VAUXHALL VIVA HC REVIEW

In its time, the Vauxhall Viva HC was the most popular car to come out of Luton. And it’s still one of the most affordable...

Looking for some cheap fun? Then look no further. Few classics are more affordable than the Vauxhall Viva HC. Once seen on every street corner, Viva numbers have dwindled in recent years. But there are still some crackers out there waiting to be snapped up.

The HA Viva was the first Vauxhall to achieve a six-figure production run and, by the early 1970s, had easily become Vauxhall’s best-selling car ever. 

It helped that there was a version for everyone thanks to numerous engines, body styles and trim levels. But while the Firenza and Magnum get all the attention, the standard HC can be great fun thanks to its rear-wheel drive and ample tuning opportunities. Take a closer look and you’ll be amazed at how much fun you can have with even the most meagre of budgets. 

VITAL STATISTICS

Engine                                    1159-2279cc/4-cyl/OHV/OHC 

Power (bhp@rpm)                  49-112bhp@5500rpm

Torque (lb ft@rpm)                 88-150lb ft@3000rpm

Top speed                                88-100+mph

0-60mph                                  (1256cc)13.1sec

Consumption                            22-35mpg

 Gearbox                                    4-speed man/3-speed auto

WHAT TO LOOK FOR

BODYWORK & CHASSIS
 

It’ll come as no surprise that it’s corrosion which has killed off most Vivas. In typical 1970s fashion, these cars can rot spectacularly, so you need to check every square inch of bodywork for filler. Even if the car looks good at first glance, you must pay especially close attention to the rear wheelarches, front wings, shock absorber turrets and the A-pillars where they meet the windscreen – these are always the first areas to go, as are the inner wings by the headlamps and at the bonnet hinges. Early cars have ‘high-peak’ front wings at the forward edge, so check the car you are looking at is correct. 

ENGINE

Over its production run, Viva HC buyers could choose between five engines, starting with an 1159cc overhead-valve unit. Later came a 1256cc OHV powerplant, while a 1599cc OHC engine wsa available for the power hungry. From 1972, the 1599cc unit was replaced by 1759cc and 2279cc OHC lumps.

A good service will do wonders whatever engine is fitted. But even when in good nick, Viva powerplants are noisy. Although the 1256cc unit is stronger than the 1159cc unit, it isn’t as free-revving.

OHV units will see 60,000 miles as long as decent 20/50 oil has been put in every 3000 miles. Overhead cam units are stronger, though 1599cc and 1759cc versions should also have had a fresh belt within the past 20,000 miles. 2279cc versions are ‘safe’ if the belt breaks but the smaller ones aren’t. Beware long delays for oil pressure build-up as OHC oil pumps are scarce. 

Heater matrixes can leak, and all Vivas can be prone to hot-running with marginal cooling systems.

RUNNING GEAR

Most Vivas have a four-speed manual gearbox, although a few have a GM three-speed auto, although these are now ultra-rare. Each gearbox is reliable, though OHV four-speed boxes can whine like a milk float. Check auto transmission fluid to ensure it’s not black or dark brown. If it is, there’s a rebuild round the corner.

The two ball joints on each side of the front suspension can wear, the lower ones especially. Early HCs had drum brakes all round, with servo-assisted discs optional – post-1973 HCs and the SL90 featured front discs as standard. It’s worth fitting disc brakes to an early car, but bits are only available secondhand.

There are no self-adjusters on cars with front drums, so if they appear past their best it should just be a case of tweaking them manually. Incidentally, Girling and Lockheed parts were mixed and matched during production depending on who was on strike at the time, so having a Girling master cylinder doesn’t mean the front and/or rear brakes aren’t Lockheed.

INTERIOR

New trim is extinct and used bits are now scarce. The number of different variations doesn’t help, but it’s all fairly hard wearing, though pale dashtops can discolour and all can split. 

The electrical system is simple, though headlamp switches can fail.  Everything is available but headlamps are rare, costing £30-£40. Distributors wear quickly in early engines, as the oil pump neck into which the distributor spindle fits was offset, but in later engines it was centred. Problems occur when straight-slot dizzy’s are forced into offset oil pumps.

OUR VERDICT

With Viva values, you’re not spending enough money to get your fingers burned. Vauxhall made no bones about the fact that these cars were simply appliances to get from A to B, with economy being the most important thing. With cars being scrapped and banger-raced, they’re disappearing quickly. So if you’ve never got round to buying one, you might not have much time left.

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