Brabham Vivas

When is a Brabham Viva not a real Brabham Viva?

This is a very touchy subject, which neither the relevant car clubs nor the Classic Car Magazine World will embrace or even discuss. This is my take on the subject as I feel people have a right to know what they might or might not be paying a fortune to purchase. I will start by outlining a few facts.
1. To start with a mint Brabham Viva is ‘supposedly’ worth in the region of £1800- £3500, while a standard SL90 HB Viva is £1100 Max.
2. The Brabham kit was introduced in 1967, a year after the production started on the HB series Viva. The Brabham kit itself was sold by Vauxhall Dealers, who would then fit it to your car. They would also sell the kit to you over the counter. The kit did not invalidate a new cars warranty.

So now let’s explain what is used to make a Brabham Viva. There are many accounts of this floating around in books so here is my version based on all books and my experience.

The base car MUST be a “90” HB (Deluxe, Sl, Standard). In fact it wouldn’t matter if the car was a 4 door, 2 door, Estate or even Auto. (The latter is rather a hopeless case as the auto-gearbox saps all the engine power).
The SL90 is a high Performance version of the standard 1159cc engine. This means it has a High compression head (9.0:1 rather than 8.5:1), a higher lift camshaft and normally runs a single 150CD Stromberg Carburettor. The exhaust was a 4 into 2 into 1 manifold and with a slightly larger overall diameter bore for the rest of the system.

The one thing people forget or do not know is that for this high performance engine to spin freely, revving nicely and to give that so called punch (Well, it was in the Sixties!), Vauxhall lowered the rear axle ratio. The SL90 uses the 4.125:1 ratio rather than the standard 3.89:1 ratio. This doesn’t sound much, but on a small engine car it definitely does give it the ability to pull away quicker and feel more alive. Estates and auto transmission cars had this lower rear axle to start with, regardless of the type of 1159cc engine.

If you decide to use a standard 1159 HB car instead, it would just use more petrol as the engine isn’t designed for it and the high back axle ratio just kills it. It might look good, but it doesn’t go much better than standard.

Now onto the Brabham kit. This was basically an extra 150CD carburettor for your SL90 engine. So you then had twin 150CD on a special inlet manifold along with the slightly different throttle linkage.
Additional items could be a set of stripes for the car, a wooden steering wheel or gear knob, a tacho, wider 12″ steel wheels, a gas flowed cylinder head, a slightly hairy camshaft or a straight through exhaust system.
So depending on the size of your pocket, meant what extra parts you could afford to buy. Most Brabhams had just the carburettors and stripes, with a few exceptions having the steering wheel, gear knob and tacho too.
The kits I can only assume were sold until the end of the HB Viva’s life in September 1971. The kit was never offered as part of the new HC Viva range. So allowing for kits to be sold until the dealers ran out, the last kit would have been sold by the end of 1972, if not well before. Total number of kits sold is unknown, but less than 200 I would think. So in my book a person converting an SL90, after say 1972, would be producing a PLASTIC Brabham, or replica Brabham.

So how can you prove the authenticity of the Brabham you are about to purchase for say £3,000? In a nut-shell you can’t. Original owners probably never informed DVLA and neither did the Dealers. Some owners may have had the details changed, but as it was more cosmetic, rather than body types, DVLA might not have been interested.

Does anyone out there have a Registration Form with the word Brabham on it? The only people at the time who would want to know about the conversion were the Insurance Companies. So old insurance documents would be one way, or the bill of sale from the Dealership for work carried out, to prove the car’s authenticity. Purchasing a kit over the counter is one thing, but it could be fitted to 5 or 6 cars over the last 40 years. So that bill of sale for over the counter purchase is open to abuse.

Brabhams have been appearing since the 1980s, in all different guises with a few definite PLASTIC ones being made up.
People around that time started to restore Brabhams, but the problem was the stripes. With Vivas, the front wings always needed replacing, hence the need for a new stripe. One chap who was restoring two genuine cars during the 80’s had 20 sets of stripes made up, 10 black and 10 white. (Either that or 40 sets.) It depends on the colour of your car, to which set of stripes you used.
Light coloured cars had black stripes, while dark cars used the white stripes. The outer edge colour of the stripe denotes its ‘White’ or ‘Black’ tag. This chaps cars were never restored, in fact I think they were scrapped and the new stripe sets were sold on in bulk.

So how can you make a Plastic Brabham?, ‘ Very easily’. Some people just put the twin 150CD carburettors on a standard 1159 or 1256cc engine HB Viva. Then slap on a set of copied stripes and hey presto a Brabham Viva. But even if you do it properly, you will net yourself a good return on your money.
For example; purchase a 100% mint SL90 HB for £1100, then get a set of 150CD carburettors and manifold from E-Bay at say £100.
Either have a set of stripes made up or buy a set of the copied stripes from the late 1980s. At worst you would have to have a set of Brabham decals for the chrome air filters made up.
Even after all that the total cost would hardly be in excess of £1500. Now you have a proper Brabham ‘copy’, so by using the right base car to start with, the original SL90 is now worth £2500+. So would YOU pay that for a car that was converted in say 2001?? How can you tell? This is the hard part.

The original stripes were I believe in one piece over the front wings, whereas the copied ones are cut at the top edge of the front wing. This was due to them not being made at the correct angle.
An SL90 engine was painted red from the factory. The colour wasn’t a real bright red, like the engine paints that are available in the shops today. A 1256cc engine can be identified by the 1256 in raised letters on the block. If they have been ground off, then the1256 engine has the dip-stick directly into the block. Where as the 1159cc engine uses a black plastic pot with a filter in it. This is then screwed into the block and the dip-stick sits in it.

The registration document should say it is an SL/Deluxe 90 too. But the chassis plate can only tell you the type of body and size of engine (Apart from the 1600). If the car in question still has a proper large identification plate, it should use the ‘Option Code’ of 460, which is for the ’90’ engine. This plate shows the paint code, trim code etc. etc.

If on a test you feel the get up and go just isn’t there, then the axle may be the 3.9:1, but the engine could be low on power. Only by removing the differential cover will tell you its ratio. Unless you can jack the car up and count the revolutions of the wheel against the prop-shaft. (4.125:1 is stamped 8/33 on the crown wheel = 8 revolutions of the wheel to 33 of the prop-shaft).

The final way of telling if it is genuine or not, is if the owner has old photographs of the car. Being depicted in somewhere in the 1970’s, whilst on holiday etc etc. Old photographs will normally be out of focus and on 110 or similar format. Of course the fashions of the era should give you another clue! But unless the seller is an original owner, they are unlikely to have any photograph proof.

From the list below, which has taken many years to compile, you can see there are only a few genuine Brabhams remaining and a few I can’t say for sure are genuine.
There is no evidence to say there was a proto-type Brabham. If any, it would have been Jack Brabham’s personal car ‘MO 2’ or any of the advert/article cars. There is speculation that the Crayford Brabham never existed as DVLA say that registration does not exist. This could well have been a standard SL90 Crayford HB with stripes put on for the photo shoot. To date, no pictures exist showing the Brabham convertible’s engine bay.

Road Test Cars

LXD 997E Dark Green?, White Stripes, Genuine Deluxe 90
KXE 905D Dark Green?, White Stripes, Genuine SL 90
LXD 992E White, Black Stripes, Genuine Deluxe 90

Jack Brabham Adverts/Articles

KXE 962D White, Black Stripe Genuine Deluxe 90
KXE 962E Touched up advert photo of KXE 962D
GXE 282E White, Black Stripe Genuine Deluxe 90 – Press Vehicle
KXD 15D White, Black stripes Genuine Deluxe 90
KXD 16D White, Black Stripes Genuine SL 90
MXD 170E Dark Green, White Stripes Genuine SL 90 Estate – Press Vehicle
MXD 183E Blue, Genuine SL 90 – Press Vehicle
MO 2 Dark Green, White Stripes Genuine SL 90 – Jack Brabhams
LNW 860F White, Black Stripes Genuine SL 90 Crayford Convertible

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.

Known Genuine? Cars

LXD 992E White Black Stripes 100%-Genuine Deluxe 90 – Richard Holmden
XAR 931F * White Black Stripes 100%-Genuine SL 90 – Ex – Geoffrey Green
GRV 525E * White No stripes 100%-Genuine SL 90 – Ex – Geoffrey Green
OXD 422F White Black Stripes 100%-Genuine SL 90 – Edd Laxton (No longer a Brabham)
TMD 179F Dark Green No Stripes Genuine? SL 90 – Bryan Thompson.
Stripes added later on.
KCD 650F White Black Stripes 100%-Genuine SL 90 – Darryl Burrows
RXC 565E * Dark Green Black Stripes 100%-Genuine SL 90 – Seen at Motor 100,
NCH 363E Peacock Blue Black Stripes? Genuine??? Deluxe 90 – Micheal Cuthbert
HNT 626D Dark Green White Stripes Genuine SL 90 – Darrell Green.
JTA 153E * Red Black Stripes Genuine Mike Harrold.
MRJ 158F Peacock Blue White stripes 100% Genuine SL90 – Ex Deon Wilson.
HDV 740E Peacock Blue No Stripes now – Genuine SL90 – Nick Woolacott
* = Unknown if they exist anymore.

Known ‘Plastic’ or ‘Replica’ Brabhams

KJR 779D Pageant Red. Made up using Brabham parts. Uses a 1256cc engine. Originally only a basic Deluxe HB. Shell soon to become KXE 154D. Owner – Adrian Miller

OTJ 248G White SL 90. 4 Door. Made up using Brabham parts. Brabham Kit for sale by Adrian Miller in 1993/4. Article in Summer 1995 Newsletter. Owner – Dave Marriage

SBP 196E White Auto SL 90. Advertised as Auto in Dec ’90 Newsletter. Made up by Adrian Miller. For sale in Autumn ’93 for £1,000. David Lancefield, then converted to manual. Now owned by Peter Kemp.

NRP 177F Pageant Red. Originally a standard Deluxe HB. Made up using a set of Brabham carbs. Home made stripes. Owned & built by Mark Williams.

TJD 609F White SL90. Black stripes. Made up in late 1980s by Steve Judge. Ex Alan Anderson.

Virtually sure it was plastic
YPF 677G Dark Blue, No Stripes, but hand scripted signs above ‘Viva’ signs on front wings, same as Air Filters. SL 90 – 4 Door. Scrapped in a Banger Race in Oxfordshire.

So there you have it, a frank and honest view on the controversial subject of Brabham Vivas. Of course there may be slight inaccuracies, but in general this should represent the true picture that everyone can relate to.
So in my book any car converted to Brabham Specification after 1972 (or even Mid-70’s) is a PLASTIC Brabham. But proving the car you are about to buy from that ‘Dodgy Looking Bloke’ is a genuine car is very difficult. Ask as many questions as possible and hopefully the above might help you out.
If anyone has any further information, then please don’t hesitate to contact me. Or let me know your views on this touchy subject.