Whitsun with a Viva

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THE Whitsun week-end found me using, not a Jaguar E-type, Porsche or Lotus which some of you might have expected, but a humble Viva. This came about because I had asked Vauxhall Motors to let me refresh my memory of their smallest model in anticipation of testing one of these cars with tuned engine and stiffer suspension—MOTOR SPORT was the first journal to publish a road-test report on the Viva, but that was two years ago. On the way to collect it the Thursday before the holiday the Editorial Morris 1100 developed drive-shaft trouble and as B.M.C.’s London depot hadn’t the necessary spares in stock to effect a prompt repair, and another test car had failed to materialise, I found myself faced with a busy week-end—and this Viva.

Driving home, I reflected that failure of the universals or drive shafts on a f.w.d. car which could cause a front wheel to lock without much warning is horrid to contemplate and, while I am a front-drive advocate, for a time I saw the logic of those motorists of another age who refused to have anything to do with the then-new front-wheel-brakes on the grounds that anything that might lock up the wheels by which the car steered wasn’t on. Here, for the timorous, is ammunition in argument against the old-fashioned front-engined/rear-driven car by those who favour either rear engine/rear-wheel-drive, or front engine/front-wheeldrive cars. The missing link, as it were. Disturbed by what might have happened if I had not heeded clonkings from up-front, and mindful of how a colleague’s M.G. 1100 locked up, I felt happy in the knowledge that this de luxe Vauxhall Viva was steered and retarded but not driven through its Michelin-shod front wheels. . . .

On the Friday, starting only just before the ridiculous 50-m.p.h. universal speed-limit came into force, I set off on a round journey of 320 miles to take part of the family to our country place. The forecast traffic congestion never materialised, nor can I agree the few drivers were observing the foolish 50, if one excepts a tanker and a ‘bus which were obviously doing sixty. On the way home, at the improbable time of 7.30 p.m., South-bound traffic was doing four rather than 40 m.p.h. along the long approach to Gloucester and round its ring-road, in spite of the efforts of the police. I have met this clog-up previously, at about the same hour on a week-day afternoon.

Anyway, I experienced no hold-ups apart front the expected congestion through Newbury on the outward journey. On the Saturday it was up to Silverstone for the 8-Clubs’ Meeting, but I have a back-route from Hampshire to the circuit, so this was an extremely pleasant run.

On Whit-Sunday I ventured into Kent to reminisce about Brooklands, which meant taking the notorious A25 from Guildford through Dorking, Reigate, Redhill and Westerham to join A20 (a small queue here was soon cleared by traffic police) for Maidstone and my destination seven miles beyond. But, on this hot Bank Holiday Sunday it wasn’t notorious at all—traffic flowed serenely and there were scarcely any hold-ups. That afternoon we came home through Tunbridge Wells and East Grinstead, to rejoin the outward route at Reigate—again, no hold-ups. This seemed too good to last and I expected trouble on Whit-Monday, when I was due at Goodwood. But, apart from a little delay crossing A3 at Petersfield on the outward journey (there was a policeman there by the afternoon), again all was plain if 50-m.p.h. sailing, with almost all driver’s keeping to this unnecessary speed-limit, except those doing 40 m.p.h. or less.

The Viva, if modest in performance, and conventional (even to a prop.-shaft!) in specification, served admirably. Its overall fuel consumption was a truly commendable 40.1 m.p.g., it asked for no oil, and at a time, following a run of misdemeanours in other cars, when above everything I wanted reliability, it gave the impression or being reassuringly durable. Rather soggily sprung, a bit noisy when accelerating, with somewhat austere seats, the Viva gave the impression of being a dependable car, and its gearchange is delightful, its steering, clutch and brakes outstandingly light. Alter all, this little Vauxhall is a General Motors’ product sued by Opel in Germany and I have faith in the ability of American cars to keep on keeping on and in German quality. . .

Whitsun over and the rains returning, it was down to Wales to retrieve the holidaying members of my family. The Viva with full tank can do this and get more than halfway back before refuelling, and its big luggage boot is useful on such occasions. Once more—no congestion, except for a certain stickiness I have learnt to expect in Hereford at going-home hours. But traffic coming in the opposite direction round Gloucester at 7 p.m. was again in a snails-procession, in spite of the presence of an impressive number of policemen. It comes along A40 presumably bound for South Wales, but why it grinds to frequent standstills on the wide, well-marked Gloucester ring-road on week-day evenings is, to me, a mystery. It pays to avoid this area at such times. So here was a Whitsun with 1,200 miles covered in a useful, uncomplaining 1,057-c.c. British saloon, which inherits interesting rear springing and ingenious valve gear from the Opel Kadett. I didn’t see any accidents. Surely those stupid broadcasts about road-deaths over holiday week-ends should cease? Far better to dole out a little praise to heavily-taxed motorists who have had no more accidents than at previous holiday weekends, or normal ones for that matter, in spite of the vast multiplication of vehicles in the last few years, and who collectively show much restraint and remarkable skill in coping with Britain’s shockingly inadequate roads.—W. B.

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