1965 Opel Kadett Racer

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Killarney Racer
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Re: 1965 Opel Kadett Racer

Post by Killarney Racer » Tue 22 Feb 2011, 14:00

Great stuff 993. I agree 100% that we need to see diversity of the track. Sadly too many people think about winning and so we get the same old Escorts and Alfas being built for racing.

Years ago there was a black Ranger SS that raced at Killarney.

Who is this in the picture you posted?

Seeing that historic racing is class based, one could enter almost any car and if properly prepared it could win its class.

So how about some of the following cars that have been raced in this country.

FordZodiac Mk3
Ford Corsair
Chrysler Valiant
Austin A40
Fiat 1500
Stud Lark

....the list goes on....

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Re: 1965 Opel Kadett Racer

Post by VMX » Tue 22 Feb 2011, 19:29

993 Kadett wrote:Positive comments guys and I think we should push for even more diversity in the mix. How about the Ford lads coming up with a replica Zephaxie - Guscotts machine of the 60's, now that was one beautifully made car! You mention 4 cyls hiding away ...... the cage has been rattled so I’ve got another one for you. Take a peek at this ….any ideas on the car, the racing that particular day and the background to this very unusual machine. Be warned I did say that I may have a view of history a little different to the established norm we have been fed & I will probably get some good natured flak from both Ford and GM Firenza 2.5 fans of the time…. but unfortunately I can’t change the facts. If you want to know, this is a real good one……….P
Suspicion this Ranger has a 2500 Cortina engine if you you are so right that's just something of no interest not for circuit racing. Stockcar dirt Oval fine a big part of that form of racing was family outing and entertainment. Having said that I have no time for FORD's I'd puke at the idea of a 2500 Chev motor in a Cortina. :evil: :oops: Mix a Galaxi and Zepher up fine or an Impala and Kommando but no not this not if that is "Powered by FORD". :twisted: :evil: :twisted:

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Re: 1965 Opel Kadett Racer

Post by 993 Kadett » Tue 22 Feb 2011, 22:35

My sentiments exactly VMX but Nope….. this car is firstly, believe it or not, not only a genuine 2.5 four banger but the very first Ranger… ever… the original Ranger prototype. It started life as an Opel Rekord off the assembly line in PE and found its way to the styling studio to be converted to a Ranger in the late 60’s. The then boss of the styling studio, an American Jim Ewen (singularly the only exec in the place with petrol in his veins at the time), completed the styling job and after all the obligatory styling approvals, photo shoots and ad shots the car was then put out to pasture. It stood at the back of the Product Engineering Dept for a year before it was put to good use again.
Jim came through to the workshop one day and expressed his displeasure at the fact that apart from the Kadett there were no GM products doing the business at the local drag meets. could we do something on the quiet?......
This was like God talking directly to us.......The discussion that took place covered a few options but we figured that it would be a good idea to use the Ranger to take on the newly introduced Capri V6's at the strip. A “special project for the styling studio” was put together and after co opting a few of the key managers to keep their mouths shut, the car was made available to us trainees to build a ¼ mile car. This was a very secretive affair because as I said before, we had to keep the car from the racing police. We built the Ranger at night in unpaid overtime under the guise of the special project. The budget was R2000.00 (1970) and any parts we could hijack from engineering would be fair game.
Cut a Loong story short the car was dynamite, for four years it was the scurge of the 3litre class and no Ford 3 litre came close. Quickest ¼ a 13,86 @ 100MPH. The car ran a full body with standard glass and was not a lightweight. The 2.5 engine was fantastic, over 220bhp and could pull tree stumps out of the ground. To run the car ‘legally’ we had to paint it in Dealer Colours and it was entered by Williams Hunt, though driven by Trevor Nuns, one of the trainees.
Shortly after Jim Ewen left to go back to the States, however, our mentor and protector gone, the anti racing lobby stepped in and the car was taken away from us and given to the Dealer permanently. We had, as a trainee group, evidently embarrassed the product engineers very badly, the engine producing some 60bhp better than anything they had tried to that point.
With the arrival of the Firenza 2.5 on dealer floors, the dealer opted to sell the car, fortunately to a friend of mine and Ashley ran the car for about two of those four years as a private entry. Still no Ford in sight….. Then came a fateful evening at a pub in PE six weeks before the opening of the new Aldo Scribante track.
More tomorrow….

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Re: 1965 Opel Kadett Racer

Post by VMX » Wed 23 Feb 2011, 06:42

Excellent, the 2500's have always been in the shadows of the V8's that's the best story I've heard in a long time. As with the Kadett story one wonders how much more success General Motors could have had if it were not for the anti-racing crowd at the time. This is the sadest part of the motoring scene here in South Africa very little of this is known. The GM V8 project 72-73 was just the conclussion they sorted everyone out with one swipe and remain the most iconic local special ever built. However there were very special fore runners to that success which though excelled could have had even more success has GM put as much interest in it as Ford did.

Perfect picture a Ford featuring in the background only..... :lol: :twisted: :lol:

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Re: 1965 Opel Kadett Racer

Post by FairmontGT » Wed 23 Feb 2011, 08:46

Yes its a great story, the ranger is another one of the RSA cars that gets no recognition at all because its not a v8. Its a huge shame because its a beautiful design and proudly South African.
Yes we did build muscle cars in RSA!!!!

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Re: 1965 Opel Kadett Racer

Post by Billy_the_Kid » Wed 23 Feb 2011, 14:06

Awesome story, I feel like the girlfried following 7de Laan, I cannot wait for the next episode (rest of the bit of racing history). :D

My current rides
Ford Cortina Ldv 3.0L V6
Ford Transit 2.5L V6
Kawasaki GPZ 550 Customized
Kawasaki GPZ1100

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Re: 1965 Opel Kadett Racer

Post by 993 Kadett » Wed 23 Feb 2011, 20:20

The next part of the story I tell with some deference. I do so because it contains the name of one of the many heroes of the struggle, one Bob Thomas who, sadly, is no longer with us. Bob and his family were without doubt the hardest working GM racers in SA ever. Even in the early years around ’69 they persevered with GM product and did so throughout the ‘high’ years of late 1972 and 1973, Bob in fact snatching the title (Tvl) from under the noses of the V8’s in 1973 while they were running around the country doing their Dog and Pony shows. He went on campaigning the car in 1974 and beyond but the Firenza 2.5 had a sell-by date and very soon became uncompetitive in the Asthmatic Olympics which had started in the early 70’s. (I’ll explain that comment in later posts, but the Group 2 regs of the 70’s were in my assessment, a bad joke) Bob was a true Champ

It was 2 a.m. one September morning in 1974 when there was a banging at the door of my flat in PE central. It was my pal Ashley. He looked very much the worse for wear, so I organized a cup of coffee and as he sat down said “I think we are in serious shxx”. As he explained the story became clear… He had, in his previous job been a technician at Williams Hunt and with the Thomas’s in town had ended up at a local pub earlier that evening along with some GM people. Ashley was invited along via the Hunts connection & because of his involvement with the Ranger.
The discussion at one point I am told, went about bringing Bob’s Firenza down to PE for the opening of Aldo Scribante in November. The detail of exactly what was said and by whom I do not rightly know but at some point it was stated that GM wanted to bring the fastest 2.5 in the country for the opening. Please understand that Ashley is a very laid back guy without any pretentions and simply said words to this effect “ that’s great but you don’t have the fastest 2.5 in the country …we have” There followed a palpable silence before the testosterone kicked in on both sides and before you knew it, the Game Was Well And Truly On - the challenge laid down by the Thomas’s.. “OK lets see in November”. Ashley accepted the challenge. That was great but we had no racing car – the Ranger was a basic ¼ miler. Before Ashley left the flat early that morning, we agreed to go through with it.

Now at this point I am not going to go into the detail of how we did it but, in five weeks we found sponsors, co-opted Lionel Rowe as the driver, rebuilt the car (Ashley and Freddy, Lionel’s Broadspeed techie, doing most of the work) & bummed a set of new Goodyear slicks from the Broadspeed Anglia. The toughest task was getting the suspension done but I opted for just plain “hard” the track was new and smooth, Lionel had the bodywork done and a paint job. The car was numbered 112 (one up on the Broadspeed’s 111). On Saturday a week before the race the car was ready for practice. As I said before, I was a bit of a techno geek in those times and a dab hand at predicting lap times. John Barnes, a PE racer, was running a Formula Ford in nationals at the time and I managed to get his times for both the old Kyalami and his practice times at the newly laid Aldo Scribante. Amazingly the Ford times at Kyalami were not far off Bob’s Firenza. I worked out that we had to get into the 14’s at Scribante to have chance.

Lionel went out and after set-up and some good running he posted a 1: 14.86 The game was on…we had our chance. That week was the longest of our lives and after a very hectic time for many reasons which I will not elaborate on for now, we arrived at the track ready for battle on Saturday the 24th November. I digress for a moment to tell you that this was a very big deal for me, the reason being that the group of people within GM that had orchestrated the removal of the Ranger from us trainees four years before, were now the Honey Badgers supporting the works car ….we just had to do it. Think about it, here was the opening race of a new racetrack where the biggest hidden story was that two GM products were going to do battle…..really, nobody knew what was happening. Frankly from the general body language in the GM pit I did’nt think the Firenza guys were worried….

Strategy played a big part and this is exactly how it happened. We had had a discussion sometime earlier and agreed that we would sit out the first section of practice to see what the Firenza would do. If we had the pace, we would sandbag if necessary… but get as close to Bob on the grid as possible. The Firenza was doing 15s and dipped into the 14’s exactly as predicted, I sent Lionel out within shouting distance of the Chev, not just to set a time but to see where the two cars were making the time. Lionel, the absolute professional, came back into the pits after 4 laps and said almost in these words. “ We’ve got him down the straight and round the back, but we have a problem under brakes…… don’t worry I can go a second quicker if I have to….” At the same time we found that we had posted a grid time 0.35 sec slower than the Firenza and right behind Bob on the grid. Again some discussion, but this time we were getting serious eyeballs from the GM pit. Ashley made the right comment at the right time and reminded Lionel that the wager had been very specific ie which car was more powerful…. “when you do it, do it down the straight”

The flag dropped and the two cars were locked together immediately. Lionel stuck the nose of the Ranger in the Firenza’s boot the whole way round the first lap and as they turned into the straight at BP for the start of the second lap, the Firenza immediately went right to close the door and Lionel simply blew the Firenza away down the outside. The Ranger was on its way…. and immediately into the low 14’s, it was all over after the first lap. The embarrassment this caused the GM pit was so severe that the car was pulled in after 5 laps and put back on the trailer. There was absolutely nothing wrong with it & it did not race for the rest of the day. Lionel was getting used to this, exactly two months earlier he had put two other works cars back on the trailer in Outdshoorn…..but that’s another story.

Like I said, what goes around, comes around. The Honey Badgers were not happy at all.

The three fastest cars at Aldo Scribante that day: 1. Ray Emond’s Can Am. 2. Ivor Raasch’s BDA Escort. 3. The 2.5 Ranger Check it out and have a look at the history books.

In retrospect I felt bad that it had come to this, but as a friend of mine said “they called the wager, you guys responded, they lost….end of story”
Here were two groups of people committed to what we were doing in every way, both having a common cause…. but at the same time at one another’s throats. GM should never have allowed it to happen and should have used all the energy positively, I do know that the GM hierarchy didn’t give us a hope in hell of beating Bob on the day that’s why they let it go…
When I went back to work on the monday morning at GM engineering I was subjected to the most intense emotional roller coaster ever. As I walked into the workshop from the car park, the engineering technicians lined the bays on either side and I was given a slow hand clap as I walked between them - the lads had a good grasp of what had just happened, it brought tears to my eyes. I walked through the group towards my office only to be confronted by our very unhappy GenManager… I was given a curt handshake and told to return the (previously scrapped) Isky cam I had found in the storeroom a week or so earlier and do so by the following day. The man was very angry, his nose right out of joint. We had to strip the engine that night to give parts back to GM that had previously earmarked for scrap and which I had rescued for use.

The other thing in all this is that despite it being quite an occasion to see a Ranger come out of nowhere to take on the established racers of the time, I would think it worth a few column inches at least to note that it happened. To this day not a single scribe in this country either knows that the Ranger existed or if hey did/do know, don’t think it to be important in the Grand Scheme of things. My scribblings over the last few weeks have not been to look for any personal glory in all this, heaven knows it is too long ago to make a difference and I am not that way inclined anyway but I figured if I don’t get this stuff on rekord (pun intended) Just who the hell will?

I have lots more to come guys but have a tough week left so will send some more stuff on Sunday, in the meantime here’s a pic of a car that very few know about. What was it and what was the story behind it?? I'll give you a clue.. it was a prototype being built in the workspace alongside the Can Am in 1972. Sorry about the pic quality but it’s the only one I have, pic was taken in mid 1973 at the EL GP circuit. Best P
Project 1245 GTC Prototype.jpg
Project 1245 GTC Prototype.jpg (27.62 KiB) Viewed 6961 times

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Re: 1965 Opel Kadett Racer

Post by VMX » Wed 23 Feb 2011, 21:49

That story was told to me only you were speaking to me here you have to believe me 993. The very first photo (black&white 35mm) I ever took of a racing car was in 1975 at Killarney the Hemco Thomas Firenza. Little did I realise that it was the very car that until about mid season 1973 it was even on points with BvR in the Can Am. The whole show was about the Can Am's but for anyone who cares about the 2500 tractor engine it was the two 2500 Firenza's that won both rally and circuit championships in 1973. Including the Roof of Africa (Louis Cloete 2,5 GT Firenza). There is one other famous 2,5 which we're leaving out here Tony Viana's. Your story will conclude nicely if in the end we know whether you guys were feeding the Ranger with doses of Nitrous. :lol: :twisted: :lol:

What happened to Bob Thomas Firenza ? Ben Morgenrood bought it and he and a chap with the surname Nel I think entered one of the WYNNS 1000's, they rolled it.

That Commodore, was that not brought in for one of GM's brass at the time ? Note the black running along the side as per Can Am's.

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Re: 1965 Opel Kadett Racer

Post by 993 Kadett » Thu 24 Feb 2011, 07:44

Hey VMX, thats the sort of comment we got from the Ford guys in the 70's. :D I was in PE for the historic races in 2009 and one of the well known Ford men from the era admitted that they had no answer to the Ranger and asked what the truth was behind the car, (He thought we were running at 3.0 Litre). Fact is, that when we built the engine in 1970 we sussed out one very simple fundamental on the 2.5 that surprisingly few caught on to over the years and that is inlet tract length. We ran a single 50mm IDA downdraught for a total inlet length of 18", this after first trying multiple sidedraughts in many different configs. The difference betrween the two was nothing short of startling. You will note that I mentioned the group two regs in my last post.... that was the undoing of the Firenza that day. I was frankly surprised that they even took us on in a power tussle, they were going to lose that one badly simply because they were running to group two regs. I happen to know that our engine was producing some 50bhp more that the Firenza, our problem was not power, but to get the Ranger to handle and stop. Bear in mind that we built a car that had had one afternoon on racetrack before the day, The Firenza had three seasons of racing behind it. The Ranger is also much bigger and nearly 100kgs heavier. All in all the contest was not a fair one on both sides and should never have been allowed to happen, the GM brass knew what was going on and a clear example of just how little those tasked with overseeing motor sport inside GM really understood.
By the way another clue on the pic. The car did not run German mechanicals.

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Re: 1965 Opel Kadett Racer

Post by zahistorics » Thu 24 Feb 2011, 08:15

Hey Paul great stuff - you should write a book - I would buy it!

I assume that Commodore Coupe had a V8. Gunter has a V8 Commodore Coupe. Wonder it that car is the same one?

Lino - how about turning your 2.5 parts car into a Thomas champioship winning replica?

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