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WITH THANKS TO JOHN K AT GM ARCHIVE AND DAVID BURRELL FROM www.retroautos.com.au FOR THEIR CONTRIBUTIONS TO THIS SECTION OF vauxpedia

WARNING: THOSE PICTURES MARKED "© GM ARCHIVE" CANNOT BE DOWNLOADED AND USED OR PUBLISHED ELSEWHERE

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1. BACKGROUND:

The original Viva HA was a qualified success considering all the compromises imposed by being part of the GM “OHV” Programme and therefore paired with the Opel Kadett A in basic shape and overall dimensions. The car was only offered as a 2 door saloon, the 4 door version didn’t get past the clay mock up stage basically because the car was considered to be too small to be a useful 4 door saloon, there was an Estate in the shape of the Beagle conversion by Martin Walter which was basically the HA Van with windows and extra seats. The suspension was a crude mix of leaf rear springs at the rear and an unusual transverse leaf arrangement at the front, although the front suspension was loved by kit car manufacturers as it was all one unit it was so easy to use to bolt on a kit or hot rod. However, the priorities laid down for the replacement were: improved ride, handling, performance, interior space and more stylish body design – with a 4 door and estate planned from the start along with a factory built van version. A prerequisite for these parameters would be an increase in length, height and width which were in line with what Opel were planning with their Kadett B. At this stage the two cars were planned to continue to use the same floorpan and inner structures.

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2. DESIGN & ENGINEERING:

Design work actually started in the old V Block Styling Studio on the new replacement even before the launch of the HA with the first clay mock up completed in July 1963. As can be seen in the picture the first mock up did incorporated a "coke bottle" style of sorts but the rest of the car was still boxy like a miniature FC 101 and the heavy slab sided appearance was not much of an improvement on the soon to be announced HA Viva parked behind for comparison. Further styling work took place during the remainder of the year and a more acceptable look was honed and fashioned into two full size styling mock-ups, one 2 and one 4 door saloon. This took longer than normal because during this time the whole Design & Engineering Departments were transferred to the new purpose built AJ Block early in 1964. The pictures of the two mock-ups were taken in the new studios and show a more acceptable design which from some angles looked like a miniature PC Cresta and from others had an intriguing Triumph 1300 like rear end design of the boot lid. There were some design cues that would become Viva trademarks such as the oblong headlights “wave” style wheel arches and split grille. Overall the car was a definite improvement on the HA but still retained a rather boxy upright look as a result of the Opel underpinnings, the interior was where the least progress had been made, apart from increased room, with the dashboard coming straight from the HA - albeit with a strip speedometer replacing the previous round units.

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After some additional detail changes David Jones and a small team of his staff flew to the GM Design Centre in the US with the 2 door Design mock-up for formal evaluation by Bill Mitchell, the legendary head of GM Global Design. He walked around the car and studied it carefully before declaring that it was not acceptable and would not be a significant step forward in style over the previous HA model. David Jones would not have taken this lightly and Mitchell was one of the few people who could tell David he had failed to come up to scratch, on his home turf Jones ran the Design Department almost as his own autonomous fiefdom and was always involved in heated arguments with Vauxhall Directors, Chief Engineer Maurice Platt and especially Gerald Palmer.

Bill Mitchell took David Jones out to lunch but before he left he asked one of his most talented young designers, Australian Leo Pruneau, to come up with an alternative full size wall line drawing for an HA replacement and to have it ready by the time they got back – that was 3 hours! The images include the actual line drawings Pruneau produced and who remembers the occasion well and was recalled for a discussion with David Burrell from www.retroautos.com.au - a site well worth a look for any automotive enthusiast.

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On his return from lunch Mitchell immediately gave the go-ahead for further design work to be done to refine the details and, just to ensure that it was not “diluted” by Jones on his return, Pruneau was told to go back to Vauxhall in the UK for 6 months to see the car through the initial development stages, in the end he stayed at Vauxhall for nearly 6 years until he eventually moved to his native Australia as Head of Holden Design. Leo Pruneau was probably the most capable automotive designer & stylist that virtually no one has heard of and his influence on Vauxhall Design during the latter part of the 1960s was considerable.

As instructed David Jones assigned a small team, led by Pruneau, working in the Advanced Design Studio, and they proceeded to translate the line drawing into a full size clay mock up. Fortunately, the style of the car fitted perfectly with the yet to be launched PC Cresta which incorporated the same coke bottle style thereby giving a strong family resemblance.

The first result was the clean cut full size clay in the pictures, the final HB shape is clear to see, although there was some detailing at the rear end that would not make it to production, interestingly work on the Cresta PC full size clay seen in some of the pictures had started prior to the new design block being opened which shows how quickly progress was being made on the Viva. As an aside, in order to achieve the new look for the HB Vauxhall dumped the HA’s primitive Opel floor pan, structure and suspension and started from scratch with far more advanced underpinnings. 

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Engineering wise the Viva HB was brought bang up to date, the car used a completely different suspension design from the HA, having double-wishbone and coil springs with integrated telescopic dampers at the front, and trailing arms and coil springs at the rear. Lateral location and anti-squat of the rear axle was achieved using upper trailing arms mounted at approximately 45° fixed to lugs at the top of the differential. Both front and rear could also be fitted with anti-roll bars as and where required. Ironically, the rear suspension was adapted by Opel and introduced on the Kadett B two years after its launch. The Viva HB set new standards for handling in its class as a result of the adoption of this suspension design, where many of its contemporaries stuck with leaf springs and Macpherson struts. To cope with the increase in weight, the HB was 6.5 inches longer than the HA, the 1057cc engine was enlarged to 1159cc with same “90” option as before but all units produced more power than their equivalent predecessors. During development Vauxhalls Engineering Department had experimented with front wheel drive for the HB, both with the engine mounted transversely and also inline using a transfer box similar to the Triumph 1300, but the added complication and cost as well unknown long term durability meant the established powertrain position and rear wheel drive was retained. The car was however designed from scratch to accept the yet to be announced slant four ohc engine that would first see the light in the FD Victor in October 1967.

The 2 door saloon was the first to be launched in September 1966 in time for the October London Motor Show, initially available in 1159cc Standard, De Luxe and SL trim levels with the “90” engine option available on the latter two and came with power front disc brakes and wider tyres. The car was a major crowd puller at the show, the new “coke bottle” styling was an instant hit, stealing a two year design lead on arch rival Ford, and sales got off to a good start with the Ellesmere Port plant working flat out to fulfil demand. The De Luxe was the biggest seller but the SL showcased the individualised rear seat treatment, first seen on the FB VX4/90, to its best effect yet and complimented the wood effect dashboard finish giving the overall interior an upmarket feel.

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In February 1967 automatic transmission became an option but, unlike the Victor FC 101 which used the hopeless 2 speed Powerglide, the Viva was fitted with the Borg Warner Type 35 3 speed gearbox. Performance was about as lively as an asthmatic snail on crutches but it was still another sector of a small, but growing market, that the Viva covered.

The performance of the HB, either standard or “90”, compared to the equivalent HA was about the same, but it was clear that the HB chassis could handle more power, it was just about top of its class when launched compared to rivals from Ford and BMC. Soon after the Viva HB launch Vauxhall were approached by the Jack Brabham Racing Organisation, who had come to the same conclusion, and developed a kit to uprate the “90” engine further with a high lift camshaft, a new aluminium inlet manifold, twin Stromberg CD150 carburettors, a higher compression ratio and a free flow exhaust system. Brabham’s main interest may have been to homologation for the FIA Group 2 racing but Vauxhall were happy to market the car as a model in its own right as part of the Viva range – it was in fact a dealer fitted kit and could be applied to new or second-hand cars at a cost of £37 10s plus £12 fitting – externally the only difference was a black or white stripe stretching across the bonnet and down the side of the car, inside there was some neat badging to round off the package. Jack Brabham himself was used in most of the advertising for the car.

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The attractive Estate version was launched in June 1967 in De Luxe and SL trim levels and all engine options. Vauxhall had deliberately sacrificed some cargo space in order to create a better looking car and it was a price that many customers were willing to trade off. It was around this time that Vauxhalls Design Department began experimenting with an HB hatchback, this used a shortened floorpan and an even sharper raked rear end treatment, and two running prototypes were made and were known internally as S Car or “Kamback” or, surprise-surprise, “Sportshatch”. The project did not progress until the early 1970s with the advent of the T Car programme. The other vehicle associated with the HB Estate was the Bedford HB Van, several were built but at the time the HA Van was selling very well and had a greater cargo area because of its boxy shape. The vehicle was produced in a fashion as the Swedish Post Office had ordered a fleet of HB Estates with the rear seat removed and then a panel was welded locally in Sweden over the rear glass.

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By early 1968 the Viva was facing some stiff competition from Ford in form of the Mk1 Escort, the Viva looked better, handled better and the standard and “90” engines were similar in performance to the 1100 and 1300. Right at the design stage the car was designed to accept the slant four ohc Victor engine and as soon as it became available Vauxhall started experimenting with a high performance version of the Viva and in March 1968 they launched the Viva GT, the first ever Vauxhall to wear GT badges. It is widely acknowledged now that David Jones team had gone a bit over the top with the “boy racer” style but on paper it had the right credentials.
There were two versions of the GT, Mk1 and the rarer and better Mk2. The car was powered by the then unique 1975cc O.H.C slant 4 engine, rated at 104bhp (Net), with twin Stromberg CD175 carburettors, that would later be used in the VX4/90 FD. The GT body shell was made at Ellesmere Port and then transferred to Luton where the modified FD Victor and Cresta parts were fitted, turning the car into a Viva GT. This is the reason why the Mk1 GT had a 'V' in the chassis number, denoting Luton build while the Mk2 was assembled at Ellesmere Port with the parts shipped in from Luton, hence their chassis number includes an 'E' for Ellesmere Port. Curiously there are a few cars known as Mk1.5s, these were crossover Mk1 cars fitted with some of the new Mk2 features thereby dressing up the older car and using up inventory parts stock. Vauxhall took heed of the negative press comments and toned down the Mk2 which was a much more civilised sports saloon. The Mk1 used a close ratio gearbox from the early FD Ventora and PC Cresta, the Mk2 had a standard ratio gearbox with a different gear linkage and a 'Mushroom' headed gearstick with a lock out for reverse gear. The rear axle was basically a shortened and modified FD Victor item, the Mk1 used a ratio of 3.9:1 and an extended pinion and single piece propshaft, while the Mk2 used 3.4:1 ratio, a short pinion and a two piece propshaft. A front anti-roll bar was fitted and rear on Mk2s. The front and rear springs, and shock absorbers were all uprated from the standard HB to cope with the extra power. Early engines used an alloy sump while later cars used steel. The Mk1 used a twin exhaust system, basically 2 HB SL90 exhausts with no less than 4 tail pipes!! The later Mk2 used a single system very similar to the ohc HC Viva. The interior was based on the standard SL but showcased the instrument layout first seen on the XVR concept car in 1966 and on the Mk2 the auxiliary switches on the centre console.

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On a more mundane front in June 1968 the smaller 1599cc slant four Victor engine was added to the range but initially as an option not as a model in its own right. With 83bhp (gross) it should have produced a car with sparkling performance but in reality the only advantage was torque, the top speed and 0 to 60mph times were almost identical to the “90” engine cars and the 1600 had the downside of using a lot more fuel.

In September 1968 Vauxhall released the 4-door Viva, the extra doors adding £48 to the purchase price and at the same time, all models went up by an additional £8 as GM introduced their collapsible steering column across the range. To fit a reasonably sized rear door in the space available, without major and therefore expensive structural alterations, the engineers made the front door a little narrower. Thankfully the door was already quite large, so the "trimming down" in size had little impact on driver and front passenger entry and egress. Unfortunately no changes were able to be made to increase the rear leg room, which was rather limited when a tall driver had their seat in the full-back position. But Vauxhall did introduce a few minor changes, such as armrests with ashtrays fitted and "sill-pip" door locks. The switchgear, which was often criticised for its poor placement just below the fascia, was moved to a much more user friendly position directly underneath the long speedo. Flattened blades were used for each one, with symbols to identify its job. The single speed heater blower was finally fitted with a second speed, the "half speed" option being much better suited to keeping the cabin at a constant temperature, particularly given the sliding heater control offered absolutely no progression, and was in effect simply an on/off switch made to look like one that afforded more precise temperature selection.

The last Viva HB was produced in July 1970 and was replaced by the HC which production started in September after the factory summer break.

3. FACTORY PRESS PHOTOGRAPHS:

1966 - 1967 MY

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1968 MY

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1969 MY

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1970 MY

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4. FACTORY SPECIFICATIONS:

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5. PRESS RELEASES & PHOTOGRAPHS:

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6. LAUNCH ARTICLES:

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