Magazine Cover - Classic Cars For Sale - 1000s of Classic Car Reviews, How To Service & Maintenance Guides

Vauxhall Viva

Published: 9th Nov 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Vauxhall Viva
Vauxhall Viva
Magazine Subscription
The latest issue of Classic Cars For Sale is on sale now - Pick up your copy from all good newsagents including WHSmith or click here to subscribe now

Subscribe to Classic Motoring Magazine and save over 20%

Subscribe NOW

Available at all good newsagents including WHSmith

Which classics still have the potential to get up and go? Alan Anderson remembers the cars, the people… and how to make a classic hot car!

Before the Viva HB came along Vauxhall never really had a sporting image. But, thanks to the efforts of legendry tuner Bill Blydenstein and driver Gerry Marshall, this all changed by 1971 and without their enthusiasm for the Griffi n badge, we wouldn’t have the Lotus Carlton. Today a good Viva is much cheaper than the equivalent Ford Escort and can be made to go just as well – here’s how!

Get one now

Vivas and the later Magnums are much rarer finds than the equivalent Fords and yet are better value. You should be able to fi nd a good HB/HC for around £3000 and ratty ones for much less – the exceptions being the Droopsnoots, GTs and the GP-inspired Brabhams. Rust is the biggest worry, along with an acute shortage of body panels and trim; an Escort remains much easier to own and restore in this respect but mechanically the Vauxhall is presents no major problems.

Hotting one up

There are two engines; the Viva’s ohv design and the later ohc units which went into Vivas and the HC-based Magnums. The former was available in 1057cc, 1159cc and 1256cc sizes, while the ohc engines were 1599cc, 1759cc, 1975cc and 2279cc.

Let’s deal with the smaller units first. Obviously the most logical step is to fit the biggest engine you can find and the ‘1256’ unit can be over-bored to 1350cc, if desired. Blydenstein marketed a different crank to achieve 1500cc. The 1057cc and 1159cc engines were available in ‘90’ tune which meant a Stromberg

CD150 carb, hotter cam, better head and a freer-flowing exhaust manifold (virtually extinct now). The 1256 engine always used the ‘90’ cam (which is hard to improve on, for most road uses), the exhaust manifold plus had even larger inlet valves.

In Chevette tune, the 1256 was as fast as the classic Brabham Viva, which featured twin carbs. This was more a marketing ploy, though, as they are far too large for a 1.2-litre; a 28/36 Weber is a better instrument on this engine, or a Nikki.

Although the head features very restrictive ports, it responds quite well to conventional tweaking and up to 85bhp is on the cards, although the distributor and ignition is woefully inadequate at this level – fit electronic ignition at least.

Real power comes from one of the ohc lumps, although fi tting one in a normal Viva entails a complete new axle, transmission and so on. It can be done, of course, but another option is to fi t the Ford cross-flow lump which, with its gearbox, fits surprisingly well and is a lot lighter than the Vauxhall ohc. Another fi t is the Ford Pinto unit but it’s a more involved swap. Astra GTE engines can be fi tted with ingenuity, too.

Although there are four ohc engines, most folks steer clear of the 1599/1759cc unit because you get more out of a standard 2.0/2.3- litre lump, plus they don’t tweak as well. First step on all is to fi t an evergreen Weber 28/36 carb which will suffi ce for an enormous amount of tuning with new chokes and jets.

The biggest gain comes with a big valve head and, while any specialist can replicate it, there’s still a lot of Blydenstein equipment around (try

Adrian Millar spares in Snetterton). There were four stages, the first pair being simply improved standard heads. while the latter two were better known as Big Valve heads; Stage 4 boasting a higher compression ratio. On a 2.3 engine, with suitable carb and exhaust manifolding 135bhp is available. Incidentally, the HP Firenza yielded 131bhp and the head and cam design was largely pinched from Blydenstein!

Bill was more interested in real world driveability than outright bhp figures and, although he produced hotter ‘GT’ cams, most folks left this component alone, on his advice, as it spoiled this engine’s famed low speed torque. On the other hand, these engines were notoriously asthmatic and unwilling to rev, so a hairier one (along the lines of the Droopsnoot’s) is a good move. If you have a 1600cc or 1800cc engine then the 2.0 and preferably the 2.3 boast a better profile and provide a bit more pep for pennies.

Blydenstein did produce special 2.5/2.6-litre cranks which give modern diesel-like torque figures (210lbft!) but these are rare finds.

But 150-170bhp is on the cards for tractable road and motorsport use. If you want to go further, then the engine from a Lotus Elise/Eclat or Jensen-Healey (pictured) just drops in as it’s based on the Vauxhall block: 140bhp minimum is on tap with much more attainable. Don’t try fitting the Lotus heads on the Vauxhall block as the oil ways are different and it’s a complex fix.

As with the smaller ohv, modified ignition is essential attire. Fuelling is best served by twin Weber DCOEs although the simple 28/36 copes with most road needs reckoned Bill. 

Bear in mind that specialist sports car builder Panther marketed a 2.3 turbo powered Kallista and it went like stink!

Want even more power? As the slant four engine was essentially half a V8, numerous Vivas and Magnums are running around with American V8s, not least the easily attainable Buick/Rover unit which yields around 155bhp.

Let’s talk transmissions! While they all wore four-speed gearboxes, overdrive (as used on the VX 4/90) was available, as was a pukka fivespeed ZF ‘box. This was fitted not only to the Droopsnoot but also post ‘77 VX4/90s and Bedford CF vans from the early ‘70s, but a new hole for the lever needs to be cut. Remember that post ‘73 VX4/90s, now sans overdrive, featured better chosen intermediates as compensation.

There was also a limited slip differential would you believe. Admittedly it figured on the ill-starred FC Series 101Victor/VX 4/90 but the ‘Super traction’ axle worked well – if you can find one now. Other beefier units from the XJ6 and Reliant Scimitar GTE have been grafted on.

How Did It Drive?

The Viva was considered the Ford Focus of its day, thanks to its fine chassis. With precise rack and pinion steering it’s a match for any Escort, although the ride is very buckety, and much worse on the HB. The smaller-engined models feel fairly perky in ‘90’ guise and with less weight up front are less laden than the ohcs, but that bigger engine is a mine of power with great low-speed torque and a 2.3 suitably tuned has more go than this Vauxhall really needs, even today.

Handling The Power...

In its day the Viva/Magnum was a cut above the rest, thanks to an admirable chassis with a well tied down rear axle. It’s a set up that, with tweaking, works well today. First job is to stiffen things up with uprated dampers (preferably adjustable from Koni, Spax, Gaz, AVO, etc) and the coil springs, although lowering was never advised on these Vauxhalls. The far too soft (and now probably worn) rear axle bushes should be replaced with tougher ‘poly’ types to locate the rear axle better.

As was Vauxhall’s want back then, the chassis understeers. To dial this out a rear anti-roll bar was fitted to post ‘69 Viva GTs and certain later ohc HC models (including Firenzas) or you can use stiffer rear damping to do the same job. Fitting a rear anti roll bar in isolation is not advised, unless the front end is tackled first. Blydenstein made special ‘negative’ front wisbones which promoted oversteer; these are still available at autojumbles and on eBay, but another alternative is to bolt on the set ups from a plain Victor, post ‘69 Viva GTs, or better still Ventora. In fact, this is what Vauxhall did for the Droopsnoot!

If you want to make the car more neutral then, if not fitted, a front anti-roll bar is the next move. There’s a fair amount of adjustability to the geometry. The brakes should be ample for normal road use, if serviced with EBC pads. Again, Ventora discs and callipers are usually all you’ll need, but more extreme fits are available. Incidentally, the wider HC front sub-frame gives the HB a useful track increase but it’s a crowbar installation, we’re informed.

Share This Article

Share with Facebook Share with Facebook

Share with Twitter Tweet this article

Share bookmark with Delicious Share bookmark with Delicious

Share with Digg Digg this article

Share with Email Share by email

User Comments

This review has 0 comments - Be the first!

Leave a comment

Keep it polite and on topic. Your email address will not be published. Please do not advertise products, all posts of this nature will be removed. We do not stock or supply any of these products, we independently review these products.

Subscribe Today
Latest Issue Cover - Click here to subscribe

Subscribe to Classic Motoring Magazine and save over 25%

Britians top classic cars bookazine