Viva the HC! A trip back in time

Mmmm. Don’t you just love it? That smell of hot oil, warmed up biscuit crumbs under the mats, cooking dust and vinyl.

I’m taking a Life on Mars-type time trip back to 1979 to retro road test the Vauxhall HC Viva 1300L Saloon – this one was one of the last off the production line, writes Alan Candy.

Chiltern Hills Vintage Vehicle Rally held at Aston Clinton - pictured is Alan Candy with a Vauxhall Viva

Chiltern Hills Vintage Vehicle Rally held at Aston Clinton - pictured is Alan Candy with a Vauxhall Viva

In its original livery of Jamaican Yellow that knocks your eyes out, this is one of the stars of Vauxhall’s Heritage Centre – home to around 70 of the most iconic cars produced by the Luton-based company.

It’s probably true to say that the HC Viva is more admired now that when it first set tyres on tarmac back in 1979 – the year Margaret Thatcher was elected PM, USSR invaded Afghanistan, Lord Mountbatten was assassinated by the IRA and the first nudist beach was established in Brighton.

With its low, wide stance, bags of chrome front and back and a streamlined shape, the HC cut a bit of a dash – the American influence was evident but not quite so overtly as some models.

Now, Viva is considered cool – “lovely”, “fantastic” and “superb” were just three of the comments I received when I took a trip on Sunday to the Chiltern Hills Rally in Weston Turville to join 1,000 other vehicle owners aiming to enjoy the sunshine and raise some cash for local charities.

Did I mention the vinyl roof? This, of course, was literally the car’s crowning glory. Why vinyl roofs became suddenly popular on cars, we’ll never know. But back in 1979, this would have cost you the princely sum of £31.59 as a highly desirable extra.

On the HC tested, the ‘nappy brown’ colour (my description, I’m afraid) rather nattily matches the vast amounts of vinyl cladding the seats, doors and dashboard.

All in the best possible taste, and the fabric seats have a fetching check pattern in a similar brown to match.

The seats. Ah, yes. Designed before the term ‘lumbar support’ had been coined, they put your back to the test, although otherwise quite comfy, but completely lacking in side support –or headrests, for that matter.

That, of course, has its own benefits, providing unobstructed views of the whole car for the driver and generous glazed areas all round mean parking and manoeuvring are a breeze. Or at least they should be, but you have to put some muscle into the manoeuvring as there is no power assistance to the HC’s steering.

No airbags either, but there is the reassurance of the wording in the centre of the thin-rimmed, big steering wheel which reads: ‘Vauxhall Energy Absorbing’.

But let’s not forget the positives. The Viva HC has the simplest dashboard imaginable, with just a tiny speedo, fuel and temp gauges, choke and lights switch.

And the driver truly ‘engages’ with the engine, which features an engaging drone at anything over 40mph and a fearsome WUB-WUB-WUB-WUB noise under load.

Add in a decent four-speed manual gearchange, bags of passenger and boot space and the Viva is a cheerful and fun companion. Truly, they don’t make ’em like this any more.