Vauxhall Viva HB
Vauxhall Viva HB Charles01, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

The Vauxhall Viva, a small family car, was produced by Vauxhall in three distinct versions – HA, HB, and HC series – between 1963 and 1979.

Initially introduced as a competitor to the Ford Anglia and Morris Minor, the Viva was designed to appeal to a wide range of customers with its easy-to-operate controls, slick short gear changes, and lightweight steering.

Over the years, the Viva evolved with improved features, design, and trim levels to cater to the ever-changing market demands.

Sharing a common floor plan and engine construction with Opel’s Kadett A, the Viva was distinguished by its imperial measurements and unique design elements. The third generation, HC series, holds the distinction of being the last solely Vauxhall-designed passenger car before General Motors Europe integrated both Opel and Vauxhall brands.

More recently, from 2015 to 2019, Vauxhall revived the Viva nameplate on a rebadged variant of the fourth generation Opel Karl / Chevrolet Spark.

Key Takeaways

  • The Vauxhall Viva was available in three main versions, namely HA, HB, and HC, between 1963 and 1979.
  • It shared similarities with Opel Kadett A but maintained unique design elements and measurements.
  • The Viva evolved over the years, adapting to market demands and improving features, design, and trim levels.

Historical Overview

Vauxhall Viva Origins

The Viva was produced between 1963 and 1979, with a total of 1,516,792 units manufactured. It was Vauxhall’s first foray into the compact car market after World War II and was designed to compete with more established models like the Ford Anglia and Morris Minor, (favoured by district nurses).

The Viva was introduced a year after Opel, another General Motors (GM) company, launched the Opel Kadett A. Both cars were a result of the same GM project and shared similar floor pan and engine constructions. However, the use of metric measurements for the Opel and imperial ones for the Vauxhall were the main differences between the two cars.

Production Timeline

The Viva’s production timeline can be summarized as follows:

  • 1963: The Viva HA is announced, beginning its production cycle.
  • 1966: The HA Viva is replaced by the HB Viva.
  • 1979: The HC series, the last solely Vauxhall-designed passenger car, ceased production.

The Viva was assembled in various locations, such as Ellesmere Port, Cheshire and Luton in England, as well as in Australia, Portugal, and New Zealand.

Viva HA (1963-1966)

The HA Viva was Vauxhall’s first new small car since 1936. It came with a 1,057 cc, overhead valve, four-cylinder, front-mounted engine driving the rear wheels. The HA Viva was slightly longer than the Ford Anglia and was initially available as a two-door saloon.

It was well-regarded for its lightweight controls, slick short gearchange, lightweight steering and clutch pedal, good all-round visibility, and relatively nimble performance. The HA Viva sold over 306,000 units by 1966, proving successful in the small-car market, leading to the development of its successor, the stylish Viva HB.

However, as with many other British cars of the era, the HA Viva suffered from terrible corrosion problems, and consequently very few of this model remain today.

Viva HB and HC Series

The Viva HB, launched in 1966, inherited the engines from the HA series but underwent significant bodywork redesigns. It was followed by the Viva HC series, which was the last solely Vauxhall-designed passenger car when it ceased production in 1979.

Throughout its various iterations, the Viva continued to be a popular choice in the UK and other markets, evolving to meet the changing needs of customers in the competitive small family car sector.

Design and Specifications

Interior Amenities

Inside the Vauxhall Viva, drivers and passengers will experience a blend of comfort and practicality. The steering is responsive, allowing for effortless driving in both urban and motorway situations. As for visibility, the car is equipped with large windows, enhancing the driver’s view of the road and surrounding environment.

Viva Model Variants

Viva HA

Vauxhall Viva HA
Vauxhall Viva HA
Charles01, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

The Viva HA was the first of the Vauxhall Viva series, produced from 1963 to 1966. It featured a 1.0-litre engine. The HA Viva was popular during its time due to its affordability and practicality.

Bedford HA Van

Bedford HA Van
Bedford HA Van
Charles01, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

The Bedford HA was a van version of the Viva HA, and it was manufactured by Vauxhall’s commercial vehicle division, Bedford. The HA van was widely used as a commercial vehicle in urban areas due to its compact size and manoeuvrability. It was very popular with the GPO (now BT)

Bedford Beagle

The Bedford Beagle was a conversion of the Bedford HA by Martin Walter, a coach builder, turning the cargo van into a camper van. It featured fold-down rear seats and a unique elevating roof with canvas sides, providing extra headroom when parked up.

Viva HB

Vauxhall Viva HB
Vauxhall Viva HB
Charles01, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

The Viva HB replaced the HA in 1966, offering a larger, more modern design. The HB inherited the classic ‘coke bottle’ shape that was in fashion at the time. The HB had improved safety features and a more spacious interior. It was available in several engine sizes, ranging from 1.2 litres to 2.0 litres for the performance-oriented Viva GT.

Viva HC

Vauxhall Viva HC
Charles01, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Introduced in 1970, the Viva HC was the third and final iteration of the Viva series. The HC model offered a wide range of body styles, including saloon, estate, and coupé versions. The Viva HC had several mechanical improvements such as upgraded suspension and more efficient brakes when compared to its predecessors.

Viva SL90

The Viva SL90 was a sportier, upmarket version of the Viva. It featured the same exterior styling as the standard Viva, but included a higher-performance engine and various other performance enhancements.

Viva GT

Vauxhall Viva GT HB
Vauxhall Viva GT HB
Charles01, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

The Viva GT was a high-performance variant of the Viva HB, introduced in 1968. It featured a 2.0-litre ohc engine from the Victor, producing 112bhp, and the necessary firmer suspension, and upgraded brakes, making it a popular choice for motorsport enthusiasts.

Firenza

Vauxhall Firenza
Vauxhall Firenza
Paul brown from england, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

The Firenza was a coupé version of the Viva HC, introduced in 1971. It had a sleeker, more aerodynamic design and was available with several engine options, from a 1.3-litre to a 2.3-litre engine. The Firenza was popular among young drivers who were looking for an affordable and more sporty car.

Vauxhall Magnum

Droop snoot Magnum Sportshatch
Droop snoot Magnum Sportshatch
Vauxford, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

In production from 1973 to 1978, the Magnum represented a more refined version of the HC Viva, boasting a larger engine, upgraded interior, and four headlights. It shared components with larger-engined variants of the Viva and Firenza.

The Magnum offered various engine choices, amongst them, the 1800 cc and 2279 cc variants, each with its corresponding instrument panel.

In 1976, a unique variant, the Sportshatch, emerged as a limited edition of the Magnum estate, showcasing a distinctive “droopsnoot” nose cone. With only 197 units produced, this model featured exclusive elements such as the “seven dial dash,” Avon Safety Wheels, and a unique paint finish.

Marketed as a “hatchback” to meet competition from European models like the Golf, the Sportshatch, sharing its bodyshell with the Viva Estate, is now a highly sought-after collectible.

The New Viva

Vauxhall Viva SE
Vauxhall Viva SE
Vauxford, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

In 2015, Vauxhall revived the Viva name with a new model that was marketed as a city car. It featured a 1.0-litre engine, stylish design, and modern technology, such as a touchscreen infotainment system. The new Viva was produced until 2019, when it was discontinued due to changes in Vauxhall’s ownership.

Market Reception

Sales Success

The Viva gained significant traction in the UK car market, with a total of 1.5 million units sold throughout its production period, the Vauxhall Viva emerged as a successful model for the automaker.

The Viva’s compact size, practicality, and value for money contributed to its sales dominance in its segment. Although its sales figures could not surpass the Ford Escort or BMC 1100/1300, it still managed to sell in substantial numbers.

Public and Critical Acclaim

The Viva’s image and quality also played a role in its positive market reception. Its design, which was perceived as functional and stylish, allowed it to be a popular choice among families and younger buyers. The introduction of sportier versions, such as the HB Brabham and HC ‘droop snoot’ coupé, added variety to the line-up and attracted even more buyers.

The Viva’s fuel efficiency was another notable selling point, although its real-world fuel economy did not quite match the manufacturer’s claims. Nevertheless, it still maintained a good reputation for being an economical choice among car buyers.

Footnotes

  1. Wikipedia – Vauxhall Viva
  2. Classics World – Vauxhall Viva in 12 facts
  3. AROnline – Vauxhall Viva (1963-1979) history, reviews and blogs
  4. Autocar – Vauxhall Viva 2015-2019 Review

Frequently Asked Questions

Which models are considered direct successors to the classic Vauxhall Viva?

The Vauxhall Viva was initially produced between 1963 and 1979. Its direct successors, the Vauxhall Astra and Vauxhall Corsa, are both now mainstays of the Vauxhall line-up.

Conclusion

The Viva has been a reliable and affordable small family car throughout its history, spanning three successive models between 1963 and 1979. Known for its smart appearance and competitive pricing, the Viva was a popular choice for those seeking a practical yet economical vehicle.

In terms of performance, the Viva is designed to be efficient and easy to drive, with a user-friendly layout and controls. Despite its compact size, it offers a decent level of space for passengers and storage.

To sum up, the Vauxhall Viva was a practical and wallet-friendly choice for those seeking a straightforward, reliable car. Although it might not dazzle with high-end features or cutting-edge design, its dependability and cost-effective nature made it a sensible choice for many drivers in the UK, myself being one of them.

In my early 20’s I used to do the weekly run up and down the M1 to my contract electricians job in Tottenham in my yellow HB. To be honest, the colour was an enigma – my workmates called it cat-sick yellow (charming!) It was a great car and surprisingly smooth and never let me down. Sadly, it succumbed to the dreaded rust and was subsequently converted into baked bean cans.

That said, my first experience of a Viva was my mate’s dad’s car. He had a gleaming green HB auto with a snazzy gold coachline. I remember travelling to Anglesey for a glorious summer holiday. A true family car.