Why you’d want a Vauxhall Viva
The HA Vauxhall Viva looks like a small vehicle today, but it was considered large and spacious for a 1-litre car in 1963, with good economy and performance for the time but a rather poor ride and finish.
Light rack-and-pinion steering and an excellent all-synchromesh gearchange helped make it pleasant to drive and it was spacious, with an unusually large boot.
An excellent family car, it gave Vauxhall a useful slice of the small-saloon market – one it hadn’t entered before.
It was therefore a little surprising that the Viva grew significantly in size for both its second and third incarnations: the HB was almost a completely new car, with all-new shell and suspension, 4in extra wheelbase and a 6in longer body.
Its ‘Coke bottle’ styling was attractive and complemented by a much-improved interior. Quiet and smooth, it was equipped with a particularly well-located rear axle, which finally turned the Vauxhall into a driver’s car.
The 2-litre, overhead-cam Viva GT wasn’t the boy-racer bolide it was dressed up to be, but was a great touring car that in HB form was the only production Viva to (just) top the ton – 100mph was a mere 1mph out of reach for the HC GT and 2300SL – and it was the only one to better 11 secs to 60mph.
Not surprisingly, it’s the most sought-after and valuable production Viva now, though specials such as the Brabham, Crayford convertible and Lawrencetune GT will inevitably command more.
The HC was a mild rehash of the HB: praised at its launch for improved spaciousness and refinement.
The extra weight of the 2in wider body with 1.5in longer wheelbase killed the performance and economy of the base model, however, and bigger engines were needed to make it go: the base HC was actually a second slower to 60mph than the base HA, with the same top speed.
To be fair, all Vivas were fairly light cars for their size (no doubt part of the reason why many have now rusted away) and for most buyers the combination of an unusually spacious interior and boot with light, easy controls and acceptable performance was just the ticket: Vivas were good value and sold well.
Today, the performance models are coveted but they still barely justify restoration costs, and the union of rust and low values has left just a few hundred survivors from the 1.5 million built. It’s only right that values are at last rising.
Images: James Mann
Vauxhall Viva: what to look for
See above for trouble spots, including where to check for rust, and issues with lights, trim and more.
The little overhead-valve engine worked hard in ‘90’ spec (red paint, Stromberg carb), but was economical and long-lived.
Overhead-cam engines are tough, too: regular cambelt changes are wise but they are non-interference. Cast-iron units don’t tend to blow gaskets, but look for signs of overheating or coolant leaks.
Check for wear in suspension bushes and balljoints, and weak dampers. The front brakes are discs on the 90, and all parts to rebuild them are available.
Check for rust
One of the key rust spots on the HB/C is the front inner wing – especially at the bonnet hinge mountings, which can eventually fall out altogether.
The strip speedometer was a Viva feature from the HB to most HCs. Check the instruments and switchgear are correct and working: all are scarce.
Original trim is hard to find in good order: pictured are the seats in an HB GT. All items are rare – especially door cards, which changed in style regularly.
Vauxhall Viva: before you buy
There’s a world of difference between a 1057cc HA and a 2279cc HC (though the last HCs reverted to round instruments after many years with a strip speedo), but all Vivas have their own charm.
The base engines are fine for pottering around and quite economical, with great practicality. The overhead-cam engines brought a new world of performance, especially in GT and 2300 form with good handling, though they can be thirsty.
Both engines are durable and straightforward – check for knocks, rattles, heavy breathing, a smoky exhaust and oil leaks indicating engine wear.
Low values for 40-50 years mean most cars left today have had some changing of parts – engine swaps are particularly common – so check carefully to ensure you know what you are buying.
Worn carbs are the usual cause of poor running but parts are available, as are components to rebuild engines if needed.
The manual gearbox usually shows wear first via crunchy synchros when changing down to second and first; listen also for layshaft noise. Check auto gearboxes for clean fluid, not black and burnt-smelling; rebuilds are still possible.
Standard drum brakes all round are rarely seen now: most surviving cars have the optional front discs and servo, which became standard on larger-engined models. Sticking slave cylinders on rear drums are common – the brakes should be adequate if well maintained.
Joining the club is a must for sourcing spares; while mechanical parts can usually still be found, anything else can be very difficult.
Vauxhall Viva price guide
- HA de luxe*: £750/2000/6500
- HB de luxe*: £1000/3000/6000
- HB GT: £2000/6000/10,000
- HC 1.2-1.3**: £700/1750/3000
- HC 2.0-2.3: £1500/3500/6000
*SL90 25-30% more
**1.6-1.8 c30% more
Prices correct at date of original publication
Vauxhall Viva history
1963 Oct 1057cc HA Viva (std and de luxe)
1964 Apr Lawrencetune Viva GT: 87.5mph
1964 Aug Bedford 6/8cwt vans launched, plus Martin Walter Beagle estate conversion
1965 Jun Viva SL added, with more trim
1965 Oct 60bhp de luxe 90and SL90 added
1966 Sept Bigger 1159cc HB launched
1967 Feb Borg-Warner auto option on 90; Brabham Viva added: 78bhp, 92mph
1967 Jun Three-door Estate body arrives
1968 Feb Viva GT replaces Brabham: 2-litre, ohc, 104bhp Mar Crayford convertible added
1968 May Viva 1600, with ohc slant-four
1968 Oct Four-door body option
1970 Oct HC replaces HB: std, 90 & 1600
1971 May Firenza coupé added; 2000 option
1971 Sep Base unit up to 1256cc; ‘90’ ends
1972 Feb 1600 up to 1800, 2000 to 2300
1973 Sep 1800/2300 renamed Magnum; Firenza gets ‘droopsnoot’ and ZF five-speed
1979 Production ends; last HA vans built ’85
The owner’s view
“I’ve always liked Vivas,” explains Chris Swallow. “My first car was an HB, 40 years ago; they were ahead of their time in 1966. I then found an HB GT 12 years ago and restored it.
“I’ve owned this SL90 for six years and have just finished restoring it – I sprayed it myself at home and it came out better than I expected. I’ve put plastic wheelarch liners in to help preserve it – you can’t get wings now.
“Finding parts can be a real challenge and SL interior trim is particularly hard to track down, plus they don’t re-cover well, so I fitted Astra Bertone seats for modern comfort – well, at least they are Vauxhall!
“We have an HC as well – it’s a base 1256cc de luxe that we use for running around locally and keep it ‘rat-look’ because it’s not worth restoring.
“I’ve upgraded my GT to a 2.3-litre engine with overdrive – it cruises really well.”
Front-wheel drive with independent Hydrolastic suspension plus great Issigonis packaging made a fine family car that outsold the Viva, though severe rot issues have limited survivors.
Sold 1962-’75 • No. built 2,132,980 • Price now £2-8000*
FORD ESCORT Mk1/2
The Anglia was an HA rival, but the HB/C went head-on with the Escort, using a similar layout. Ford won the sales battle, despite less space and a crude axle location, and survivors are highly prized.
Sold 1968-’80 • No. built 2.89m • Price now £3-35,000+*
*Prices correct at date of original publication
Vauxhall Viva: the Classic & Sports Car verdict
With prices for Ford Escorts and Cortinas going through the roof, the Viva is long overdue some recognition, especially the HB – and there are now few left.
Be careful what you buy, however: a bitsa won’t justify the cost of putting it back to original, though if it’s solid and you just want to drive it, it may not be a bad purchase.
But don’t buy a rusty example unless you’re a very good welder with time on your hands…
- You’re unlikely to see another Viva on the road
- There’s good club support
- These are practical classics that will really turn heads
- Rot can be very expensive to repair
- Some cars have been badly bodged
- Missing trim items may take years to source
Vauxhall Viva specifications
- Sold/number built 1963-’79/1,516,792
- Construction steel monocoque
- Engine all-iron, ohv 1057/1159/1256cc or ohc 1599/1759/1975/2279cc ‘four’, single Solex, Zenith or Stromberg or twin Stromberg carbs
- Max power 44bhp @ 5000rpm-110bhp @ 5200rpm
- Max torque 59lb ft @ 3000rpm-140lb ft @ 3000rpm
- Transmission four-speed manual or three-speed auto, RWD
- Suspension: front wishbones, transverse leaf spring (HA) or coil springs (HB/C), anti-roll bar (GT/HC) rear live axle, torque tube and semi-elliptic springs (HA) or four links and coil springs (HB/C), Panhard rod (GT), anti-roll bar (Firenza 2000); telescopics f/r
- Steering rack and pinion
- Brakes drums, optional front discs and servo (standard on GT/2300)
- Length 12ft 11in-13ft 6¾in (3937-4134mm)
- Width 4ft 11½in-5ft 4¾in (1511-1645mm)
- Height 4ft 6½in-4ft 7in (1384-1397mm)
- Wheelbase 7ft 7½in-8ft 1¼in (2324-2470mm)
- Weight 1568-2251lb (713-1023kg)
- 0-60mph 20.6-10.7 secs
- Top speed 78-100mph
- Mpg 20-40
- Price new £658-1063 (1968)