(First posted at CC on 2/23/2013) This article by David Saunders first ran in 2010 at the old site and was the first guest submission for a Curbside Classic. As such, it opened the doors to what has become an essential part of the current site. David, like others that followed him, had never written for publication before, and went on to be become one of our most prolific and accomplished writer/historians, covering a wide array of unusual cars that he has found in Alberta, Canada, most of which were either not imported into the U.S. or are exceedingly rare here. David’s contributions, including taking over our tech supervision, have been instrumental in expanding our scope of coverage, and for that we owe him an epic “Thank you”! And we always encourage new submissions. PN
The Canadian car market has always been dominated by U.S. makes, but that “special relationship” has also produced some curious efforts to maintain a sense of unique Canadian identity, and/or respond to the distinctive characteristics of our market. We had our Plodges (mixed styling of Dodge and Plymouth models); Beaumonts (sold at Pontiac dealerships with Chevrolet engines and Pontiac-style trim); Meteors; Mercury and Fargo trucks, etc.; as well as various European makes, including Vauxhall. In addition to selling its models under the Vauxhall brand, GM’s British subsidiary created the Canada-specific Envoy name: Vauxhalls were sold by Pontiac/Buick dealers, and Chevrolet/Oldsmobile dealers, so as not to be left out, received Envoy-badged versions like this Epic.
For a time, Vauxhall, like their American Opel cousin, was second in sales of imported sedans, just behind Volkswagen.. Sadly, Vauxhalls of the 1960s were particularly enthusiastic rusters, even by the standards of the day; that, combined with a limited parts supply after Vauxhall pulled out of Canada, means there aren’t very many in driveable condition still around. The examples that still exist are various Vauxhalls and Envoys languishing in mostly rural settings. I’ve even come across a couple in scrapyards and storage yards, but the more common finds seem to be the larger Victors.
What I’ve found here is a Envoy Epic, which is a badge-engineered version of the Vauxhall Viva HA. Actually, it’s more than that: While the normal Viva/Epic had to make do with a 44 hp, 1,057 cc four-cylinder engine, this one has the name-worthy epic “hot” high compression engine with 60 hp, as did the confusingly-named Viva 90. Less than 12,000 Viva SLs (in both Viva and Epic forms) were produced, an unspecified (but undoubtly low) number of them as the hot 90. That makes this one–having both the 90 and SL equipment and being a Canadian variant–a rare survivor indeed. [For you Yanks struggling to relate, think ’69 Pontiac GTO “The Judge” with Ram Air IV. PN]
Engineering-wise, the Viva/Epic was a highly conventional and straightforward RWD machine whose role in life was to compete against the likes of the Austin A35, Morris Minor and Ford Anglia. Some pieces where shared with the very similar Opel Kadett A, but the engine, styling and interior were unique. The front suspension used a front transverse leaf spring, just like the Opel and not totally unlike what a modern Corvette uses at the rear. The front cross-member easily unbolted with the rack and pinion steering rack and suspension as an entire unit, which made it popular with hot rodders. The rear had a solid rear axle with more leaf springs, but not transverse this time. The basic car came with drum brakes all around, while the upper trim levels featured front disc brakes.
I mentioned the 60 hp engine and disc brakes of the 90, but there were also a few other upgrades from the basic model; after all, the SL moniker stood for “Super Luxury.” Some additional exterior trim comprised part of that lofty definition, most noticeably the grille and the rear tail light cluster, which featured triple round lights that were considered quite sporty for the day. [OK, Yanks, now think Impala. ED]
Back to this particular example: I actually spotted it a couple years ago at a tow company storage yard, but now it’s been moved to a muffler shop, which gives me hope that someone is preparing it to get back on the road. While it may not be its most stellar car, the automotive world’s diversity is better for its continued existence.