Tuesday July 24, 2018
Take the background of almost any episode of The Sweeney, The Professionals, or early editions of Minder and you are guaranteed to see at least one Viva. For 16 years the compact Vauxhall was a part of the fabric of everyday life; the car for the school run, the blue & white Panda Car on duty at the local shopping precinct, the sense of pride at receiving the keys to your first company vehicle or the glances of admiration at seeing an GT finished in green metallic paint. In the early 1970s, the HB was a star of Whatever Happened to The Likely Lads? while my own family ran a two-door De Luxe. Once heard, that transmission whine can never be forgotten.
The original Viva HA was launched in late 1963 as the first post-war small Vauxhall. The coachwork was derived from the Opel Kadett and gave a definite message to potential buyers - See Video Below - forget The Beatles, the Mersey Sound and Cuban-heeled boots, here is a car that represented solid values. As compared with its closest rival, the Ford Anglia 105E, the coachwork was low-key and in contrast with the Morris and Austin 1100, the engineering was ultra-straightforward.
‘To great many people who want cheap but ample family motoring, it will undoubtedly be welcomed’ concluded Motor and the HA formula meant sales of over 306,000 HA in three years. It was also popular in several overseas’ markets including Vauxhall’s crucial export territory Canada, where it was sold as the “Envoy Epic”. According to the brochure, dashing chaps would appreciate ‘the nippy ride and the handling’ while the ladies would like the ‘Modern good looks’. For just £566 1s 3d, the De Luxe version (heater and windscreen washers as standard) was, according to Autocar ‘outstandingly easy to drive’. Hundreds of early Vivas were used by driving schools, a role that was reflected in the chase of the brilliant 1969 spy comedy Otley.
By September 1966 the HA saloon was replaced by the HB, which has to be one of the most attractive small British cars of its generation. There was also an enlarged engine, new suspension and, in 1968, the options of a four-door and the 2-Litre GT, the latter immediately recognisable via its black bonnet, extra instrumentation and four (!) exhaust pipes. But even if you ordered a 1,159cc De Luxe, a Viva would still bring that touch of Carnaby Street to outer suburbia for merely £626 2s 9d (servo assisted front disc brakes £15 7s 4d extra) . Autocar grumbled about the heating and ventilation system but concluded that the Viva was ‘quite outstanding in what it can do’ while to Motor thought that it had with ‘very strong tuning potential’.
The HB was replaced by the HC in October 1970, the latter having attractively subtle trans-Atlantic lines. The fastback estate was a very pleasing compromise between a station wagon and a three-door hatchback; Car magazine thought it ‘an excellent compromise for the person who does not want an estate car!’ As for the entry-level two-door, that was ‘An excellent small car with very few faults’ in the opinion of Motor, even if the price was now £850 18s 1d. In July 1971 Vauxhall built the millionth Viva.
Over its nine-year production run, the HC range developed to the point where it was about as complex of the plot of a Peter Capaldi-era Doctor Who. There was the decadence that was the 2300SL saloon, the Firenza coupe and upmarket Magnum variants plus a bargain version complete with a very large “E” decal on the boot-lid with which to impress your neighbours. Better still, any Viva was recommended by James Hunt -
– plus an probable escapee from The Wicker Man - See Video Below . The advent of the Chevette and the Cavalier in 1975 marked a definite move towards an Opel-dominated line-up but the Viva continued to be a strong seller. A late-model 1300GLS was very well appointed, came with quad headlamps as standard, looked especially imposing if you specified gold paintwork and, most importantly, cost little more than a Ford Escort GL Mk. II.
When the last HC left the factory in July 1979 it marked the end of all-Vauxhall designed products and of a form of motoring life that is still remembered to this day. And, speaking from experience, if you want to keep a low profile on the road, don’t travel by 1969 Viva HB SL – because when I did few years ago, I soon learned that everyone’s mum/dad/uncle/grandmother used to drive one…