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Retro Drive: 1969 Vauxhall Viva GT (HBR). Image by Vauxhall.

Retro Drive: 1969 Vauxhall Viva GT (HBR)
Taking a spin round the Monaco GP circuit in a perfectly preserved Viva.

   



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1969 Vauxhall Viva GT (HBR)

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5

Key Facts

Model tested: 1969 Vauxhall Viva GT (HBR)
Pricing: 1,062 when new; approximately 7,000 now
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder twin-carb petrol
Transmission: four-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Body style: two-door saloon
Economy: estimated at 21- to 26mpg
Top speed: 100mph
0-60mph: 10.7 seconds
Power: 105hp at 5,600rpm
Torque: 159Nm at 3,400rpm

Our view:

It's as I'm turning the twin-vented bonnet of the car I'm driving into the Loews hairpin (and even, whilst eyeing up the tyre-smudged red-and-white kerbing on the apex, considering taking the racing line, until my driving colleague sagely advises me that we're on a public road and anything could be coming the other way) that I realise there are still machines in the automotive world that have the ability to completely confound and surprise. Having long ago abandoned any notions I might have harboured of one day becoming a racing driver, I still never thought my first time round the Monaco GP circuit would be in a vehicle like this... but I'm enjoying it nonetheless.

This car is a 1969 Goodwood Green Vauxhall Viva GT and I'm driving it because the Griffin is bringing back the Viva nameplate for 2015. OK, so the new Viva is a sub-Corsa-sized city car made in Korea and to a budget - but then the original Viva was all about making an affordable car for the masses, so there's a strong link between the two products, even if it isn't immediately obvious.

I must confess, despite being a supposed car enthusiast, I didn't know much about the Viva GT prior to my drive in this immaculate example. Part of that lack of knowledge was because the Viva GT is ten years older than I am, so it had long since passed into Griffin folklore by the time I was picking up my driving licence, and another contributing factor was that my aunt and uncle had a series of unreliable HC Vivas when I was a kid, so I never felt real affection for the badge. However, I was pleased to discover that this was Vauxhall's riposte to the icon that had emerged from its age-old rival, Ford, in the form of the Lotus Cortina.

The principle of hot rod performance from the 1960s is simple: stick a big engine in it. That mantra is adhered to here by slotting a 1,975cc slant-four engine with twin Stromberg carburettors into a body shell that otherwise would have had either a weedy, overhead-valve 1.2 or a 1.6 four-pot. The figures on paper look modest: 105hp, 100mph flat out, a 0-60mph time of 10.7 seconds... but in the late sixties and through most of the seventies, these were admirable stats. Of course, what helps the Viva GT's case is that it is light - around 925kg is its stated kerb weight.

Also helping the Viva cause is how this car looks. With the aid of the passage of time, classic cars are almost always pretty but I didn't ever think for a second I'd be near-drooling over a Vauxhall Viva. Most GTs had a matte black bonnet, but this one forgoes that styling meme and - to my eyes - works all the better for it. The 'coke-bottle' styling was inspired by GM's US products but it has aged beautifully, the Viva GT looking resplendent when parked up in Monegasque sunlight. Note the rear light clusters, which are, ah... reminiscent of those found on certain versions of the Cortina (sorry, Vauxhall). Another trick of old cars - they were designed to always look proportional, no matter what wheels they were sitting on, so this GT wearing diminutive 13s looks bang on the money.

The interior has a mild patina of age, which is unsurprising given that it's 46 years old, and there are some wonderfully crazy ergonomics - the indicators are on a stalk to the right of the lovely, slender two-spoke steering wheel but the lights and wipers are on rocker switches down behind the gear lever, head restraints are absent from all seats and the seatbelts aren't inertia-reel three-point items. Once you're buckled in, you're in. No stretching about the cabin.

Not that it matters. On the move, the Viva GT is glorious, an unsullied driving experience that allows you to spend all of your time simply focusing on piloting it along and grinning while doing so. After the partial lap of the GP circuit, we have to head north up the Route Napoleon to Entrevaux and the Viva is nothing but a total delight. The steering is brimming with weight and feel when compared to modern systems, so you know precisely what the front tyres are up to. There is quite a bit of weight transfer (pitch, yaw and roll) to work around, but there are surprising levels of grip and the neutral rear-drive chassis makes this a doddle to deal with. And the soundtrack is magnificent - you can hear the Strombergs snorting away up front, you can hear the pistons thrashing away in the engine, you can hear the exhaust note blaring out behind; all of these fabulous noises encourage you to press on. I'm not saying the GT is a road rocket, but it'll make more than acceptable modern-day progress if you're on it. Which, by my own piffling standards, I am, albeit only to an extent - as this car belongs to a Vauxhall bigwig and has covered just 6,200 miles in its entire life by the time I slot my lardy backside into the driver's seat. When you know you're in someone's irreplaceable pride and joy, rock faces and Renault Scenics suddenly look very, very big and imposing indeed. Nevertheless, my time behind the wheel of the GT is over all too soon and I'm left wanting more.

I've been extraordinarily lucky enough to have also driven a Mk1 Lotus Cortina in my life and it does pain me to say it but the Ford is the faster, more engaging car of the two. Yet there is one final thing tipping the balance in favour of the Viva GT - even this gorgeous time warp car is said to be worth 7,000 in today's market, whereas you'd need at least 25,000 for a good Mk2 Lotus Cortina... which is the less desirable version of the Ford. True, tracking down a clean Viva GT is going to be tricky, unless you fancy asking Vauxhall to put you in touch with the owner of ORO 526H, but should you decide to ferret out one of these Griffin greats, you won't be disappointed. A delicate but feisty classic performance car, the Viva GT truly took me by surprise and I ended up falling in love with it. Even if it did take it three minutes to get from Casino Square to Rascasse. I don't think I'm in danger of breaking that F1 lap record just yet...



Matt Robinson - 9 May 2015



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1969 Vauxhall Viva GT. Image by Vauxhall.1969 Vauxhall Viva GT. Image by Vauxhall.1969 Vauxhall Viva GT. Image by Vauxhall.1969 Vauxhall Viva GT. Image by Vauxhall.1969 Vauxhall Viva GT. Image by Vauxhall.

1969 Vauxhall Viva GT. Image by Vauxhall.1969 Vauxhall Viva GT. Image by Vauxhall.1969 Vauxhall Viva GT. Image by Vauxhall.1969 Vauxhall Viva GT. Image by Vauxhall.1969 Vauxhall Viva GT. Image by Vauxhall.



1969 Vauxhall Viva GT. Image by Vauxhall.
 

1969 Vauxhall Viva GT. Image by Vauxhall.
 

1969 Vauxhall Viva GT. Image by Vauxhall.
 

1969 Vauxhall Viva GT. Image by Vauxhall.
 

1969 Vauxhall Viva GT. Image by Vauxhall.
 

1969 Vauxhall Viva GT. Image by Vauxhall.
 

1969 Vauxhall Viva GT. Image by Vauxhall.
 

1969 Vauxhall Viva GT. Image by Vauxhall.
 






 

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