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Vauxhall Viva History

The Viva was a model of car produced by Vauxhall Motors in a variety of models from 1963 to 1979. The models were known as the HA, the HB and the HC series.

HA Viva

HA Viva shown in original 1964 brochure

The Viva HA (1963-1966) was Vauxhall's first serious step into the compact car market. It had a 1057cc overhead valve engine. The 4 cylinder front mounted engine drove the rear wheels. The van version of the Viva HA, known as the Bedford HA, remained in production until 1983. Thousands of these vehicles were owned by the GPO (later British Telecom) and the bright yellow vans were a common sight. A limited-production estate car conversion by Martin Walter Ltd. of Folkestone was known as the Bedford Beagle.

The HA set new standards in its day for lightweight, easy to operate controls, a slick short gearchange, lightweight steering and clutch pedal, good all-round visibility and relatively nippy performance. It was one of the first cars to be actively marketed towards women, perhaps as a result of these perceived benefits for them.

The front crossmember (steering, suspension and engine mounting) assembly from the HA became a very popular item for DIY hot rod builders in the UK, due to its simple self-contained mechanics, similar to older designs such as those from the 1930s, and ability to accommodate much larger engines within its span. The assembly featured a double wishbone suspension design and the entire unit could be removed and adapted to another vehicle as a complete unit. (For similar reasons the Jaguar IRS assembly was often used at the rear of these custom cars).

In Canada, the HA Viva was sold as both a Vauxhall and also as the Envoy Epic, and was second in sales to the Volkswagen Beetle amongst imported compact cars.

Launched in just base and Deluxe trim, a more luxurious SL (for Super Luxury) variant came in late 1965. Engines were available in two states of tune - normal and hotter 90, giving Vauxhall up to six Viva variants in some markets. 90 models came with front disc brakes, while SLs featured contrasting bodyside flashes, a criss-cross grill element, full wheel covers, three round element tail lights and better cabin trim.

The HA chalked up over 306,000 sales in its run, giving Vauxhall a successful return to the small car market, which they had abandoned following World War Two.

The HA, however, suffered severely from corrosion problems along with other Vauxhall models of the time and very few of this model remain.

HB Viva

Viva HB SL model, from about 1967

The Viva HB (1966-1970) was a larger car than the HA, featuring a distinctive coke-bottle waistline, modelled after American General Motors (GM) models such as the Chevrolet Impala/Caprice of the time. It featured the same basic engine as the HA, but enlarged to 1159cc.

This time, apart from the standard and 90 stages of tune, there was also, for a brief time, a Brabham 90 engine that was purported to have been developed with the aid of world racing champion Jack Brabham. Brabham models were marked out externally by distinctive black stripes at the front of the bonnet that curved round to the fenders and then headed back to end in a taper at the front doors. This model is almost impossible to find today.

Two larger overhead camshaft engines from the larger Vauxhall Victor were also offered - a twin carb 1,975 cc in the Viva GT from Feb 1968 and a 1,599cc making up the Viva 1600 from May 1968.

With the expanded engine programme, the HB saw numerous permutations of model offerings, with base, deluxe and SL trims offered with a choice of standard 1.2, tuned 90 1.2, Brabham 90 1.2 and the aforementioned overhead cam units offered during its run. The Brabham was effectively replaced by the 1600, although many complained of high fuel consumption with this engine. Front disc brakes came with the 90 and overhead cam engine models, while a larger 12 gallon fuel tank was also part of the 1600 and GT package.

GTs were at first offered with very boy racerish trim - matt black bonnet with dummy air scoops, dummy exhaust pipes giving the impression of four outlets and clip on chrome wheel trims that mimicked racing mags, though the upgraded full instrumentation and sports steering wheel were appreciated by enthusiasts. The over-the-top trim was done away with in late 1969, when the GT was revised with more harmonious accoutrements and a revised dashboard accompanying changes to its gearing, making it a more refined (if slightly slower) performer.

Originally offered as just a 2 door saloon, an attractive 3 door estate joined the HB range in late 1967, but the advent of the 4 door in late 1968 saw the HB bursting sales records worldwide.

Aftermarket conversion specialists, Crayford, also ran off some convertibles based on the 2-door Viva.

The HB Viva was also built and sold in Australia as the first Holden Torana.

Canadian Chevrolet/Oldsmobile/Buick dealers continued to sell the Viva during this series as the Envoy Epic, until 1970.

The HB's handsome lines and peppy performance made it a sales hit, with close to 560,000 units sold. Body treatment improved greatly after Vauxhall's poor reputation with corrosion on previous models and the HB onwards had well protected body finishes.

HC Viva

Viva HC

The Viva HC (1970-1979) was mechanically the same as the HB but had more modern styling and greater interior space due to redesigned seating and positioning of bulkheads. It offered 2 and 4 door saloons and a fastback estate with the choice of either standard 1159cc, 90 tuned 1159cc or 1600cc overhead cam power. No 2.0 GT version was offered with the new range, although the 2.0 became the sole engine offering for Canada, where the HC became the Vauxhall Firenza and effectively replaced both the Viva and Envoy Epic.

The American influence was still obvious on the design, with narrow horizontal rear lamp clusters, flat dashboard with a "letterbox" style speedometer, and a pronounced mid bonnet hump that was echoed in the front bumper.

A coupe version called the Firenza was introduced in spring 1971 to compete with the Ford Capri and forthcoming Morris Marina Coupe. It was available in deluxe and SL forms, with the latter sporting four headlights and finally resurrecting the missing 2.0 twin carb engine from the HB Viva GT.

The basic 1,159 cc engine was enlarged to 1256 cc in late 1971 and with this the 90 version was deleted.

The overhead cam engines were upgraded in spring 1972, the 1.6 becoming a 1.8 (1,759 cc) and the 2.0 (1,975 cc) twin carb became a 2.3 (2,279 cc). At this time, the Viva 2300 SL and Firenza Sport SL did away with the letter-box speedometer and substituted an attractive seven dial instrument pack. Firenza SLs had a two round dial pack, though all other Vivas and Firenzas stuck with the original presentation.

In September 1973, the Viva range was divided, the entry 1256cc models staying as Vivas, with optional 1.8 power if automatic transmission was chosen.

The 1.8 and 2.3 L models took on more luxurious trim and were rebadged as the Magnum. At the same time, the Firenza coupe was given a radical makeover with an aerodynamic nose and beefed up 2.3 L twin carb engine mated to a ZF five speed gearbox, turning it into the HP (High Performance) Firenza.

The Viva was again revised in 1975, with trim levels becoming the E (for Economy), L and SL. The E was Vauxhall's answer to the Ford Popular and was first offered as a promotional edition two-door coupe using surplus Firenza body shells, before becoming a permanent Viva model in two-door saloon form. It was the only Viva to still have the strip speedometer after this as the L and SL adopted the Firenza SL's two round dial set up.

In New Zealand, the Viva was re-named as the Magnum 1300 in 1975. This had the four headlight Magnum frontage and improved trim and equipment in a bid to overcome the Viva's basic car image and slowing sales.

A version of the Viva HC, called the Chevrolet Firenza, was produced in South Africa, where it offered the British 1.3 or a Chevrolet 2.5 L engine. The UK Firenza coupe was also offered in South Africa, with a special batch even having the small block Chevrolet V8 stuffed in to make for a veritable wolf in sheep's clothing.

Vauxhall Viva production was scaled down after the beginning of 1975, when General Motors introduced the new Vauxhall Chevette range of hatchbacks, saloons and estates - the hatchback version of which was also sold as the Opel Kadett City. But the Viva remained in production until the end of 1979 when the new Vauxhall Astra went on sale. By that time it was feeling very dated in comparison with more modern rivals like the Volkswagen Golf. Production ceased at a time when European manufacturers were making the transition from rear-wheel drive saloons to front-wheel drive hatchbacks in the family car market.

The passing of the Viva in 1979 marked a significant moment for Vauxhall, as it was the last car to be completely designed by the Luton-based company. All future Vauxhalls would be simply badge-engineered Opels, or in the case of the 2004 Vauxhall Monaro, a rebadged Holden.

Total HC sales ran to about 640,000 units, making combined Viva production top the 1.5 million mark. The millionth Viva was a gold HC produced in August 1971.

All three Viva variants have a following in the classic car fraternity, but are rarely considered to be true classics. The HC is also a popular choice of vehicle with UK Goths, especially with mild and period style customisation.

Viva Contemporaries

  • Morris Marina
  • Ford Escort
  • Hillman Avenger

Name revival

The Viva name would not appear on a General Motors car for another 25 years. In 2004, in cooperation with Lada manufacturer AutoVAZ, General Motors launched the Chevrolet Viva in Russia. This was essentially a four-door Opel Astra B. The name will also be used by Holden in Australia and New Zealand on versions of the Daewoo Lacetti and Nubira

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