The Vauxhall Viva GT

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A Good £1,125 Car For Covering the Ground

The Vauxhall Viva GT has been considerably improved in respect of handling in its latest form and it gets along remarkably well. Having used the body shell of the latest Victor to house the 3.3-litre push-rod six-cylinder Cresta engine to form the Ventora, Vauxhall thought up the excellent idea of using the overhead-cam-shaft four-cylinder power unit of this Victor in a Viva body shell to make a good fast touring saloon; mainly for four people, as the back seats are contoured for two occupants.

On first acquaintance I wasn’t enamoured by this compact, well-contrived car. The lift-up interior door handles were so stiff they called for two hands to open the doors. The throttle action was sticky, first gear wasn’t always “in” when it felt to be, and the steering was so sticky that it tried to drag itself out of the hands on a left turn. The clutch, too, had a horrid action, but was very light.

But once away from the traffic I found this so-called Grand Touring Viva a car which devoured the miles quite effortlessly. It is docile in top gear, yet accelerates very usefully from 50 to 80 m.p.h., for example, while at the British legal cruising speed of 70 m.p.h. the 1,975 c.c. engine runs at well below 4,000 r.p.m. It says not to exceed 6,250 r.p.m. on the tachometer, but there is seldom any need to go to anything like this extreme to extract very ample performance from this quick Vauxhall. Indeed, maximum power, 112 gross b.h.p., is achieved at 5,400 r.p.m.

Road-holding is in keeping with the sporting performance until the inner back wheel lifts, the understeer being no longer unpleasantly pronounced; ordinary corners are taken “as if on rails”, the adhesion in the dry being outstanding, and well taken care of on wet roads by the 13 in. low-profile Goodyear G800 Grand Prix 70 tyres. Roll is convincingly suppressed by anti-roll bars front and back and the coil spring suspension, while it can be provoked into a somewhat choppy ride, generally looks after the comfort of the occupants quite effectively. The brakes call for no comment, being up to the demands I make of the servo disc/drum system.

It is the steering which spoils this car, for to the stickiness previously referred to must be added kick-back at the wheel and reluctant castor-return. The small leather-rimmed two-spoke wheel is placed low and the turning circle is small, and this reasonably light steering would otherwise be quick and responsive.

The central gear-lever could have a nicer knob and if the change is hurried the synchromesh is over-ridden. The movements across the gate are small and reverse, forward to the right, is protected by a lift-up sleeve on the lever. Gear whine and transmission snatch are to the usual Vauxhall standards.

There is a massive central hand-brake, a r.h. multi-purpose stalk control and a horizontal console carrying the flick-switches for lamps, the Stadium auxiliary lamps, wipers and, unconventionally, the aperture for the ignition key. Some rather casual planning is noted here, because, although the wipers’ switch has two positions, the wipers are single-speed, and to wash the screen the hand has to move up to the facia where the r.h. knob works powerful squirts which, however, did not prevent smearing of the glass. At times one imagines the Viva is being struck by lightning, this being the reflection in the screen in certain lights of the thin-plated trim surrounding the console. The other facia items, below the two clearly-labelled horizontal heater control quadrants, are a pull-out choke and a cigarette lighter.

This Viva GT has comfortable front seats, with fixed squabs, neat well-placed levers on the squabs releasing the seats for access to the back of the two-door body, although these were stiff to operate. Ventilation is provided by flap-sealed vents at the scuttle extremities and fresh-air grilles below these, with a control to select one or the other. The volume of cold air admitted was excessive, but if there is no passenger in the car the driver is able to contrive comfortable ventilation by using only the n/s vents. In addition, frameless ventipanes in the front doors and opening rear quarter-windows complete the ventilatory arrangements.

Reverting to the facia, the lighting of which can be switched off separately from the lamps, the hooded sections, on r.h.d. cars, have a very shallow lockable cubby on the left (supplemented by an under-facia shelf), the instrument panel on the right, the latter containing nicely-contrived, deeply recessed dials, with clear figures and pointers. Apart from speedometer, with trip and total odometers, there is an oil gauge (normally reading approximately 45 lb./sq. in.), an ammeter, a thermometer (usually showing 80 to 85C.), and a fuel level gauge that was accurate except when subjected to g. loadings. The vertical part of the console contains a Kienzle electric clock.

The engine, carburetted by twin variable-choke Zenith 175 CD-28s, started readily, idled rather frenziedly at 1,000 r.p.m. and ran quietly unless really working – it has the now classic toothed-belt drive to the single o.h. camshaft and is inclined in the car at 45 deg. In give-and-take driving, including a little Motorway motoring, I obtained 28.1 m.p.g., which is excellent for a high-output 2-litre. Oil was consumed at the rate of roughly 400 m.p.p. The Exide Supreme battery is mounted well clear of the engine on the o/s and the plugs are heat-shrouded on the exhaust side of the engine. The spare wheel lives in the boot, upright on the o/s. The bonnet catches are on the Viva’s nose and the lid has to be propped open. The boot lid rises on its own after the catch has been released and its interior is illuminated. The Lucas headlamps gave an excellent light, on full and dipped beams. The doors are “tinny”, the push-in external buttons also carry the locks and there was an irritating wind roar from the n/s screen pillar, these pillars being something of an obstruction to vision.

The Viva is noted for stylish body lines, enhanced in the case of the GT model by the side-flashes, air-vent panels on the bonnet and Rostyle sports wheels. But the former, unliked flamboyancy has gone. The fuel tank holds 12 gallons, so well over 300 miles should be accomplished between refills; the small-bore, near-horizontal filler is awkward even for an Easi-Fill can. The bumpers lack rubbers, over-riders are an extra, and there is no vanity mirror.

This Vauxhall Viva GT created a generally favourable impression and is the best of the current range of Lutonian products.—W. B.

* * *

New Cars

Two new cars were announced last month both from the British Leyland Motor Corporation, but from different divisions therein, and it would appear that Lord Stokes is keeping his promise made almost two years ago to produce a new British Leyland model every six months. Standard Triumph have announced Stag, a 2+2 sports/GT car, and the Rover Co. Ltd. the Range Rover, which is the first completely new model to be introduced by the Rover Company since it became a part of the British Leyland complex. The Range Rover is a combination of the ruggedness and durability of the ever-popular Land-Rover, together with many characteristics found in the range of Rover saloon cars.

We have not been able to drive these cars for any appreciable length of time, but initial impressions gained from both are given in this issue, and we hope to publish full road tests in full at a later date.

The Triumph Stag

The announcement of the new Triumph Stag is a significant and most welcome addition to the current range of sports and GT cars at present produced by British manufacturers which are still so very popular the world over. As can be seen from recent Motor Sport editorials, and indeed the wealth of readers’ letters received, it is obvious there is still an incredible amount of enthusiasts who prefer the joys of fresh-air motoring, and Stag will do much to stimulate further interest and fill a gap which previously was dominated by foreign manufacturers.

Stag is a two-door, genuine 2+2 sports car, having capacity for accommodating four adults in relative comfort, whereas a great many so-called 2+2s have only room for two persons occupying the front seats and either children or one adult sitting sideways-fashion in the rear. Obviously the amount of room for rear passengers is dependent upon the position adopted by the driver, but there is still more leg room than most other counterparts can boast. Styled by the Italian designer Giovanni Michelotti, the bodywork features an integral padded roll-bar, a la Targa Porsche, which runs between the door pillars, with a further arm to the windscreen header rail. Hard and soft-tops are available or a combination of both, the hardtop having a heated rear screen fitted as standard. Prices range from £1,955 17s, 6d. for the soft-top version, to £2,093 15s. 10d. for the hard and soft-top variant, which makes Stag a very competitive car indeed, cutting into the market at present occupied by the Elan +2, the Alfa Romeo Spyder and to a degree the highly-priced Mercedes 280 SL.

The power comes from a 2,997-c.c. 90-degree V8 aluminium alloy-headed engine, with a chain-driven single-overhead camshaft for each bank, delivering a reputed 145 b.h.p. at 5,500 r.p.m., and is a direct development of the 1.7 engine as supplied for the Saab 99. The shortstroke engine features a five-bearing two-plane crankshaft which offers torque at 2040, lb. in. at 3,500 r.p.m. and as is usual with most V8s, the flexibility of this new engine is superb. Both manual and automatic versions are available, the manual having Laycock overdrive in 3rd and top gears with the Borg Warner system featured in the automatic. The gearbox is a strengthened version of the 2.5 P.I saloon box with larger bearings and different ratios.

The interior is well appointed, having all the usual instrumentation one would expect to find in a high-performance car, although the omission of an oil pressure gauge was somewhat surprising. However, there is a combination “all-go” dial similar to that first seen on the Triumph 1300 saloon, which does give a warning of low oil pressure together with separate warning lights for main beam, direction indicators, ignition, choke, hand-brake, fuel level and water temperature. Reclining seats are fitted as standard equipment, with ample adjustment to meet the needs of even the most demanding type, and so a comfortable driving position is available.

As well as having Triumph’s “thru-flow” ventilation system, air conditioning is available as an optional extra which will obviously be a boon in hot climates, and is the first time that such equipment has been offered by Standard Triumph. Electric side windows are also standard equipment and are operated by rocker switches located on the centre console.

From our very short time spent with the Stag in Belgium earlier this year it was not possible to assess the full potential of this car which performed admirably during the time we drove it and, although the pre-production models we drove had barely 200 miles clocked up, they stood up remarkably well to the demands imposed on them by members of the British motoring press. Acceleration is smooth, using maximum revs in all gears, and the gearshift itself is a delight to operate, being light with no notchy action; 0-60 is reached in some nine seconds, which could have been improved on had a smooth change from 1st to 2nd gear been made, and 30 miles per hour over the legal limit is reached in less than 30 seconds.

The handling is superb, with the power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering being light yet very precise without that feeling of “which way are the wheels facing” when cornering. Front suspension is by way of independent struts with coil springs controlled by telescopic dampers, with an anti-roll bar fitted, whilst the rear is also fully independent with semi-trailing arms and coil spring damper units. Belgian pave encountered during the drive was taken at high speed with no adverse reaction from either driver or passenger proving the suspension was doing its job properly, and there was no noticeable roll when cornering at high speed. Having an idiotic Belgian reverse a tatty VW into the path of a Stag travelling at 90 m.p.h. was an excellent opportunity to test the brakes to the full, and thankfully enough they halted the new car before an embarrassing moment occurred. The brakes are servo-assisted, with discs front and self-adjusting rear drums, and, whilst being extremely powerful, careful use is necessary as it is quite easy to lock up the rear wheels, which is not at all desirable.

On a fast stretch of open road an indicated 121 m.p.h. was reached, but the tachometer ran wild at 5,000 r.p.m., a fault common to the manual and automatic versions driven. Wind noise at this speed was not unduly unbearable, most of it emanating from the quarter-lights, which were slightly ill-fitting, as was the hood cover which started to shift around in its recess behind the rear seats.

The great feature of most V8 engines is the inherent flexibility, and the Triumph engine is no exception, pulling from less than 20 m.p.h. in overdrive top with no shudder or transmission grab. There may be minor faults we will find when testing this car thoroughly, but I doubt it. It is not intended to replace the TR6, which will still be produced, but is an attempt to enter the highly competitive luxury grand touring class of motoring. We hope it succeeds.

The Range Rover

The second of the new cars introduced last month is the Range Rover, manufactured by the Rover Company after four years of design and development which has brought forth a model combining the ruggedness and versatility of the Land-Rover, together with handling and acceleration normally associated with high-performance saloons. This is an interesting combination which makes the Range Rover on the one hand a powerful work horse at home on a farm or a fast, comfortable station wagon cruising at speeds in .xcess of 90 m.p.h. on the open road.

As a hard-working, cross-country-type vehicle it is excellent, as a recent test-day in Cornwall proved.

Driving the Range Rover over terrain usually associated with motorcycle trials, it fairly ate up the rough ground it was fed with and was most impressive indeed; although conditions were dry this did not detract from its capabilities which were put to the test in a series of “special stages” organised by the Rover PR people. On a disused airfield at St. Eval, on the Northern coast of Cornwall, we were able to put the Range Rover through its paces on a “handling course”, which consisted of a set of continuous ess bends, followed by a run over rough ground which emphasised just how good the ride and handling characteristics were. One could throw the vehicle into the esses saloon car style without a feeling of impending doom, and on the fast run over the rough it would buck and jump but still felt very stable and capable of taking on even worse conditions.

These worse conditions, in fact, were met when part of the course used for the Land’s End Trials was encountered, and even then climbing up a loosely-surfaced gradient which at times became almost vertical it was not necessary to use the centre differential lock which can be used to avoid traction being lost when either a front or rear wheel is not gripping. This was the case on more than one occasion, but, locking the centre differential quickly, we were able to escape from what would normally be a calamitous situation.

Powered by the well-proven 3.5.-litre V8 engine as used by the Rover saloon, the Range Rover is no slouch when on the open road, and on one occasion an indicated top speed of 105 m.p.h. was obtained, although Rovers themselves are more modest and quote a maximum of 95 m.p.h.

As a road-car it is by no means uncomfortable to drive, although the low-speed gearbox with a combined transfer gearbox giving eight forward and two reverse ratios is a trifle too noisy and would become most irritating on a journey of any great length. The gear-shift is rather awkward to operate, having a distinctly large gate which promotes a “stirring” action by the driver, but once mastered is acceptable. Brakes are of the disc type all round which are servo-assisted with a dual braking system for added safety.

First impressions of the Range Rover are good and its potential market the world over is obvious. Many small business men, farmers, etc., are now able to purchase a dual-purpose vehicle meeting their every requirement, be it carrying heavy loads over course ground or taking the wife and children in town for dinner in a comfortable and speedy vehicle.—H. G. W.