News : Ellesmere Port celebrates half century


Vauxhall has celebrated 50 years of production at Ellesmere Port by recreating the 1964 scene and the original press image of the first vehicle coming off the line, in the same production location with today’s Astra alongside.

The first new car to be produced at Ellesmere Port on 1 June 1964 was a Vauxhall Viva HA, a model name that would run through three generations until 1979, before being eventually replaced by the Astra. The Viva cost £527 7s 11d at launch.

The Astra Mk1, Vauxhall’s first front-wheel drive car, was built on 16 November 1981. The Astra has since become Vauxhall’s best seller and continues in production to this day. Ellesmere Port was built on the site of RAF Hooton with construction starting in 1962. It should have been called Vauxhall Hooton Park but this was changed shortly before production began as it was deemed to be too close, phonetically, to Luton which could have caused much confusion internally.

The factory came to West Cheshire as a result of a Government strategy to develop production plants with the ‘Big Five’ motor manufacturers in new industrial development areas across the country. Vauxhall, Ford and Standard Triumph chose the Liverpool/Wirral/Merseyside region. The Board of Trade offered financial inducements including 40% towards plant and machinery costs and 25% towards construction.

Ellesmere Port has weathered a number of motor industry storms over the years and was recently threatened with closure. The determination of the strong workforce working closely with the management team and UNITE The Union has ensured the plant’s survival into the next decade with the allocation of the next generation Astra. Production of the new model will start in the autumn of 2015 with Ellesmere Port being the lead plant of only two producing this important model across Europe.


Keith Adams


  1. Ellesmere Port has certainly fought some tough battles over the years, largely based on the internal competition (and politics) within General Motors. But they have managed to defy the odds and not only maintain thousands of skilled manufacturing jobs, but also the Vauxhall name itself, largely through the success of the Astra which is built in several different bodystyles.

    Long may this achievement continue and amidst the focus on more prominent British marques such as Jaguar, Land Rover and MINI which are also doing rather well, let us not overlook the success and achievements of Ellesmere Port.

  2. It’s interesting that Ellesmere Port and Halewood still exist whereas Luton (cars) and Dagenham (assembly) both have shut.

    The Ellesmere Port managers and workers have done a good job making the plant competitive in a highly competitive market, though from a political and PR point of view, the Vauxhall brand without a UK car assembly plant would be heavily tarnished, and isn’t the UK GM’s best market in Europe, or nearly so very important to them?

  3. Something not quite right there. The Viva HA ran until 1967 when it was replaced by the HB. The Viva name itself lasted until 1979 when it was replaced by the Astra. The Viva sold alongside the Chevette from 1975 onwards. The van derivative of the HA stayed in production until 1983.

    • Paul’s just about fully correct. But I’m pretty sure the Viva HB launched in Sept 1966, though there would still be plenty of “new HA’s” available for sale until ’67

  4. @Maestrowuff.I think your right about the UK being GMs biggest European market, just as it is for Ford. The Focus is often considered to be a better car from the Astra (well by 25 year old shirt hanging out motoring journalists it is)but Vauxhall deserve credit and sales success for sticking with the UK when treacherous Ford turned its back. The same can be said for the Vivaro Van. The real backbone of Britain, not some Turkish built Transit.

  5. @paul. Correct. The MK1 Astra replaced the viva in 1979. The chevette was smaller than the viva/Astra and was replaced by the nova in 1982/3.

  6. Francis,

    Actually, the Chevette is pure Opel Kadett underneath – it shares the Viva’s 1256cc engine, but its platform and much of its body was shared with its German cousin…

  7. Was the Kadett C still on the same floor pressing as the Kadett A? If so, that would be shared with the Viva HA.

  8. Ellesmere Port is also a major petro-chemical installation , the huge Stanlow refinery complex and associated satellite automotive industries.

    Octel and Shell for example, Shell had an advanced rolling-road facility for comprehensive testing of vehicles, you would see batches of newly-registered cars, straight from the factory, with consecutive number plates destined for the Shell lab. It was possible if you had the right contacts to glean the useful gossip from them, ie don’t buy the Granada, just yet, the propshaft will fracture, Spicer Hardy told Ford not to use that spec but they did anyway because it was cheaper to buy etc etc, I recall seeing a batch of about 10 Dolomites arriving at the establishment one morning on the way to work, Staff had the useful option of borrowing vehicles on test simply to see how they coped with real world driving, even though the computerised rolling road could simulate everything you could throw at a car

  9. The Chevette was, as mentioned above, an Opel Kadett with a Viva engine stuck in it. Initially this was not so obvious, because the Chevette was hatchback and the Kadett a saloon. The Chevette has a nose job too. However, a hatchback version of the Kadett was launched and a saloon version of the Chevette and the similarity was apparent.

  10. The Viva engine was also used in the Calvalier once the Luton production line started up, while all the others used Opel units.

  11. By sheer coincidence, I saw an HA Viva yesterday on the streets of Halifax NS. The paint was so faded, the original colour unknown, but probably blue-ish.

    The remarkable thing is that it exists at all in one piece, it had to have been stored away. Average life was about 5 years back in the day. Still, it was moving under its own power, but in opposite direction, or I’d have followed and tried to talk to him.

    We don’t have searchable registered vehicle databases here, so no luck that way. However, there is at least one Anglebox and early Mini running around here in the land of rust.

  12. The HB Viva was a lovely little car – very good looking, very refined by the standards of the day , and with splendid handling particularly in 90 or Brabham guises . Such a shame that there are so few left

  13. By the 1980s Vivas were just old car” & I guess no-one really cared about them, so many were bought for a few notes, run into the ground & scrapped when they bodywork rotted away, or needed a big mechanical repair.

    Like a few big selling 1970s models they did seemed to be common sites until the mid 1990s, long after most Mk1 Cavaliers vanished from the roads.

  14. So Ellesmere Port & the Viva are 50 years old – Congratulations. Nice touch recreating the old press photo.

    I once owned a Viva HC so guess it would have been built on that line. Really liked that car despite its well documented corrosion problems that needed regular attention. Seeing this photo emphasises how much cars have grown since the 1960’s.

    I hear that Vauxhall are reviving the VIVA name for their next Citycar

  15. Viva HA the second car I owned. The first begin a Ford Anglia ( only for 2months). The HA was a wonderful car to drive. Short throw gear leaver. Light and airy inside. The back quarter lights opened too. Light steering, I think that was down to the large steering wheel.
    A small metal plate in the drivers foot well rusts out causing a water leak. Easy to fix. The clutch cables had a habit of breaking. This was fixed by changing the clutch pedal for an Opel one. This was not so easy to do. The last thing was rust around the rear seams. Metal trip covers were easy to purchase. So they hid the main rust.

  16. Whenver Ii think of Ellesmere Port and Vauxhall, Bob Ferris comes to mind, as he owned an HB Viva in the Likely Lads television series and a Chevette in the film. I wonder if now he would be running the latest generation Astra, or possibly Thelma would have insisted he bought a Volkswagen to fit in with the middle class neighbours.

  17. Big congrats to Ellesmere Port and all the efforts of the management and men to retain this presence in the UK.
    I used to go from Wiltshire up to Ellesmere Port with a new HB (the sexy coke bottle one) half a dozen times a month and then bring back a new (un- PDI’d) one. Loved the car to bits – pretty (less dark and dumpy than the Mk 1 Escort), excellent manners, sweet engine and box and great fun to chuck around (being driven from the right end),
    Had several in the 80’s including the Estate and later a Magnum 1800. My daughter was still using an HC only a few years ago.
    Don’t talk about rust in this era – everything rusted. VW, Ford, Lancia, anything BL – it all rusted a away. Yet amazingly, at a recent classic car show in Stroud there was the most beautiful HB that was presented so well it could have left the factory that morning! Wonderful.

  18. Woleseley Man is correct. Rust was a problem with most manufacturers in the 70’s & 80’s. Does anyone remember Ziebart & Cadulac rustproofing on new cars as a dealer extra? Vauxhall used to promote their cars as being undersealed at the factory as standard.

    I fancied getting a Magnum 1800 or Cavalier MK1 after my Viva – never did though.

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