The Vauxhall Viva, a small family saloon and coupé from the 1960s and 70s.
The Vauxhall Viva was Vauxhall’s first foray into the small family car market since the end of the second world war and competed with the Ford Anglia and the Morris Minor. There were 3 marks of the Vauxhall Viva, designated HA, HB and HC over the period of a decade and a half. It was the last car entirely designed by Vauxhall per se, after the Viva, Vauxhalls were actually re-badged Opels (and the Monaro, which is a Holden).
My memories of the company Viva that my Dad was given was the sqared off headlights and the square speedo. Luckily, we didn’t have it for very long as it was spectacularly unreliable (I learned how to strip, clean and refit a carb as the fuel filter never seemed to work properly and Dad was forever having to do it on long journeys). It was the markIII version and we had it 1970 – 1972. It was replaced by a ford Cortina mkII that was sold on for £180 18 years later. The Cortina never had a great reputation but, other than the rust and being missing for a couple of weeks after having been stolen, it was reliable.
Anyway, enough of my wittering, back to the topic! The first version, the HA Vauxhall Viva, was announced in September 1963 and resembles in many ways the Opel Kadett, released a year earlier by Vauxhall’s sister company. It was a rear wheel drive vehicle powered by a 1000cc overhead cam engine. There was no 4 door or estate version produced by Vauxhall. The commercial van based on the Viva was unimaginitively named the Bedford HA and remained in production for 20 years, essentially unchanged. An estate version (Bedford Beagle) and dormobile style small campervan was produced by Folkestone based coachbuilder Martin Walter of Folkestone. It was (sort of) stopped by all round drum brakes but the more powerful Viva 90 from 1965 had front disc brakes.
The basic HA Viva styling was straightforward with a slight central ridge to the bonnet and the top of the front wings. The grille was simple horizontal slats. The SL (super luxury) had a posher grille, go-faster stripes, full wheel covers and round rear light clusters. Oh yes, and a bit better interior trim of course. But whatever Viva you bought, it was an absolute rust-bucket.
But the Vauxhall Viva was innovative in its own way. The steering, clutch and other controls were lightweight and therefore easy to operate, as it was a fairly light car it was nippy and it had a slick short stick gear change making it more positive than stirring a pudding! The all round visibility from the vehicle was exceptionally good. It was thus the first car that was actively marketed towards women. But the 1960 were the start of the change in attitude towards accepting women as individuals and not just a housekeeper so that would have undoubtedly helped Vauxhall decide on this strategy. Also, the front steering, suspension and engine mounting assembly was popular with DIY builders.
The mark II Viva, the HB was designed on the back of the success of the HA model. Over the 3 years of production of the HA, it sold over 100,000 per year, almost 2000 per week worldwide. The second series Viva shared pretty much only the name and engine with the forst incarnation. It also evolved away from being a basic boxy family car and the straight line from bonnet to boot now had a ‘kink’. It had more of a US ‘muscle car’ styling and was clearly aimed at the ‘boy racers’ of the time. The original engine had been increased in size by 100cc to compensate for the increased weight. It was larger than the original version. The automatic version that was introduced in ’67 was a slow pig … the Borg Warner automatic transmission was not great and absorbed a lot of the output power. The suspension was altered and whatever its other faults, it handled very well. The HB bodywork was a tad better in terms of rusting less.
The range included an estate version and the sought-after 2 litre GT. The latter had a black painted bonnet, emulating the paint jobs on rally cars of the era. However, Joe Public went mad for the 4 door versin that was introduced in ’68 which lead to its record-breaking sales.
The longest running version was the HC, aka the mark III viva. The mechanical side of things remained the same as th HB but there were changes to the styling, notably the bonnet ridge which was more noticeable and also carried on down the grille and bumper. In my opinion, this improved the front end immensely. A few changes to the interior made it altogether more roomy. A sporty coupe was introduced to the range in order to compete with the Ford Capri and Morris Marina Coupe. Engine sizes were all increased, making the entry level Viva effectively a 1300cc car.
Even though it remained in production, the Chevette took over as Vauxhall’s small family car and the Viva HC has now entered the realms of a classic car, along with other icons of the 1970s since it was superseded by the Astra.
Since 2004, the name has been revived by Lada, Holden and Daewoo.