Vauxhall Viva HA rallied to drive Tim’s motorsport bug
PUBLISHED: 16:34 02 November 2017 | UPDATED: 16:34 02 November 2017
Tim Adams’s first car, a Vauxhall Viva HA, had six years of rough treatment being rallied. Now, 41 years after its last rally, he is restoring it.
My first car was a Vauxhall Viva HA which my dad bought for me about nine months before my 17th birthday in 1970.
He wanted a Brabham Viva but my mum wanted a Victor 101 so the compromise was buy this Viva. He used it until I was 17, then bought the 101.
Being a science monitor at school, science teachers Frank Harrison and Ken Kimber were both serious rallyists so the bug was caught and rallying became part of my life. I navigated for Mr Harrison on my first rally in his Viva.
My Viva had the SL90 disc brake option fitted, a bit of luck as it turned out. At five minutes past midnight on my 17th birthday I drove my mum and dad down the A2 to Strood, along the A228 to Snodland and up Holly Hill, a road that was to see this car in action many times.
The car was developed over a couple of years on a very tight budget but ended up with a balanced and lightened Baldyne engine, a stage three head, a Weber carburettor and four-branch exhaust and a camshaft from the 90 engine. These modifications made it rev to 8,000rpm quite easily and was surprisingly economical.
A full roll cage was fitted and keeping it on the road was Spax adjustable suspension and Cosmic alloy wheels with Dunlop SP44 rally tyres. I fabricated a large metal sump guard to protect the engine and gearbox on rough roads while rally seats, full harness belts and a 13in steering wheel made it comfortable and we almost looked as though we knew what we were doing.
The car was used mostly on south-eastern motor club championship rallies, but did occasionally move up the ranks to the London Counties championship, which took place mainly in Norfolk and Oxfordshire where it was not unusual to include 40 to 50 miles of unmade road – I managed to bend the sump guard and punched a hole in the chassis trying too hard on one.
It also had the occasional foray into the prestigious Motoring News championship in Wales and Yorkshire where if you managed to get an entry at all you almost got a celebrity status. The Viva usually got accepted as it was the only one.
Although the Viva was not the fastest car, rallying was more a regularity trial trying to maintain an average speed, in theory not exceeding 30mph, and working out the navigation from an Ordnance Survey map. It was the Viva’s ability, with little power compared to its rivals that surprised everyone, even me.
It won many awards – one of the best was coming last on a Motoring News rally, when the prize package for last was more than if you had won, but there were more than 100 starters and only about 35 finishers.
For one of these events I fitted some blinker mud flaps, or mini skirts as they were known by the works Mini teams, to stop mud splashing up the front of the car and covering the lights, which severely limited visibility. Many roads were like farm tracks or overgrown byways, and not even on the map, not very good for the first car through but they had opened up and smoothed out by the time we went through.
I competed a couple of times on North Downs Motor Club’s Reporter Trophy rally which was one of the more respected events at that time.
The Viva’s last rally was Romney Marsh Motor Club’s Marsh Mist Rally in 1976, starting from Lydd airport in January. A huge commotion prevailed at signing on. All the female navigators and drivers seemed excited – the Viva had not has this impact on the female fraternity before – but then Paul McCartney walked through the foyer. He had been sent back in his plane because the weather was too bad and Lydd was quite close to where he lived.
After this final rally it went into the garage at home, I thought after six years of rough treatment it needed a rest and I had bought a Vauxhall Chevette to rally.
I am now finally in the process of restoring it. Amazingly, it is still in very good condition – perhaps that sort of treatment suited it as it never broke down.
Tell us about the adventures you had in your first car – email your memories with a picture of the car to firstname.lastname@example.org or post it to Andy Russell, Archant motoring editor, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich, NR1 1RE.