Running-in a Viva at 95 mph!

In 1966 a highly qualified engineer and formerly successful saloon car driver called Blydenstein took a very courageous decision. Five years later this was to lead to the formation of a Vauxhall dealers organisation backing Blydenstein’s preparation of the Luton products in saloon car events. The progress that Blydenstein has made, first in association with the Shaw and Kilburn group, and now Dealer Team Vauxhall, is illustrated by referring back to late 1967 when the 1288-c.c. pushrod version was lapping Silverstone Club circuit in 1 min. 16 sec. Today an ordinary road driver can lap the same track in the 1 min. 8 sec. bracket by conducting Blydenstein’s latest weapon an impressive 2 1/2-litre development of the s.o.h.c. GT Viva. Even more impressive though is the fact that the number one Blydenstein Viva driver, that wheel-waving showman Gerald Marshall, has regularly returned times in the 1 min. 4 sec. bracket whilst locked in combat with the 2.1-litre Escort TC of David Brodie.

The outright record for these hybrid club racing saloons now stands to one Mick Hill at 1 min. 1.8 sec. (93.67 m.p.h.) in his ingenious Gurney-Weslake “Boss” Ford Capri. This is probably the fastest saloon car in Britain today for it weighs only about 17 cwt. and has something like 430 b.h.p. on tap. Incidentally this Capri hybrid has been the subject of some argument as to the fairness of current club saloon car rules because it represents a cross between a Lola sports racing car and a Capri outline. Whilst Hill’s initiative should receive its due rewards, there is the problem that the richer clubmen could buy similar success in expensive V8-powered Capris not manufactured in Hill’s cheaper Do-It-Yourself manner, thus ruining club saloon car racing.

We will have to leave that problem in the hands of the organising bodies and return to a sunny Silverstone in June, and the Viva which is to represent the new dealers’ team until the old Gp2 Viva GT can be converted into club trim and a Firenza be made ready for racing. When that happy state of affairs has come about two cars will be entered with a third as a “back-up” machine. Judging from the company assembled at the track, one of those three cars could be driven by a woman… but that remains to be seen.

The 2 1/2-litre engine is just one of the variants of the Vauxhall engine by Blydenstein, the others being (with typical Tecalemit Jackson test bed figures in brackets):—2.2-litres (195 b.h.p. at 6,500 r.p.m.), 2.3-litres (200 b.h.p.) and 2.6-litres (around 210 b.h.p. coupled with a similar figure relating to lb. ft. of torque) and the standard size of 2-litres, giving a best of 176 b.h.p. at 7,000 r.p.m. The 2.5 we tried had literally just been completed the day before and, judging by previous figures, was giving 214 b.h.p. at 6,500 r.p.m. To obtain the oversize capacity the bore is left at the production 92.5 mm. whilst a built up “stroker” crankshaft from Hunt Ltd., Poole, Dorset, increases stroke from 69.24 mm. to 87 mm: shorter con rods were necessary because of internal clearance problems, so they were made by Stamping Alliance in Birmingham and machined by Don Moore in Cambridge. The 2.3- and 2.6-litre “stretches” both use stroker crankshafts, plus larger bore pistons. All the engines still retain wet sump lubrication and Blydenstein proudly says he uses “80% standard parts”. The complete car is worth £3,500 new, or £2,000 after a season’s racing.

Previously Blydenstein ran these 2.5s with 42-mm. throttle bodies on the Tecalemit Jackson fuel injection, but the car we tested had 46-mm. bodies to let the engine breathe above 5,000 r.p.m. on its 11:1 compression ratio.

The use of glassfibre body parts (a neat subframe makes sure no front end wobble is allowed by this process) has trimmed something like 2 cwt. off the standard car’s weight, the test Viva being exactly 17 cwt. The suspension is a lowered and stiffened version of the standard coil spring, four-link rear, system: anti-roll bars are fitted front and rear working with rather tired Spax adjustable shock absorbers for our test, though Koni units are planned for the future. Minilite 10J wheels are used at all four corners, carrying Goodyear 4.00 x 10.50 tyres at the front and (after the running-in session) 4.50 x 10.85 rubberwear at the back.

The transmission features Blydenstein’s own ratios for the four-speed all synchromesh gearbox, its close ratios being mated to a 3.9:1 final drive on this occasion, offering 110 m.p.h. at 6,500 r.p.m., the latter figure being the limit we were set for our trial. Eventually the engine will be capable of over 7,000 r.p.m. when a new steel crankshaft is ready.

Having turned the ignition and injection pumps on, the Viva cracked into life promptly, moving off through the cluttered paddock with the ease of a road car equipped with a high first gear. My first 10-lap stint, to help run the car in, was to be at no more than 5,500 r.p.m. (95 m.p.h. in fourth!) and at that modest pace there was little to report. However it was interesting to note that I was entering Copse at 90 m.p.h. and leaving at 95. I cannot recall a road car that could get through that corner at much over 80 m.p.h. driven in the most desperate manner, yet those big sticky Goodyears were allowing me through in “Sunday driver” style, as you can see from the picture! Even when it came to recording my personal best of 1 min. 8.3 sec. (Marshall did 1 min. 6.8 sec. after two or three laps) the Viva’s steering retained a light and precise feeling of control over a car that was so nearly spun on three consecutive laps at the hairpin.

The sensitive leather rimmed wheel gave me adequate time to compensate for overambitious entry speed and brakes set up for a 17-stone man to use! On a slight, but bumpy, left-hander taken at 110 m.p.h. the car tended to twitch and then swerve slightly as the production-based brakes slowed the GT before the Borg Warner limited slip differential went about its efficient business to push the Viva through Becketts.

Although the car was so new in many of the important areas (the body had just been sprayed in the team’s new colours), Blydenstein let four people try the car during the afternoon—nobody stalled or had any sort of accident on a fairly greasy track. Facts which I think demonstrate the inherent quality of the car.

What a shame Vauxhall themselves don’t allow the car to develop its potential as a BMW 2002 alternative, restoring magic to the name that was so honourably associated with the 30/98 of the past.—J. W.