There is little known and even less written down concerning the conversion of the Viva HB by Crayford Auto Developments of Westerham, Kent. This includes the actual number of cars converted.
I shall start before the Crayford HB actually appeared. Back in April 1967, the wife of David McMullan (MD of Crayford Auto Developments Ltd) was persuaded to buy a new white HB Viva SL90, as getting a loan from a Bank in those days was very difficult, especially if you were self employed. Once acquired and viewed, plans could then begin in earnest as how to chop the roof off.
In the meantime, Crayford’s used the car as their flagship for the HB range, launching the ‘Viva Prince’. This had a Black Vyinde roof covering, extra sound proofing and an Airflow extraction system, which consisted of a pair of stainless steel external grills fitted to the rear roof pillars. Also twin extraction grills were fitted inside the car on the rear parcel shelf to keep the rear window demisted.
On the exterior of the Viva, the sills were painted with heavy matt black paint and finished off with a chrome molding strip running the length of the car. This gave the effect of making the bodyline thinner and reducing the stone chip damage on the sills. Most of the panels were treated to sound deadening and the bonnet had a distinctive black centre line. Each car had a special ladies cosmetic case fitted, but as no one has ever seen such an HB so the actual position of the case is unknown. To boost the rear extraction system an electric demister motor was fitted to aid the demisting of the rear windscreen. This little lot came to a price tag of £95
Then there was the ‘Viva Prince GT’ at £169. This consisted of the Prince conversion, plus a Blydenstein Weber carburetor conversion with a special exhaust system. Which meant the car was a full 7 seconds quicker than the standard SL90 car in respect of the 0 – 60 mph time. But there was never any mention of the special Cosmic wheels as seen in all the adverts. Unlike Fords of the day, the Viva HB didn’t have any air extraction system. It just relied on leaking rubber seals etc so there was always wind noise and a very ineffective hot air blower. Allowing the rear pillars to act as exit holes, meant the through draught would allow far better suction on the heater system. This exit grill system was standard on MKII Cortina and alike.
To be honest I’ve never seen any of the ‘Prince’ mods, so I fear it was a complete failure, unless a few HBs may have had a vinyl roof fitted by Crayford… So I believe the Prince conversion died a death and then Mrs McMullan’s ’67 HB Viva was enticed into the Crayford workshops for a full blown roof chop. The idea of using an SL90, rather than a standard HB was that its extra power and its low ratio rear axle was more suitable to hauling the extra weight caused by all the strengthening needed to make the saloon into a useable convertible. The other criteria, which isn’t written down, but understood by most, is that all cars that were going to be converted shouldn’t be more than around 6 months to 1 year old. This was to ensure the car was still in good shape before the chop.
Here’s a motoring magazine article on the Viva Prince and also for the extra air-vents as fitted to the C Pillars, which were available separately. Through-flow ventilation was a new-ish concept in the mid sixties so there may have been some interest in aftermarket kits.
First here is the article (left), dated 22nd Feb 1968.
Here’s a view of the rear of the car:
The rear quarter vents were available separately, this advert is dated 21 Dec 1967.
Close-up view of the vents, note the extra bits on the rear parcel shelf.
Convertible or Cabriolet?
Before continuing I must explain the wording of a ‘Viva HB convertible’ as it is known. Car firms, even today use, the words ‘Convertible’ and ‘Cabriolet’, but there are vast differences to the build in each case. ‘Convertible’ rolls off the tongue far easier than Cabriolet, hence every car is normally tarnished with this expression.
The Viva HB Convertibles are actually Cabriolets. The difference is that the Cabriolet has the hood hidden below the deck level, where as a convertible has its hood all stacked up on top of the rear deck. To me the convertible is likened to a babies pram. Modern car like the Escort MKIII and Golfs were called Cabriolets, but using the above statement, they are in fact convertibles. At this time in Crayfords history, the Cabriolet hood had just been designed and saw life also in the Ford Cortina MKII, Corsair, BMC 1100/1300 and later the Capri.
The Cabriolet’s hood itself was made from Mohair, unlike the convertibles, which was of a plastic leatherette type material. The unique feature being that a headlining was employed to hide the hood frame from the driver and passengers giving the hood a more sophisticated edge. The construction of the Cabriolet’s hood mechanism, although agricultural was far more rigid and has lasted the test of time. Its shape lent itself to enhance the cars it was fitted to, rather than just being a rag stretched over a frame.
The most notable impression the Cabriolet gives over the Convertible hood is of its instant operation. Un-clip the two catches inside on the top of the windscreen and then fold the entire hood into its storage compartment. Everything from a Morris Minor, Triumph Stag, Spitfire or MGB, the driver had to get out of the car and undo numerous poppers, just to allow the hood to fold backwards. So basically the Cabriolet hood was a one handed operation to put down or pull up. The latter assuming the tonneau cover had been removed first.
The negative side of having a Cabriolet hood is that the rear seats have to be reduced in width and in most cases are made more upright. This is done so to create the stowage space behind the rear seats. So cabriolets were called 2+2. The second ‘2’ being children! A factory made modern car would have these problems designed out in the first place, but Crayfords were converting existing saloons. The other downside to having a hood that folds away quickly is that the rain runs down inside the car behind the ‘B’ post. There are drip trays to funnel the water down into the sills, but as you can imagine this in itself is a recipe for disaster, especially on a ‘60s car.
Only 11 months after the SL90 HB was purchased the Crayford Viva HB was launched – March 1968. This was done in the magazine Motor and an article in February ’68 in the Sunday Express. The prices started from £1150 for the basic HB and a massive £1342 for the HB GT. The conversion cost £500, which on top of a £800 car, didn’t see the orders rushing in.
The ‘Press’ car used for all the articles and promotional pictures was ‘OPF’ (Mrs McMullan’s car), but normally over written with number plates of ‘SL90’ for the photo shoots. OPF was the only car seen ever wearing the special Cosmic wheels so looking at any article, so you can confirm its original registration. The odd and rather strange over writing was on the Sunday Express launch article, this had ‘LWN 860F’ badly covering the number plate of OPF. This wasn’t an actual number plate, but a correction on the photograph. It looked like a Tipp-ex and black marker job. This registration was later to appear on the so called ‘Brabham’ convertible.
Next came the adverts with the so called Brabham convertible LNW 860F. With the Brabham kits being sold at this time and just the name inspired the racing driver in everyone, so the publicity was to use the brand name of Brabham to help sales. These adverts were definitely not OPF dressed up, but could well be another one of the white SL90 cars. TVB instantly springs to mind as it was a very early conversion too and came via Wallace Arnold. DLVA do not recognize LNW, but that doesn’t make it a definite 100% ringer.
The strange thing with the Brabham convertible in all its pictures is that two sections of the Brabham stripe are missing from both sides of the car. This is the small section by the Viva script badge on the front wing and the section continuing along the door. Now my theory would be that the front half of the car could get away with not being re-sprayed after conversion, if nothing was scratched. But the small section of stripe missing on the front wing negates this idea.
I have a very rough picture of the rear of LNW and it certainly does not have the Brabham boot badge. This is in fact the easiest sticker to put on a car so hence I’m 100% sure now this was a dressed up Crayford Viva HB SL90 with a false registration and Brabham stripes. Plus I’m also now 90% sure it was actually TVB dressed up to look like a Brabham for the photo shoot as it was converted shortly after OPF.
I know for a fact that both Viva GT convertibles were re-sprayed entirely as one lost its black bonnet and the other changed its black bonnet from matt to gloss. Early pictures of URR show that it also has been totally re-sprayed. It only takes a set of stripes and people instantly think it’s a genuine Brabham, which even today is a reasonably easy task to complete. So my theory still stands that the Brabham Viva convertible was made up with stripes just for the photo shoot. The sections of stripes on the car would have been bad enough to fit so hence I’d imagine they gave up with the smaller bits, assuming no one would even notice. That was back when Viva anoraks didn’t exist! Also pictures do not exist to my knowledge of the car with its bonnet open. This would have proved it one way or another. Also, none show it from the rear.
With both these cars on adverts, the now Sole British and Main Concessionaire for the HB convertible were Wallace-Arnold Sales and Service Ltd of Hunslet Road, Leeds. So now you went through Wallace Arnold to get your new Viva SL90 converted into a convertible. One theory I had at one time was that say 6 x SL90s were converted as a batch, but of the ones surviving none relate to one another, chassis wise or registration wise. I now believe it was more likely that your local Vauxhall Dealer got the car done for you either via Wallace Arnold or direct with Crayfords. Neither Crayfords nor Wallace Arnold has any paperwork ascertaining to the numbers or even registrations of cars converted. Hence I feel it was rather a piece-meal affair as to the creation of Viva HB convertibles.
Until this year 2016, I thought all Viva HBs were converted by Crayfords, and the convertible hood frames were made by Karl Deutsch in Cologne and then shipped to England. Crayford’s themselves merely did the basic chassis strengthening and the roof chopping. At that time no one in England at that time could match the Germans for their hood mechanism or hood material quality. These were actually made at Happitch of Wuppertal, who incidentally made hoods for Mercedes.
This is now incorrect. It was actually classed as the ‘Summer Runs’ at Crayfords, two members of the Crayford team would drive 2 x saloon cars from Westerham, (the respectful owners or garages sending them down to Westerham in the first place) on Friday evening to Dover, catch the ferry and drive them to Karl Deutsch in Cologne. Then they would spend the rest of weekend resting before driving back to UK on the Sunday night with 2 x Cabriolets converted from the previous week! ALL Cabriolets were done this way, whether Corsair, Cortina, BMC 1300, Capri or HB Viva. So, all the work was done in Germany, hence the conversion is so good. Crayford and Karl Deutsch were obviously in partnership for these British conversions, but Karl Deutsch did not want any acknowledgement, hence the badges applied were sign written as ‘Crayfords’.
So all in all, this is why the conversions were so expensive and the take up never occurred.
Looking at the remaining cars, OPF was obviously the flagship so didn’t go through Wallace Arnold. I have only ever known one owner of this car and he still has it today, lurking in his garage. The only time it was ever on the road to my knowledge was back in ’86. It was in red oxide, sporting an Essex V6 engine and Jag IRS with a Viva GT bonnet. The car did have the early cast Crayford Boot badge with sloping sides. The car still exists today, but as yet isn’t being restored, but we all hope one day it will.
PDG has a history as the Bristol Patchway Motors demonstrator, and before becoming a convertible did an endurance rally from Bristol to Geneva with 4 journalists on board. After this the car was dispatched from Parkway Motors for conversion, it then returned for re-sale as a GT Convertible at the garage. A picture outside the garage at this time shows a new gloss black bonnet. During his restoration I found a special number stamped into his slam panel directly under the chassis plate. This was the beginning of the 2016 revelation on how the cars were converted. It turns out this number is the chassis number of AMC! So this proves they were together during the conversion process and ‘the boy’ in the workshop must have stamped the chassis number into the wrong car! So we have to blame the Germans for this. We assume it was to identify each car, when the chassis plates were removed ready for their re-sprays. You have to remember that the Germans were far more precise and exact when it came to paperwork on all their jobs, unlike Crayfords. AMC and PDG also wear the same style of Crayford boot badge, which is probably the only job Crayford’s did on any Cabriolet conversion. These I haven’t seen on any other Viva or Crayford. So PDG and AMC I believe were converted in the ‘Summer of ’69’, que the music!
PDG is the only car having the remains of a very odd window winder regulator (2 x point raiser). I believe now it probably comes from a Ford Taunus of some vintage. Karl Deutsch were famous in Germany for converting Taunus saloons and my original winder handle was a FoMoCo (Ford) item.
From the casting numbers on the handles they belong to the P3 or P4 Taunus, but the regulator is most probably from a pillar-less door because of its double lift. To date I can’t find an exact match. The reason I believe the winders never survived was because they were not galvanized like standard Vauxhall HB ones. PDG now uses a mixture of Viva and Ford regulators.
Having the Taunus regulator meant an extra hole was cut into the door card. This piece was carefully removed to fill the original Viva HB positioned hole. Hence on later restorations, people have re-fitted the Viva HB winders and changed the door cards. But its action is now very wobbly to say the least.
RUA was probably from Wallace Arnold and again it was their flagship for a GT cabriolet. RUA featured in an article against a MKII Cortina convertible in ‘Car’ magazine dated July 69. The reviewer was in favor of the Viva GT over the Cortina, in most aspects, especially in looks, scuttle shake and available leg room. Proving the German cabriolet conversion was far superior to the Crayford convertible conversions. From this article we can see the removal of the matt black bonnet in toto, hence the whole car had been re-sprayed. RUA still has its’ original doors and the extra holes for the Taunus style regulator can still be seen, but again it now utilizes a Viva HB regulator with new standard door cards.
TVB was definitely via the Wallace Arnold Vauxhall Dealership. This is the only Crayford Viva HB with the special Wallace Arnold plate on the inner wing. This denotes its conversion date. When I first heard of this car it was up in Crewe. Darren, the then owner, had prized it from his mate who’d got fed up with the restoration and together they brought it back to life. Originally a white SL90 1159cc, but now it has an ex-army 2.3 OHC Vauxhall lump residing in the engine bay with running gear from a 1600 HB. Darren’s Rolls Royce friends put the new hood together for the finishing touch. The car had the early Crayford badge on it, the cast item with slanted sides. (OPF also had this type of boot badge). Its production date seems to be very early March 68 so I believe it was the demonstrator Crayford Viva HB at Wallace Arnold for the launch of the Viva Convertible. Again the window regulator has been put back to standard Viva HB positioning with new deluxe style door cards fitted. This car has since changed hands a few times, but is still on the show circuits.
AMC was first seen in 86 after an extensive restoration and with the coming together of parts from a scrap Viva GT. It ran a 2.3 OHC Vauxhall engine along with GT running gear. The interior was a mix of GT and Deluxe panels. The window winders were put back to standard Viva HB, hence this is probably why AMC wore Deluxe door cards rather than SL ones. The most striking feature was the twin headlamp set up and its brilliant red coat of paint. The car was then involved in a serious accident, so was again rebuilt, replacing most body panels, but re-sprayed white this time. A Cologne V6 was also shoe horned under the bonnet during this transformation. It also lost the Export HB twin headlamp arrangement. The car was sold on a few times and then disappeared. It finally re-appeared in a very sorry state, but is again under going a full restoration. The latest owner has the only genuine set of Cosmic wheels as featured on OPF in all the adverts.
URR came from an old lady in Folkestone, Kent I believe, before beginning sold on a couple of times. Originally registered in Nottingham, the car traveled a long way to its first owner. An M.O.T. from 1995 puts the mileage at 61,000. When sold in 1999 it had a 1256cc engine fitted. From the 1999 pictures, it had been well kept up to this point so restoration would have been simple. It also proves the mileage to be correct. Once sold it was laid up in storage for many years and re-surfaced in 2009. All easily removable panels and all its’ front end panels had been changed, although the cutting of the new doors isn’t correct as per Crayford’s (Karl Deutsch) specification. The interior light has been moved to the centre rather than being screwed to the passenger’s side of the lower dash so not as per Viva GT as they have a full centre console. This was probably the ‘norm’ for SL 90 Viva HB conversions. The wheels are similar, but not the same as those originally seen on OPF.
Well as you know I own PDG the one known as the ‘Penzance’ GT Convertible. One of the first comments I received after restoring PDG was that it is likened to a baby Ford Mustang. Looking at a slab sided view of the car you can see what he meant. The HB Viva is a pretty car to start with so hacking off the roof had to do it justice and I think it does. There are comments about its looks with the hood up, but I do not agree with them at all. All the cabriolet conversions totally out shine the simple and crude convertible ones, especially in terms of style and looks. All convertibles to me still look like ‘Prams’. On the Viva HB, the shape of the hood flows with the cars lines so enhances it. I think it is the prettiest of any cabriolet conversion by Crayford (Karl Deutsch).
I am constantly searching for information on any Crayford HB so to fill in the many gaps with the above cars. There are ‘hear-say’ reports on other Crayfords, but nothing has ever been confirmed.
1. Pale blue SL90 owned by the wife of Wallace Arnold? (Possibly RUA)
2. Red SL90 owned by a lady in Scotland? (Could be AMC in its Red Days)
3. Someone said they had seen the Brabham HB Crayford in a petrol garage forecourt, but no pictures as the owner refused? But I believe it was OPF in the early days.
Homemade HB Convertibles
There have been a few over the years, popping up, but the sheer scale of the job shouldn’t be taken lightly, even if the finished job isn’t as good as a genuine Crayford.
The infamous ‘Pink’ Viva GT from Brighton was turned into a convertible using the basic strengthening as per Crayford (Karl Deutsch), but used a chopped up Triumph Stag hood. This appeared in ‘96 with a deep blue paint job, but got the nick name of ‘The Pram’ due to its hood sitting on the rear deck as per convertible, rather than cabriolet. Then in 2015 the owner of NKR changed the hood over to a MKII Escort one. Again not a job for the faint hearted! Lots of tweaks are still needed as it is still a work in progress project. The car has also been subject to another all over re-spray in Two Pack, to as near the correct colour of Le Mans Blue as possible. The car then appeared at the All Vauxhall Rally for its first outing in July 2015.
I have seen a 4 door HB convertible, but I doubt this lasted more than the journey home as 4 doors are never used as a base for a convertible.
A recent find is JDC, which uses a Stag type ‘T’ bar system so under floor pan strengthening is not used. (Worrying) It his running a Viva GT set up and has a genuine GT registration. The hood itself is leatherette material stretch over the entire car and secured by the use of poppers. Its history and conversion is not fully known so we can only guess at present. The new owner has started to get the car up and running again and will hopefully be shown at shows in the Yorkshire area.
The most striking of all the made up HB convertibles is the red one with the FWD Astra engine. The engineering of this car is superb and makes the MKIII Escort hood fit like a dream. There are many touches the builder did to improve the basic Crayford strengthening design. Having the standard Escort roll over bar does give the shell a better start in life. The car doesn’t exhibit any of the scuttle shakes of the Crayford according to the owner. There is no movement felt on the windscreen pillar either due to extra strengthening bars.
As with life, things change, and the Viva HB story is no different. So the person who stole my original write up and put it down as his own on that Vauxhall Wikipedia site, now has out of date info!
If you have any info regarding Karl Deutsch conversions of the humble HB Viva please drop me a mail.