The road-clinging Viva SL90 and the sumptuously-equipped Viscount
Since I first tried it I have liked the Vauxhall Viva. It is a useful 1,159-c.c, car of conventional layout, almost of 1-1/2 -litre body dimensions, with light steering and clutch, a very nice gear change, and a big capacity for luggage. The latest SL90 model with the new coil-spring suspension (replacing the earlier half-elliptic rear suspension and transverse leaf-spring i.f.s.), properly-located back axle and disc front brakes clings to the road in a manner remarkable for any car and outstanding for a saloon of this modest price.
The exceptional road-holding is no doubt aided by the low-profile 12 in. tyres (Avon Super Safety tubeless on the test car), the wheels looking unusually small in relation to the wheel arches of the two-door body. The Viva SL90 can be taken very fast through open bends with commendable accuracy, very little roll and no tyre squeal. On the overrun there is a faintly “squidgy” feel about the steering but otherwise full marks to this rear-wheel-drive small saloon that possesses such splendid road-clinging qualities and such a high factor of safety.
Unfortunately the ride is pretty terrible, being extremely lively over bad surfaces. The power disc/drum brakes need a good prod for quick retardation from speed but otherwise work well and do not squeal. The body of this latest Viva SL90 is commendably free from unnecessary adornment but has a number of irritating detail faults; I do not like the upsweep of the waistline under the fixed back windows, but the wheel trims look nice.
The separate front seats are fairly comfortable for spongy seats with a small area of cushion and non-adjustable squabs. The stubby little gear lever controls a generally very fine gearbox but it is too far out of reach for long-legged drivers who slide the driving seat right back. But many far more expensive cars would benefit from such a light, pleasant gear change and reverse is easily selected by lifting the lever beyond first gear location. The front seats lift up to give access to the back seat but are locked for safety reasons by little levers at the outside of their base; this is unfortunate, for three reasons. Firstly, two hands are needed to lift both lock-release lever and seat, which is annoying when an arm-full of parcels is destined for the back compartment. Second, the driver cannot reach the lock-release of the n/s seat, so that when picking up a dog or a human passenger who is to go in the back but is unaccustomed to the locking of the front seat, it is necessary to get out and walk round the car to operate it. Third, back seat passengers can release the front-seat safety locks but are still trapped in the back compartment because, as the front seats tilt forward, they make the lift-up interior door handles inaccessible! This may be excellent as a child trap but will anger adults.
In other aspects, too, the latest Viva falls short of the ideal. There is no proper extraction for air and as the rear side windows are fixed on all save the de luxe model, misting up of the back window is common, and to clear it the occupants have to endure a heater fan that sounds like a cheap, very noisy hair-drier. This was appreciated, and the test-car had external mirrors. There are simple fresh-air inlets on the facia, supplemented by further adjustable air inlets, but these are normally insufficient to demist the car. Without the fan the heater volume seems low.
Another irritation is that the carefully grouped, shaped and picture-labelled flick-switches for side lamps, wipers, washers (of which the o/s one was inoperative on the test car), fog lamps and, paired on the other side of the steering column, the cigarette lighter and choke knob, are invisible to drivers of average size unless they move their bodies to peer over or under the thick steering wheel spokes, which effectively blank this row of controls. Once the Lucas rectangular headlamps are switched on the r.h. stalk control dips them; it also flashes them, controls the winkers and sounds a high-pitched horn. The lamps give a good but apparently rather dazzling main and cutoff beam.
Part of the facia, the lid of the deep but shallow lockable cubby hole and the cross spokes of the steering wheel are finished in a restrained imitation wood veneer. The m.p.h./k.p.h. speedometer incorporates a clear odometer with decimals, a centigrade water thermometer (normally reading 85 deg.) and a fuel gauge that is accurate reading with the car stationary. There is a full-width parcels shelf, very inaccessible on the driver’s side, but the stowage space behind the shaped back seat squab is unlipped. There is an open well ahead of the gear lever. The boot is commendably spacious. The heavy bonnet has to be propped up and the wiring in the engine compartment is untidy, with a frail lead from the coil passing close to the accessible bent-wire dip-stick. Play in the pivots of the door-keeps, cracks at the door hinge welds, and paint chipping from the frames of the quarter-lights, were a reminder a mass production. Two keys look after ignition and door locks but as both are the same shape annoyance is created, while locks in the door push-buttons are not the best arrangement. The screen pillars sweep back rather sharply but visibility is good, the steering wheel set low. The transmission is snatchy under sudden throttle opening.
The engine, with its simple o.h. rocker gear and downdraught alloy inlet manifold and inlet ports, has a Zenith-Stromberg carburetter and 9.0 to 1 cr. on the SL90 version and gets the car up to a comfortable cruising speed which is also the legal maximum. It starts fairly promptly with a minimum of choke but tends to stall in the first hundred yards. No oil was used in 500 miles but the consumption of premium petrol was disappointingly heavy. Admittedly the Viva was used for local short journeys and driving to London rather than for fast main-road cruising but the overall figure was only 27.1 m.p.g. The tank filler has an unsecured cap and will not accept a normal can.
In brief, the latest 60 b.h.p. £708 Vauxhall Viva SL90 can chase B.M.C. 1100s round corners without running out of road, but is nothing like their equal in ride comfort, and is far more thirsty. It is pleasant to drive, roomy for a car of this engine capacity, and will make a great many friends amongst those who like their family cars to display many good qualities within the context of a conventional specification and appearance. The road-holding of this latest Viva makes it no surprise that the reigning World Champion racing driver should agree to co-operate with Vauxhall Motors Ltd. in providing mildly souped-up versions of this already lively and likeable car. Will the advent of the improved Viva cause Ford to revise its ideas about 1100s and introduce a replacement for the ageing Anglia?
The Vauxhall Viscount is the luxury version of the 3-1/4 -litre Cresta and very sumptuous it is, at the competitive price of £1,483—its direct competitor is the 3-litre Ford Executive, which Motor Sport reported on last month and which costs £84 more than the Viscount. This includes sliding roof, i.r.s. and D1/D2 transmission which the Luton product hasn’t got but the Vauxhall has electrically-controlled windows whereas the Ford’s have to be manually wound.
This big Vauxhall gets the sumptuous touch over well, although not quite as well as the 3-litre Rover for instance, being a wide imposing-looking car with very comfortable leather-upholstered seats, fully equipped in practical fashion. Those in the back compartment have the benefit of fold-down picnic tables, elastic-topped pockets in the backs of the adjustable front-seat squabs, roof “pulls,” a wide central armrest, a bright roof-lamp that comes on when a back door is opened, and corner reading-lights. The interior of the Viscount is lavishly endowed with the aura of Clubland—big panels of matching polished-veneer burr-walnut on the doors (with crest-like insignia on the front panels!), the same wood for the facia and window surrounds, cloth upholstery for the base of the door panels and front-door map pockets, thick pile carpets, the aforesaid hide upholstery, and a fully-carpeted luggage boot.
This is by no means all—the Viscount has power-operated windows, although as the controls for these, so far as the front-seat occupants are concerned, are on the console below the facia, they are difficult to locate in a hurry or in the dark. These power-operated windows are supplemented by normal quarter-lights. There are lever-controlled outlets at each end of the facia that provide for cold-air ventilation on the face although the direction of flow is not adjustable. But to demist the screen it is necessary to have the two-speed heater-fan in the disastrously-noisy fast setting, neither heater nor fresh-air vents being particularly efficient.
There is no stowage for oddments under the Viscount’s facia but a big lockable cubby-hole is provided. A swivelling map-lamp which comes on automatically is conveniently fitted on the n/s of the facia. The minor controls are rather scattered but the combined wipers/washers knob comes conveniently to the driver’s left hand, controlling two-speed wiping. Vauxhall safety belts were fitted but the roof-located coat-hooks are of the lethal metal variety, and the roof-lamp rather vulnerable. The dipping rear-view mirror was too flexibly mounted for it to function properly. Other luxury touches include lining along the body sides, illumination of engine compartment and boot, a concealed lockable petrol filler cap, a black grained vinyl covering for the roof (which Riley thought of years ago), exterior mirrors, of the “vanishing” kind, alas, and built-in reversing lamps. There is tumble-home of the side windows to increase interior space, the boot is able to take enormous quantities of luggage, the spare wheel being covered with upholstery to keep the contents of the boot clean, and the Lucas four-headlamp lighting gives an admirable driving light; it is foot-dipped, the r.h. stalk control being for flashing and turn-indicators only. This Vauxhall should be durable, because it is finished in thorough Luton fashion with seven-stage phosphate anti-rust treatment of the body shell, a primer deep-dip, and spraying of the insides of the structure with aluminised bituminous compound and the underbody and undersides of the wings with bituminous plastic, before the four coats of Magic Mirror acrylic lacquer are applied over the primer. The radiator grille is of anodised aluminium, wheel trims and upper brightwork are of stainless steel, and bumpers and knave plates are triple nickel-chromium plated.
Equipment includes an accurate electric clock, child-proof locks, front-door armrests, and an effective Triplex rear-window demister with its own switch and warning light. The warning lights, including one for when the well-placed r.h. handbrake is applied, are neatly clustered and do not dazzle.
Great care has been taken to sound-damp the Vauxhall Viscount but rather pronounced road noise from the 14 in. Avon Super Safety tyres intrudes and the engine can be heard when working against the collar. Road-holding and ride are what would be expected from a car of this kind but roll when cornering is effectively restrained, and the Avons gripped satisfactorily in the wet. On a day of torrential rain and gale-force winds the interior of the car remained dry. There is power steering which is far heavier than most of its kind, so that this is akin to normal control with much of the effort removed from it, at the expense of a faintly dragging feel, but with full castor-return action. The Powerglide automatic transmission has no hold-control other than “L.” Take off from rest and kick-down are rather jerky, and the gear change returns too early to top gear (at just over 50 m.p.h.), in which there is no reserve of acceleration. The servo disc/drum brakes are somewhat spongy and not very impressive, except that they give progressive retardation in traffic driving. There is no noticeable hill-hold in the gearbox. Two similar keys, one of which locks the doors, the other enters the lock but doesn’t turn, are an irritating minor shortcoming. The r.h. handbrake does not impede entry or egress.
From starting with a full petrol tank the steady fuel gauge indicated almost-empty after 235 miles; the overall consumption of premium was, in fact, 17.5 m.p.g., far heavier than that of the Ford Executive. After 775 miles, half-a-pint of oil was needed. There is an oil radiator in front of the water radiator to ensure that the gearbox lubricant is kept at an equitable temperature.
Instrumentation (by A.C.) includes thermometer and ammeter and there was a very good Vauxhall push-button radio on the test car. The body lines are restrained, with rather thick screen pillars. The car is comfortably suspended but the rigid back-axle thumps mildly on rough roads. It is another car of Anglo-American characteristics, feeling more solidly-built, heavier to handle, than the Executive.
The Vauxhall Viscount may not appeal to enthusiasts but it is a fine proposition for those who wish to combine spaciousness and comfort with the status symbol and who have less than £1,500 to spend. Performance figures, taken under good conditions, which confirm this to be a 100 m.p.h.+ car, are appended.—W.B.
Vauxhall Viscount Performance Figures:
Top speed … 103.6 m.p.h
M.I.R.A. timed lap … 98.0 m.p.h.
s.s. 1/4 mile…..20.5 sec.
Fuel consumption ….. 17.5 m.p.g.