Looking for some cheap fun? Then look no further; classics don’t come more affordable than Vauxhall’s Viva and its derivatives, of which there’s a bewildering array. Once seen on every corner, Viva numbers have dwindled in recent years, but there are still some crackers out there waiting to be snapped up.
On the face of it the Vauxhall Viva is a bit, well, dull – but with rear-wheel drive and the option of pepping things up on the cheap, this is one of the least expensive ways of having some good old-fashioned fun at the wheel. With cars still being scrapped and banger raced they’re disappearing quickly, so if you’ve always thought a Viva would look nice in your garage but you’ve never got round to buying one you might not have much time left – start looking now!
Which one to buy?
The HA Viva was the first car for Vauxhall to achieve a six-figure production run – 309,538 were built along with a further 566,391 HBs. By the early 1970s the Viva had easily become Vauxhall’s best-selling car ever. It helped that there was a version for everyone – combine the different engines, body styles and trim levels and there were over 100 derivatives offered across three generations of Viva.
There was also the Firenza (a poshed-up HC coupé) to take on the Capri, plus the Magnum, which was little more than a big-engined Viva. It’s these editions, along with the ultra-rare Droop Snoot that are now the most sought after.
With Viva values on the low side, you’re not committing enough money in purchasing one to really get your fingers burned. That’s not to say they’re only worth buying because values are low, but as mass-market cars of the 1960s and 1970s, the Viva was sold on price more than anything. Vauxhall made no bones about the fact that this was the car as an appliance to get from A to B, with economy being the most important thing. The HB addressed many of these issues with more choice, better dynamics and better packaging, but there are few HAs or HBs left and the sporty Vivas such as the Brabham and GT are also few and far between.
Performance and spec
Viva HB GT Engine 1975cc, four-cylinder Power 112bhp @ 5400rpm Torque 127lb ft @ 3400rpm Top speed 100mph 0-60mph 10.7sec Consumption 24mpg Gearbox Four-speed manual
• On HAs the first areas to rot are the spare wheel well, sills, floorpans, all four wings and the rear wing cappings – which aren’t structural so can be removed.
• On HBs the most vulnerable areas are the shock absorber turrets (easy to fix), the areas around the headlamps and the spare wheel well. Bootlids corrode badly, with used boot lids hard to find.
• The HC’s weak spots rust-wise are its rear wheelarches, front wings, shock absorber turrets and the A-pillars where they butt up to the windscreen.
• If you’re looking at a Droop Snoot make sure it’s genuine; it’s easy to create a replica cosmetically, but the running gear and interior are much harder to source.
• All sorts of engines were offered; all tend to be noisy. HC engines are generally the most rattly of the lot and although the 1256cc unit is much stronger than the 1159cc unit, it isn’t as free-revving.
• All engines will run for 100,000 miles between rebuilds with 3,000-mile oil changes; an overhead cam unit should also have had a fresh belt within the last 20,000 miles or five years.
• Gearboxes – manual and auto – are reliable, but check the transmission fluid on autos to make sure it’s not black or dark brown.
• The suspension is durable so there’s little to worry about. Check the two ball joints on each side of the front suspension though, as wear is common.
• The first HBs (1966 model year) had no bump stops fitted, so check that the shock absorbers haven’t been damaged by over-enthusiastic driving.
• Most Vivas had drum brakes all round, with servo-assisted discs available as an option – although the last of the HCs, the SL90 plus all Magnums and Firenzas featured a front-disc system as standard. It’s worth swapping systems from a disc-braked car unless you really want originality, but the bits are only available second hand.
• There isn’t any trim available new for any of the cars, and even second hand it can be hard to find. The number of different variations doesn’t help but at least it’s generally hard wearing, although split dash tops are common with all variants. However, it’s still possible to find most things if you look hard enough.
• The Viva’s electrical system doesn’t give any problems as it’s very simple. From August 1969, alternators were fitted in place of dynamos.
• Distributors have a reputation for wearing quickly, but that’s because in the early 1256cc engines, the oil pump neck into which the distributor spindle fits was slightly offset, but in later engines it was centred. Problems and wear occurred when newer distributors were forced into offset oil pumps; if the correct unit is fitted, all should be fine.
1963: The Viva HA is introduced with a 44bhp 1057cc engine. 1965: The 66bhp Viva SL (Super Luxury) is launched. 1966: The Viva HB arrives with an all-new (bigger) body, improved suspension, bigger brakes and a 56bhp 1159cc engine – a bored out version of the 1057cc powerplant. The De Luxe 90 and SL90 are also introduced. 1967: A three-speed auto joins the range alongside a manual-only Brabham version and an estate. 1968: GT saloon launches in two-door form only with 104bhp 1975cc OHC powerplant. OHC 1599cc Viva arrives and for the first time there’s a four-door option. 1970: The Viva HC is unveiled in two and four-door saloon forms. There’s also a coupe or three-door estate and engines range from 1159cc to 1599cc with a tweaked 1159cc unit in between for the Viva SL90. The HC is mechanically much like the HB. 1971: The Firenza is introduced to compete with the Capri, initially available in 1159cc, 1599cc or 1975cc guises – from September the base model gets a 1256cc engine. 1972: 1759cc and 2279cc OHC powerplants replace the 1600. 1973: A posh Viva arrives wearing the Magnum moniker. 1759cc or 2279cc engines are available, in saloon, coupe or estate forms with four headlamps instead of two to distinguish them from lesser (Viva) models. 1974: The Droop Snoot goes on sale having first been shown in 1973 1979: The Chevette replaces the Viva HC. 1984: The Bedford HA-based van goes out of production.
If you’re looking for a small, simple and cheap classic car, then you can’t really go wring with a Viva. Values are truly affordable, so make sure you don’t pay over-the-odds for a sub-standard car.
A regular Viva HA or HB is nice condition shouldn’t cost much more than about £3000, while a usable HC is more like £2000. Projects, and rough runners can still be bought for hundreds. The more sporty Viva Brabham HB models command a premium coming in at more than £5000, while the much more impressive Viva GT will cost you upwards of £4000-£7000.