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The Carchive: 1966 Vauxhall Viva

Chris Haining August 4, 2017 Cars You Should Know, The Carchive 11 Comments

The last few weeks have been a little Americentric, so I figured I’d stick a little closer to home today. We’re staying with 1966, but visiting Luton, Bedfordshire to take a look at the upgraded Vauxhall Viva range.

Keep the last fortnight’s AMC Rambler and Marlin, and the Buick Riviera before that, in mind and remember – this is what mid 1960’s family motoring looked like in the UK. Welcome back to The Carchive.

Click to engorge the pictures

“Here, right, is a Viva de Luxe. Note the comfort and driving convenience. Through the wide, deep windscreen we see a Viva ‘SL’.”

Note it! Vauxhall had plenty to celebrate in ’66. The Viva lineup was expanding. The Standard and de Luxe models had been ‘supremely successful’ and were being joined by an all new ‘SL’. “Super Luxury”, they reckoned, for the “man – or woman – who wants wholehearted performance, plenty of room and unfaltering reliability in a 1-litre saloon”

One litre. Welcome  to England.

The lines of the Viva have the rightness which is the hallmark of all good design

The proportions of the first-generation “HA” series Vauxhall Viva always seemed a little odd to me. The waistline was high and flat, the front wheels pushed far enough forwards that the Viva could almost qualify as a front mid-engined car, and a huge rectangular boot hung out back as if to counterweight the front end. In fact, the Viva closely resembled the Opel Kadett of the same era – the generation that one Hamster Hammond would form a meaningful relationship with on a TV trip through Africa – although there was officially no joint-development programme.

Vauxhall was proud of its performance figures, though, promising 0-50mph in “less than 13 1/2 seconds”, with a top speed around 80mph. Indeed, in the UK, going quickly hadn’t yet quite been democratized.

“This is the basic 1057cc power unit that has put the famous punch into Viva performance. Quiet, supple, gratifyingly economical”

Sounds like me. The engine that delivered the performance claims above was rated at 50bhp (gross), while the ‘hot’ version, the ’90’, was rated at 60. It was distinguished with bright red paint, and provided “swift, spirited performance”.

Both were the same four-cylinder pushrod lump, but the latter was given a different carburetor, higher compression ratio, bigger valves and uprated bearings to spin out that formidable power. Sadly, the brochure makes no mention of exactly what kind of road-burning performance we could expect from all those rampant extra gee-gees.

“Sure-footed as a mountain goat…with liveliness and agility to match”

Well, quite. Much was made of the Viva’s compact nature and, apparently, nifty handling, although I’ve not looked around for any contemporary accounts of just how these stacked up against the competition. Around that time the Viva would have slightly undercut the Ford Cortina, and sold against the rather more flamboyantly-styled Ford Anglia. I’ll have to keep a look out for an old Autocar or Motor with a side-by-side test.

’66 was the last year for the HA Viva, but it would actually on way beyond the arrival of its HB replacement, but in a different form. It was also the basis of the Bedford HA van (as found in The Carchive here) and was still being made, incredibly, in 1983 – mainly for sale to nationalised organisatons such as utilities providers. I remember yellow British Telecom versions still roaming the roads in the late ’80s.

“The ‘SL’ facia shown here is representative of the functional instrument panels of the complete Viva range”

Yep, that’s yer lot. The British family motorist’s time behind the wheel was a straightforward one. There were none of the gaudi fripperies, such as autronic eye headlamp dimmers, cruise-o-matic speed controls or select-aire airconditioning. You got something to tell you how slowly you were going and a gauge that showed how long you could keep doing it. Oil pressure was monitored by a light, headlamps and indicators were controlled by a stalk. That was it. The ‘SL’s main benefit was the ‘rich Ambla seating‘ and ‘padding above and below the matt silver facia‘. Sheer luxury.

Today, the Vauxhall Viva name is once again in circulation, having been foisted upon a contraption built in South Korea and sold elsewhere as the Opel Karl. It’s ostensibly our equivalent of the Chevrolet Spark, a thoroughly nondescript bargain battler that’s quite a long way away from the cutting edge. It’s inoffensive enough, though, and appears to offer good value. Perhaps the Viva name isn’t quite so inappropriate.

(All images are of original manufacturer publicity material, photographed by me. Copyright remains property of, well, PSA group now, I suppose. Who even knows any more)





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