A car mad Belfast teenager finishes project that had been shelved for a decade, in time for one of the provinces biggest car shows, DubShed.

Meet Rory McClay and his Vauxhall Viva that rips up the Haynes Manual of conventional restoration in favor of a custom rat-mod look with more horses than the Cheltenham Festival.

When I was in my mid-teens, I was almost certainly trying hard to injure myself on my BMX or heading into the woods with my mountain bike and a shovel to build jumps.

But for 16-year-old Rory, life outside school is all about learning to do metal work and welding, tracing wiring looms and making the old talk to the new, and spending time in the workshop with his Dad, also Rory, whose fault it is that Rory has this project to start with.

“I used to be the Rep for the [Viva] Owners Club in Northern Ireland,” states Dad. “But obviously I fell out of touch of the cars a wee bit. They rang me and said, ‘Rory, there’s a Viva HA-SL down in Enniskillen. If you want it, go down and buy it. If you don’t, the club will buy it off you for parts.’

“There’s under five, or maybe under ten of them left in the UK. Rory was only two or three at the time and we hooked up a trailer with the Zafira VXR that we had the time, and went down, bought it, and brought it back.

“The original plan was just to get it up and running, and fully restored. But then we realised how rare the parts are for it. It’s just a nightmare. You can’t get anything for it. You can’t get trim, you can’t get wings you can’t get anything. You can get some serviceable engine parts, but that’s it.”

With all of this in mind, the planned changed to stripping the car and making it structurally sound, whilst removing the engine and fitting a modern 2.0-litre 16v Vauxhall ‘red top’ engine to what is a very rare car.

But soon after stripping the Viva, it lay unloved for a short time until young Rory started to take an interest in it. With said interest, Rory took the opportunity to get his son involved in the car at a very young age by giving him we stupid jobs to do such as sanding certain areas of the car whilst he worked on other cars.

After some time passed, young Rory found more interest in games console and with that, less time was spent in the shed or anywhere near the Viva. With floor space at a premium, and a lot of other projects on the go, Rory had the Viva forklifted onto a scaffold rack to keep it safe and out of the way.

There it stayed until 2016, when a change of yard and rented workspace was happening, and the Viva was one of the few cars that wasn’t sold off during the down-size. Friends Darragh and Fred helped with the moving and storage of what was kept, and some four years later Rory needed workshop space again having bought a Bedford van.

At this point, the Viva was young Rory’s car and it was one that would never be for sale. But it was thanks to the Bedford, and young Rory leaving the games console in favor of helping his dad with that project, that the Viva fire was reignited.

Having figured out and completed all of the wiring, the brake lines, and the fuel lines on the Bedford Van, the schoolboy was learning fast and his dad promised him that was the van was complete and out and about, that they would get stuck into the Viva.

It wasn’t long until the two Rory’s got stuck in, and with no engine for the Viva, buying back a VX220 turbocharged that they’d sold some years before was the first thing to be done. It was at this point that the learning recommenced for young Rory as a Nissan S14 manifold was cut and shut with the VX manifold allowing them to mount a large Garrett GT Turbo.

Also paired to the engine is an Open Manta 1800S gearbox, a Manta prop shaft, and a Manta differential which has been cut down by 3-inches each side in order to fit, with the half shafts shortened by OD Cars. Struggling to find anyone that could re-spline these, young Rory got to work with the Dremel and got them sorted.

Suspension wise, they have fitted and plumbed Harley-Davidson air-bags at the front, which work well with the single leaf spring that is now merely there to support a few things. The rear axle air-bag supports were fabricated by themselves and a pair of Tesla air tanks are mounted proudly on the rear shelf and visible through the back window.

Along with the big turbo, the powertrain is supported with a large alloy radiator and front mount intercooler. But what’s most fascinating about this build, is that the engine and lighting are all controlled from a MkV Vauxhall Astra VXR ECU and key. Complete with OBD II port for diagnostics.

The dash area isn’t fully complete yet, as they had a very unplanned engine rebuild to do in the days leading up to DubShed, but the steering column, clocks, light controls, and wiper/indicator stalks are all from the modern Astra, with the 60’s steering wheel affixed. The modern parts in the cabin still need fettled with to blend in a little more.

Unlock the car via the key, and the relevant lights flash as they would on a modern motor. The interior lighting dims after a delay, as per a modern car etc. you get the idea as to just how much tracing of the modern loom young Rory has done, to achieve all of these features to link into the original fittings of the Viva.

When asked if the motor trade is his likely calling when leaving school, young Rory said, “I suppose it’s a hobby, because I’ve applied for plumbing apprenticeship in Belfast Met, so cars would just be on the side like every weekend you would go up and work on them.”

Towards the end of the build, an old pal of Rory’s, Chris, got involved to help young Rory with the diagnostics and computing end of things with this incredibly unique build. Getting drivers and software up to date as well as troubleshooting things like the fly-by-wire throttle that was having a tantrum.

Future plans for the Viva are somewhat unknown, as young Rory has just started into saving another project from certain death thanks to an unkind rust fairy. But down the line, somewhere, the Viva may well get treated to a 4-link rear end and an MX-5 tubular subframe at the front which will remove the transverse leaf spring and allow for proper brakes to replace the current drums.


Graham is a photojournalist and motoring writer with over 20 varied years of coverage from manufacturer press launches to international motorsport and motoring events throughout the world. Graham is a full member of the Guild of Motoring Writers and Ulster Motor Writers Association.