Vauxhall Viva Brabham – Classic Car Review

Vauxhall Viva Brabham - Classic Car Review
Seen as mere utilitarian transport when new, the Viva HB retains its charm today.

The HB Viva used a completely different suspension design from the HA, employing double-wishbone and coil springs with integrated telescopic dampers at the front, and trailing arms and coil springs at the rear. Lateral location and anti-squat of the rear axle was achieved using upper trailing arms mounted at approximately forty-five degrees, then fixed to lugs at the top of the differential. Both front and rear could also be fitted with optional anti-roll bars.

Vauxhall Viva Brabham - Classic Car Review

The new and quite advanced suspension setup resulted in impressive handling, with the Viva setting new standards within its class.

The steering is especially good, and the lightness of the controls resulted in thousands of Vivas being used as driving school cars. The driving experience could be better enjoyed in the high compression SL90, with power boosted to 59bhp. Many Viva GTs have been up-engined with later 2279cc slant-four power. An easy conversion, and one that’s hard to spot until you floor the throttle.


1967 Viva HB

Engine 1159cc/4-cyl/OHV

Power ([email protected]) [email protected]

Torque (lb [email protected]) 62lb [email protected]

Top speed 80mph

0-60mph 19sec

Consumption 33mpg



On HBs, the most vulnerable areas for corrosion are the front inner and outer wings and the front panel around the headlamps. Front inner wings also go

at the back around the bonnet hinge mount. Rear arches and rear wing lower edges can get frilly. Inspect rear damper mounts, outer and inner
sills plus the chassis legs: where these legs return under the bulkhead can rot and often means the car
gets scrapped.


Whatever engine is fitted, Viva engines aren’t the quietest of powerplants, though a good service will often work wonders. The 1159cc engine isn’t as strong as the later 1256cc version, but it is a lot more free-revving. Whichever unit is fitted, it should be good for at least 60,000 miles, providing an oil and filter change with decent 20/50 has been undertaken every 3000 miles or so. 1599cc overhead cam units should also have a fresh timing belt every 30,000 miles as they are an interference engine. Bizarrely, the larger 1975cc and 2279cc motors aren’t, so cambelts (if they break) can simply be replaced. On pre-1968-OHV engines the timing chain tensioner is often overtightened, resulting in a strange moaning sound when the engine is revved above idle. Adjusting anti-clockwise is the cure, but by now most cars have been fitted with automatic chain tensioners anyway. If an engine has seen better days however, it is possible to find used replacements through one of the owners’ clubs. If the heater seems to have given up, it could be down to an air lock. As the heater’s outlet hose has to be disconnected and the cooling system refilled through it, many owners don’t fill it properly, if at all.


Viva electrical systems are simple. Alternators were fitted from August 1969. Headlamps and indicator switches hardest to source.


Most surviving Vivas have manual gearboxes, although there are a few Borg Warner automatics about – the option was offered from February 1967. Both are generally reliable, but OHV manual boxes can get noisy with age. The Viva GT used a close-ratio version of the bigger Victor ‘box and a shortened example of the back axle from those models, that is well up to the torque generated by the GT’s 2-litre engine.

The HB’s coil sprung, double wishbone front suspension and wider track were a welcome advance. The suspension is generally durable, so there is little to worry about. Examine the two balljoints on each side of the front suspension – they can wear, particularly the lower ones. The first HBs (’66 model year) had no bump stops fitted, so check that the shock absorbers haven’t been damaged by over-enthusiastic driving.


All HBs were fitted with 12-inch pressed steel wheels, except the GT, that had 13-inch items. Most Vivas had drum brakes all round, with servo-assisted discs available as an option. There are no self-adjusters on cars with front drums, so if they seem past their best, it’s a case of manually adjusting them. If you plan to do a lot of miles, then it’s worth swapping systems from a disc-braked car.


Classics don’t really come more affordable than Vauxhall’s diminutive Viva. Once a staple of Britain’s street corners, numbers have dwindled in recent years, but there are still some sweeties just waiting to be picked up. 566,391 examples of the second phase HB model were built between 1966 and 1970, and by the early 1970s the Viva had become Vauxhall’s best selling car ever. It helped that there was a version for everyone – combine the different engines, body styles and trim levels, and there were over one hundred derivatives offered across three generations. With all versions having rear wheel drive and plenty of tuning potential, you’d be amazed at how much fun can be had on even the tightest of budgets. Look out for SL 90 1159cc hotter variant, or Brabham Viva tuned examples. 1599cc OHC examples could be ordered with GM’s excellent three-speed auto box, or as here, go for the pokey 2-litre GT model. It came in S1 then S2 variants, the later car with RoStyles seen here.

Viva values are still on the low side. The car is both undervalued and rare. That isn’t to say they’re only worth snapping up because they’re cheap however. Vauxhall intended them as simple appliances for getting from A to B, with economy being most important. The HB offered a similar range choice to its competitor, the Escort with two-door, four-door and estate car options. Dynamics are arguably bette suited to classic ownership, with supple suspension and light steering and brakes. All versions are rare but sporty Brabham and GT variants even more scarce. If you’ve always thought a Viva would look nice on your driveway or in your garage, but have never quite got round to it, then now’s the time to snap one up.