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Vauxhall Viva

Vauxhall Viva Published: 26th Jun 2018 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Vauxhall Viva
Vauxhall Viva
Vauxhall Viva
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To mark the Viva GT’s 50th ex Brabham owner Editor Alan Anderson compares this pair of vivacious Vauxhalls to see which HB did the job best

Before the HB Viva came along, the mere thought of an enthusiast owning a Vauxhall was a non starter, despite the underrated Victor-based VX/490 holding its own against other GTs and the Cresta-engined Victor badged Ventora beating BMW to the table with its ‘Five Series’ blueprint. Indeed, go way back and the 30/98 practically invented the sports car!

Things started to change with the HB because it was inherently such a sporty little number. First, Jack Brabham’s tuning company produced, with Vauxhall’s blessing, a series of conversions in 1967 before Vauxhall introduced its Viva GT in spring ’68 along with the Ventora. Contrary to what’s often wrongly written, the GT didn’t replace the Brabham because kits and packages were offered well into the 1970s. While the GT was initially indifferent in many areas and its rough edges were quickly smoothed over 18 month’s later leading Motor magazine to hail the revised car as “a poor man’s BMW 2002”. Sadly it was too late as the GT only lasted until October 1970. And now?

On the move

The HB Viva was a big deal when it was launched in 1966 and the top SL trim put it on par with any Triumph or Rover. As the Brabham was only a converted ‘90’ (in De Luxe or SL trim), apart from an optional sports wheel or rev counter, it sported a standard cabin, not so the GT which came with one of the most comprehensive dash layouts. The comfort is similar with fixed rake seats which don’t go back far enough for the very tall plus some horrid static seat belts which, as on my Brabham, are fixed too low in the shoulder and so need tobe pulled uncomfortably tight to prevent them from slipping off. The HB Viva was introduced just as inertia belts were started to come onto the market and vital fitments for today’s Viva owning enthusiast.

Starting up, you soon realise the GT has a big engine under the bonnet where as only slight induction increase from the pancake air filters give the Brabham’s game away. Not unexpectedly, with almost double the power (112bhp), the GT is the true charger although, despite such a meaty engine, is only as quick as a Escort Mexico rather than the Twin Cam numerous road tests compared the Viva to at the time. Where the GT, like so many 60’s Vauxhalls scores is with its extremely impressive low rev torque, which, coupled with inherently low gearing means it prefers to surge along on a whiff of throttle rather than screaming up to the red line. The 1159cc Brabham is a pretty plucky performer that compares well to a Mini Cooper or Escort 1300 GT with the GTO almost as quick as the GT plus retains the nicer, switch-like gear change (a close ratio ’box was optional, too) as opposed to the notchy odd ratio’d Cresta gearbox found on early GTs, albeit revised for the 1970 variants.

The GT’s biggest failing was – given its plush looking trim and appointments – always a surprising lack of refinement the engine in particular being far harsher and noisier in the Viva bodyshell than in its natural habitat, the larger Victor/VX4/90.

In contrast, the little Viva engine is far sweeter (right up to its rev limit) and quieter so far less tedious than the general cacophony that accompanies the GT at any speed spoiling its potentially good touring capabilities. The car we drove was the superb Vauxhall Heritage car, which being the 1970 revise should be more relaxed and quieter than the original rough and ready boy racer GT.

Round the corners

In its day the HB was the Alfasud in terms of handling and roadholding standards and wears it age well with a precision and perkiness that still pleases. Common to both is firmly planted rear end meaning no nasty antics like so many other oldies. What you get instead is degrees of understeer with the nose heavy GT suffering the worst due to that big heavy ‘four’ at front.

Brabhams are more delicate with a better weight distribution which reduces understeer (much less power helps too) plus makes the steering lighter and crisper although the GT’s can’t be considered heavy and certainly the added weight up front not only aids stability but also improves the often criticised buckety rides that dogged the HB. Not unexpectedly, the GT boasts bigger, better brakes as they originate from the Victor 2000, although the standard Viva front discs also cope well enough for today’s roads.

Go or no go

As a long life Viva fan and owner of several, the best being my Brabham (see pic) which was further tuned by ace Vauxhall tuner Bill Blydenstein, it has been decades since I last drove a GT and adored Vauxhall Heritage’s superb example – until I drove it. That’s not a reflection on the first class restoration done at the factory but more an indictment on how half baked this potentially tasty sports saloon was when introduced back in spring ’68.

Putting any prejudices and favoritism aside, I prefer the Brabham for its smoother if not swifter engine and it s slightly superior agility although would now miss the GT’s interior appointments.

With hot Escort values reaching silly levels, you can see why there’s renewed interest in the Vauxhall, which is the more modern design and can be improved easily with well known tuning mods – not least that sleeping giant 1975cc engine. With the best Brabham or GT struggling to break into five figures, despite their rarity, don’t automatically think that the Viva’s only trump card is value for money.

Quick spin

PERFORMANCE Fairly good but Escorts quicker, GT is lusty rather than sporty

CRUISING GT uncouth, Brabham is sweeter if appreciably slower

HANDLING Best in its day; nose heavy GT understeers more

BRAKES Few grouses here

EASE OF USE Parts supply ok but will never top a Ford. Nice classics however


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