Introduced in 1963
, the HA Viva represented the first small car to be released by Vauxhall since the war. The Viva was a car much needed by Vauxhall, it having lost ground to many competitors. The competition in this sector was fierce, with the Ford Anglia
, Morris Minor
and Austin A35
battling it out for sales superiority.
The Viva was based on the German-made Opel Kadett (another GM subsidiary) and was therefore rather conventional in design. However, the Viva was more powerful than its European counterpart and some of the body panels were substantially different. General Motors-Holdens started assembling the car in Australia mid 1964
The Viva was available in England with de luxe or standard trim, but there was only a two-door basic body. At the time, Vauxhall claimed that the Viva would seat four people in comfort, with a luggage trunk capacity of 10.5 cubic feet. However, with a rear seat width of only 51 inches Australians were soon to realise that it was only feasible to carry a child in the back as well as two adults.
Although very similar to the power plant of the Opel, the Viva's engine had bigger cylinder bores to increase the cubic capacity to 1057cc., from which 50 b.h.p. (gross) was developed at 5200 rpm. Maximum torque - 62.3 lb./ft. - was developed at 3000 rpm. Surprisingly, the crankshaft ran on three main bearings instead of the five more usually found on four cylinder cars from the era.
Arguably a backwards step, perhaps it is explained in that the stroke was short - 60.96mm - compared with the bore's 74.3mm. Wedge shaped combustion chambers were used and the compression ratio was 8.5:1. The carburettor was a single downdraught and had a manual choke. The cast-iron engine, which weighed only 227lb. dry, was coupled to a four speed, all synchromesh gearbox with a floor-change lever. Top gear was direct, driving through a 4.125:1 final drive to 12 inch road wheels.
Vauxhalls claimed a top speed in excess of 80 m.p.h. with a 0-50 acceleration time of just over 13 seconds. The steering was rack and pinion, and had a turning circle of 27.5ft. – making it one of the tightest in the business. Drum brakes
with a swept area of 125 sq. in. were standard, but servo-assisted discs were optional equipment for the front wheels to increase the swept area to 199 sq. in.
Superficially the suspension
seemed conventional, however for the time it was remarkably sophisticated. At the front a three-leaf transverse spring with wishbones was attached to its sub-frame by rubber mounts at two widely spaced points. It was claimed in Vauxhall press releases that this system offered a progressive resistance during hard cornering. Semi-elliptic were used at the rear in conjunction with a solid axle. However, the springs were attached to forward projecting pivot arms welded to the axle housing. From the centre of the axle casing a short torque tube ran forward to a rubber mounting attached to an underbody cross member.
During hard cornering the pivot-relationship between the spring and the axle was inoperative. However, the spring action would remain neutral so that roll was minimised and the ride was soft. Road bump absorption was claimed to be remarkably good, because the springs had a much softer rate than their theoretical figure due to the leverage action of the pivot arms. Vauxhalls said they took considerable care to ensure that the front and rear roll angles were controlled to maintain satisfactory directional stability during hard cornering.
The actual body/chassis construction of the Viva was fairly simple. It was made up from a large number of small pressings to provide the rigidity necessary with the large glass' areas and the thin roof pillars demanded by the design. The platform section had two longitudinal box sections which ran the full length of the structure. Front extensions of these longitudinal’s carried the front suspension's cross member and the engine mount brackets. Vauxhall bodies in England were finished with the "Magic Mirror" acrylic lacquer which General Motors-Holdens had been using locally since 1962.
When it first hit the UK showrooms the 'Deluxe' commanded a £32 premium, at £468, over the standard 'Saloon'. Both became immensely popular, so much so that an additional production line was opened at Vauxhall's Luton facility in Bedfordshire. The pick of these early Viva's however is the SL model, which was released in the British summer of 1965 after sales of both the Saloon and DeLuxe had exceeded 100,000.
To identify a Deluxe over the standard Saloon model, look for a chrome strip running the entire length of the car. The SL can be spotted by its unique colour flash, along with a re-designed grille and tri-design rear tail lights. If you are lucky enough to come across an SL model, you will better appreciate the cars collectability when you learn that, of the 303,738 HA Viva's manufactured, only 11,794 SL's were amoung them. While the HA production officially came to an end in 1966 with the release of the HB, the commercial derivatives continued on until the early 1980's.