Forty-five years ago, an HC-series Vauxhall Viva was once as much a part of everyday life as The Goodies, Cadbury’s Amazin’ Raisin bars and, in my part of Hampshire at least, petrol pumps operated by a morose ageing Teddy Boy.
Adrian Miller, the founder of the Viva Owners’ Club, and his SL23000 attract a considerable amount of attention. He says: “Vivas brings back lots of happy memories for most people who see them – ‘My first car was a [bottom of the range] 1256’ – but pop the bonnet and display the twin-carb, overhead cam ‘Slant Four’ engine and they get really interested.”
The third-generation Viva debuted in October 1970, joined by the Firenza coupé version the following year, and by early 1972 the four-door HC also became available with the two-door’s 2,279cc unit in the flagship SL.
The top speed was nearly 100mph, and the cost of a SL2300 four-door was £1,218.96, which was not unreasonable for a car with “contoured seating in soft, resilient Ambla”, “full 7-dial instrumentation” and (inevitably) “sporty Rostyle wheels”. One vital optional extra was the vinyl roof, which added “that extra touch of elegance”.
The SL2300 had few domestic rivals – the Morris Marina, Hillman Avenger, Ford Cortina Mk3 and Escort Mk1 were not available with a 2.3-litre engine, while the Triumph Dolomite occupied a different market niche.
Motor magazine regarded the flagship Viva as “an outstanding car in many ways” but poor “in a few, mainly minor ways” such as the driving position and pedal layout. Car thought the Viva had the potential to be “a good long distance cruiser” and also liked the “middle-range torque”, an opinion echoed by owner Miller, who finds the Viva “keeps up well on motorways”.
His is one of the last examples of the SL2300 as by September 1973 the more expensive models were re-branded as the Magnum.
By this time, the HC’s reputation for unreliability meant the end of sales in Canada, their principal overseas market, despite the promises that it was a “small car luxury that is hard to beat”. Vauxhall’s owner General Motors cancelled the replacement Viva HD model in favour of the Cavalier, itself a revised Opel Ascona B, and when the last Vivas left the factory in July 1979 the Griffin badge now adorned a range of German-designed Opels.
The ‘Garnet Starmist’ HC joined the Miller fleet “about two or three years ago”, and it is the former transport of the chair of the Vauxhall Viva Owners’ Club. When on the road he finds that “most people see the SL2300 and ignore it – until it overtakes them”.
The transmission has “rather a long throw on the gear stick compared with the 1256, but for its time it’s a pretty good gearbox”.
Today Miller believes there are just five Viva SL2300s still on the road, although it seems that their exclusivity is not universally appreciated. At one car show, he and a fellow Viva enthusiast found themselves “tucked away in a corner” as their cars were evidently “uninteresting”.
That is a term that could never apply to the Viva that Vauxhall claimed was perfect for the “action driver… who likes to keep his passengers happy”.
Thanks to Adrian Miller and the Vauxhall Viva Owners’ Club