Vauxhall Viva HC

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A look at the Vauxhall HC 1256cc
The Vauxhall Viva came in a number of guises during its production life, from the HA, HB and HC models to include the bigger engined Firenza's and Magnum's of the day.  The HC shared a lot of the mechanicals with the Opel Kadett of the time.  It was also sold in North America/Canada under different names (look at wikipedia.org) for detailed history.

By the late 70s the Viva HC with the 1256cc engine was a common second-hand car in the UK.  The Vauxhall Chevette shared the same mechanicals.  Now of course, they're gone from the roads.  Surviving examples are in the hands of classic car enthusiasts.

There was nothing particularly difficult about working on these cars when they were second-hand runabouts.  They were actually quite reliable though they did suffer from couple of niggles and faults that are easily avoidable.

Oil Consumption
One of the most voiced complaints was about oil consumption.  What appeared to be excessive oil consumption worried many owners who reported having to add 1 pint of engine oil every 80 miles.  However, this was actually acceptable for the 1256cc engine.  Vauxhall's engineering was such that the pistons were 'loose' in their bores when cold - this allowed oil to find its way up the bores and lubricate the cylinder walls preventing wear when cold.  When the engined warmed up the pistons expanded to fully fit the bores.  Hence it was those cars used for short trips where the engine didn't reach its optimum temperature that oil consumption was higher.  This wasn't a fault; it was how it was intended to be.

Sludge in the Rocker Cover
A yellowish/creamy sludge (also called 'mayonnaise') would build up in the rocker cover and breather pipes.  As this is symptomatic of a faulty/leaking head gasket many owners quite naturally presumed the head gasket was at fault.  It wasn't.

The top of the engine is cooler than the bottom - and it is here at the top of the engine in the rocker cover and breather pipes where oil fumes and water vapour combine to create that mayonnaise.  Breather pipes are easily cleaned with a rag and a piece of wire and the rocker cover is very easily removed with a screwdriver.

At the time some owners did make a 'hat' out of padding or whatever to fit on the rocker cover to 'keep it warm' ... yes, 30 years ago people used to do things like that.  Fitting a thermostat (a very easy job) which opened at a higher temperature - making the engine run a couple of degrees hotter - helped matters a lot.  There was never anything wrong with the head gasket; and to be honest, it was mainly short-journey cars that suffered the most. 

Distributor
There was a non-starting fault that drove everybody crazy.  The car either wouldn't start or was exceptionally difficult to start.  Yet when it did eventually fire-up (or was bump/tow started) it ran perfectly.  When switched off the engine would fire up again straight away when the key was turned.  The next day (or when the engine had cooled) it wouldn't start ...  Workshops couldn't isolate the fault and in desperation were fitting 'race coils', new ballast resistors and improved high tension leads, condensers and points ..

The actual fault was caused by the bob-weights in the distributor, beneath the base plate that holds the contact-breaker and condenser.  Centrifugal force 'throws open' the weights to advance and retard the spark to match the engine speed.  When the weights stick/seize this doesn't happen and the car won't start - or is damn difficult to start.

It's very straightforward to remove the distributor and get at those spring-loaded weights.  Cleaning and oiling is usually sufficient to free them up and make them work properly.  The distributor shaft is keyed at the bottom where it fits into the block.  The shaft may have an off-set key as there were 2 different distributors (depending on the model and year of production).

Warning Note
The distributor is driven by a pencil-thick shaft from the oil pump within the engine. The bearing in which the distributor turns is not lubricated by engine oil per se.  If the bearing seizes, the shaft twists and snaps which results in a distributor that won't turn.  Repair means removing the engine to replace the shaft.

A quick check is to remove the distributor and turn the bottom of the shaft by hand.  If it feels 'notchy'/'gritty'/excessively difficult to turn then it's time to lubricate the bearing.

Prevention is easy - undo the bolt that holds the distributor in place, lift it up and squirt some engine oil down the hole into the bearing ...   Also remove the rotor arm.  You should see a small felt pad.  This pad is supposed to be regularly lubricated with a few drops of engine oil.  The engine oil will trickle down the distributor drive shaft, lubricating as it goes.   A few drops of oil now and then will prevent a lot of misery later.

Maintenance

There's nothing unduly difficult about working on the Vauxhall Viva.  A quick glance around Ebay and Vauxhall clubs shows that there's a healthy aftermarket of spares still available.  The price of parts seems to be low in contrast with later, modern cars.  This can only be good news for the hands-on enthusiast.

Prices

In 1978 a 3 year old HC Viva cost around £1000.  Thirty years later, lower mileage and better examples cost less than this.  They're not an expensive car.  The same is true for the Viva HB range, too.  Given the age of the cars, surviving examples (of any car) tend to be pretty sound for the simple that the rust-buckets ended their lives in the breaker's yards many years ago indeed.  Like any car, choose the condition and don't become blinded by a fit of enthusiasm about restoring something that may be beyond your capabilities (though the are very easy to restore).  It usually  costs more in restoration costs than the final value of the car.  Unless your hobby is restoring, spend your money on a good example.  They're cheap enough.

The Vauxhalls of this era are simple to work on.  They're enjoyable and different.

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