behind the 1962 Morris 1100, of course! More later…

    • The Estate in the picture is not a genuine Brabham, rather it is a low mileage Estate modified to Brabham spec which explains it.

      As stated the Brabham was a series of upgrades (engine, body, accessories) available from dealers (so they weren’t all the same), and I think the Estate was not launched during that period (67 and early 68), similarly, the four door in 69. However Brabhams were based on both deluxes and SL’s.

  12. Not forgetting the Chevette, which was essentially a more modern take on the HC Viva with a hatchback body and the same underpinnings. However, when the Chevette offered a saloon and estate option, what really was the point of the Viva, especially when the Magnum versions were ended in 1977?
    Yet quite a good car in all versions and one which established the Ellesmere Port factory that survives to this day.

    • The Viva was slightly bigger than the Chevette in both wheelbase (3″) and width (over 2″). The slant 4 OHC engine also continued as an option in Vivas after the Magnum name was dropped which, apart from the specialist HS/HSR rally models, was never an option in the Chevette. The droop snoot front on Chevettes made them about 3″ longer than their Opel cousins though, blurring the size boundary once the saloons and estates arrived.
      Interestingly the HC was available in hatchback form in South Africa.

    • The Chevette used the Viva’s engine, gearbox, and steering column; but the floor pan and particularly the very tidy-handling suspension were different. The suspension was so good that it cried out for more power; but while the Germans offered 1600 and 2000 Kadetts, Isuzu built an 1800cc 5 speed Gemini, and Chevrolet Chevettes offerd 1.4 and 1.6 engines and a 5-door hatch body, the only big engine we got in the UK was the 2300HS; which was nice, but extreme – and a rather tight fit!

    • I did wonder why the Viva was kept in production until 1979, & the Chevette until 1984.

      Peugeot did this sort of thing a lot by keeping older models in production after they were replaced.

      • For a long time French manufacturers hardly ever directly replaced current models
        The 304 was slightly bigger than the 204, the 504 was a bit bigger than the 404, and in turn the 505 was a bit bigger than the 504, allowing the older model to stay in production alongside the newer one
        Similarly the 12 sat alongside the 8/10 for a while, the 18 overlapped the 12, the 20 the 16 etc

      • I suspect the real reason for keeping the Viva in production after the Cavalier was launched in 1976 was to appease the unions and government. As all the early Cavaliers came from Belgium there would have been uproar if the Viva had been axed and the workforce laid off.

        The situation was similar when the Astra was launched- all the early models were imported so the Chevette was kept on to keep the production lines running. This was especially important at that time as Vauxhall could not be seen to be reducing British production when it was about to launch the Nova which was imported from Spain

  13. My brother owned a lovely VIVA SL HB in dark blue J reg, then I owned a 1972 Viva X14 (HC) in Emerald Starmist. Nice car with plenty of extras inc Rostyle wheels, but had to replace both front wings due to the well documented Vauxhall rust issues! I spent a bit of money on that car but it looked better by the time I sold it (1979) and have good memories.

    I aspired to own a Magnum 1800 after that but the aforementioned rust deterred me.

    • My experiences with Magnums were both pretty good. HCs were far better protected against corrosion than the previous HA and HB. Our 1800 Magnum Saloon was rot-free at 12 years old when we bought it and remained so for the 7 years we owned it. My ’75 Magnum Coupe was just staring to get a bit frilly in the usual places (bottom of the windscreen pillars) when I sold it in 2002. The two early Firenzas I had fared far worse. The first one (EHU30K) was too far gone to be anything other than a donor car for the second which I restored in 1992. That car (JHU644L) still exists somewhere in Yorkshire I believe.

  14. When the HC Viva was current, I always thought they looked bland and plain (even though I had one myself). Seeing them now – either in photos or on the road – I think they’ve aged better than most other cars from the 70s and they look good and almost modern. On most other models from that era, the styling has dated more – even if it’s in a cosy nostalgic way.

  15. Adding to my last post, from the pictures above, it shows what a good looking car the VIVA HB was, after the HA. Particularly the SL & GT versions. The Estate’s were practical load carriers too. I remember Vauxhall marketing it as “flaunting a Fastback”.

    Lledo made a scale model of the Viva HB SL in Pinewood Green. Regarding the last entry level model called the “Viva E”, it was available in 2 door saloon & coupe Firenza bodystyle.

    • The Viva E Coupe was produced to use up surplus Magnum and HP Firenza body shells when the Coupes were axed in ’75/6. The Viva E saloon followed on later as a permanent addition to the range. The two never ran concurrently.

      • That’s correct Tim… I knew someone who had a white Viva E coupe, before the saloon came out. In 1977 a Viva 1300GLS was also launched, identical in trim /headlamps /dashboard / Rostyles to the Magnum but with the normal 1256 engine.

  16. The Viva probably saved Vauxhall until the Chevette and Cavalier arrived and Vauxhall sales took off. This was one car that was clearly placed in the 1.3 litre class where the Escort was king and managed to maintain a healthy market share for Vauxhall, while the bigger FE Victor struggled because it was too big to take on the Cortina and too small and basic for the Granada class.

  17. I agree Glenn… the Chevette gradually took over the Viva mantle, particularly when Saloon & Estate’s arrived. As the same 1256 engine was used in those, the Viva’s legacy lived on.

    • Only drawback with the Chevette was it was only ever available with the 1256 engine, unless you include the specialist 2300 HS. Maybe this was a ploy to keep the Magnum selling for the first two years of the Chevette’s life, but once this was axed in 1977, surely a bigger engined Chevette with the smooth revving 1.6 from the Cavalier should have been introduced. This really would have done wonders for sales of the Chevette until the Astra arrived in 1980.
      While the Viva should have been phased out in the mid seventies when the Chevette arrived and ate into its market share, union pressure to keep jobs in Britain( early versions of the Cavalier were Belgian) and probably keeping the car as a larger companion to the Chevette saw the Viva survive until 1979.

      • A 1.6 Chevette using a Cav MK1 75bhp engine Glenn… another interesting idea. I’m sure it could have been done, as in the 60s Vauxhall put the Victor FD 1600 engine into the HB Viva.

        • While liking the idea of the Chevette receiving 75-110 hp 1.6-2.0 versions of the Opel CiH, it is a shame the Vauxhall Slant-4 never reached its full potential nor was as reliable as it could have been for Vauxhall to continue producing 1599-1975cc versions of the Slant-4.

          Using the 2.3 Slant-4 in the Firenza HPF “Droop-Snoot” and Chevette HS/HSR as a rough guide (along with the fuel-injected VX4/90 prototype), even a Twin-Carb 1.6 engine would be capable of putting out around 92+ hp while fuel-injection (plus 16-valves) would theoretically increase power of the same 1.6 engine to around 105 hp.

  18. Some more “anorak points”.
    The Viva was built as a Chevette-style 3-door hatch in South Africa; where they used Cavalier engines and instrument pods, rather crudely merged into the UK style dash (I will upload pix if I can find them!)

    Viva GT: you were a true petrolhead about 1978 if you were a year or two older than me, and owned a Viva GT (usually among several other dodgy cars). Like the Ventora, the VGT came as an ill-developed Mark 1, and a more refined Mark 2, as illustrated above.

    The Mark 1 had not just the bonnet air scoops shown above, but also a matt black bonnet, twin coachlines, chrome hubcaps designed to look like standard steel wheels chromed, a matt black panel between the taillights, and FOUR exhaust tailpipes. They also had a 3.9 diff, which gave brilliant acceleration, but an 18mpg thirst. The Mark 2 had a 3.44 diff, which made it much quieter and more economical. It also had a rear antiroll bar, which cut down the understeer somewhat.
    The HB and HC 1600’s were slow and thirsty – 18 mpg was all too typical. The 1800HC was a bit quicker and possibly smoother, and would do about 24mpg – very poor by today’s standards, competitive back in the day.
    History repeated itself with the Magnum 1800 – early models had 77bhp, two round dials on the dash, and no rear antiroll bar. The rare late model 1800’s had 88bhp, seven dials, and a full complement of antiroll bars.
    The Viva was significantly roomier than the Chevette, and tended to appeal to older customers; especially the plush GLS models, which were sold in New Zealand as “Magnum 1300”.

    • Like your points, Ken, from a Kiwi perspective, where British cars were popular and amended to suit New Zealand tastes when they were imported( mostly in kit form, I believe).
      The Magnum 1800 over here had a similar spec until 1976, two main dials, nylon seats, four headlights, and was intended to be a sporting alternative to a 1256 Viva with slightly more equipment and a 1.8 Victor engine capable of 100 mph. If you had more money and didn’t mind the higher fuel consumption, there was a 2300 version with similar spec to the later NZ 1800s and capable of 108 mph, excellent for 1974.
      Over here the Viva, which also had a GLS version launched when the Magnim was phased out in 1977, tended to do very well as an estate, a two seater with van like space that was popular with families and dog owners, while the saloon version was slightly larger than an Escort and also considerably bigger inside than a three door Chevette hatch. ( Not as much fun to drive and a bit heavier on petrol, though).

  19. I remember hearing about a limited edition “poverty spec” Viva HC, which was drempt up by the marketing dept to help clear an oversupply of 2 door saloon bodyshells.

    They were fitted with the minimum of mod-cons & sold at a discount price, & went down better than expected IIRC.

    • E was the poverty spec model for the Viva and Chevette in the late seventies. My dad was given a 1979 Chevette E as a company car and this really was basic motoring, horrible plastic seats( cured with cloth covers from Halfords, though), bare metal everywhere, no rear demister( optional one bought from Halfords) and basic driving instruments. Although my parents were divorced, and I didn’t get to ride in that car much, my dad loathed that Chevette with a passion, even though it was reliable and did 40 mpg.
      Two years later he was made redundant and he lost the company car. When he became self employed, he bought a car on here everyone will love, a 1971 Rover 2000 TC. I can remember this being immaculate and almost rust free, unusual for a ten year old car then, and being light years ahead of the Chevette in terms of comfort and equipment levels.

  20. Regarding the E spec, I remember at the time Vauxhall proudly advertised the fact that the E stood for Economy. It was a twisted version of marketing where they emphasised the fact that you weren’t having to pay for anything you didn’t really need.

    • There was an even lower spec introduced in 1981 on the Chevette. The E was upgaded with cloth seats, a demister and two sun visors to make it acceptable to most buyers, but there was an ES below that did without these and was one of the cheapest cars you could buy at the time. Mind you, it was an extremely basic for the time, on a par with a Ford Fiesta Popular for its lack of standard equipment, and I can’t remember seeing many ES Chevettes.

  21. The Viva was notable for keeping a strip speedometer well into its life, when most manufacturers had gone over to round speedometers. I wonder if this was the American influence at work as the Victor could be ordered with a column mounted gearshift into the seventies.
    I do recall the HC being a common sight well into the eighties( I think the rustproofing was better than on the HB and HA, the HA being a very rare sight after the mid seventies). The HC Viva offered basic motoring at a low cost, was reasonably reliable and easy to maintain, which was what buyers wanted.

    • I had a 2-litre Firenza with a strip speedometer. After an unfortunate incident involving a hangover and a barbed wire fence, I needed some replacement parts, and found a similar Firenza being broken for spares on a used car lot (this was 1979 – you wouldn’t do that today!) The salesman had a bit of a silver tongue, and claimed to have seen at least 105mph on the speedo’, which (unusually) only had markings up to 100mph on a 100mph car. “That’s interesting”, I replied, “I maxed mine, and found there’s a stop at 100”.

    • Yes Glenn, my 1972 Viva 1300 had the strip speedo with red needle. I think it was in 1976 when models like the Viva Deluxe(renamed 1300L) got 2 round dials. The Viva GLS (like the Magnums)got the 7 dial sport dashboard which included an ammeter and oil pressure guage.

      On paper the Magnum 2300 would be faster than a Capri 2 litre but I’ve never seen a Magnum race a Capri!

      • Viva and Firenza 2300’s had ammeters, but they had an unfortunate tendency to overheat (there were nasty brown marks on the back of the 7 dial pod on my Viva 2300) Later 7 dials, probably all of those fitted to Magnums, had voltmeters. Quite a few had the tacho’ mounted “the wrong way up” because it was easier to read that way; while the clocks – early ones had second hands, later ones didn’t – tended to stop working after a while.

      • I’d think a 2300 Magnum, which is a lighter car than a Capri, would take it on and probably win. Also the 1800 model would keep with a 1.6 Capri quite easily.
        I’ve always preferred the Magnum, particularly the rare coupe version, to the smaller engined Capris as they offered similar performance and were lighter. Also most people thought it was a Viva, but didn’t realise the Msgnum had engines from the Victor.

  22. Speaking of speedometers, the major instrument on my brother’s Morris Minor seized up. We left the house with the needle on 0; by the time we got to the motorway, it had wound its way up to 10 mph. After a few miles on the motorway, it said 50. When we stopped at the pub, it said 40. After a pint, it said 30. The vehicle is no longer on the road.

  23. The Magnum is a seriously underrated car and the 2300 version, using the Victor slant four, would quite easily beat a 2 litre Capri as it was lighter and had 300 cc more. Even the 1800 was quite a powerful car for the time, being capable of 100 mph, and the last versions were given the same spec as the 2300( six dial instrumentation, clock, better seats). The Magnum was the ultimate Q car as most people at the time assumed it was a fancy Viva and didn’t realise some versions were 20 mph faster than the standard Viva.

  24. I remember my Dad getting his first company car in 1968. A white Vauxhall Viva, OWD 883F if I remember correctly. We often used to go out in it with 4 kids aged from 3 to 10 in the back seat. No seat belts in those days of course! My abiding memory of it is watching dad back it up the path from the garage at the bottom of the garden in Enfield as he did every morning only this time he was waving the gearstick in the air. It had come off in his hand when he put it in reverse! He had it for 2 years then swapped it for the first of a line of 4 Cortina’s. 11 or so years later I got my own first company car, a yellow Chevette hatchback, RDP 934R IIRC.

    • Paul, I reckon your Dad’s white Viva would have been Grecian White and your yellow Chevette would be Jamaica yellow. Such is my knowledge of Vauxhall colour names back then! The tale of the Viva gearstick is amusing, I think I have heard similar stories on Chevettes.

      • I’ll bow to your greater knowledge of Vauxhall colours! I know the little Chevette had a nice gear change and cornered rather well. Now I know where land Rover got the idea for all their colour names!

      • Yes, the 1159 and 1256 HCs and Chevettes had a very slick gearchange. GM did have some great colours back then. My HCs were Riviera Blue Starfire, Aqua Starmist, Flamenco Red and Bronze Gold Starfire respectively. My Chevette was Volcano Red.

        • Tim, my Viva HC (an X14 edition) was in Emerald Starmist – dark green metallic. I remember another 70s Viva colour was Coppertone Starfire. Actually there were some nice looking colours in Vauxhalls palette back then.

  25. 1.5 million over 16 years is a very good performance, considering Vauxhall were Britain’s fourth biggest car manufacturer and considering the Allegro, which was the Viva’s rival in the seventies and so much was expected of it, only managed 700,000 in nine years. Had the Allegro been in production for 16 years( perish the thought), it still would have fallen way short of the Viva’s total production.
    It’s hard not to see why the Viva was Vauxhall’s big success while sales of its bigger models fell away. The HC in particular was a roomy car for its size, it was dependable and cheap to own, the sporting versions were worth a look, and the estate was a brilliant load carrier. Also by the mid seventies, the Vauxhall rust problem was being beaten and buyers liked the conservative yet good looking Viva styling compared with the weird beard Allegro.
    Of course, the Chevette came along and changed the game for Vauxhall by introducing a three door hatchback that was an instant hit and started to steal sales from the Viva.

  26. My first car was an HC Viva. My parents bought it for me from our next door neighbour in 1991 for the princely sum of $800 NZ. It was a 1974 base model in Orchid Red. Of course, to my 17 year old eyes it looked pink! It was in perfect condition the only issue being slight paint fade (understandable after 17 years), small rust patch on drivers door and torn seam in vinyl drivers seat. The car only had 80,000 kms (50,000 miles) which I learnt to drive in and had it for a three years. By 100,000 kms the engine was knackered though chewing through litres of oil every tank of fuel. The dipstick used to be ejected from its home and lodge itself in the bonnet lining when driven under load (up hills).
    I crashed it once where I hydroplaned into a guard rail and nearly ended up in the local harbour with three mates in the car and once scraping the front wing down the corner of our home when reversing into the garage trying to beat my parents home when I shouldn’t have been driving alone (still on L’s).
    Fond memories!

  27. Late to the party I know but further to the comments about Vauxhall’s reputation for rust, this tale is part of our family lore. My father’s first car was a phase 1 F-type Victor,black with a red interior, and complete with the early baroque styling. On arriving at work one morning a couple of colleagues, who had been behind him on the journey informed him that the car was ” crabbing” along the road. On investigation it was found that almost the entire rear underside had rotted out and the rear axle was attached to the rest of the structure by means being bolted to what appeared to be a railway sleeper. And this was the car in which I was transported as a baby! Didn’t do much to dim his enthusiasm for Victors mind, he had four more of various iterations over the years.

    • I’ve heard the boot floors of the early Victors were very rust prone, & some other parts would rust from on the inside first, with the rust only showing when it had done a lot of damage.

      P6 Rovers & Jaguar XK40s have a habit of rusting like that was if neglected.

    • Yes, Victor F series had a bad reputation for rust. However my Dad’s first car was a 1960 F Victor deluxe in blue/grey, bought around 1962 and kept till 1966. He looked after it and it was a nice looking car up to him selling it. Of course most cars tended to rust quicker in those days – especially in the North of England’s winter weather!

  28. I had two Viva E’s. A bronze coupe that was as rotten as a pear and then an immaculate yellow 2 door saloon. I also had a Chevette E two door saloon in pale blue. That car had a hard life. It was bought secondhand from the garage I worked in by a chap who commuted to the local station. One morning we found it abandoned on the forecourt and a note through the door saying ‘run out of oil, rattles like hell, is there any hope?’ thinking it would be knackered we got on with other stuff until he rang up and told us the tale. Late the previous evening he had set out on the seven mile drive home, and after about a mile the oil pressure light came on. He pressed on and arrived home with a rattle in the motor. The next morning he started it up and rattled it all the way to the garage, talk about lack of mechanical sympathy! We pushed it onto a ramp, could see no leak and so we filled up with oil, put our fingers in our ears and started it up. Man did it rattle, until the oil got round and it quietened down to the normal sound of a slightly neglected Chevette engine. We did the tappets, changed the oil and filter, took it for a run and it purred like a kitten. Matey ran it for about six months with no trouble and then abandoned it in his garage because he left his wife for his secretary. Over year later I bought it off of his now ex wife for £50 and ran it for nearly a year and then sold it to a friend whose daughter had just passed her test. She ran it for another two years, it finally died in Germany when a Volvo slammed into the back. That oil starved engine was never changed, or given any more love than an odd service here and there.

  29. Andy’s right, the Viva/Chevette 1256 engine was fairly sturdy providing oil changes and services were adhered to. I didn’t have trouble with my Viva’s motor, apart from the creamy sludge that built up in the rocker box cover (particularly during short winter runs.). it wasn’t as bad in the summer especially on long runs.

    My Vauxhall dealer never really gave a credible explanation for this happening so I assumed it was a trait of the engine.

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