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1. BACKGROUND:

General Motors have a long history in South Africa going back to 1913 when General Motors South Africa, or GMSA, was founded initially to distribute US Chevrolet vehicles before beginning the manufacture of a variety of GM brands from 1926 onwards, by the 1960s these brands also included Vauxhall. The factory and headquarters are located at Port Elizabeth, some models were assembled from CKD kits while others were fully manufactured. In 1986 as a result of the worldwide anti-apartheid sentiment, and specifically the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act in the United States, GM divested its interest in South Africa and sold the facilities to the Delta Motor Corporation, but then with the transition back to democracy in the 1990s GM re-acquired a 49% stake in Delta Motors in 1997 and in 2004 the remaining 51%. The company once again became a wholly owned subsidiary of General Motors and reverted back to its original name – General Motors South Africa.

2. MODEL HISTORY:

Whilst the HA Viva was sold as a Vauxhall, the HB Viva was just advertised as the Viva from General Motors. The HC Viva was launched in January 1971 and was sold from the start as a Chevrolet Firenza in 2 and 4 door Saloons, 3 door Estate and 2 door Coupe. The car was assembled at Port Elizabeth from CKD kits supplied from the UK and also used a certain amount of local content including seats, trim and a GM Chevrolet 153cu in Gen 3 2.5litre 4 cylinder engine (2507cc) with a Rochester carburettor, this was in addition to the imported 1159cc Vauxhall engine based on the “90” specification but using a Weber carburettor instead of a Zenith Stromburg. The 1971 model range comprised of Firenza 1200DL in 2 & 4 door Saloon, 1200DL Station Wagon, 2500SL 4 door Saloon, 2500SL Automatic 4 door Saloon and a 2500SL Coupe.

In 1972 the Firenza 2500SL was joined by the 2500GT available as a 4 door Saloon only with manual or automatic transmission, it also featured a black stripe running the full length of the side and also sports wheels with larger tyres. The 2.5litre engine produced 117bhp compared to the 100bhp for the standard engine in the SL. Despite being replaced by the 1256cc engine in the UK and Europe the 1159cc engine continued to be available for the whole 1972 model year. In 1973 the range remained the same until July when the the 2500SL Saloon and Coupe versions were all replaced by the 2500GT, in addition the 1200 models became 1300 with the introduction of the 1256cc engine, although the power output remained the same, and the 2 Door was dropped from the range.

In 1974 the Firenza Estate Coupe varients were dropped and the range was reduced to a 1300 4 door Saloon with a single headlight grille and strip speedometer and a 2500SL 4 door Saloon which was available with manual or automatic transmission and used the 4 headlight grille and twin dial instruments from the Vauxhall Magnum 1800. The 1300 only lasted until the middle of 1975 model year which just left the 2500SL model, which lasted until the end of the 1975 model year and was phased out.

Possibly the most famous South African Firenza was much faster and even rarer than Vauxhalls own HPF Droop Snoot version and was launched in mid 1973. Chevrolet’s Firenza Can Am V8 owed its existence because of two very different reasons; The first was the other South African great V8, the Ford Capri Perana, and the second reason was the efforts of local racing legend Basil van Rooyen. Van Rooyen was a South African race driver, engineer and founder of a tuning company, Superformance, at the time. This establishment oversaw the building of a couple of Firenza coupes with a 308 cubic inch Holden V8, Van Rooyen took the cars to Port Elizabeth to prove a point to General Motors management, in particular John Guskie, GMSA's Chief Engineer at the time, and who had joined GMSA from Oldsmobile in the US. The problem was that Argus Production Car regulations stipulated a maximum capacity of 5litres, therefore the 308ci Holden engine was 45cc over what was needed. With some luck and a lot of effort Guskie sourced a batch of 302ci small block engines which were imported from Michigan. These engines were prepared for the Camaro Z28s competing in the Trans-Am racing series, but after Chevy decided not to compete in the North American Series any longer, these engines were surplus to requirements and therefore available. The big-valve engine had four-bolt main bearing blocks, ran an 11:1 compression ratio and with an 800 CFM Holley carburettor it was rated at a conservative 290bhp and 300ft-lbs of torque. Before the car could be raced, one hundred had to be built to comply with the rules for the South African Argus Production Car series so GMSA made just enough and Basil van Rooyen was even used to advertise the cars.The car weighed just 2,425lbs helping the Can Am sprint from 0 to 62mph in a very impressive 5.4 seconds, while top speed was an estimated at over 140mph. All cars were fitted with a Muncie M21 four-speed manual box. The car was a huge success on the track wiping the floor clean with any competition but the road cars were hit by the fuel crisis and the last car was not sold until early in 1975 for a hugely discounted price. Today less than 30 survive, they are highly sought after and are worth a fortune.

In August 1975 a heavily modified version of the Firenza Saloon models was launched. The front end redesign was done by Vauxhalls Styling Department at Luton and was very similar to some of the prototype HC models that were evaluated in 1968, it was also considered as a facelift for the Vauxhall Viva but did not progress as Vauxhall were busy fitting a droop snoot on everything. The front end retained the normal HC headlights and indicator units but a large square front grille was incorporated with different bumper and bonnet. This gave the effect of aligning the front end style to the upcoming larger models from GMSA like the Chevrolet 2500, 3800 & 4100 which were based on the Opel Rekord D. Inside the car featured revised and more luxurious trim & seating, a surprising change was also a modified dashboard from the HC which featured instruments from the Vauxhall Chevette instead of the usual strip speedometer or 2 & 7 dial dashboards used in the Vauxhall Viva & Magnum at the time.

Mechanically there were some major changes, the small 1256cc unit was retained but was now fitted with the same Stromberg carburettor & thermostatically controlled air intake as the UK models. A new of size engine was also offered, this was a new smaller, 1953cc version, of the Chevrolet 2.5litre. It was not the Opel 1.9CIH engine as is commonly thought. The 1975 range consisted of 4 door models only - 1300DL, 1300 & 1900LS and 1900LS Automatic.

The next variation was launched for the 1976 model year and was a typical GMSA mixture. The Chevrolet Hatch is often confused as being a modified part of General Motors T Car programme (ie. Vauxhall Chevette hatch) this is totally incorrect. The Hatch was based on the HC platform and retained the same wheelbase as the Saloon models, the rear overhang was substantially reduced and the rear wheel arches were modified.

From the front screen forward it was identical to the normal Chevrolet 1300 / 1900. In the other direction the doors were from the HC 2 door, imported from the UK, and so were longer than the saloon version with the rear quarter section being unique. The rear tailgate is a modified Chevette item whilst the rear light units were standard Chevette issue. It was designed at the Luton Design Centre but the engineering was done by GMSA. It had one major advantage over the T Car and that was room, particularly rear leg room as a result of retaining the HC wheelbase. It was offered in 1300DL, 1900SL and 1900SL automatic versions.

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3. SPECIFICATIONS:

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4. BROCHURES:

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5. ADVERTISING:

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In 1978 Chevrolet's advertising was all about all fun that could be had with these new Hatch and Saloon models and also the new Chevrolet Chevair which was GMSA's version of the Cavalier Mk1 with a Manta front. This was their Sunbird promotion which looks good apart from the man who reminds me of something out of Beavis and Butt-head! 1978 would be the last year of sales for the Chevrolet Hatch and Saloon models.

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