was produced by Vauxhall Motors in a succession
of three versions between 1963 and 1979. These were known as the
HA, the HB and the HC series.
The Viva appeared a year after
Vauxhall's sister company launched the Opel Kadett A: visually
the two cars' kinship was apparent.
In the UK the Viva's principal competitors at the time of its
launch included the well established Ford Anglia and Morris
HA Viva (1963-1966)
Nice custom paint job of an old Vauxhall Viva
The Viva HA, announced in September 1963 and replaced in
was Vauxhall's first serious step into the compact car market
after World War 2. It was also the first new small car produced
by Vauxhall since 1936. It had a 1057 cc overhead valve engine.
The 4 cylinder front mounted engine drove the rear wheels. It
was comparable in size and mechanical specifications to the new
Opel Kadett released a year earlier in continental Europe. Both
the Viva and Kadett were sold alongside each other in many
markets. The Viva HA was just one inch longer than the Ford
Anglia which had not been rebodied since 1959.
No four-door or estate versions of the HA Viva were
available. A limited-production estate car conversion by Martin
Walter Ltd. of Folkestone, based on the Bedford HA van, was
known as the Bedford Beagle.
There was a van version of the Viva HA, which was known as
the Bedford 8 or 10 cwt Van. This remained in production until
1983. Thousands of these vehicles were bought by the GPO (later
British Telecom) and these bright yellow vans were a common
These differed from the HA Viva saloon version in being
taller. As the HA Van continued in production after the HA Viva
had been replaced by the HB and HC models, the engine was
uprated as were other items on it over the course of its
The HA Van was eventually supplanted by the Chevanne.
However, due to fleet orders, particularly from British Telecom
and the Post Office, the HA van actually stayed in production
using the later HC Viva's engine, gearbox - until 1983.
The HA set new standards in its day for lightweight, easy to
operate controls, a slick short gear change, 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 cross member (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 cross member at its
centre position and the entire unit could be removed and adapted
to another vehicle as a complete unit. (For similar reasons the
Jaguar IRS assembly was often used at the rear of these custom
cars). The rear suspension making do with conventional
longitudial semi elliptic leaf springs and lever arm 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.
The Viva was initially launched in base 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 44.2 bhp (33.0 kW), while the
Viva 90, introduced in October 1965, having a higher 9:1
compression ration, provided 53.7 bhp (40.0 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
During its first ten months, over 100,000 HA Vivas were made,
and by 1966 the HA had chalked up over 306,000 sales, giving
Vauxhall a successful return to the small car market, which they
had abandoned following World War Two. One measure of the
success is the extent to which budget was made available to
design the car's successor with a virtually clean sheet. The
Viva HB would inherit 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. However, as with a lot of other British
cars of that period, many Vivas failed to survive long term not
so much due to their poor corrosion protection but more due to
local British councils putting salt on the roads to melt ice
during the winter.
HB Viva (1966-1970)
The Viva HB, announced in September 1966
and sold by Vauxhall until 1970, was a larger car than the HA,
featuring distinctive coke bottle styling, modelled after
American General Motors (GM) models such as the Chevrolet
Impala/Caprice of the time. 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.
1966-1970 Vauxhall Viva (HB)
Less nippy was the automatic Viva HB offered from February
1967, fitted with the ubiquitous Borg Warner Type 35 system.
Cars of this size featuring automatic transmission were still
unusual due 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 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
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.
Two larger overhead camshaft engines from the larger Vauxhall
Victor were also offered - a twin carb 1975 cc in the Viva GT
from Feb 1968 and a 1599 cc making up the Viva 1600 from May
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
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
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, an attractive 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 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
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.
The HB Viva was also built in Australia by General
Motors–Holden's from 1967 to 1969 and marketed there as the
Holden HB Torana. 
Canadian Chevrolet/Oldsmobile dealers continued to sell a
rebadged HB as the Envoy Epic through 1970.
The HB's handsome lines and peppy performance made it a sales
hit, with close to 560,000 units 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 & model, 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.
Today HB 2 door Vivas are very sought after, 4 door variants
are rather rare (in contrast to the HC, where 2 door variants
are rarer). The HB estate models, whose rear wings and tailgate
showed coke bottle styling at its best, are rarer still.
HC Viva (1970-1979)
The Viva HC (1970-1979) 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 Pontiac Firenza, marketed 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.
In Canada, the Epic's poor reputation lead to it being
nicknamed the "Envoy Epidemic."
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 coupe version called the Firenza was introduced in spring
1971 to compete with the Ford Capri and forthcoming Morris
Marina Coupe. It was available in deluxe and SL forms, with the
latter sporting four headlights and finally resurrecting the
missing 2.0 twin carb 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 spring 1972, the
1.6 becoming a 1.8 (1759 cc) and the 2.0 (1975 cc) twin carb
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 optional 1.8 power 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.
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 re-named as the Magnum 1300 in
1976. This had the four headlight Magnum frontage and improved
trim and equipment in a bid to overcome the Viva's basic car
image and slowing sales. An 1800 engine option was also offered,
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 a
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 stuffed in to make for a veritable wolf in sheep's
clothing. S 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
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 feeling very 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.
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.
The HC Viva has been less popular with classic car
enthusiasts, as until recently 1970s cars weren't really sought
after or considered true classics. This attitude is slowly
changing, with the best low mileage examples of HC Vivas
changing hands for a couple of thousand, rather than hundred,
pounds on sites such as ebay.
Vauxhall Viva HC Estate
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 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 name is also used by Holden in Australia and New
Zealand on versions of the Daewoo Lacetti and Nubira
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