Being a fan of current British built vehicles, its also fantastic to know that our motor trade past and heritage is also looked after. Irrespective of how much a roller-coaster ride our trade history has been over the past few decades, we should always look and learn from the past to enable us to plan for the future:
You know? it makes me irritable and sad when people rubbish our motoring heritage. For sure there has been some catastrophic blunders made in the British motor trade – especially at management level, but we have contributed so much to the world. Vehicles such as prestige examples including Range Rover right through to the original Austin Mini have all done their bit to, excuse the phrase, re-invent the wheel when it comes to motoring for the masses.
I was really looking forward to this years Classic Car Show at Birmingham’s NEC, not just to catch up with old friends as is usually the case, but to see a rather special car on public display. It wasn’t a Jaguar or some fancy rare Maserati but none other than a good old Vauxhall Viva HB GT. The HB Viva is 50 years old in 2016 and I actually saw the GT part way through its recommissioning earlier this year at Vauxhalls heritage centre and workshops based at the company’s Luton headquarters.
During the media launch of the new Astra Sports Tourer, a selection of heritage models were on display with some being available for sampling on the roads. During the visit I thoroughly enjoyed a spin out in a Viscount not to mention the mighty 2.3 litre Chevette HS – a car that caused a bit of a storm in many a rally outing. Despite Vauxhalls UK production now being just limited to the Astra and vans, their heritage that stems back to 1903 is very much loved, appreciated and painstakingly cared for.
Restored on and off over a two-year period by Andy Boddy and Terry Forder (with assistance from their apprentice, Chris Smith) the 1970 Viva GT is believed to have been registered by Vauxhall as one of its company cars back in the day – its ‘YXD’ suffix makes this likely. It was purchased by Vauxhall from the partner of its late owner, Steve Walton, in June 2014. It now lives in pride of place with an impressive collection of vehicles from vintage to retro and had its first public airing just recently at the NEC.
A little while ago I borrowed their Astra GTE Mk2 16v for a week and the car wiped 20 years off me. In fact my own partner owned a GTE from new in the mid `80s and was as keen to drive the car as I had been. The level of attention to detail the heritage guys go to is breath-taking as the Astra, despite being in its third decade since assembly, felt as tight as a drum and visually looked almost mint in its condition. Andy and Terry are time served Vauxhall employees with experience going back many years.
They both cut their teeth on the Luton assembly tracks back in the days of the Cavalier. Even though when you talk to them in depth they are both slightly saddened at the fact Luton no longer produces passenger cars, they both share a boyish obsession for their current roles of being in charge of the vast heritage fleet of vehicles. Recently joined by Chris the apprentice, the three of them certainly have a monumental task of keeping the fleet of over 70 cars in order – most of them are road legal too!
But getting back to the Viva. My personal take is that this was one of the first cars I ever travelled in at over 100 miles per hour when I was very young. The Vauxhall heritage stand at this years classic show was in fact Vauxhalls biggest to date with ten vehicles from the heritage fleet. Another lovable sight while there was their recently purchased Bedford CF series one panel van, in such good condition that it almost looked better than new. I wonder how many local councils or ice cream vendors operated this main rival to the Ford Transit? My old employer even operated a flat bed example when I worked in engineering.
Even if you missed out on the Classic Car Show this year, the Luton based heritage centre is open to the public at certain times of the year. We will advise on when its going to be open on this site, but for further Vauxhall heritage information CLICK HERE.
Thinking of that Chevette 2.3 engine. I have fond memories of working for a Vauxhall Bedford dealership back in the 1970s. They were based in South London and specialised in motor caravans, for which they developed a rather smart Dormobile Bedford CF with a souped up 2.3 litre engine and other modifications for speed and endurance.
Publicity was arranged, a race track found and the press was invited. All went well until a member of the press had a test drive. From which he achieved the world speed record for a motor caravan going into a bend. However he did not manage to hold the same record for coming out of a bend and the vehicle got written off.
Which was unfortunate because on previous road tests the embarrassed look on boy racers faces getting thrashed, on the Sutton bypass by a “van” was priceless.