1966 Vauxhall Viva HA history

   Vauxhall's first post-war small car, the Viva HA saloon, was introduced in September 1963. At the time the Triumph Herald, Morris Minor, Austin A40 and Ford Anglia 105E were all in full production and selling well. Some wondered if this new small family car, with its functional appearance, could rival these established motors; some of which had much far more flair and visual appeal.

   Motoring pundits noticed the '63 Viva looked very similar to the '62 Opel Kadett but the likeness was much more than skin deep. GM's European companies were facing similar issues in Britain and on the continent and having invested $250m into Opel in 1960 they were keen for two companies to work together to save costs. But with the second world war less than 20 years passed GM realised that selling a car with German heritage to British workers would be hard and this collaboration was kept very quiet.

   Maurice Platt (Chief Engineer) and David Jones (Head of Styling) at Vauxhall had done an assessment of the small car market and Vauxhall's main competitors products in 1959 and found that Vauxhall's best expansion opportunities lay in the small car sector; Vauxhall needed something new and smaller than their existing Victor. Platt and Jones conclusions also included the fact that competition was not designed on the Panhard system and put forward a design layout similar to the Mini's and including an automatic transmission. It was at the time an all British idea and was labelled the XP-714 Programme.

   As the idea progressed Vauxhalls MD Philip Copelin became increasingly aware that costs could be reduced if common GM parts could be used and the team, which also included Gerald Palmer (Passenger Vehicle Engineer - ex Jowett + BMC), realised this would also speed up Vauxhall's entry into the small car market. Previously rivals, Vauxhall and Opel now bowed to pressure from Detroit and started to share ideas and designs. Opel already had a design well underway. provisionally named the Opel 700, but it was a conventional rear wheel drive lay out which went against Vauxhall's XP-714. The proposed standardisation of parts between the two companies was already in jepordy.

   To meet the ambitious timescales set out by GM Vauxhall ended up using Opel's new inline engine and rear wheel drive system on the same wheelbase and body components. The changes to Opel's 700cc were converting the measurements to imperial and increasing the capacity to 1000cc. In the end the rest of the XP-714 was Vauxhall derived in design and manufacture. Exterior styling for the British car was to be done at Vauxhall to meet British tastes and maintain Vauxhall's distinctive identity. GM representatives formally agreed the arrangement on Saturday 1st October 1960.

   A new series name was now given and the first fibreglass mock up was displayed to the Vauxhall management in March 1961. The BHA-91.5 series name referred to B for “British”, H in memory of the last small car Vauxhall produced, the “H Ten”, A for the first of the series and the number which was the wheelbase length in inches.

   Of course the design was refined as it progressed but testing of the Prototype Vauxhall HA commenced in March 1962, not just on the companies Millford Proving Ground but in the harsher extremes of Scandinavia too. The car proved to be reliable and durable giving great hope for the Vauxhall in their drive to break into a market already hotly contested.

   Names like XP-714 and BHA-91.5 don't tend to catch on with the buying public so Vauxhall set to work on a name for the range which would catch the imagination of the consumer. Heron, Sprint, “1000” and Cavalier passed around the offices but it was Vauxhall's Managing Director Bill Swallow that put forward the final nomenclature at a design review meeting at Luton in May 1963; the “Viva” immediately gained acceptance from those present and the HA project.

   Vauxhall released their car some time after Opel, who launched the Opel Kadett in 1962, but when the Viva HA was launched, in September 1963, it's stylish lines, individual character and practicality meant it stood out from other compacts of the time. It generated a lot positive comments and made the Viva was an instant hit.

   The Viva was produced across three series, the HA, HB and HC. If the HA Series was closely linked to the Opel GM design the HB was a particularly Vauxhall design closer to their original ideas. The HA “SL” and De Luxe models were launched in the summer of 1965, the very sporty engined ’90’ model in the autumn. An estate version, called the Beagle, was launched on late 1964 and an extremely practical Bedford HA Van was produced and the commercial range of 6 cwt, 8 cwt and 10cwt model Vans actually stayed in production until the 1980s.

   The ultimate Viva was the Brabham Conversions Ltd tuned version of the HA Viva suitably named the Brabham Viva GT. As well as engine conversions which raised the power output from 44bhp to 60bhp the Brabham team upgraded the suspension and added disc breaks all round. The real bonus was that Brabham Conversions Ltd would sell and fit any of the conversions to any Viva owner so that the customer could, if he had the money, upgrade his car to the same spec' as the 1,057cc Brabham GT.

   The Viva HA sold more than 300,000 units during it's four year production run with the standard viva costing £527.7s.11d (inc tax) at it's launch. Vauxhall produced over 1.5 million Vivas in total and it marked the last design truly British before the tie up with Opel became a badge engineering exercise. The Viva wasn't just a British success though, as the cars were exported all over Europe. The Vauxhall “Epic” was sold across France and in Trinidad. And sales spread from Spain to Scandinavia. In Canada the Epic was sold through Chevrolet & Oldsmobile dealers and the Viva by the Pontiac & Buick dealers. The design was top selling car in Canada in 1964 with record breaking sales being taken. Vivas were also built locally in Australia (by Holden) and in New Zealand (at the GM plant in Petone.

   The downfall of the Viva was corrosion. In fact this was an issue across the Vauxhall range at the time and a contributory reason for the merging of Vauxhall/Opel designs. It is also the biggest reason why there are so few surviving Viva's, even in Museums.

1/32nd scale kit.
Built by Rod.

   Airfix released kit # M9C in 1965 re-released in 2006 in a triple kit # 07901 with the Ford Escort and Triumph Herald. It was a very nice kit for the time with crisp fine details on the 52 parts. Even today it is nice kit but it isn't easy to come across and sometimes the prices quoted are prohibitive to most model builders. It's a collectors market!

   Rod built this model in the 1960s but, judging by the paint finish, it was restored in the 1990s. Currently the interior and the wheels are painted with the original Humbrol enamels but the body shell is sprayed from a Halfords rattle can. The bright work appears to be painted with Humbrol enamel paint too so this model is at the crossover point when Rod was just starting to use the Halfords Spray paints, but hadn't come across bare metal foil. Alclad II and the water based airbrush paints that are so good today (2016) were still not on the market although Humbrol had produced the metalcote range of “buffed” finishes.