A poky estate from the north
A compact yet roomy sporting estate car offering good handling and performance in the range of 110 m.p.h. and 0-60 in 10 sec. for £1,600 would be a tempting addition to any manufacturer’s list, the ideal vehicle for a sporting driver prevented by three children and a motoring labrador from entertaining the less practical performance cars his instincts would otherwise desire. In fact no manufacturer makes such a car: Granada, Cortina and 2.5 Pi estates come fairly near, though miss out either on excessive size or higher cost, and none of them quite reaches those performance figures. However, almost knocking on the door of this ideal combination is Vauxhall’s stylish Viva 2300 SL estate car; so near that with a helping hand from SMT, the Perth-based Vauxhall dealers, this Viva derivative has reached the ideal and is being semi-productionised by them as the Viva Ecosse.
SMT’s Viva estate offers a large number of beneficial modifications for only £187 more than the £1,413 standard vehicle, the most important of which is a Bill Blydenstein big-valve cylinder head giving an immediate power increase of 15 b.h.p. Other items are Koni Load-a-Juster rear shock absorbers, an Aerofan to reduce power loss, Lucas Brighteyes quartz halogen headlights, Toric inertia reel front seat belts, fire extinguisher, underbonnet light, hazard warning lights, rear fog warning lamps, automatic reversing lights, map light, front and rear mud-flaps, oddments pockets for driver and passenger, the latter containing a first-aid kit, bonnet lock, electric screenwashers and high-speed wiper blades and arms, dipping driver’s mirror and passenger mirror, better-wing mirrors, Rostyle wheels, reclining front seats and the Firenza Sport SL’s seven dial instrumentation including rev. counter and clock. A couple of small flashes on the rear quarters identify the SMT product. All these items are fitted of course to brand-new cars, although as Scotland’s main Vauxhall Sportspart dealers, SMT, well known for their racing and rallying Firenzas and Vivas, can supply Blydenstein modifications for Vauxhall owners to fit to their own cars.
On first acquaintance this speedy estate refused to engender the same sort of enthusiasm which had arisen for Blydenstein’s own Firenza tested in the March issue. This was largely the writer’s fault for I hadn’t done my homework on the Ecosse and assumed that the engine specification was the same as the Firenza’s. Performance seemed considerably less and I couldn’t understand why until discovering that the Ecosse used a standard 8.5:1 compression ratio with the big-valve head instead of that Firenza’s 9.5:1, used a standard exhaust manifold as against a fabricated tubular one and had no alterations to the twin Zenith-Stromberg 175 CDS carburetters.
Incidentally, that same report on the Blydenstein car said that the Vauxhall 12-month warranty was not invalidated by the modifications. That was incorrect with the Stage 3H high compression ratio head fitted to that car. The Viva Ecosse, on the other hand, is still protected by the warranty by virtue of having the Stage Three head.
Power steering of the SMT car is about 7 b.h.p. down on the Blydenstein Firenza, though not inconsiderable for the size of car at 125 b.h.p. DIN, compared with the standard output of 110 b.h.p. for the twin carburetter 2.3-litre engine.
Performance was extremely deceptive, which perhaps helped that initial disappointment. There was no great kick in the back, no powerful roar from the exhaust or induction and indeed the engine sounded rather flat and fussy. Yet it was surprising how quickly journeys could be undertaken, how easy overtaking manoeuvres could be attempted. The car’s virtues weren’t really removed from under the bushel until the fifth wheel was added at the test track, when extraordinarily good figures were easily achieved, the 0-60 time being only 1.7 sec. slower than the Blydenstein car and approximately 1-1/2 sec. quicker than a Triumph 2.5 Pi. One hundred miles per hour cruising was a happy affair, the car proving extremely stable, the engine not overstressed and another 10 m.p.h. being available on demand.
Improved performance in third and top showed that the big-valve head had increased torque considerably and low-speed flexibility in the higher gears was also improved. As with the standard car, normal road use demanded nothing more than 5,500 r.p.m., at which speed the standard engine runs out of breath in any case. This one revved easily to the red line at 6,200 r.p.m., offering maximum speeds in the gears of 38, 58 and 87 m.p.h. Torque was such that it was easy to squeal the tyres by being abrupt with the throttle from low speeds in first.
Without a load the ride was firm and slightly choppy, though in its favour roll seemed much reduced, Unfortunately handling was disappointing, distinct understeering traits reducing cornering speeds. Pouring the power on simply caused the front-end to run wider and lifting off in mid-corner failed to cause the front wheels to tuck in. These were unusual characteristics for this part of the Vauxhall range and not necessarily standards by which this car should be judged; softening off the rear Konis and possibly readjusting tyre pressures would undoubtedly have improved the handling. This is perhaps being unfair to the Ecosse, because with a full load, with which we did not have the opportunity to try it, the suspension may well have proved to be ideally tuned. Steering was on the heavy side, the two oddments bins on the driver’s door and on the passenger side of the tunnel were rather untidily attached by unnecessarily prominent screws, while the former bin interfered with operation of the window winder and the latter encroached on passenger leg space, and the gear-lever knob came off twice when making snatch changes from third to top.
All-in-all, though, SMT’s Viva Ecosse offers an extremely attractive combination of space and performance, has very useful high-speed touring capabilities and would be equally at home taking the entire family on a holiday trip to the south of France as it would be doing the weekend shopping.—C.R.
0-30 m.p.h. ….. 3.1 sec.
0-40 m.p.h. ….. 4.9 sec.
0-50 m.p.h. ….. 6.9 sec.
0-60 m.p.h. ….. 10.0 sec.
0-70 m.p.h. ….. 13.8 sec.
0-80 m.p.h. ….. 18.1 sec.
Maximum speed: 110 m.p.h.
Speeds in gears: 1st. 38 m.p.h.; 2nd. 58 m.p.h.; 3rd. 87 m.p.h.
Standing 1/4-mile: 17.1 sec.
Fuel consumption (4-Star): 23 m.p.g.
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