Tuesday February 19, 2019
The HA series Vauxhalls and Bedfords were once as much a part of everyday life as listening to Round The Horne on the BBC Home Service and thinking that the Rolling Stones needed a haircut. The Viva saloons seemed to disappear from the nation’s high streets by the end of the 1970s, but until the mid-1980s its light commercial stablemate could still be regularly sighted in British Rail and British Telecom depots.
David Jones is the proud owner of a 1966 Viva De Luxe and a 1968 Van – both of which are now so rare that they regularly turn heads when they are driven around Stockport.
The first-generation Viva was launched in August 1963 as Vauxhall’s first post-war small car with the major sales advantages of being spacious, having a boot large enough to accommodate any number of samples cases and mechanically straightforward.
The HA’s appearance was smart but unostentatious and certainly lower key than the rival Ford Anglia 105E but this did not prevent the brochure from posing the question ‘Did Woman have the first as well as the last word about the design of this spacious vivacious Vauxhall?’. If this attempt to appeal to the female motorist was not sufficiently cringeworthy, the copywriter also reassured potential buyers that there was ‘Headroom for high-style hairdo’.
Despite such patter, the Viva proved to be a considerable success; Motor magazine thought that ‘for a great many people who want cheap but ample family motoring, it will undoubtedly be welcomed’. David’s 1966 De Luxe is a last-of-the-line model, and for a mere £579 2s 11d the keen motorist gained a Vauxhall fitted with a heater, “Screenclean” and rear ashtrays.
As a young man, David was the proud owner of an HB, the HA ’s successor – ‘it was a De Luxe with “Go Faster” stripes’ – and he is the second custodian of HAP 505 D.
David came across the Viva ‘four years ago. Its condition was “straight”, but it needed a restoration as it had been locked up in a garage for a number of years. I think the wife of the original owner put it in storage after he died. When she passed away, it was put on eBay, and the Viva then passed to a dealer’.
He gave the Vauxhall ‘a new clutch and a new electrical system, but the bulk of the work was more cosmetic. The body received a respray, and the Viva also needed new headlining, but the upholstery looked like new after a steam clean’.
The refurbishment process took six months, and on the road, the HA is able to cope with modern traffic. David also points out that ‘I’m of the pre-power-steering and pre-disc brakes age, so I am used to the Viva’s ways’. Naturally, he is frequently stopped in the street with the words ‘my dad had one’ or ‘I passed my test in one’; schools of motoring in the 1960s often used the Viva. David’s second HA is even more exclusive, for the simple reason that light commercials tend to have a very poor survival rate.
In 1965 Commercial Motor reflected that the HA had a ‘very attractive appearance’ as well as ‘excellent performance and road holding characteristic coupled with very good fuel consumption and braking’ – which was precisely what retail outlets across the UK required for their delivery fleets. The Bedford was also widely employed by public utilities - Post Office usage alone an into tens of thousands in the 1970s and early 1980s – and it was made until as recently as 1983. It is quite incredible to realise that it was made at the same time as the Ford Escort Mk. III Van, even if the latter-day HA had the luxury of cloth upholstered seats.
Yet, as the familiar cliché goes, when did you last see one, for today you are more likely to encounter the HA on a rescreening of Carry On Camping (where Sid James drives one as a works’ van) than on the road or even at a classic car show.
The Jones Bedford dates from 1968 and David came by it in August of last year when he was displaying his Viva at Tatton Park. ‘Fred Dukes, the chair of the Viva Owners’ Club - http://www.vauxhallviva.com/?page_id=20 - approached me and asked, “do you fancy a restoration?”’. Incredibly, the Bedford had just one previous owner – ‘he was a gentleman from Walthamstow who wanted a vehicle for just himself and his wife, and bought the Van as this saved on Purchase Tax’.
Buying a van to avoid such a cost penalty was once a very common practice and should you need to transport other family members, there was the option of the Martin Walter Bedford Beagle estate conversion. A cheaper alternative was ordering a folding rear seat kit for just £16 10s from your local dealer.
The HA had been garaged all its life, and its owner eventually passed it to the Viva OC. By 2018 it was in ‘remarkably straight condition, but the engine had seized, the interior was black with dust, there were horrible seat covers, and the floor was covered with a carpet that looked as though it had come from somebody’s lounge’. As for the bodywork, ‘the only major rust problem was around the headlamps. My local garage managed to cut this out as I wanted to keep the original front wings’. The photographs give an idea of the scale of the task.
To make the HA more suited to 2019 motoring, David has fitted an electronic ignition, and a Dynameter, plus the later 1,256 cc engine for enhanced performance - and Princess Engineering rebuilt this unit. The new power plant has a Weber carburettor – ‘I was told that the unit from the Ford Capri would work on the HA’ - and David was fortunate enough to discover a 50-year-old sender for the out of commission petrol gauge.
The result that a van built in the year of The Beatles’ White Album is ready for use. ‘The engine has plenty of pep, and the gearchange is very easy to use’. He is keen to point out that his Bedford is the top-of-the-range 8 cwt which means that as well as featuring as a heavier rear axle and springs than the entry level 6 cwt it is equipped with many luxuries. This is a van with a specification that included an interior lamp, a chrome stripe on the side - ‘and even a passenger seat. I am living the dream!’.
The Viva will continue to cause amazement at shows while plans for the Van include being treated to 1960s-style sign-writing on the sides; ‘I am a painter and decorator by profession, and it would look perfect for my business’. Of course, one HA alone is enough to induce instant nostalgia – but to see two is quite amazing - and looking at both member of the Jones fleet parked is to have the sensation that you were suddenly back in 1969…
WITH THANKS TO - DAVID JONES