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Vauxhall Viva

Published: 29th Jun 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Vauxhall Viva

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All overhead valve (pushrod) models including 1159/1256 FIrenzas


Overhead valve (pushrod), in-line four cylinder. HA: 1057cc, 44bhp (‘90’, 53bhp) HB: 1159cc, 56bhp (‘90’, 69bhp) HC: 1159cc, 59bhp (SL/90, 72bhp); 1256cc, 68bhp

Valve clearances

HA: Inlet, 0.006in; exhaust, 0.010in. HB: Inlet, 0.006in; exhaust, 0.010in. (‘90’, 0.008in. for both inlet and exhaust) HC: Standard 1159cc: Inlet, 0.006in; exhaust, 0.010in; High performance 1159cc and all 1256cc engines, 0.008in. for both inlet and exhaust. Exhausts run exhaust-inlet-inlet-exhaust-exhaust-inlet-inletexhaust. Adjustment is by a self-locking nut on each individual rocker (there is no rocker shaft). Vauxhall recommendation was to check/adjust clearances with engine running at idling speed. However, this is messy (oil everywhere!) and tends to chew up feeler gauges/strip. Instead, with the engine hot (and stopped), use the ‘Rule of 9’; check/adjust valve No. 1 with No. 8 fully open, No. 2 with 7 open, No. 3 with 6 open, and so on (in each case sum of valve numbers is 9). Ideally install a new valve cover gasket on re-assembly.


At least every 3000 miles or annually, whichever comes first, remove brake drums and carry out detailed inspection of shoes, cylinders (check particularly carefully for fluid leaks) and drums. On examples with front disc brakes, inspect calipers, pads and operating cylinders for wear/damage, also caliper assemblies for fluid leaks. Examine also brake pipes (cross-pipe on rear axle is vulnerable to corrosion, particularly around its retaining clips), flexible hoses and master cylinder. Renew any ailing components (in axle sets)AT ONCE. AVOID INHALING DUST FROM BRAKE SHOES AS IT MAY CONTAIN ASBESTOS. Every 3000 miles, re-adjust drum brakes as required – tighten adjusters at backplates until brakes are fully on, then slacken off until wheels rotate freely. At every service, check the handbrake adjustment and action – only re-set cable adjusters if lever travel is excessive after re-setting the rear brake backplate adjusters. Every 12,000 miles, renew servo air filter (on examples with servo-assisted brakes). At least every two years, change brake fluid and flush system.


Engine oil: For maximum engine life, ideally change oil and filter at least every 3000 miles or annually (whichever comes first). Drain the oil when hot, to aid flow from the sump. The filter assembly incorporates a replaceable filter element housed within a removable casing. Before unscrewing filter housing retainer, place absorbent rag and a drainer/bowl beneath the engine. Renew sealing ring in cylinder block; lightly oil new ring prior to re-fitting. Always check for leaks on completion of oil and filter change. Use high quality, SAE15W50, 20W50 or 20W60 engine oil. Please dispose of old oil in environmentally friendly manner – local councils provide waste oil collection points. Sump capacity: Approx. 5.5 pints (3.12 litres) in total; refill capacity 4.5 pints (2.56 litres) plus filter 0.5 pints (0.28 litres). Manual gearbox oil: Every 3000 miles/annually (whichever comes first), check/top up gearbox (with car horizontal). Unscrew filler/level plug and ensure that oil is up to base of threads in fillerplug aperture. Lubricant type: SAE80 gear oil. Manual Gearbox capacity: Approx. 0.9 pints (0.51 litres) – or from HC with Engine No. 1698218, 1.1 pints (0.62 litres). Automatic transmission - use ATF; capacity 4.5 pints (2.6 litres). Every year - clean torque converter housing slots and screens. Check fluid pump section screen, and renew if necessary. Every two years, renew fluid. Rear axle oil: Every 3000 miles/annually (whichever comes first), remove filler/level plug and ensure that oil is up to base of threads in plug aperture. Use SAE90EP hypoid gear oil; axle capacity approx.1.25 pints (0.71 litres), or (1974 on) 1.85 pints (1.05 litres). Running gear: At least every 1000 miles, lubricate the front suspension ball joints (four nipples); use a lithium-based, multipurpose grease). Inspect rubber gaiters on ball joints (and the steering rack) and renew if damaged. At least every 1000 miles, re-lubricate handbrake linkage. Wirebrush/ wipe clean the linkage (WEAR PROTECTIVE GOGGLES!) and apply a few drops of engine oil to the pivot points (alternatively apply copper-based anti-seize compound). Re-grease handbrake cables where they pass around the quadrants, or alternatively re-lubricate using copper-based anti-seize compound. Front wheel bearings: Every 30,000 miles/three years (whichever comes first), clean bearings and re-lubricate with grease specifically stated as being suitable for wheel bearing use. Other aspects: Every 3000 miles, lubricate carburettor linkagepivot points/controls. Every 3000 miles, lubricate all hinges and lock mechanisms but wipe off any excess lubricant. Every 12,000 miles, re-lubricate rear bearing of dynamo (where fitted) with a few drops of engine oil.

Fuel system

Every 3000 miles or annually (whichever comes first), examine all fuel system pipework, and, on versions equipped with Zenith/Stromberg variable choke carburettor, ensure that oil level in air valve unit at top of carburettor is approximately 0.4in below top of air valve guide tube (visible with screw cap removed). If necessary, top up with SAE20 oil. Every 3000 miles/annually, clean fuel pump filter. Note: Do not over-tighten pump lid’s retaining screw or threads may strip… Clean ‘wetted gauze’gauze type air filter (in paraffin; lightly re-oil after drying out element) or renew paper type air filter element every 12,000 miles (or sooner if visibly dirty; check every 6000 miles). At each service, ensure that breather pipework is clean. After valve clearances and all ignition settings have been checked/set, and with engine at normal running temperature, check/re-set carburettor mixture/throttle stop settings. Many carburettor types were employed during Viva production; for full adjustment procedures, consult workshop manual. Idling speed: HA: 450 to 500 rpm (high performance versions, 700 to 750 rpm). HB: 450 to 500 rpm (high performance versions, 800 to 850 rpm). HC: 1159cc, 600 to 650 rpm (high performance versions, 775 to 825 rpm). 1256cc, 700 to 750 rpm (or, 1974 on, 800 to 850 rpm. If automatic, check with transmission in ‘Drive’). CO reading at idle, 2.5 to 3.5% CO.

Cooling system

All year round, use high quality anti-freeze mixture containing corrosion inhibitors. Every 3000 miles/annually, examine radiator, all hoses, water pump and fan. At least every three years, drain system, remove thermostat and reverse-flush prior to re-filling system with fresh anti-freeze solution (observe dilution recommendations of anti-freeze manufacturer – it’s printed on the container).


Firing order: 1-3-4-2 (No. 1 cylinder at front of engine) Spark plugs: In each case check/clean every 6000 miles or annually (whichever comes first); renew regardless every 12,000 miles. Apply a little copper-based anti-seize compound to plug threads prior to installation. HA: AC Delco 44XL (14mm) or equivalent. Gap 0.028 to 0.032in. HB: AC Delco 42XLS (14mm) or equivalent. Gap 0.028 to 0.032in. HC: AC Delco 42XLS (14mm) or equivalent. Gap 0.028 to 0.032in, or (1974 on), 0.038 to 0.042in. Note: For best results many owners advise using only the correct specification AC Delco plugs in these power units; their experience suggests that the use of some alternatives can result in potentially engine-damaging detonation/pre-ignition (agreed-ed). Contact points: Gap 0.019 to 0.021in (corresponding with dwell angle reading of 35 to 37 degrees). However, for HC versions from Engine No. 1639738 (with distributor type 7992820), dwell angle reading should be 49 to 51 degrees). Note: Correct contact points/dwell angle setting is particularly critical on these engines for optimum performance/fuel economy. At each service check specifically for wear in distributor shaft bearings; side play can develop as mileage rises; consequently it can be difficult or impossible to correctly set points gap/dwell angle. In each case, check/clean points every 3000 miles or annually (whichever comes first); renew regardless every 6000 miles. Every 3000 miles, clean and check condition of distributor cap, rotor arm and high tension leads, ensuring that all connections are clean and sound. Distributor – mechanical aspects: Every 3000 miles, remove rotor arm and apply a few drops of engine oil to felt pad on top of distributor shaft, and to mechanical advance mechanism (through aperture in distributor’s baseplate). Wipe off excess oil. SPARINGLY apply grease to distributor’s cam. Static Timing (Note: Check manufacturer’s literature specific to your model. The following should be regarded as initial settings, with final adjustments to suit individual engines being carried out after a road test): Timing marks are located on timing case and crankshaft pulley. HA: 9 degrees BTDC. HB: 4.5 degrees BTDC (low compression - 7.3:1; 9 degrees BTDC). HC: Early cars, high compression, 4.5 degrees BTDC (early cars, low compression – 7.3:1; 9 degrees BTDC). High performance 1159cc cars with 9.0:1 compression ratio, plus all 1256cc models, 1974 on, 9 degrees BTDC static. Alternative dynamic setting for HCs from 1974 on, 9 degrees BTDC at reduced idle speed of 550 to 600 rpm.

Sundry items

Every 3000 miles, or annually (whichever comes first)... Examine steering rack gaiters for splits/leaks. If damaged, gaiters should be replaced, to prevent ingress of dirt and moisture to rack. Examine dynamo/alternator belt and re-tension if necessary (approx. 3/4 in. deflection at centre of belt run between crankshaft and dynamo pulleys; approx. 1/2 in. deflection at centre of belt run between crankshaft and alternator pulleys, for alternator-equipped cars). Dismantle/clean crankcase control valve/breather filter. Check clutch adjustment – please consult manufacturer’s data relevant to your model. Check cleanliness/security of all electrical connections; inspect wiring for damage. Assess condition/security of all running gear components and suspension mounting bushes. Check steering rack for excessive play. Inspect underbody structure for damage and rectify paint blemishes. Every 12,000 miles, carry out engine compression check. Every 12,000 miles, check shock absorbers for deterioration/leaks, and all springs for wear/corrosion/damage (if ailing, renew in axle sets). Check all suspension mountings too.

Best Mods

  • These engines are tough and over-boring is a good mod – max is 1350cc from a 1256 block. Bear in mind that the 1256 head uses larger valves while HC1159cc engines also used larger valves although not as big as the 1256 items.
  • Best way to Viva power is by better breathing and 28/36 Weber or a Niki carbs work the best along with a bigger valved head. Try Viva man Adrian Miller, 01953 498818 to see what he has.
  • With the usual tuning mods up around 85/90bhp is possible but the ignition set up is inherently weak and needs uprating plus ideally fitting electronic ignition which does away with the points. A modified advancecurve may also be required.
  • It’s said that Ford Cortina GT Kent engines fit very easily indeed with just nominal alternations to accept the engine and ’box. Larger OHC Vauxhall engines are a natural fit although you need a cross member from the HB 1600/GT along with the right gearbox.
  • Making a GT out of an SL90 is possible but bear in mind that the latter used a cut down Victor axle and so the rear attachment points differ slightly.
  • Suspension-wise, the accepted mod were ‘negative wishbones’ from Blydenstein to cut down understeer but these are rare finds. However FD Victor or Ventora items suffice plus lead to larger brakes, too (as used on the HP Firenza).
  • Stiffer dampers and springs are vital for better handling but don’t lower the car appreciably. The axle from the HC Viva gives a wider track but it’s a crowbar-style fit. There’s fair scope for tuning the castor angles at the front as adjustment points are already there.
  • Most Vivas have disc brakes up front and the SL90 ones are actually early Triumph Herald. Green Stuff pads are a good first step before installing larger Victor items but this will also mean 13inch wheels.

Top Tips

  • The Viva is a simple and orthodox car to maintain that requires few special tools. Routine service hard parts are readily available still although there’s not the level of interchange-ability between models like there is with, say, a rival a Ford.
  • Clutch cable breakages have always been a problem and owners used to carry spares as a result. It’s awkward to get at from the inside; some people make a hole by the fuses box to gain access via the bulkhead.
  • Gear lever zizzz is normally simply due to the lever needing a blob of grease on its fork where it sits on the selector rods to quieten down.
  • Final transmission tips concern the rear tail shaft oil seal which is a known leaker and the diffs can whine a bit but they usually last like that for ages.
  • The ohv engines come in three sizes: 1057cc, 1159cc and 1256cc and most parts are interchangeable although from late ‘70 the cylinder head bolt sizes changed; remember this if buying a decoke set.
  • The 1256 head also uses sturdier rocker posts and the tappet loc nuts are correspondingly larger. Post 1974 engines have a high compression ratio of 9:2:1. This lead to pinking so a thicker gasket reducing it to 8.7:1 was developed. After late ‘73 mods to the breathing and ignition meant different points and plug settings.
  • The timing chain has always been a weak point but adjustable. The main oil seal leaks but, using two back to back, is the best way to cure the problem.
  • Tappets should officially be set on a slow idle, but it’s messy and many use the conventional method. Engines with a ‘90’ cam (and all 1256 engines) are set at 8 thou.
  • The ignition system changed once alternators were fitted and dispensed with the resistor which fitted directly to the coil. Later, the resistor was in the wiring.
  • 90 exhaust manifolds are now rare, as is the fitting flange. You may have to revert to the single downpipe. Exhaust brackets work lose on the HB/HC in particular.
  • Fracturing is caused by excessive engine rock because the soft engine mountings have failed.Well worth replacing if you‘re experiencing clutch judder.
  • HA suspensions are troublesome and renewing the front transverse spring (can break or slip leaves) is not a job by the kerb. They can work loose too. In fact loosening attachment points front and rear trouble all models.
  • Front suspension on HB/HCs have greasing points. The bottom ball joints can have up to 85 thou clearance before they fail the MoT. Not many testers know this…
  • Failing rear axle location bushes are common on the HB/HC. Final tightening (38lbft) should be done with weight on the car. Incidentally if renewing the road springs, note that the LH and RH differ in lengths.
  • Don’t yank on the bonnet! Inner wings are bad rot areas and bonnets have been known to come away…

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