Sowerby spots rare Vaux­hall Viva

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Wheels

I’m sure if you can­vassed a hun­dred Cana­dian mil­len­ni­als, GenX’s or i-Gens, few would know what a Vaux­hall or an Opel is.

Fewer would know where they are sold or, that for the past few decades, cars from the two brands were pretty well the same, save some badg­ing, trim and op­tion pack­ages.

Vaux­hall ve­hi­cles are sold in the U.K. and Opels are pri­mar­ily sold in Europe and both com­pa­nies were, un­til re­cently, owned by Gen­eral Mo­tors.

This past sum­mer, GM an­nounced it would sell off its Bri­tish and Euro­pean op­er­a­tions to France-based Groupe PSA, that’s Peu­geot and Citroen. Nei­ther Opel nor Vaux­hall have turned a profit this cen­tury and time had come for GM to let them go for about $2.33 bil­lion.

The deal was com­pleted Nov. 1 and Groupe PSA has a plan that will boost sales and cut man­u­fac­tur­ing costs for all its prod­ucts.

Only time will tell what will hap­pen and if we will ever see Opel, Vaux­hall, Peu­geot or Citroen ve­hi­cles in show­rooms across Canada.

All four brands once sold in Canada but that was more than 30 years ago.

In the late 1950s and the 1960s, Vaux­hall cars roamed the Cana­dian land­scape as Viva, Velox and Vic­tor mod­els.

My grand­fa­ther owned a pink 1959 Vaux­hall Velox, the lux­ury model with leather seats, a six­cylin­der en­gine and a three-inthe-tree man­ual shifter.

Since he was deaf and the car had no tachome­ter, he tended to over-rev the en­gine when start­ing off. On hot sum­mer evenings, I could hear him launch­ing from the stop sign three blocks away. Here comes Gramps.

Of course I thought the pink Vaux­hall was a lame eye­sore even though my grand­fa­ther kept it spot­lessly de­tailed.

The idea of get­ting a drive to school in a pink Vaux­hall was a ter­ror I lived with.

Mr. Tip­pett, my high school prin­ci­pal, drove a Peu­geot 504 with a four-speed col­umn shifter which was a state­ment in the era of flashy Detroit land yachts and mus­cle cars. It had reclining seats and ru­mour was even seat belts.

But GM, Ford and Chrysler were start­ing to build Fal­cons, Chevy IIs and Val­liants and even­tu­ally chased Vaux­hall and Peu­geot out of Canada and back across the At­lantic.

In my fi­nal years at Mount Allison Univer­sity in 1971 and ’72, twin Larry and I owned two Vaux­hall prod­ucts. The first, a beat-off 1961 Vic­tor, was a rust bucket when Larry and I bought it from ec­cen­tric science teacher Ralph Whitely.

The ugly Vic­tor was at the ab­so­lute bot­tom end of the cool spec­trum, al­most to the point where it was so bad it was good. Mr. Whitely had put rear leaf springs from a ’58 Ford on the faded gold skinny-tired heap which jacked the rear an ex­tra foot.

The Vaux­hall even­tu­ally turned out to be a cam­pus hit as it de­gen­er­ated through the fall and win­ter. By Fe­bru­ary, the rocker pan­els had all but dis­in­te­grated and a hole in the floor had grown to a point where col­lege-gourmet gro­cery items like a box of Kraft din­ner or a pack of Swift Premium Franks could drop onto the pave­ment be­low.

One frosty Fe­bru­ary morn­ing, the me­chanic at the lo­cal fuel sta­tion told me the Province of New Brunswick was in­tro­duc­ing A re­cent rare sight­ing of a Vaux­hall Viva in Hal­i­fax helped Garry re­live his own­er­ship, al­most 50 years ago, of a Vaux­hall Vic­tor dur­ing his col­lege days at Mount Allison Univer­sity.

a safety in­spec­tion sys­tem and the Vaux­hall needed one be­cause the town cops had their eye on it. He knew that me­chan­i­cally it was OK but in or­der to get a safety sticker, it would need rocker pan­els and a front bumper. A paint job wouldn’t hurt ei­ther.

I sac­ri­ficed the next week­end to work on the Vaux­hall. The paint shop at the lo­cal Mer­cury Lin­coln deal­er­ship do­nated the dregs of a half dozen cans of paint that, when mixed to­gether, re­sulted in a light flo­res­cent green colour that looked like bad-tast­ing medicine.

Gal­va­nized eaves troughs were pot-riv­eted into the place of rocker pan­els.

Duct tape was used to cover rust holes and then I hand-brushed the gooey green mix­ture onto it from the bot­tom up. There wasn’t enough for the roof so I painted it red primer while ev­ery­thing else but the glass, tires and lights got the green slime.

It was a red-roofed, two-toned

mas­ter­piece with a 2x10-inch plank bolted to the front for a bumper.

That spring we sold it to a young farmer who turned it into a rudi­men­tary farm trac­tor. A few months later we bought an­other Vaux­hall Vic­tor, a 1966 in pris­tine shape, but it wasn’t the cam­pus hit Green Slime was.

These days Vaux­hall sight­ings are rare in Canada. A few weeks ago though, I saw a Viva model on Kempt Road in Hal­i­fax. It was black and small with very skinny tires.

Vaux­hall and Peu­geot cars may even­tu­ally be back in Canada, but the sight­ing of the Viva brought a smile to my face as I re­lived slap­ping the green slime paint onto the Vic­tor I owned al­most a half cen­tury ago.

Viva la Vaux­hall!

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