The Infinite Grease Monkey Theorem | Part Two | 20 Minute Read

Infinite Grease Monkey Theorem Part Two

A Fox In The Henhouse

This part of the story covers, dare I say, a unique once in a lifetime experience for those involved. There were so many lessons to be learned by every single one of us caught up in the events of that day in Oudtshoorn, that it collectively changed our idea of what was possible. Put simply, I am pretty sure the outcome of the Ranger project (posted June 17th & July 3rd), which started just a month after the happenings in this particular story, would have been materially different had this event not gelled the team the way it did.

The tale naturally again covers the exploits of the Kadett, but at a human level tells a story about one very special person and his willingness to help others…..and without whom this would never have happened.

Shortly after the happenings described in Part One of this tale I was seconded from GM Engineering to the Chev Dealer Team in Jo’burg to help in the prep of the Can Ams for the upcoming Springbok series. That terminated any further work or racing on the Kadett during the latter part of 1973. The following year, whilst I did compete, there was not too much focus either due to work loads and life shifting to more personal matters and marriage to Sandy around mid year.

My good friend and racing team mate Lionel Rowe had, however, tried to keep me involved and on arriving at Rowes service station one afternoon confronted me with the spare 5 speed Broadspeed Anglia/Hewland gearbox……being very insistent that this device be fitted to the Kadett. This is a very special man. Considering that I was something of a propeller head at the time, he had provided me with the grounding necessary to make more of the Kadett than I would have if given free air. If ever there was something the little car needed it was a close ratio transmission. In truth I would have given my eye teeth for a racing box but I could not accept the offer. Lionel had no spares other than that complete ‘box and I felt it to be sacrilege to dilute the rather unique heritage  of the Anglia …….Undeterred….. Lionel was to do something that resulted in an absolutely unique outcome for the Kadett. A few days later and in exactly the same way, another present….a complete downport F2 Cosworth cylinder head. The part was somewhat worse for wear in that it had cracked badly and could not be repaired but complete with valves, springs, and titanium retainers.

This time it was a keeper, the parts not able to be used in the  original application due to differences   between the Cosworth and Holbay versions of the ‘head (valve margins also almost knife edged). The valve diameters were bigger than I could fit into the Kadett head and therefore needed to be turned down but valve springs, retainers, valve lengths, even down to 7mm stem diameters…perfect. This was the opportunity I had been looking for and could now increase bore size and a further step up on valve diameters. That visit to Kingsley some years before had set me on the right path on the issue of Cylinder head work and by this time I did have a handle on things and could not wait to get my paws into the job.

To cut a long story short there were three major changes, firstly the increase in engine size from the 0riginal 993cc to 1160cc by utilising a 1078cc German engine block (from my road car) bored to fit a set of Vauxhall Viva pistons. Secondly the careful cyl head work to incorporate those Cosworth parts, Valve sizes now 35.5 by 30.5  (parts turned down from 39.5 and 35) with valve springs and titanium retainers. (The theoretical max Rpm point of this set-up was easily over 10000rpm). The third mod was the use of Cosworth A6 profiles on the Opel cam at 106 degree lobe split. In a way I guess we could say that the engine ended with a bit of Cosworth DNA in there somewhere. Compression would ideally have needed to be around 13:1 but again due to part availability I was stuck with 11.9:1. As a result I ran the cam fairly well advanced.

This was happening around August of 1974 and a visit to the Dyno necessary to do some recalibration. After fitting larger choke tubes and set up, the results were tremendous, not only in power and torque increases being greater than expected but engine response at medium rpm was the biggest winner. Certainly driving the car in short bursts on roads near to Lionel’s shop tended to be a bit eye watering compared to the 993.  ( an impromptu ¼ mile run yielded a 14.8)

Then, a gap in proceedings until that memorable Tuesday afternoon in September 1974. Up to that point the car had not been used in anger with the new engine but had had a spray job, again courtesy of Lionel and his sponsors….. this tidied the Opel up to look like the rest of the team cars…. 113 was born….. Another good friend, the late Ken Fouche our GM stylist, had made a rather neat spoiler for the machine.

Opel Kadett Before 1963

Before

Opel Kadett 1963

After

The call came through to Experimental Engineering on that Tuesday afternoon from Lionel sounding a little concerned. “ Hello Paul, we have just found that the Anglia has a cracked piston and can’t get forgings in time for this weekends race, are you taking the Kadett to Oudtshoorn? ”

The answer was that I was not…. and that telephone call set in motion a surprising chain of events in our world of saloon car racing… The story worth recording just as it all happened.

At the time, Lionel was leading the Eastern Cape and Border saloon car championship, along with one other contender able to take the title in the last race. The problem on the Anglia now required that he find wheels to contest that final race of the year being run in Oudtshoorn at the week end. The decision for him to use the Opel was immediate and we set about prepping the car that very night.

Freddy was Lionel’s faithful mechanic on the Broadspeed and when we arrived to start work on the Opel it was clear that this chap was not himself. Having to help prep an Opel to try and rescue the championship for the Anglia was not on his agenda. Giving credit where due though, he set about doing the job along with the rest of us.

The car was cleaned up, the seat position changed, lubes changed, a check over and a quick check on the rolling road at GM…the machine was as ready as it was going to be I guess. The car was warmed up for Lionel to take a run down Kempston road outside the garage and adjacent to the Firestone tyre factory. All OK….as usual, Lionel got out smiling…”its fine”

B 113 was loaded onto the trailer… a trailer which had, until then, only carried the hallowed wheels of 111 the Broadspeed Anglia.   Freddy was recovering but still not happy…

Lionel and Freddy left for Oudtshoorn on Friday and arrived at the Motel adjacent to the track sometime that afternoon. In the meantime some hurried arrangements were made to get a support group together to leave after work on that Friday to get to Oudtshoorn late that evening. A four man team consisting of Gerry, Ashley, Doug and myself left on the excursion in the Chev 2500. The detail of that particular trip is recorded for posterity on a cassette recording made during the ride and kept in safe keeping pending any of the members wishing to break ranks. Shall we just say this tape can be used to illustrate the creeping onset of the effects that brown bottle sandwiches have on logic and any form of common sense.

On arrival in the metropolis of Oudtshoorn and not being able to find a suitable hamburger joint, we found our way to the Motel and joined the rest of the team…..and heard a story that we were going to have to see play out fully the next day. Evidently, upon arrival at the Motel earlier that afternoon, with the Kadett parked on a trailer clearly marked ‘111  Ford Broadspeed Anglia’ . Freddy, walking into reception, was confronted with a Leyland delegation from Cape Town on their way out…and who were making some not so complimentary remarks amongst themselves on seeing the Opel on the trailer. Freddy did, however, catch the comment “if this thing beats us tomorrow we will have to hand in our competition licences”…..to which he is reliably said to have confirmed that he would. That was the very best medicine for our friend Freddy who, up to that point had not yet got used to this Opel thing. I could see this was changed man and could feel something special coming on, he was now enthusiastic and things were getting competitive before the opening bell.  Thank you Leyland.

After a good breakfast, the morning had dawned clear and bright and we ventured to the track to find that there was a distinct Mini bias to the happenings for the day. Firstly the championship race had been split into two races….you guessed it….up to 1300 and over 1300. Secondly the group from Cape Town included two works cars from Leyland motorsport driven by the then W Cape Champion, the late Rodney Goldberg and team manager Tommy Gash. The cars were 1293 Cooper S race cars. These two cars, whilst running in the race would not compete for championship points.  The local Leyland dealer was very involved and for us to arrive thinking that this was going to be a normal event….no sir …given these machines and plenty of private Noddy cars, this was clearly ‘us’ vs British Leyland.

For Lionel, it was about getting second place or better in the 1300cc class in order to collect the championship. We figured he had a chance. His direct competitor for the title was Don Van Ginkel in the lightweight 1440 Cooper S, running in the 1600 class. Don needed a win in the 1600’s with Lionel to finish 3rd or worse in 1300 to collect the trophy.

In contention for the 1300 win for the day (excluding the Cape Town guys) were more minis than you could shake a stick at, most quick 1275/1293’s and a few smaller engine cars. There a were few Anglias and a Renault or two. With all contenders more or less known quantities, we knew it was going to be a tough call,  this being the first time we were running the Opel in the 1300 class. Really surprising was the fact we felt no pressure and had no wild expectations. Being considered underdogs was a nice place be, just being in the hunt seemed good enough.

A Word on Lionel :   Since knowing the man, I have considered him as the Stirling Moss of South African Motor Racing. Where Moss was probably the most talented F1 driver of his time not to win a world championship, Lionel was probably the most talented driver of his day not to secure a SA National championship. He should have, he is just that good. At the age of 42 at the time, he was dubbed the ‘old man’ but he was showing no sign of that on the track. An ex biker in his younger days, the Old Man had that ability to lift any car he was driving, his racecraft superb.

We arrived for timed practice and, apart from that blast passed Firestone, Lionel had never driven the car on track….  as he climbed in, he asked two questions:

“What’s max rpm?”  and

“Can I take the sweep at the end of the straight Flat?”

To the first, the answer was.. “8500”

To the second ..“I can’t….. but maybe you can!”

Lionel Rowe and Paul on

Lionel sitting on the ‘hood’ with Paul in serious discussion later in the day, in this chat we were plotting how to take on the BDA in that last race.

In truth, I knew that the rev limit on the engine would be determined by circumstance and the heat of battle, rev limiters were not standard issue in those days.., besides, the Kadett engine was about as bulletproof as you could get.  The mill was quite happy to buzz to over ‘9’ and I was not worried about the valve train or bottom end, however, in order to stretch it to 1160cc I had used standard Viva pistons (From the local Vauxhall engine). These modified only to take circlips for fully floating pins and substantial valve pockets to clear the new valve arrangement – crowns were a bit thin. It was a completely untried package but worth a shot before spending big $ on forgings….

Gearbox ratios were standard and the track quite short , so 2nd and 3rd gears would do most of the work and without question the tighter turns were going to need plenty of rpm in 2nd.

He set off.  He did just four laps – one out – two flying laps and an ‘in’. On the first flying lap we were convinced he had lost it, with a serious dust cloud erupting from the sweep at the end of the straight.. he had taken it flat first time out and had to back off to keep things together! …. The Kadett appeared a few seconds later … he had made it. One more lap, no dust this time, a slow down lap and he pulled into the pits and parked it.

With that characteristic Lionel Rowe shrug of his shoulders and huge grin on his face, he stepped out of the car and said ‘Its fine, don’t touch it”……remarkable….. it could not have been that good…. in fact it wasn’t and a testament to Lionel. The track was bumpy and one particular bump on trailing throttle knocked the car out of third gear….his solution? He stuck his knee under the gearlever at that point every lap…..done….We did not hear of this problem until later that night.

THE LEYLAND PLAN CORRUPTED

It was becoming really apparent that this race day had been set up by the organizers and local dealer as something of a Mini benefit and I do not mean that as a negative. All of us in motorsport have been to race days where (situational) a particular brand has the upper hand and a VW, Toyota or BMW day is on the cards. In this case it was BL with the works cars from Cape Town leading the charge.. The fun had started because the plan was beginning to unravel.

Lionel’s time on his single clean lap was faster than we had even hoped for (within a second of his best time in the Broadspeed), we felt pretty good about being somewhere in the first two rows and waited for the grid to be posted. The first we knew something of the outcome, however, was by ‘pit pigeon’. Along came two guys, one from race control and the other recognized as one of the Mini brigade,  asking whether we were going to “keep the grid position allocated to us” …. “Áre you sure that is your time – some of the other competitors are unhappy” … (and rightly they should have been)…. Ashley Benn our time keeper for the day hauled out his stopwatch and showed them the 57.2…..they scooted, not looking too happy.

It turned out that the local Leyland crew had been ‘stirring the pot’, even walking down to the Kadett and demanding to see the engine… We had not seen the official times at that stage but from the tension in the Mini camp we realized that the Kadett had upset the applecart.

Times were posted a few minutes later….. and Lionel had put the Kadett on the front row of the grid alongside the pole man Goldberg and ahead of the second works car and the rest of the Minis!    Our own times agreed with the official timekeepers –  Lionel had pulled the Kadett onto the pace in one clean lap!

The significance of what had just happened was not lost in the moment.

For us, we had just witnessed one of those quiet moments of driving genius seldom seen & which make adventures of this nature a once in a lifetime experience. For the other competitors, there were two camps, those who were a little rattled and those who were convinced the timekeepers had got it wrong.

We knew Lionel had a second or more in him once he got to know the car.

This gave me a new perspective on the issue of what really good driving was all about….Just how many drivers out there can get into an unknown car and hook up the ultimate capability of the machine almost immediately.  He was to demonstrate this uncanny ability again in the Ranger two months later. From being a source of much jest the day before, the Kadett became the focus of plenty of attention and the pit was suddenly kind of “busy”.

The stirrers were trying to get Freddy to open the hood, he refused and muttered something again about competition licences! The one thing that seemed to be of interest to many, was the sound the car made. Outside of the Ivor Raasch BDA Escort, the intake noise was the most urgent of any car there, the 46IDA Weber having a unique bark and the exhaust note crisp and high pitched, nothing like the flat sort of sound characteristic of minis.

Interest in the Kadett had gone from “what is this thing…..?” to “what engine is in the Kadett – can’t be an Opel engine!” The stereotypical approach to anything other than accepted racing cars was laid bare, as it was so often in those times…

We were being called to the grid for the championship race and there it was – an ‘A’ body Opel Kadett parked on the front row next to the quickest 1300s in Western, Eastern Cape and Border.  For those who may be reading this and have no understanding of the racing psyche in the early 1970’s in SA, Opels on race tracks were about as frequent as snow storms in summer. To have an Opel mixing it with ‘acceptable’ racing brands like Ford, BMC and Renault was akin to treason. Whilst standing at the Grid, somebody next to me was quite explicit “waar die XXX kom hierdie ding vandaan” ….. translated…. “where the XXXX did this thing come from!!”

Race One

AS a characteristic, the unique rear suspension layout of this little car resulted in huge traction off the line, and without doubt, had there been a good start, Rodney would not have known what hit him on the dash to the first turn. In years of racing the car, one thing was cast in stone, few cars could get off the line quicker, Minis were not on that shortlist….

It didn’t turn out that way !

The flag dropped…… and the Kadett was left stranded on the grid.  Lionel had found a problem with a safety belt and in the process of sorting it, mistimed the start…the car stalled.

At that point we watched as the field zipped passed the Opel. Once the car fired up, it’s hard to say exactly what position it was in, but at the start of the second lap, a pile of cars went passed the pits before we heard the howl of the IDA.

It was Minis one to five, with the two works cars from Cape Town in one and two…. and the Kadett in around 9th place. It was an 8 lap race.

The feeling we had at that point was understandably glum, but could be best described as an opportunity lost…. we all got down to the job of timing and pit boards. I guess all who have been involved in this game know the feeling deep in your gut when a golden opportunity has just slipped through your fingers!

Clearing the backmarkers race 1

Clearing the pack, note the spoiler removed…this was a slow circuit & bumpy

Very soon, the Kadett appeared again, starting the third lap – but this time, we knew something was up. Ashley had a watch on the leading car and all he said was “Lionel can close this down”. Incredibly, the Kadett was in 6th place and had taken good time off the leading Mini.  Lap times were removed from the pit board and only the gap to the Goldberg Mini shown… + GO!…  corny I know,   but what else does one do?

We were then treated to a driving demonstration of note. I have never seen overtaking quite like it. Lionel proceeded to pick off cars like ripe plums, taking all comers under brakes, on the outside of turns and down the straight  – all the time taking time off the leading duo and eventually having to mix it with stragglers.

The pic below was taken on the 4th lap with the Kadett taking the Kapelus 1293 at turn 5 for 4th place. Just have a good look at the opposite lock on the front wheels of the Mini as the tail steps out. Barry had to watch Lionel drive round the outside!!

Round theoutside - Opel Kadett 1963

Taking the Kapelus 1293 for 4th place

For a moment imagine the scene,

Prior to the day’s racing, most of the gathered enthusiasts, both racers and spectators alike, would have arrived to a normal days racing. I would guess that most of those in the know, had a picture of what they thought was going to happen. They were about to enjoy a day in which the biggest variation on the theme was going to be which Ford, Mini or Renault was going to do what, to who.  There was a privately modified Firenza V8 and a few 2,5’s which were running in the big classes but apart from that, the mini brigade that day had figured they had this lot pretty well tied up!!

At about the time the below pic was taken, the buzz in the pits was audible and the support the Kadett was getting from the pit wall, surprising. The normally reserved spectator groups were standing and cheering every time the car came by.

Opel Kadett_Lap 3

3rd place and going…At this point leading the EP cars, Lionel had the championship in the bag…and should/could have backed off….I think the red mist had come down and he was after those competition licenses promised the day before.

Lap 6

Towards the end of lap six , the first real contest was about to unfold, the No 2 works Mini was in Lionel’s gun sights. The Kadett closed the gap between the two cars down the straight,  they were nose to tail entering turn 4. At this point Lionel could/should have backed off.. in leading the E Cape and Border runners, keeping this position would have ensured the championship…..nope!!

It’s turn 5 again and Lionel simply takes the ‘brick’ – our watches say the old man can haul the leading car in… but in motor racing the script is never that easy is it? There is another twist to the tale…

A stone is shot up, hits and shatters the Kadett’s w/screen alongside the Mini (Kadett still fitted with a toughened screen & not laminated) – all Lionel can see is white. .. he is in the process of passing in the left hander and he has only peripheral vision of the right hander leading into the straight….

The Old Man, cool as you like, simply puts his gloved fist through the shattered glass and keeps his foot in it. He can see through a hole about a foot in diameter and the engine says he is serious as he comes passed the pits starting lap 8.

With one lap to go it was quite a spectacle. As the Kadett came passed, the crowd on both sides of the track were seriously involved, Lionel looking through the hole in the screen to see the track….. In the pits our men were going berserk – the two leading cars within 10 meters of one another and our team standing on anything we could find to see the outcome at the back of the track. The Kadett closed on Goldberg quickly and as they turned into the last corner he was on the Mini’s tail.  The two cars stormed passed us, Lionel alongside and just a nose short at the line. The Mini had hung on by a whisker…I figure it was those frog eyes again.

 

 

THE PITS AFTER RACE ONE

Pandemonium. When the car turned into the paddock, we were besieged by what seemed like everyone in pit lane…. the Capetonians and the local Leyland men a bit shotblasted by the outcome.

It was at that point that Rodney came over to greet Lionel,  a good memory of the day being the sportsmanship shown by the Leyland works guys after the race, sure, the Mini won the race, but Lionel’s pace had left everyone stunned and had embarrassed the Mini contingent no end.

My concern was whether Lionel had got any of those glass splinters in his eyes. Fortunately he always drove with his characteristic dark glasses which had lenses that virtually cupped his eye sockets and fitted tightly around his eyes….lucky all clear.

Rodney asked to see the engine. By this time, a good few of the crews were mumbling about how it would be impossible for the engine to be a 1300. “no Opel can go like that….” The confusion surrounding the car heightened by the fact that as a late entry, it did not show on the programme.

For those of you who have not seen an ‘A’ Kadett engine, it is small… and set well down in the engine bay. To see the engine with the unique ram tube arrangement of the IDA Weber pointing up to sky makes the engine look even smaller. Freddie relented….I can recall a groan of disbelief from the group as the hood was opened.

Kadett engine bay 1963

I have no pics of the IDA carbed engine.. but this is a more recent pic of the current Dellorto set up. Gives an idea of the installation.  See notes on this engine at the end of the story.

There are, however, a lot of good sensible guys in the sport and with some teams calling for an engine strip,  the whole thing was settled by one of the senior Cape Town men. I remember words to this effect “the way this thing revs there is no way it’s a big engine – give it up, they have done this fair and square”

The truth?   Bore 77.8 – Stroke 61 = 1160 cc

Lionel had the championship and there were still two races to go.

I am absolutely sure that everybody there that day would remember the fun of seeing something different.  People would walk across just to look at the car, shake their heads and walk away!

RACE TWO

The second race was a full field affair with all classes, notable only by the fact that the Works Minis had been withdrawn from the rest of the days events…. Lionel easily took his class and did some embarrassing things to the 1600’s but kept the engine revs down to save the car for the last race.

RACE THREE

For race three late in the day, the organizers had arranged a reverse starting order for classes.  The field had thinned out and only certain of the quicker cars in each class qualified to take part.  This put the 1000cc cars in front and the big guns at the back, the Kadett starting at the back of the 1300 class  –  7th on the grid – the right side of the track for turn 1, the sweep. Lionel and I had discussed the possibility of taking this race earlier and with the main objective for the day done, it was going to be a no holds barred thrash.

I know I should remember many more of the contenders for this race but in truth was only concerned with Ivor Raasch in the BDA Escort. With the Ford starting at the back of the 2 Litre class, it put him in around 19th place on the grid. This was an awesome car and easily the fastest there that day, also without doubt the fastest Escort in the country at the time. He had won the race for the big classes earlier – our plan was to stay ahead of the pack ….. The trick was going to be in getting to the front quickly.

Again, imagine the scene and ask any sane saloon car fan of the era, the odds…An eight lap race, a modified 1160cc 1965 Opel Kadett against a full house BDA Escort – 13 cars between them…Who would you put your money on?

The flag dropped and this time, Lionel got it spot on, simply out dragging the opposition – 3rd into the sweep & then took the two leading cars on the inside flat out, 1st into turn 2. The Kadett was on its way, Rowe having been told to use whatever rpm he needed. The Escort took three laps to break into clear air

The sun had set and dusk was settling in fast by the time the race was half way. Lionel no longer had a full pit crew – only the board giving the gap to the Escort, the rest of us left to watch from turn 2.

It was quite simply poetry. Again the crowd was going crazy, within four laps it was a fight to the finish between the two cars. Every lap the Kadett howling through turn 2 dead on line, flat out, with the right front wheel inches in the air & over the curb. Naturally the BDA was quicker  but could Ivor close it down? the sound of the two cars was goose bump material. Both  buzzing at  9 grand – and beginning to close on the stragglers. Watching them in that darkening sky was surreal. It was going to be a close run thing but the Kadett hung on to win by just a 50 yards! Rowe’s ability to carve his way through the back markers a convincing demonstration of a master at his craft.

My overpowering memory was the crowd. We were naturally happy at the turn of events for the day but were totally unprepared for the reaction of the crowd after that last race. Hooters, lights and people running to the side of the track on the slow down lap.

In the pits the local GM dealer had arrived, he and his contingent were beside themselves and demanded that the car be displayed in his showroom that night!

THE PRIZEGIVING

Lionel collected his trophy for the Championship…… Freddy collected some competition licences in good spirits from the Mini men…beyond that I don’t, for some strange reason, remember too much…

A word for our Mentor, however. The Kadett happened to be the right tool to do the job on the day….but….. If it was not for Lionel….not only his driving, but that steady demeanor, hugely positive persona and a willingness to help others, this would never have happened. Thank you Old Man.

SOME DETAILS YOU MAY FIND QUITE INTERESTING OUTSIDE OF ITEMS NOTED IN THIS STORY.

  • The stock Opel mechanicals: Engine block including Caps and Bolts, Crank, Con Rods, Con Rod Bolts, Timing Chain (gears and tensioner), Camshaft casting, Oil pump, Cylinder head casting, Lifters, Pushrods and Rockers. Pistons were Vauxhall Viva (70.7cid).
  • Gearbox ratios standard
  • Axle ratio 4.125 but 4.875 would have been ideal.
  • Front brakes: ’66 Kadett discs (DS 11)
  • Rear brakes: Stock drums (AM 8)
  • Tyres Dunlop treaded 12” CR84 …..(Mini Competitors using 13” Slicks)
  • Suspension: Uprated springs, Stock att points, altered geometry (Caster and Front Camber) – solid bushes, Front stab bar. Car very carefully “squared up”
  • No Limited Slip Differential
  • Rear axle anti-dive geometry brilliant at keeping the axle grounded under acceleration.

I guess something that really gets the point home is that during the period 1969 through to end 1974  I never had a failure on track….Engine, Gearbox or rear axle. Two close calls…. a damaged big end in my first race in 1969 due to not baffling the sump and a broken accelerator linkage in a 2 hour…repaired and went on to win on index. That’s it.

So…. There were many questions over the years centering around   “if its so good why has this Kadett not been raced by more people?”  well…. there was some interest in the period 1963 to 1965 which left behind one amazing stat for the record books.  The RDM 9 hour….7 starts and 6 classified finishes. Better still in the ‘63 and ‘64 events these 993cc cars finished 9th and 10th overall in a field of over 35 cars in both races. Arguably the best start/finish record of any saloon car in the history of the race…..Its arguable because the Renault guys claim rights to this…OK if you count the number of starts, the Renaults are way ahead….but…if you calculate the % finishes….the Kadetts are ahead with 85%. The single failure was a clutch lining coming apart.

In 1966, GM had to abide by the local content rules and built an engine plant to supply all the product being built in SA with local engines, excepting V8’s. This resulted in the British Vauxhall version of this engine being fitted to both the Viva and the Kadett in SA from then on. In standard set-up the engines were pretty much the same and had the same ultimate power potential, but the VM engine was “softer” in all the criticals. Cast crank and rods and whilst the same valve train design, the British could not match the German manufacturing quality. Many 200 hour durability runs had pushrods penetrating those pressed rockers!!!

I have modified many of both types and as far as Horsepower goes in a road car….no difference. In fact the best effort in the go faster world was with the Vauxhall engine….The Brabham Viva GTO of 1965. This was an effort by Brabham to convince Vauxhall to get into this thing seriously. At 1200cc and fitted with a close ratio gearbox, Autocar tests showed it to be quicker than a Lotus Cortina or 1275 Cooper S in acceleration and hit 105 mph at 7000rpm in top. Vauxhall got the jitters and canned that effort.

You may ask what happened after 1965 on track locally?…..GM happened…. and the infamous ‘no racing’ policy to Dealers. Many tuners, most notably George Armstrong, were really keen and trying to get the General involved but to no avail. That, ultimately is where the blame for not seeing the full potential of this engine design lies. Not only in SA but in the UK and Germany.

At this point, many of you may be thinking that this is just another  “the  older I get the faster I was” story and that is exactly what I would like to dispel. I have resurrected a project first started in 2012 (delayed due to the happenings of life ) to do it all again. You will appreciate that for us oldies  it is a bit scary doing stuff like this because one genuinely questions one’s own recollection of the past …..and I will be frank, what happens if we can’t replicate what we ‘remember’ to be the outcomes at the time?

Well this is what I have got for starters….and you be the judge…..

That is my road car (on road tyres 13”175/50 Yokies & drum brakes) giving a brace of Renault turbos a hard time. I was cheating a bit ‘cos under the bonnet was the first stab at an engine since the 70’s. A full house 1272cc version of the original utilizing a 1200 engine block from the first FWD ‘D’ Kadett. How fast really?… on a few of those laps waited for the red Megane out of the hairpin and pulled two car lengths before the sweep up the hill…. If I shifted to 4th at that point the Megane would hold station. If I held third to 9000rpm to a brake marker at the table top (97mph & not fair on a 35 year old crankshaft)… another car length.

New 1272 Opel Kadett

1272cc Split 45 Dellorto installation.

 

So, I am in the process of building a race car and as happens in these projects, things take longer than anticipated. Once the project gets some momentum I will post progress more regularly.

Our next tale will again be Ford/GM going back to the late 60’s and covering a subject that Fordies think they owned lock stock and barrel in the development of the FVA and DFV. Don’t be so sure guys, the General was not asleep in the area of 4 valve tech and we will cover the development of an engine in GM’s armory that made one sit up and take notice……this one carries with it one of the greatest ironies in engine development ever.

See you again next week for….Boiling Water

By | 2017-11-24T10:11:26+00:00 August 27th, 2017|Categories: A Different Corner, The Opel Kadett|Tags: , , , , , , |10 Comments

About the Author:

I have been in the motor industry all my life and despite spending 20 odd years with Datsun/Nissan, remain a GM man at heart.

10 Comments

  1. Bruce Meaker August 28, 2017 at 2:48 pm - Reply

    Classic

  2. Anton August 28, 2017 at 7:00 pm - Reply

    Great post Paul, makes entertaining reading, Thanks.

  3. Robby Larkan August 28, 2017 at 7:37 pm - Reply

    Super don’t miss the next exciting episode. Thanks read and enjoyed every word and I was a mini fanatic.

  4. Hamish September 3, 2017 at 11:50 am - Reply

    Hi Paul, do you know whatever became of this car? Last I saw it , it was in Circular drive P.E. Early 80’s

    • Paul Clark September 17, 2017 at 10:10 am - Reply

      Hello Hamish apologies for late response. I sold the car in 1975 and the fellow who bought it had the misfortune of setting it alight somehow via a petrol fire. As best I understand it was a wreck so do not know what happened to it after that. The sad thing is that I don’t think these folk were proper racers and were ‘had’ for alcohol in the pits shortly after I sold and had to race the car for them at their first attempt. Already it suffered badly in having the exhaust exiting the RF fender for some reason and it had lost huge power. I have some pics of the sorry state the car was in at that race. Kind regards, Paul

  5. THEO COETZER September 7, 2017 at 7:54 pm - Reply

    Hi Paul, what an interesting read. I enjoyed it so much. I stumbled accross your blog on someone sharing it on FaceBook this afternoon and decided to take a peep … well I just loved it. Both the Kadett stories are excellent. Will read the other articles when I get time and I would love to have a cuppa with you sometime for a leisurely chat. Keep up the good work mate and tell us more about those golden years.

    • Paul Clark September 17, 2017 at 10:03 am - Reply

      Thank you Theo glad you enjoy. Let me know if there is anything in particular that you think we should cover and if I can will put something together.

  6. Maurice Rosenberg September 11, 2017 at 8:26 pm - Reply

    Paul, very well written !!! and, that engine, absolutely stunned me !!!! It just goes on and on !!!! I all those years ago never ever gave it a first or , even a second thought !!

  7. CraigJ September 20, 2017 at 2:24 pm - Reply

    I thoroughly enjoy reading all your stories. Thank you so much for sharing them.

  8. Bob Holcombe January 3, 2018 at 7:18 pm - Reply

    My late Borg-Warner/Gearmax fellow executive and friend, Eldred Bischoff would have enjoyed this article as much as I have. Well written and illustrated.

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