Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Viva Firenza ! - Chevrolet Firenza Can Am

Chevrolet Firenza Can Am, Race Retro

The Vauxhall Viva range of small family cars were designed in Luton and built primarily at Ellesmere Port with some also built in Luton, England to compete originally against the likes of the Morris Minor and Ford Anglia.

Chevrolet Firenza Can Am, Race Retro

Introduced in 1963 the HA Viva went through 2 stylistic upgrades HB in 1966 and HC in 1970. Production of the Viva ceased in 1979.

Chevrolet Firenza Can Am, Race Retro

For 1971 a coupe bodied HC VIva was introduced known as the Firenza to compete against the Ford Capri and it is this body shell that features on today's featured car.

Chevrolet Firenza Can Am, Race Retro

There was also a South African Firenza production line which sold the model under the Chevrolet brand with three engine options 1.3 litre / 76 cui Vauxhall, 1.9 litre / 115 cui Opel and a limited homologation edition of 100 with Chevrolet small block 4948 cc / 302 cui engines. These motors were originally conceived for the first generation Camaro Z28 with which Roger Penske and Mark Donohue dominated the 1968 and 1969 'Trans Am' series.

The '302' also had a successful career in the Formula A/5000 series sanctioned by the SCCA.

The Can Am connection suggested by the sticker above most likely refers to the 2nd generation 305 cui Can Am which ran from 1977 to 1986, rather than the unlimited original Can Am which ran from '66 - '74 where larger variations of the Chevrolet 'small block' were used exclusively in Chevrolet powered Can Am challengers until Penske and Chaparral introduced Chevrolet 'big blocks' in 1967.

Chevrolet Firenza Can Am, Race Retro

Back in it's heyday the South African only spec Chevrolet Firenza would also compete in rally's with a high wing (see 15 secs) of the type that today would most probably only be seen on a vehicle competing on Pikes Peak.

Chevrolet Firenza Can Am, Race Retro

Running an HPI check on this vehicle revealed that the registration is associated with a Vauxhall Viva 1256 SL fitted with the larger 1800cc / 109 cui 4 cylinder motor which was often used with the automatic transmission option.

Chevrolet Firenza Can Am, Race Retro

I am not sure if this indicates the vehicle in the photos started life as a Viva and was converted to Chevrolet Firenza spec or if the car in these photos is one of the original 100 Chevrolet Firenza's that has had an old number plate that was once registered to a Viva, if anyone knows which of these possibilities is definitively the case please chime in below or send me an e-mail, e-mail address can be accessed from my Blogger Profile page.

Chevrolet Firenza Can Am, Race Retro

Jan Hettema, who's Chevrolet Firenza the paintwork on this vehicle represents, won the South African Rally Championship 5 times, the last of which was in 1976. Basil van Rooyen was amongst several drivers to use a Chevrolet Firenza in South African endurance races and is known to have finished 4rd at Cape Town behind 3 2 seat, 2 litre racing cars in November 1973.

My thanks to the Bristol Pegasus Motor Club who kindly gave me a lift to Race Retro back in February, and to E1 pix, buckaluck, 2F-001, Lee Nicole, Tom, Bob, Frank and Rob of The Nostalgia Forum for filling me in on the history of the competition history Chevrolet '302' small block.

Thanks for joining me on this South African spec edition of 'Gettin a lil' psycho on tyres', I hope you will join me again for tomorrow for a look at a one off V8 conversion. Don't forget to come back now !

16 06 11 Update, I found out last night that the Chevy Firenza fitted with the 302 cui was marketed as the Chevy Firenza Can Am. More info here.

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