Vauxhall Viva HC Series
|Assembly||Ellesmere Port, Cheshire, England|
|Body and chassis|
|Class||Small family car|
The Viva was introduced a year after Vauxhall's sister company Opel launched the Opel Kadett A. Visually the two cars' kinship was obvious. A van version was also produced, as the Bedford HA. In the UK the Viva's principal competitors at the time of its launch included the well-established Ford Anglia and Morris Minor.
The third generation HC series was the last solely Vauxhall designed passenger car when it ceased production in 1979, since all future Vauxhalls would be badge engineered Opel models.
HA Viva (1963–66)
|Vauxhall Viva HA|
Vauxhall Viva HA Series
|Also called||Vauxhall Epic (France, Algeria, Tunisia)
Envoy Epic (Canada)
309,538 produced 
|Body and chassis|
|Body style||2-door saloon|
|Engine||1,057 cc (64.5 cu in) ohv inline 4|
|Transmission||4-speed manual all-synchromesh|
|Wheelbase||91.5 in (2,324 mm)|
|Length||155 in (3,937 mm)|
|Width||59.5 in (1,511 mm)|
|Height||53.25 in (1,353 mm)|
|Kerb weight||1,564 lb (709 kg) (standard)
1,628 lb (738 kg) (90 SL)
The HA Viva, announced in September 1963, and replaced in September 1966, was Vauxhall's first serious step into the compact car market after the Second World War. It was also the first new small car produced by Vauxhall since 1936. The HA Viva was powered by a 1,057 cc (64.5 cu in), overhead valve, four cylinder, front-mounted engine driving the rear wheels. It was comparable in size and mechanical specifications with the new Opel Kadett released a year earlier in continental Europe. The Viva and Kadett were sold alongside each other in many markets. The HA Viva was just an inch longer than the Ford Anglia which dated back to 1959. It was offered only as a two door saloon.
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/vertical telescopic dampers suspension design in combination with a transverse leaf spring attached to the front crossmember at its centre position and the entire unit could be removed and adapted to another vehicle. (For similar reasons the Jaguar IRS assembly was often used at the rear of these custom cars). The Viva's rear suspension made do with conventional longitudinal semi-elliptic leaf springs and telescopic dampers.
In Canada, the HA was sold as the Vauxhall Viva by Pontiac/Buick dealers and also as the Envoy Epic by Chevrolet/Oldsmobile dealers, and was second in sales to the Volkswagen Beetle amongst imported compact cars. In France (and Algeria and Tunisia), the car was marketed as the Vauxhall Epic.
The Viva was initially launched in Standard and Deluxe versions, identifiable by their simple horizontal slatted metal grills. Minor changes in September 1964 included improved seats and more highly geared steering. A more luxurious SL (for Super Luxury) variant appeared in June 1965. Engines were available in two states of tune: entry level models came with a power output of 44 brake horsepower (33 kW), while the Viva 90, introduced in October 1965, had a higher 9:1 compression ratio and produced 54 brake horsepower (40 kW). The availability of two engines and three trim options enabled Vauxhall to offer six Viva variants in some markets. 90 models came with front disc brakes, while SLs featured contrasting bodyside flashes, a criss-cross chrome plated front grille, full wheel covers, three-element round tail lights and better interior trim.
During its first ten months, over 100,000 HA Vivas were made, and by 1966 the HA had chalked up over 306,000 sales, proving that Vauxhall had made a successful return to the small-car market, which they had abandoned following the Second World War. One measure of the success is the fact that a budget was made available to design the car's successor with a virtually clean sheet. The Viva HB inherited engines, but little else, from the HA.
The HA, however, suffered severely from corrosion problems along with other Vauxhall models of the time and very few of this model remain – one of the main problem areas being the cappings along the top side edges of the luggage compartment badly corroding and allowing water to enter, consequently leading to severe structural corrosion in the luggage-compartment floor area. As with a lot of other British cars of that period, many Vivas failed to survive long term. In addition, the HA Viva suffered badly from handling and stability problems.
The HA Viva was assembled in Australia by General Motors-Holden's commencing in 1964, and in New Zealand by General Motors at Petone. New Zealand built only the Deluxe model and a few base versions for government fleet contracts.
A van version was marketed as the Bedford HA and was offered in 6 cwt, 8 cwt and, from 1972, 10 cwt variants. It differed from the saloon in being taller, and thousands were bought by the GPO (later British Telecom), their bright yellow HA vans becoming a common sight. The HA Van was eventually supplanted by the Chevanne, but because of fleet orders, particularly from British Telecom, British Rail and the Post Office, the HA van remained in production, ultimately using the later HC Viva's engine and gearbox, all the way through to 1983.
Although no factory built estate versions of the HA Viva were offered, a limited-production estate conversion by Martin Walter Ltd. of Folkestone, based on the Bedford HA van, was marketed as the Bedford Beagle.
HB Viva (1966–70)
|Vauxhall Viva HB|
Vauxhall Viva HB Series
|Also called||Epic (Canada) |
|Production||September 1966 – July 1970
|Body and chassis|
|Body style||2-door saloon
|Engine||1159 cc ohv Inline-four engine
1599 cc Slant-4 I4
1975 cc Slant-4 I4 (GT)
|Transmission||4-speed manual all-synchromesh
optional Borg Warner Type 35 automatic from February 1967
|Wheelbase||95.75 in (2,432 mm)|
|Length||161.6 in (4,105 mm)|
|Width||63 in (1,600 mm)|
|Height||53.3 in (1,354 mm)|
|Curb weight||1,698 lb (770 kg) (standard)
2,070 lb (939 kg) (GT)
The HB Viva, announced in September 1966 and sold by Vauxhall until 1970, was a larger car than the HA, featuring coke bottle styling, and was modelled after American General Motors (GM) models such as the Chevrolet Impala/Caprice of the period. It featured the same basic engine as the HA, but enlarged to 1159 cc, but with the added weight of the larger body the final drive gearing was reduced from 3.9 to 1 to 4.1 (except the SL90 which retained the 3.9 diff) to keep the nippy performance.
The automatic Viva HB was offered from February 1967, and fitted with the ubiquitous Borg Warner Type 35 system. Cars of this size featuring automatic transmission were still unusual owing to the amount of power the transmission systems absorbed: in a heartfelt if uncharacteristically blunt piece of criticism a major British motoring journal later described Viva HBs with automatic transmission as "among the slowest cars on the road".
The HB used a completely different suspension design from the HA, having double-wishbone and coil springs with integrated telescopic dampers at the front, and trailing arms and coil springs at the rear. Lateral location and anti-squat of the rear axle was achieved using upper trailing arms mounted at approximately 45° fixed to lugs at the top of the differential. Both front and rear could also be fitted with optional anti-roll bars. The HB set new standards for handling in its class as a result of the adoption of this suspension design, where many of its contemporaries stuck with leaf springs and Macpherson struts.
This time, apart from the standard and 90 stages of tune, there was also, for a brief time, a Brabham SL/90 HB 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. This model and the Viva GT are the two most sought after models made. The Brabham model differed from the standard Viva SL/90 in having a different cam-shaft, uprated suspension with anti-roll bars, different exhaust manifolds, and a unique twin-carb manifold, as well as differing interior trim.
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.
The brakes were problematic: a 1971 survey of passenger cars registered in Sweden during 1967 place the HB Viva at the top of a list of cars identified as having faulty brakes as part of an annual testing procedure. Problems were concentrated on uneven braking and dragging brakes, generally at the rear, and affected 26% of the cars tested. Second on the list, with 24% of cars triggering brake fault reports, was the similarly configured Opel Kadett estate. Although it avoided the bottom spot in other individual categories, the poor score achieved by the brakes left the Viva with the highest overall rate of failure of the 34 passenger cars included in sufficient numbers to feature in the reports of the Swedish test results.
Originally offered as just a 2-door saloon, a 3-door estate joined the HB range in June 1967, but the advent of the 4-door in October 1968 saw the HB breaking sales records worldwide. The introduction of the four-door option coincided with various minor improvements to the interior trim, while 'auxiliary' switches were relocated from a remote panel to positions nearer to the steering wheel. The GM "energy absorbing" steering column was now fitted to all models and the fuel tank capacity was increased from 8 to 12 British gallons (36 to 55 litres). The 4-door saloon was designed and engineered by Holden in Australia who exported it as a kit of parts back to Vauxhall in England. Oddly enough despite being closer in physical location to Australia, all HB Vivas sold in New Zealand were produced from CKD kits imported from the UK and sold as Vauxhalls. The New Zealand Vivas were two- and four-door Deluxe sedans, the latter with the '90' engine. Automatic was not offered, nor was the SL trim. Some Deluxe wagons were also assembled locally along with a 'van' version minus the wagon's rear seat.
In the later 1960s and early 1970s, Britain's Motor magazine polled readers about their cars: they included a poll of HB Viva 1600 owners. The answers given greatest prominence were to the final question which asked whether or not respondents would buy another car of the same model: just 21% of Viva 1600 owning respondents answered “yes”, which was the lowest score for this question achieved by any of the first seventeen models for which surveys were conducted. By the time of the readership poll, the HB Viva was within a year of being replaced even though the 1600 version itself had only been offered since 1968, so the sample will have been relatively small: it appears that the low satisfaction rate may have reflected not so much the car’s design but rather a lack of effective quality control in the manufacturing processes.
The Viva GT had substantially different engine and running gear and interior from the standard Viva HB models. It was distinguished by having a black bonnet with twin louvres and being all-over white. Later GTs came in different colours.
A van version of the Viva HB was developed, but it never got beyond the prototype/mock-up stage. However, General Motors New Zealand did sell versions of the three-door station wagon with no rear seat as 'van' models and continued this with the later HC version.
Aftermarket conversion specialists, Crayford, also ran off some convertibles based on the 2-door Viva. Very few of these conversions exist still, only 2 GT model HBs were converted, but both are known to survive, and will likely be on the show scene in the coming years.
Close to 560,000 units were sold. Body design had improved after Vauxhall's poor reputation with corrosion on previous models. The HB had better underbody protection, but UK cars were still prone to rusting through the front wings in the area behind the headlights where water, mud and salt could accumulate. This ongoing problem with salt on UK roads affected many makes and models, not just the Viva, but Vauxhall's ongoing poor reputation for corrosion undoubtedly contributed to the development of bolt-on wings and wheel-arch liners in subsequent generations of family passenger car.
HC Viva (1970–79)
|Vauxhall Viva HC|
Vauxhall Viva HC Series
|Body and chassis|
|Body style||2-door saloon
|Engine||1159 cc OHV I4
1256 cc OHV I4
1759 cc Slant-4 I4
2279 cc Slant-4 I4
GM-Automatic (with 1,759 & 2,279 cc engines: Viva SL only)
|Wheelbase||97 in (2,464 mm)|
|Length||162.875 in (4,137 mm)|
|Width||64.75 in (1,645 mm)|
|Height||53 in (1,346 mm)|
|Curb weight||1,837 lb (833 kg)
- 2,237 lb (1,015 kg)
The HC Viva (1970–79) 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 1159 cc, 90 tuned 1159 cc or 1600 cc 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 Firenza, marketed by Pontiac/Buick dealers without the Vauxhall name. The cloned Envoy Epic was dropped as Chevrolet dealers now carried the domestic Chevrolet Vega. The HC was pulled from the Canadian market after two model years amidst consumer anger over corrosion and reliability issues. A class action lawsuit launched against General Motors of Canada by dissatisfied owners was not settled until the early 1980s.
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 coupé version called the Firenza was introduced in early 1971 to compete with the Ford Capri and forthcoming Morris Marina Coupé. It was available in deluxe and SL forms, with the latter sporting four headlights and finally resurrecting the missing 2.0 twin-carburettor engine from the HB Viva GT.
The basic 1159 cc engine was enlarged to 1256 cc in late 1971 and with this the 90 version was removed from the line-up.
The overhead cam engines were upgraded in early 1972, the 1.6 becoming a 1.8 (1759 cc) and the 2.0 (1975 cc) twin carburettor became a 2.3 (2279 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 1256 cc models staying as Vivas, with an optional 1.8 engine 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. As of the fall of 1975 the 1800 engine was also upgraded, increasing power from 77 to 88 hp (57 to 66 kW; 78 to 89 PS).
For 1977, the SL was replaced by the GLS, essentially marrying the plusher Magnum trim and equipment with the base 1,256 pushrod ohv engine. These models all had the full seven dial instrument panel, velour seating and Rostyle wheels, among many other upgrades.
In New Zealand, the Viva was originally built in two- or four-door sedan and wagon/van form with 1159cc and 1256cc engines. A batch of 1.8-litre models, some with automatic transmission, was imported from the UK in 1973/4 when the government temporarily relaxed import restrictions on built-up cars as local CKD plants could not meet demand. The 1.8-litre engine and automatic transmission later were added to CKD assembly and the entire range was renamed Magnum in 1976. This had the four headlight nose and improved trim and equipment, such as a two-dial instrument pack and heated rear window, in a bid to overcome the Viva's basic car image – its original place in the GM range now taken by a newly launched, wide range of locally-made 1.3-litre Chevettes – and slowing sales. The Magnum also had an 1800 engine option, often teamed with automatic transmission.
A version of the Viva HC, called the Chevrolet Firenza, was produced in South Africa, where it offered the British 1.3 or an Opel 1.9 L engine. The UK Firenza coupe was also offered in South Africa, with a special batch even having the small-block Chevrolet V8 fitted to make for a veritable wolf in sheep's clothing. South Africa also saw a three-door hatch developed off the Viva rather than taking on the then new Chevette/Kadett City (see next paragraph).
Viva production was scaled down after the launch of the Chevette in spring 1975. Originally a 3-door hatchback, the Chevette offered 2- and 4-door saloons and a 3-door estate in 1976 that all usurped the Viva's position as Vauxhall's small car entry.
The Chevette hatch was also sold as the Opel Kadett City, but the Viva remained on sale until the later part of 1979.
It was effectively replaced by the new Vauxhall Astra, a variant of the front-wheel-drive Opel Kadett. By that time it was 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 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.
The domestic market launch of the Viva HC coincided with one of the UK's periodic surges of debt fueled economic growth, and the latest Viva became Vauxhall's fastest selling new model of all time, chalking up its first 100,000 units in just 7 1⁄2 months. Total HC sales ran to about 640,000 units, making combined Viva production top the 1.5 million mark. The millionth Viva, a gold HC, was driven off the production line by a national politician amid much celebration on 20 July 1971. Although most Vivas were produced at Vauxhall's Ellesmere Port plant in northern England, the company's production lines were by the standards of the time flexible, and the millionth car was a product of the Luton factory. However, within seconds of the Millionth Viva's completion at Luton, Ellesmere Port celebrated what was described – over-optimistically as matters turned out – as the first Viva of the second million.
A car based on the Vauxhall Viva was produced from 1970 to 1972 by General Motors in Uruguay.
They were called Grumett, and came only in double-cab, two-door pick-up models, with an 1100 cc engine. The body was fibreglass; some original Vauxhalls were imported to serve as moulds. Mechanicals were either Vauxhall or Opel, depending on batch.
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 GM-AvtoVAZ Chevrolet Viva in Russia. This was essentially a four-door Opel Astra G (the model which was introduced as a Vauxhall/Opel in 1998 and was produced until 2004).
The Viva name is set to make a comeback as the price leader Vauxhall model in 2015. This will be based on the Korean designed and manufactured Chevrolet Spark.
The last new Vauxhall Viva
A brown saloon built in 1977, which remained unsold for 36 years before being sold at auction to raise money for charity.
References in popular culture
The car was mentioned in a song by Elvis Costello. One of the tracks from his 1978 album This Year's Model, "The Beat", contains the following lyric: "I've been a bad boy with the standard leader. My neighbour's revving up his Vauxhall Viva."
- 1970 Envoy 2000 and Epic Retrieved from www.oldcarscanada.com on 22 August 2012
- "Vauxhall Viva HA". motorbase.com. Retrieved 19 January 2008.
- Vauxhall Viva HA Retrieved from www.uniquecarsandparts.com.au on 22 August 2012
- "Used Cars on Test: 1963 Vauxhall Viva HA". Autocar. 127. (nbr 3739): 107–108. 12 October 1967.
- Blain, Doug Blain (April 1965). "Vauxhall view". Car Magazine: 22–25.
- Bedford History - Time-line of Light-Commercial Vehicles, www.vocnz.org.nz Retrieved on 8 May 2014
- "Vauxhall Viva HB". .motorbase.com. Retrieved 2008-01-19.
- "Used Car Choice: Vauxhall Viva HB". Autocar 140 (4040): 52–53. 8 November 1973.
- "Used Car Test: 1969 Vauxhall Viva SL 2-door". Autocar. 134. (nbr 3928): 18–19. 8 July 1971.
- Howard, Geoffrey (11 March 1971). "Faults in cars: a survey". Autocar 134 (3911): 2–5.
- "New for '69 Vivas go 4-door". Autocar 129 (3790): 8. 3 October 1968.
- Bulmer, Charles, ed. (3 February 1973). "On the road". Motor: 30.
- Norm Darwin, 100 Years of GM in Australia, pages 274–275
- "Vauxhall Viva HC". motorbase.com/. Retrieved 2008-01-19.
- Braunschweig, Robert; et al, eds. (March 1, 1979). Automobil Revue '79 (in German/French) 74. Berne, Switzerland: Hallwag, AG. p. 529.
- "News: The 100,000 production milestone, just reached with the HC series Vauxhall Viva....". Autocar 134 (3923): 30. 3 June 1971.
- "News: A million Vauxhall Vivas". Autocar 134 (3930): 24. 22 July 1971.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Vauxhall Viva.|
- The Vauxhall Viva Owners Club (The original club for all types of Vauxhall Viva)
- Viva Outlaws Club (Owners Club catering for modified and racing Vivas, owners of the Viva GT Register)
- Viva Drivers Club (Owners Club catering for all Viva models, for owners who wish to drive their Vivas)
- VBOA (Vauxhall, Bedford and Opel Association)