(first posted 10/1/2014) This find, by canadiancatgreen, is quite impressive. While one might expect to find a rare car like this Firenza (Vauxhall Viva HC) in a context where uncommon, orphaned cars are appreciated, seeing it with rust around its edges and Pep Boys hubcaps indicates unceremonious use as a daily driver. Replacement parts for a car like this don’t exactly fall into one’s lap and by most measures, it shouldn’t have made it this far. Yet here it is in all its chartreuse glory; if cars were sentient, I’d want this one to know how lucky it is.
There’s unfortunately only one picture of it on the cohort, so I’ll have to cull images of Firenzas and HC-series Vivas from elsewhere online. For a car in production from 1970 to 1979, its styling is very appropriate, with a carefully chosen combination of curves and straight lines that help unify a decade that began with the last years of the musclecar era and ended with neoclassical excess. As a conservatively styled everyman’s car, it’s a great effort by Vauxhall’s designers, and one of their last, as this car–and the entire Vauxhall lineup–was soon replaced by rebadged Opels.
Styling aside, however, life was not great for this Vauxhall and indeed, contemporary audiences may not have even appreciated its looks as much as I apparently do. In the UK, coupe versions of the HC-series Viva were called Firenza. Though the Viva never made it to the US, in Canada two door, four door, coupe and wagon versions were on the market from 1971-1972, meaning our brown sedan has made it at least 42 years as an orphan. Sold by Pontiac dealers as Firenza, with no Vauxhall badges to be seen, it remained on the market until the homegrown Vega (or in this case, the Astre) replaced it. Readers with experience with both Vauxhalls and Vegas are welcome to chime in and compare their impressions of each; I can’t be the only one curious to know which ones made better cars.
As sold in Canada, the car was equipped with a two-liter engine producing 77 net horsepower, its potency sapped by primitive emissions hardware. The poor reliability of that componentry, which cost Vauxhall a pretty penny to put together, combined with the usual early ’70s industrial action to make sourcing a constant supply of replacement parts for ever-increasing warranty claims a challenge. Dealers reportedly had to cannibalize unsold cars to cope and by 1973, the plug was pulled on Firenza, with class action suits against GM by frustrated owners apparently left unsettled until as late as 1980. As Canada was the largest export market for Vauxhall at the time, the failure of the Viva HC in Canada was not easy on Luton.
The reality of this story is too bad when you consider that Vauxhall went to the trouble of designing the car with North America in mind, its increased size allegedly eroding its competitive edge vis-a-vis the likes of the European Escort. In addition, the Firenza coupe could never make a proper competitor to the likes of Capri, which was far more differentiated from its sedan donor, while one class up, the Victor–also apparently designed with North America in mind–fell behind the Cortina. As it played the most critical role in Vauxhall’s line-up, the Viva HC/Firenza’s failure in Canada and Europe marked a very sad chapter in the company’s history, with some even deeming it the car which killed Vauxhall’s autonomy within GM. If that is indeed true, that someone has kept such a sad car alive, seemingly unaware of its history, really beats unlikely odds.