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The HB Viva (1966 1970)

1966.....the year England won the World Cup, the year Freddie Laker started cheap package flights, the year the word 'discotheque' was used for the first time, in Tamworth of all places, the year 'Twiggy' was named 'Face of the Year', the year Jack Brabham was Formular One world champion and the year in which John Lennon said that the 'Beatles' were more popular than Jesus. It was also the year Vauxhall's unveiled the Viva HB which turned out to be their best selling car up to that time.

The Vauxhall Viva HA was a nice small car which was produced to combat the dominance of the Ford 100E, the small Austin's and the Morris Minor. But a fresh approach was needed so in August 1966 Vauxhall's started producing the first of the near 560,000 HB's it was to sell in the HB's relatively short four year life. Its selling point was its looks, with the new 'coke bottle' styling which was reflected by General Motors Chevrolet Impala of the time. If you look at the picture here you can sortChevy Impala of see the resemblance. (Pictured is a 1964 model Impala). The HB was bigger than the HA and used basically the same engine, although the capacity was increased from 1057cc to 1159cc. What the HB didn't have, that the HA had, was the rear leaf spring suspension. This was done away with and coils springs and shock absorbers were used with trailing arms and the front suspension was also modified. It was originally a two door car and in 1967 an estate version was produced. 1968 saw the development of a four door version, (I believe this was designed by the Australian Holden company). I have also heard tell of an HB van which I believe was designed but never went into production, the HA van continued to be produced and again it's only rumour, but I think this was because a long contract had been signed with the Post Office/BT which had to be honoured. I've never seen a picture of the HB van but have been told it did exist. The HB was offered mainly with three engine version, (although there was some fiddling with the 1159cc engine to produce a '90' engine), these were the 1159cc, the 1599cc and the 1975cc engine. The HB was a success story, look at the figures. The HA was in production for just over three years and approximately 304,000 were built. The HC was in production for nine years and approximately 641,000 were built. Now compare the HB's figures of 560,000 in just four years and you can see what a big impact it had. My love was for the 1975cc version....the Viva 'HBR' GT. Vauxhall's had dabbled with a 'sporty' version in 1967 which went under the banner of a 'Brabham' Viva. This was basically an SL90 car which then had bits added to it, a Brabham inlet manifold adding twin Stromberg 150CD carburettors, a modified camshaft, etc., you could also get a Brabham steering wheel and gear knob and finished off with two distinctive side stripes incorporating the word Brabham. This could be done via a dealer, or you could buy the parts yourself and fit them. The thing is; you can still do this today if you can find the parts, so be careful if someone is trying to sell you a 'genuine' Brabham as the only real way of knowing is to see old invoices or pictures of the car. The really sporty Viva was the GT.

The GT was first produced in March 1968 and was the first Vauxhall to carry the 'GT' badge. There were two versions produced, the Mk1 and the Mkll, although some were produced with bits of both and have become known as the Mk1½. The Mk1's were more 'boy racerish' which caused Vauxhall's to tone them down, hence the Mkll. (Vauxhall's were trying to produce a sporty family saloon not a 1970's 'go faster' machine), 4,606 GT's were produced, the Mk1's being finished at the Luton plant after the bodies were shipped down from Ellesmere Port, but the Mkll's were built at Ellesmere. If you look at the chassis numbers, the '711' section donates that it was a GT, so they all start 93711 and the following part of the number will show either '8V' or '9E'/'0E'. 8V was a Luton finished car, 9E or 0E would specify an Ellesmere Port car, hence 8V would be a Mk1. One big market for thEpic or What!e GT was Canada. Here the car was called an 'Epic GT' and used the 1975cc engine but the trim remained deluxe. The Canadian cars had twin headlights and white front indicator lenses with side wing indicators.

Nobody knows for sure how many GT's are still in circulation but a best guess would be less than 50 and not all of those are road going. It would be great to know how many are out there but how we find out, I do not know.

Mk1's

The Mk1's were very distinctive from a standard Viva as they came with a matt black bonnet and two thin stripes down the side of the car. They also had a matt black rear panel. All GT's had two bonnet scoops and a different grille from other Viva's. There was also more chrome trim on a GT. They had extra chrome around the door window frame, (GT's were only ever two door cars) and they had the chrome boot strip and gutter strip, (although these were also on the SL models I believe). The rear opening windows also had a chrome surround. (When I say chrome, I really mean stainless steel). On the rear quarter they had the scripted 'Viva' badge with 'GT' tagged onto it. There was a 'GT' badge on the boot lid and on the front grille. The wheels on the Mk1 were thirteen inch and had chrome look wheel embellishers. There were three unique Mk1 Dashcolours for the Mk1, Monaco White, Le Mans Blue and Elkhart Yellow, (which looks green to me). The interior included better quality carpet, unique GT door and rear panel trims, a grey headlining, a centre console which incorporated a clock and oil temperature gauge, a six dial dash-board, an under dash switch panel and a 'GT' steering wheel. The engine was a 1975cc unit which came directly from the FD Victor and had twin 175 Stromberg carburettors. This produced 104bhp from the standard engine. The Mk1 car is faster off the line than the Mkll car as it used a lower ratio gearbox than its later brother.

Mkll's

Cosmetic differences from the Mk1 were that the painted side stripes were much larger on the Mkll and they did away with the black bonnet. (They did keep the matt black rear panel). They also introduced some more colours which included Sebring Silver, Monza Red and Starmist, along with Goodwood Green. On the inside the under dash switches were moved to the centre console which only had the clock in it, the oil temperature gauge was done away with. The dash cushion was also slightly different around the heater controls and the headlining could be black rather than grey. A Mkll had a different gearbox to the close ratio Mk1 and the linkage was totally different. Also to get reverse in a Mkll it had a lever you lifted before reverse could be engaged, whereas on the Mk1 you simply knocked it over to the left. On the engine itself the engine mounts were different and the Mkll should have a straining cable bolted from the gearbox cross member to the bell-housing. This was because of the way the engine mounts were set, they did not help stop forward movement as the Mk1 mounts did, the engine sits down on them. The Mkll's used a different rear axle with a two piece prop-shaft and as stated earlier a different gearbox ratio. The Mk1 alloy sump was discarded for a tin one and the slightly over elaborate twin exhaust system was replaced with a single system.

The Slant Four Engine

Vauxhall's unveiled the new slant four engine in 1967. Called the 'slant four' because it was basically a V8 engine cut in half, it tilted at an angle of approximately 45 degrees. It was one of the first production over head camshaft engines to use a rubber cam-belt. The engine is incredibly tough, made of cast iron and can handle power increases with little problem. I have read a document about the testing of the engine in the 1960's where it is stated that it should be able to rev to 8,000rpm plus. The engine supplied plenty of torque but they weren't the smoothest running engine ever made. It was from this engine that Lotus developed a *DOHC engine. (*Double over head camshaft). In fact with a few reasonably simple mEngineodifications you can fit a twin cam Lotus head onto a slant four block, which can produce amazing results. (See John Sharp's white HB). Vauxhall's, (for Vauxhall's insert Blydenstein), did experiment with it's own DOHC engine in the late 1960's and the documentation is fascinating to read. This was pre 1970 when the testing of the DOHC engine was put on hold just before the 2.3 engine could be tested with it. The engines were easy to work on with all the major components fairly easily accessible. The exhaust manifold is a little tricky to get to, but apart from that not to bad. It is a heavy engine which is why Lotus copied the engine, but used aluminium instead, this became the Lotus 907 engine.

 

 

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