Road test: the new 1,057 c.c. Vauxhall Viva

Luton's smallest model, announced five days ago, is notable for light controls, a delightful gear-change and outstanding performance for its engine size. No greasing for 30,000 miles. De Luxe Saloon Sells for Only £566.

Because American automobiles are invariably enormous, small cars from the States, such as the vintage Overland Whippet and post-war Rambler compact, are long remembered. Almost as significant are Anglo-American inspired small cars, of which the Vauxhall Viva, first small Vauxhall since the famous 40 m.p.g. pre-war Ten, is the newest and most talked about.

Rumours of a Vauxhall baby had been current for some time before those journalists who were prepared to wait until the approved day were invited to inspect the Viva one evening, as a sort of unpaid overtime chore, at the Mayfair Hotel.

We listened to a high-pressure discourse of the Luton prodigy's superiority, until it seemed that dimension- and performance-wise, the only car to come anywhere near it is the Ford Cortina, with the VW 1200 nowhere. I came away feeling that if I wished to resign as Editor of Motor Sport I was fully qualified to take a salesman's post at the local Vauxhall/Bedford dealers, so effective was the sales-course we had attended!

However, proof of the pudding is in the eating and with their customary quiet efficiency Michael Marr and Mr. Goatman of Vauxhall Motors' Public Relations Department soon had us down at the comfortable and charmingly-located Abernant Lake Hotel at the pony-trekking centre of LLanwrtyd Wells to see for ourselves how the Viva gallops.

I was first able to try a drum-braked de-luxe saloon over some familiar Welsh mountain roads and then to conduct a week's pre-release-date road test of a disc-braked de luxe saloon, a facility Rootes had been unable to offer me in respect of that other recently-born British baby, the Hillman Imp.

The Series-HA Vauxhall Viva is a 1,057-c.c. 2-door saloon, made in type-HAS standard and type HAD de luxe versions. It is obviously based on the slightly smaller-engined Opel Kadet, which was much commended when it came out in Germany last year with revised styling and suspension. Backed by General Motors' proving ground testing and engineered to Vauxhall's concept of a modern small car, the Viva may be said to combine the latest engineering techniques of America, Germany and England.

The 74.3 x 61 mm. (1,057 c.c.) 4-cylinder engine, with a dry weight of 227 lb. including the clutch, has ingenious o.h. rocker gear in which pressed steel rockers are lubricated via the mounting studs from an oil gallery, these studs also providing for tappet adjustment. The c.r. of the wedge-shape combustion chambers is normally 8.5 to 1, reduced when required by a thinner gasket to 7.5 to 1. With the former c.r. 50 (gross) b.h.p. (44.2, net) is achieved at 5,200 r.p.m. The fan-and pump cooling system holds 11 1/4 pints inclusive of the heater, the sump, which can only be dropped after the front suspension assembly has been removed, carries 6 1/4 pints of oil. The valves are inclined in one plane, at 22°.

In unit with the engine there is a 4-speed all-synchromesh gearbox. The drive goes via a 6 1/2 in. Bowden-wire operated clutch and an open prop-shaft to a hypoid rear axle with alternative ratios of 3.89 or 4.12 to 1. Front suspension is by a three-leaf transverse spring and upper and lower suspension aim pressings, with telescopic dampers. The rigid semi-floating back-axle is on long, flat semi-elliptic springs having only two leaves each, the axle brackets being of trunnion-type, which give a rate at the wheels less than that of the actual spring rate. The rear axle pinion shaft extension pivots on a chassis cross-member, which to some extent locates the axle, which is otherwise the function of the telescopic dampers. This "unconventional-conventional" suspension is very closely allied to that of the 1962 Opel Kadet. I am assured that, although earlier this year Alec Issigonis was awarded the Viva Shield by the Carman's Company of the City of London, he is not responsible for this, on paper, seemingly archaic suspension system.

Steering is by rack-and-pinion, with a ratio of 18 to 1, and the Viva runs on 3.50B x 12L wheels shod with 4-ply tubeless 5.50 x 12 tyres normally inflated 22/24 lb./sq. in, front/rear. A 12 Volt 32 amp/hr. Lucas or Exide battery, a Lucas M35G-1 starter and a Lucas C40-1 dynamo giving 22 amp. maximum output at 2,480 r.p.m. figure in the electrical system.

This is the new small car, made only in 2-door saloon form, but for which Girling disc front brakes are optional to Girling drum brakes. Vauxhall Motors are gambling £20-million on it.


My first taste of Viva motoring was on a simple 7-mile fuel-consumption competition, in which I got nearly 49 m.p.g. and a Swiss journalist 51 m.p.g., so Sunday-afternoon dodderers should find the car thrifty. I then took the drum-braked car fast over the Devil's Bridge road from Rhayader towards Aberystwyth, finding it adept at taking a series of curves at speed, helped round by putting the power on in 3rd gear, the brakes entirely fade-free in this rally-emanation.

The full road-test was conducted with a disc-braked type HAD Viva.

Weighing-up the Viva

It did not take many miles for me to realise that the Vauxhall Viva is very lively, if rather noisy, has light controls and a very nice gearbox, is distinctly roomy if rather crudely-finished at the body structure seams, and possesses powerful brakes.

Cloth-upholstered separate front seats of better-than-average comfort, tip up, and stay put, to give access through decently wide doors to the wide back-seat, at the edges of which the rear-wheel arches intrude. The doors have external push-buttons and short facing-forward push-down interior plated handles. The latter are depressed, and allowed to rise again, to lock the door. The doors lack pockets or arm rests but have rigid metal "pulls," simple strip "keeps" and wide 1/4-lights. The window winders call for three turns, to fully open the windows. The 1/4-lights lack thief-resisting catches and gutters. The upholstery is gay and colour fast and even has a few buttons in the early vintage tradition, though I suspect they are plastic! At the back there are frameless windows opening as vents when simple toggle catches are operated. The metal facia carries two deeply recessed, rather flamboyant A.C. dials before the driver, the l.h. one a fuel gauge incorporating the ignition and oil warning lights, the other a 90 m.p.h. speedometer with odometer having decimal readings in white, and a full-beam indicator light. A thermometer is extra. To the right of the speedometer, differently situated from those of the little Opel, are three pushbutton switches, for wipers, headlamps and sidelamps. These big, symbol-labelled rocker-switches are interlocked so that the sidelamps come on automatically when the headlamps are selected and there is a guard between these lamps switches to help select them. However, I found them rather troublesome to reach for, and fumbly" after dark. A rigid r.h. stalk combines the function of flashers control, headlamps flasher and lamps dipper, while depressing its extremity sounds a rather mediocre horn. The stalk is rather far below the wheel-rim, calling for full stretch of the fingers to find it, but is a convenient multi-purpose control nevertheless.

In the centre of the facia in a plated panel that will take a cigarette lighter, are two large-knobbed horizontal quadrant levers for the heater and ventilator, with a big drawer-style ashtray below them. A single warning lamp between the main dials suffices for the turn indicators warning, knobs just below the facia cope with choke and washers, a tiny under-facia switch cuts out panel lighting and the ignition-key starts the engine. The 16-in. single-spoke, deeply-dished steering wheel is rather high-set. There is no rheostat control of panel lighting but the single roof lamp above the screen, switched on by pulling down its lens, has courtesy action and is very bright.

The rear-view mirror is a bit shallow and was stiff to adjust. There is an air of economy about the interior of the Viva, for apart from the absence of door pockets there is no cubby-hole in the facia, although there is ample room to provide one. Interior stowage is provided on a deeply-lipped under-facia shelf, too shallow to take a Rolleiflex camera, however, bisected by the non-push-button Vauxhall radio (if fitted) and steering column. The rear shelf is sensibly-lipped but incorporates the radio speaker. There are side arm-rests only in the back compartment, incorporating ash-trays. Two buttons act as coat-hangers and there are "pulls" for the rear-seat occupants on the de luxe Viva.

The very short, delightfully rigid and comfortable-to-hold central floor gear-lever is one of the highlights of this small Vauxhall, and behind it the central, horizontal hand-brake lever is very well located. An irritating feature is that the high and wide transmission hump prevents comfortable "parking" of the left foot beside the clutch pedal. On de luxe cars the facia is padded. Visibility over the wide, front-opening bonnet and, indeed, all round, is excellent, as the window area is generous (2,625 sq. in.).

The Viva's bonnet catch is external but the bonnet has to be hand-propped. The deep boot is extremely roomy (10.76 cu. ft.) but is of the well-type. Its lid stays open on over-centre hinges after being pushed up, when the lockable turn-catch is operated. The floor is lined with durable material and the spare wheel is carried vertically on the off-side, well out of the way. There are soft, swivelling vizors, but no vanity mirror. The mounting of the rear bumper is crude in the extreme and the seams of the pressed-on beading of the tail-fins, etc., likewise. The finish inside the body showed welding blemishes in places and there was "orange-peel" on the exterior paintwork but this was an early car. Self-tapping screws secure the ends of the rear bumper. It is to be hoped that production Vivas will be better finished. The bonnet falls sharply round its leading edge to enclose the grille, in which the Lucas 60-watt sealed-beam headlamps are recessed. The grille carries the name "Vauxhall" divided by a Wyvern badge, the name "Viva" appears in script on the body sides and the rear panel has "Vauxhall" and "de luxe" where appropriate. There is a very small, unsecured bayonet fuel filler cap on the n/s rear of the body. The heater is most efficient but does not discriminate between the "screen" and "car" settings.

The open bonnet reveals the o.h.v. engine with 3-branch exhaust manifold on the n/s and Solex B20 PSE1 22 mm. carburetter, the "bent-wire" dipstick slightly entangled with the wires from the coil, which, with its adjacent condenser, is bolted to the block on the n/s. The small battery is immediately accessible; there are four fuses. Ignition advance is 9° b.t.d.c. The crankshaft and camshaft run in three bearings and fuel feed is by an A.C. type YD pump. The fuel tank appears to be unbaffled, as fuel can be heard swishing around in it.

Viva Motoring

On the road the new Vauxhall Viva gives exceptionally lively motoring, as might be expected from a 13 1/2 cwt. 50 b.h.p. car. The main aspects of this important bid for World small-car markets can be summarised as follows:

Steering: This is very light, with useful castor-return action, geared 3 1/2-turns lock-to-lock, and transmits mild tremors rather than kick-back. There is only a little lost-motion and the turning circle is a compact 27 ft. 4 in. It could be slightly higher geared with advantage.

Road-holding and cornering: In spite of the claims for the unusual suspension system that it effectively combines supple springing with good axle control, the result is not 100% convincing. On certain bends, a series of opposite curves or a long gradual curve, the Viva corners very well at speed, but a sharp bend or long fast corner results in severe understeer followed, as roll sets in, by oversteer and a "lifty" feel. Bad surfaces produce mild axle tramp and hard acceleration will spin the inside rear wheel. The axle also sets up mild shocks through the body structure, and "bottoms" over bad bumps. The general effect is, however, an improvement over a completely unlocated axle.

Ride: This is pretty lively, for the rear springs are too flexible, but very rough roads do not unduly distress the Viva. As I have observed, bad surfaces displace the back axle to some extent. Vibration is transmitted mildly through the body shell, to the gear-lever.

Gear-change: Quite outstanding! The synchromesh is unbeatable and the little 6 in. lever moves, over a total area of only 4 sq. in., like oiled silk between 3rd and top gears, dropping neatly into position. It is slightly more "notchy" from 3rd to 2nd and on one car the lever would catch up unless pushed fully to the left across the gate. But this is mild criticism of a truly delightful gear-change, a notable feature of the Vauxhall Viva. The lever isn't spring-loaded, except when it needs lifting to engage reverse beyond the 1st gear position. It has light selector springs so that it can be rather easily pushed out of top gear, a help when effecting clutchless changes.

Clutch: Very light indeed, and the action is notably smooth, although the pedal engages only towards the end of its travels, making smooth getaway a little fraught. I disliked my left foot being unable to relax to the n/s; it can be rested only close to, or beneath, the pendant pedal. Pedal pressures: to depress, 19 lb., to hold down, 6 lb.

Brakes: The 8 in. Girling drum brakes are excellent in every way, light to apply, progressive and powerful; the servo-assisted discs more sensitive but equally fool-proof except for occasional very subdued squeaking.

Noise level: The eager engine makes a good deal of sound when accelerating but road-noise isn't excessive and the indirect gears are virtually silent apart from a slight "zizz." Once in top gear, the sound level is acceptable, by small-car standards.

The foregoing is a critical appraisal of an important new car, the outstanding features of which were endorsed by a learner-driver, who enthused over the gear-change, light steering and excellent "aim" provided by the edges of the bonnet, but found the disc brakes fierce and disliked the cornering compared to that of a Morris 1100.

There is no doubt that this Vauxhall Viva will have a very good reception, for to the foregoing good features can be added plenty of interior space, a sensible-size boot, extremely good acceleration, as the performance figures quoted below emphasise, and virtually no lubrication chores, for not until 30,000 miles (or 30 months) do four front suspension joints require greasing. Couple these factors to Vauxhall's reputation for dependability and the fact that before the Viva was announced their dealers had been supplied with comprehensive servicing data and schedules, and the Viva should be a trustworthy vehicle.

No troubles of any kind developed in the 835 miles I drove the Viva during the seven days of this pre-announcement test. At the end of the test not a drop of oil had been used. The test car had twin Butlers "Clearway" spotlamps, but they are mounted rather vulnerably and the glass of the n/s lamp became broken, presumably by flying stones. The flick-switches for these lamps are on the right of the facia, below the ignition switch.

On The Test Track

Using an electric speedometer we took figures which endorse the splendid performance of the Viva:— 0-30 m.p.h.: 5.2 sec. (5.1 sec.) 0-50 m.p.h.: 13.8 Sec. (13.8 sec.) 0-40 m.p.h.: 8.2 sec. (8.1 sec.) 0-60 m.p.h.: 20.3 sec. (20.0 sec.) 21.3 s.s. 1/4-mile: 21.3 sec. (21.2 Sec.)
(Average of several runs, two up. Best figures within brackets)

These really are outstanding figures, bettering those of all the well-known family saloons up to 1,200 c.c. including the 1,198 c.c. Ford Cortina and Morris 1100 and very comfortably beating those of last year's Vauxhall Victor Super! They improve on the maker's claims, except for their 0-50 claim of 13.3 sec.

As to speed, the genuine maxima in the gears are 28, 44 and 70 m.p.h., after which sudden valve crash intrudes, and in top the Viva will reach 80 m.p.h. (the speedometer was 4 m.p.h. fast at 30 and 40, 6 m.p.h. optimistic at 50 and 60 m.p.h.) given a long run, although the normal road maximum is closer to 70 m.p.h. 60 m.p.h. is about the peak in 3rd for optimum pick-up; 70 took so long to come up that we didn't time acceleration to that speed. The odometer read less than 1% "fast." These are excellent speeds for a 1-litre saloon, again bettering those obtainable from most of the 1,200 c.c. saloons, except the Ford Anglia Super. The Vauxhall Viva restarted on a 1 in 3 gradient, two-up, and the handbrake held it on this gradient. Over severe pavé at 20 m.p.h. the ride was uncomfortable but it felt as if it intended to survive. Fuel consumption? For the entire test, using premium grade petrol, inclusive of performance testing, this averaged 37.1 m.p.g.

To sum-up, this General Motors' inspired Vauxhall Viva is quite the most notable conventional-layout rear-drive, strip-steel suspended small car to be announced for a very long time. It is by no means a mini-car; indeed in body width, seating space and luggage-boot size it will be acceptable to most families. It can out-perform all its competitors and undercuts them on purchase price. It is economical, needs very infrequent greasing, is modern yet unobtrusive in appearance and is, perhaps most important of all, light and pleasant to drive. Issigonis/Moulton-wise eyebrows can be raised over the suppleness of the-suspension but clearly the Opel/Vauxhall engineers have sought to combine reasonable roll-resistance with all-round riding comfort in a leaf-spring layout. They have very nearly succeeded. The Viva has the well-known Vauxhall anti-corrosion treatment with full undersealing and is finished in acrylic paint, in five colours.

All I need add, I think, is that this Vauxhall small car of so many merits and very few shortcomings, which should be truly durable and is fully covered by comprehensive service facilities, sells for £566 1s. 3d. in de luxe form, inclusive of heater, screen-washers and twin sun-vizors. The standard model sells for only £527 7s. 11d., p.t. included. Viva, Vauxhall! — W. B.

The Series HA Vauxhall Viva Type HAD saloon

Engine: 4 cylinders, 74,3 x 61 mm. (1,057 c.c.). Push-rod-operated overhead valves. 8.5 to 1 compression ratio. 50 (gross) b.h.p. at 5,200 r.p.m.

Gear ratio: 1st, 15.51 to 1 ; 2nd, 9.12 to 1; 3rd, 6.15 to 1; top, 4.12 to 1.

Tyres: 5.50 x 12 Avon "H.M. New Safety" 4-ply tubeless on bolt-on steel disc wheels.

Weight: (Ready for the road, without occupants, but with approx. 1/2-gallon of fuel) 13 cwt. 2 gr. 21 lb.

Steering ratio: 3 1/2-turns, lock-to-lock.

Fuel capacity: 7 gallons (Range: 262 miles).

Wheelbase: 7 ft. 7 1/2 in.

Track: Front, 3 ft. 11 2/5 in. Rear, 4 ft. 5 1/4 in. (high).

Dimensions: 12 ft. 11 1/8 in. x 4 ft. 11 1/2 in. x 4 ft. 5 1/4 in. (high).

Price: £468 (£566 1s. 3d. inclusive of p.t.) With extras as tested, £605 18s.

Makers: Vauxhall Motors Ltd., Luton, Bedfordshire, England.

Viva price comparisons
Viva de luxe - £566
Viva standard - £527*
Austin Mini Super de luxe - £492
Austin Mini - £447*
Hillman Imp de luxe - £532
Renault 4L - £499
Ford Anglia de luxe - £538*
Hillman Imp - £508*
Skoda Octavia Super - £550
Ford Anglia - £514*
Triumph Herald 1200 - £579*
Morris Minor 1000 - £515
Ford Consul Cortina de luxe - £597*
Skoda Octavia - £521
Austin A40 de luxe - £598
Austin A40 - £556*
Ford Anglia Super - £598
Ford Consul Cortina - £573*
Austin 1100 - £610*
Renault Dauphine - £579
Volkswagen de luxe - £625
Morris 1100 - £592*
Renault R8 de luxe - £671
Simca 1000 - £598

*Heater extra