Wednesday September 14, 2016
Written by Andy Roberts.
First memories of cars are often fleeting but the maternal HB Viva De Luxe must have made a considerable impression on the younger me as even now I can picture the needle edging cautiously along the strip speedometer. Any HB is now as rare a sight as an X Factor finalist who doesn’t make you want to sell your TV set, but if I do hear that distinctive, almost nasal transmission whine, it transports me back to the days when a trip to Fine Fare was the high spot of the morning. The Viva would then transport family, plus boot load of Bird’s Dream Topping and other healthy comestibles, back home in time to hear Leonard Parkin read the ITN news at one o’clock.
Vauxhall launched the Viva HB 50 years ago this month and it was certainly a vast improvement over its predecessor. Its suspension was far more sophisticated, with front double wishbones and rear coil springs, there was a more powerful 1,159cc engine and, most notably of all, there was completely fresh styling. The 1963-1966 HA was a car that could be charitably described as ‘utilitarian’ in appearance, having all of the glamour of a pair of army boots, but the HB featured the new ‘coke-bottle’ lines. In my biased opinion, this incarnation of the Viva is one of the most attractive saloon cars ever made in the UK; a family runabout with faint overtones of Detroit. ‘Jet smooth, whisper quiet’, claimed Vauxhall with justifiable, if exaggerated, pride as the new Viva’s road manners were among the best in its class.
The HB line-up initially consisted of the base model (providing all of the luxury of an average bus shelter), the De Luxe (heater, windscreen washers, opening front quarterlights) and the flagship SL with its cigarette lighter, boot lamp and Ambla upholstery). The latter two were also available in ‘90’ form which offered front disc brakes and a more powerful 59 bhp engine; at a price of just £708 9s 10d the SL90 was regarded by the motoring press as a very desirable small car. Vauxhall progressively expanded the range, offering automatic and estate versions in 1967, while in the following year there were the options of the FD-Victor sourced 1.6-litre engine and a four-door saloon. There were also two ‘sporting’ models – the ‘Brabham, which was essentially a £37 10s dealer conversion, and the GT, with a 2 Litre OHC engine under its matt black bonnet, full instrumentation (including an oil temperature gauge!) and four exhaust pipes. No-one could accuse this particular HB of looking overly subtle.
The HB was replaced by the HC in 1970 and time, neglect and corrosion have drastically reduced their numbers - but if my recent experience is typical, the survivors are regarded with vast affection. Three years ago I had the pleasure of driving a 1967 SL in Warwickshire only to be flagged down by a Vectra-load of businessmen, all of them desperate to take pictures of the Viva. Five decades after its introduction, the Viva that allegedly provided ‘champagne excitement’ was still causing a stir.
Vauxhall should be proud.