By on February 23, 2010

The Canadian car market has always been dominated by US makes. But the “special relationship” has also resulted in some curious efforts to maintain a sense of unique identity, or respond to the distinctive characteristics of the market.  We had our Plodges (mixed styling of the Dodge and Plymouth models), Beaumonts (sold at Pontiac dealerships with Chevrolet engines and Pontiac style trim), Meteors, Mercury trucks, Fargo trucks, etc. along with various European makes including Vauxhall. In addition to selling its models under the Vauxhall brand, GM’s British subsidiary also created the Envoy name just for Canada. The Vauxhalls where sold by Pontiac/Buick dealers, and so as not to be left out, the Chevrolet/Oldsmobile dealers recieved the Envoy badged versions, like this Epic.

For a time Vauxhall was second in sales of imported sedans behind Volkswagen, as were their cousins Opel in the US. Sadly Vauxhalls of the 1960s were particularly enthusastic rusters even by the standards of the day, and that combined with limited parts supply after Vauxhall pulled out of Canada means there aren’t very many left in drivable condition. What examples do 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. But it’s more than that. While the normal Viva/Epic had to make do with a 44hp 1057cc four cylinder engine, this one has the name-worthy epic “hot” high compression engine with 60hp, as did the confusingly-named Viva 90. Less than 12,000 Viva SLs (in both Viva and Epic form) were produced, with an unspecified number (but undoubtly low) number of them the hot 90. That makes this one a rare survivor indeed, with both the 90 and SL equipment, plus being a Canadian variant. [You Yanks struggling to relate: think ’69 Pontiac GTO The Judge with Ram Air IV. PN]

As for the engineering of the Viva/Epic, it was a highly conventional and straight forward RWD machine, as its 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 was unique. The front suspension used a front transverse leaf spring just like the Opel, and not totally unlike a modern day 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 brakes of the 90, but there were a few other changes over the basic model besides the engine, as the moniker SL stood for Super Luxury. Some assorted extra body trim was part of that lofty definition, and most noticeable was the grill and rear tail light cluster, which featured triple round lights that were considered quite sporty for the day. [Yanks: now think Impala. ED]

Back to this particular example: I actually spotted it a couple years at a tow company storage yard, but now its moved to a muffler shop giving me hope that someone is preparing to get it back on the road. And it may not be the most stellar car, but the world’s automotive diversity is better for its continued existence.

PN’s note: This car happens to be for sale, along with a supercharged Chevy 4.3 motor. Be the envy of your friends with this Epic find!

Curbside Classics will consider guest submissions for cars that are almost certainly not going to ever be found by myself, or are particular historical or cultural significance. Contact me at [email protected]

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44 Comments on “Curbside Classic Canadian Visitor Edition: 1966 (Vauxhall) Envoy Epic...”

  • avatar

    Wow. What a find. Never seen or heard of it. Looks like a Trabant from the side.

    Thanks for the rare look.

  • avatar

    No wonder we couldn’t figure this one out. As much as I followed Canadian cars as a child (just as much, if not more, than American) a brand called Envoy was completely off my radar. I have a feeling that I was calling it a Vauxhall Envoy at the time.

  • avatar

    Cool! I’ll now be on the lookout for any surviving examples of the Dacias, Lada Nivas, Hyundai Ponys and Stellars, or Skodas that used to ply Canadian roads. Of these, I’ve only spotted a Niva in the last decade.

    • 0 avatar

      Impressive. I thought I was the only one who remembered Dacia’s presence in Canada. Last Dacia I saw was at the corner of Dundas and Ossington in Toronto, in about 1995. It was the pickup version.

      As for Ladas Niva and a Signet (wagon) are still at large in my area.

      In about 1980, the cab company in the town where I grew up decided to trade in their Ford LTDs for a fleet of Lada sedans. A brave experiment, but the cars were not cherished as they would be in Mother Russia, and they died young.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve owned a Hyundai Stellar – 5spd/1.6L – remarkably nice car. Or maybe I just had low expectations going in. The Pony was definitely made cheaper. Still a number of Nivas around. The Ladas sedans are quite rare now. Once and a while I’ll see a Samara in the scrapyard. Dacias weren’t sold out west so I can’t remember ever seeing one. From what I have heard they where extremely low quality. Only seen one Skoda in the last five years. The one I’d really like to see is a Manic GT but can’t be more than a handful left.

  • avatar

    Wow…155R12 tires…16s on that thing would look like dubs.

    I thought the grille had a mid-60s GM look to it, but I was way off; I was looking at C-series pickups before I gave up.

  • avatar

    I feel better now about being clueless. The picture had me thinking of my Uncle’s old Chevy II, but the emblem, in the upper grill frame ruled it – and any other vehicle I could think of for that mater – out. Now I know why. Well played

  • avatar

    That’s Beaumont, David.

    Ah, the rebadged Chevelle. There’s only about 600 of these at any given Canadian car show in summer.

  • avatar

    I read a blog that said that these were also make in Australia as the Holden Torana. This person’s family actually owned one. Poor souls.

  • avatar

    Our local pizza parlor used Envoy Epic’s as delivery vehicles and I was lucky enough to get a job as a driver. I had a great time tearing around town in this fun little car. It had the tendency to wind up on it’s rear springs when launched rapidly and fast cornering caused the body to lean excessively. An exuberant driver was the probable cause.

  • avatar

    Ha! When I was a kid with a paper route the newspaper distributer in my town had one of these. With the rear seat removed he could pack in quite a few bundles of newspapers, but all that weight in the rear made riding with him on deliveries something akin to a circus ride :)

  • avatar

    I bought one of these in a basket for $50.00 around 1980, after re-assembly I didn’t keep it very long ’cause it was sooo gutless. The thing I remember best was the stubby gearshift. It was about 4″ long as I recall. I sold it to a fella who wanted to transplant a
    v-6 into it. Another one of those cars I look back at and wish I had kept.

  • avatar

    oh. my. gawd. (I’m reacting to mine as well as others’ efforts to figure this thing out from the clue, and what it really turned out to be.)

    Yes, it does look like a Trabant.

  • avatar

    What a quaintly curious little car. I’d take one if I had a Leno collection :)

  • avatar
    Dan R

    We had a 1965 Viva in Ireland from 1970 to 1975. The passenger foot well rusted out and the gearbox went. It did not age well. A nice city car but lots of vibration on the open road. Replaced it with a new canary yellow Renault 5TL. It was a quantum leap forward.

  • avatar
    Gardiner Westbound

    British GMs and Fords were popular in Canada in the ’50s and ’60s. Though most Vauxhalls were horrible I remember the Viva/Epic models were reasonably reliable and durable. Though 44 HP and 60 HP engines are yuk-worthy now, it was a pavement scorcher compared to the competing 36 HP VW beetle. The much bigger and heavier 1960 Corvair had only 80 HP.

  • avatar
    Light Parade

    Wow, haven’t seen one of those over here in England for a LONG time – probably the 1970s. Vauxhalls simply weren’t built to last in those days, and the only widely cherished model was the late 50s Cresta.

  • avatar
    Uncle Mellow

    Vauxhalls first small car,the HA Viva looked remarkably similar to the contemporary Opel Kadett , tho’ no body parts seemed to be common.One had the impression that GM HQ sent a sketch of how the car should look to both the German and English companies , and they went their own ways from there.These cars vanished very quickly in the UK ( the HB Viva that followed was much more attractive) but the van version stayed in production for many years and might still be spotted .Not really worth preserving.

  • avatar

    “Epic” LOL!

  • avatar

    What is being sold in Canada that we don’t get in the States these days?

  • avatar

    Well done! (BTW, what wine goes best with crow?)

  • avatar

  • avatar

    From the side it’s proportions look like a 60’s era funny car, with the long rear overhang and the stubby front. As my 16 yr old daughter would say “epic fail!”

    • 0 avatar

      You got that right.

    • 0 avatar

      @parts: The 60’s funny car/gasser is what came to mind when I saw the side view of this car, too! It would be great fun to build a 7/8 ths gasser out of this thing. Find an old small block Chevy, dress it up with some Hilborn injectors poking out of the hood, add a ‘Glide, get a straight axle for the front, the rear axle is already indexed, just replace it with something that could stand the torque. Take it to all of the outlaw 1/8 th mile tracks and have a blast!

  • avatar
    Jerry Sutherland

    I remember seeing these cars all over the place in the 60s, but the Canadian winters took them down faster than a lion on a zebra’s throat.
    The early 70s Epics were worse-they ran at a Vega level.

  • avatar

    Slinging parts at a Chevy Dealer in Vancouver during the early ’70s meant constantly selling many many timing chain tensioners and guides for these little beasts. The real rockets were the Epic and Viva GT’s, which had the 120 c.i or 2 liter. These all went away though, when the Vega (koff) came along.

  • avatar

    Was the Vauxhall marque ever marketed in the U.S.? As a teen in the 70s I remember our neighbors – in Dallas – having an early-to-mid 60s Vauxhall, a little beige two-door. Who knows, they could have driven it down from Canada. They traded it for a Maverick or Dart, can’t remember which.

    • 0 avatar

      IIRC Vauxhall was ‘twinned’ with Pontiac in the states in the late 50’s early 60’s. But apparently it didn’t do very well. It certainly didn’t last as long as Buick/Opel did, into the mid 70’s. I haven’t seen a Vauxhall in many years.

      I could understand how the relationship would last longer in Canada, as Canadians used to be crazy about Pontiacs up there. But I wasn’t aware of a separate marque called Envoy. You learn something new every day.

  • avatar

    Is this the real origin of the term “epic fail”? Alert Wikipedia and the Urban Dictionary. That is the most boring looking car I have ever seen. It makes Chevettes and Trabants look uber sexy. It is so much more boring than its physical volume would normally allow, that it distorts the space-time continuum, creating a sort of boredom singularity, from which nothing can escape. Not even the oxygen in the room. In fact I’m having trouble breathing right now, so maybe I should step away from the monitor . . .

    • 0 avatar
      Light Parade

      Not sure about “epic fail”; sure, these cars had zero charisma and rotted fast, but Vauxhall sold over 300,000 of them in three years in the UK. The model launched the Viva name, which kept going to 1979 as their Anglia/Escort competitor. Way more successful than, say, the Hillman Imp or the base Triumph Herald.

    • 0 avatar

      @Light Parade — just because Vauxhall sold a crapload of something doesn’t mean it was any good. As I recall they found a way to pawn a lot of Cavaliers onto the unsuspecting British public. The main difference between the US and UK Cavaliers, as best I could tell from a couple of trips across the pond, was the paint on the UK ones turned to chalk even faster.

  • avatar

    I can barely remember my next door neighbour having one of these, same colour too. It got replaced in 1970 or 71 with a newer model Viva, but that one almost instantly exploded with rust and disappeared. This is a cute little car, looks like the offspring of a Funny Car and a Kleenex Box. I was wondering how this one survived, but it’s in Lethbridge AB, dry prairie car.
    Great V8 Viva video here:

  • avatar

    A friend of mine had an Epic Envoy which we aptly named the “Epidemic”.
    My only memory of that car is one of doing a really hard and fast shift from 3rd to 4th gear trying to get the most out of that 50 hp engine and actually yanking the shifter out of the floor…..funny at the time……but not to the owner who was sitting in the passenger seat and had just got done telling all of us what a great car the Epic was!

  • avatar
    Light Parade

    Sure, the Viva was a horrible car, but it wasn’t a failure from any fiscal or brand standpoint (yup, the Vauxhall brand was that strong).

    I had a MkII Cavalier in the 80s, an Opel Ascona made in (I think) Belgium, again it looks as though they’ve all rotted away now, but mine was a perfectly acceptable junior manager’s hatchback.

    Worst mishap was when I hit a pot of white paint at some speed, on the intersection outside London’s Natural History Museum. The car was black; it belonged to the company, so I just coloured over the spashes with magic marker. The splat was on the road for years afterwards.

  • avatar

    My 1st car was a 68 Vauxhall Viva. Loved it. Very underpowered, but tough as could be & well built. Up steep hills was always a power loosing effort. The thing would run for ever on next to no gas & that was important to a 16 ear old with limited funds. It did get the rustys, but the car was so simple, it was an easy fix. I miss it. I would fill it up & drive all over the place (I was 16, so I mean all over the place) for never less than 3 weeks before adding gas again. It was like clockwork. It was never a babe magnet, but to have at car at 16 meant I got the girls. Lots of good memories.

  • avatar

    I know I’m a year behind but if anyone out there sees another 1966 Epic, or knows of one for sale anywhere in Canada I am interested. Contact me at  [email protected]

  • avatar

    My Dad had one of these when I was 18. I used to fishtail (drift) it, and smoked the tires in 1st & 2nd even with the crappy 44 hp. engine. I got a ticket for Dangerous Driving in it – drifted around a corner and hit 70 mph (flat out top speed) in a 45 zone. The cop claimed he had to do 100 to catch me. When I blew a gear in the trans, Dad made me fix it. The trans wouldn’t come out with the engine in place so I stood on the shock towers and dead lifted the engine out by the intake manifold. Sorry I didn’t see this when the original post went up – fun car.

  • avatar
    bill mcgee

    My main awareness of the Vauxhall is thru Matchbox cars I had as a kid in the fifties . Also , my uncle was a small town Pontiac dealer who actually stocked a few of the Vauxhall Victors . I remember riding with him a time or two in a Victor wagon they used as a demo , and we used it for tailgating at a beach cook-out .The later versions I don’t remember ever seeing , tho I bought a Matchbox version of one at a garage sale recently . The later versions didn’t sell very well in the U.S. Opels seemed to sell well from the beginning , by contrast even tho it really is practically the same car but styled a bit better .

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