Chevrolet Firenza Can-Am 302

"But Michael, just yesterday you wrote about how silly building cars for enthusiasts is…and now you feature this!"

Those of you who are familiar with the Vauxhall Firenza-based Chevrolet Firenza Can-Am 302 sold only in South Africa are no doubt confused at my flip-flopping, but there's a crucial difference between this car and the AMC Hornet SC360: this was a homologation special; the AMC was a package.  

This very special Chevrolet—the "Little Chevy" in marketing materials—was built solely to satisfy the Argus Production Car series rule book. 

Just as the Ford vs Chevrolet war has been waged before many of us were born (and will probably continue long past a time when we're all stuffed in a capsule, sipping Soylent and orbiting Jupiter), the war between the two American automakers was also fought in South Africa.

Ford had the Capri Perana, a V8 powered version of its small Capri coupe, which was assembled by a local specialist in order to satisfy homologation requirements. A small, powerful car, it cleaned up in 1970s touring car racing in South Africa. 

With a wide range of powertrains and body styles available, it wasn't very difficult for the local Chevrolet contingent to respond with an equally capable machine. 

Superformance founder, engineer, and racer Basil van Rooyen saw the potential for beating Ford with a compact muscle car of his own, and built a pair of Firenza coupes…with Holden V8 engines under the hood. 

Chevrolet gave their blessing, and as Hooniverse says, set up a fund where the racing team earned about $1 US for every Chevrolet sold in South Africa, guaranteeing a steady stream of cash for the race team.  

When working to squeeze the car into the rule book, the Holden engine's displacement was found to be slightly too large—so they installed a 302 cu. in. V8 from the American Chevrolet Camaro. 

The built-for-Can Am motors sourced from the U.S. had at least 300 horsepower and 300 lb-ft of torque, good enough to send this flyweight (1100 kg / 2,425 lbs) to 100 km/h (62 mph) in 5.4 seconds—performance in 1972 to leave just about everything from that decade, not to mention ours, in the dust. 

Rear drive, Muncie 4-peed manual, adjustable aluminum rear spoiler, and a run of just 100 examples means that this was just about the most potent car you could get your hands on in South Africa. 

At a price of more than double that of a four-cylinder Firenza, owners were also happy to get special Personal 13-inch alloy wheels, a fibreglass hood, Personal leather steering wheel, and suspension upgrades. 

Just 100 were assembled from modification kits supplied to General Motors by Superformance —and as you can see, the marketing department heavily pushed its exclusivity. 

Today, surviving examples are highly sought-after, and competition cars are still campaigned in both circuit racing and in rally—Jimmy McRae raced a blue and white one just last year—there are plenty of videos of it on YouTube.  

To sum things up: homologation specials are, usually, amazing. Let's hope the Little Chevy eventually gets the love it deserves from enthusiasts outside of South Africa. 

(If only for the fact that first gear would take drivers to 130 km/h—80 mph—and that by the time fourth gear was selected the stock Firenza speedometer would be past its maximum speed, rotating toward "0"!)

Sources

Chevrolet Firenza Can-Am 302: hooniverse.com, jalopnik.com, Wikipedia, cartorque.co.za, africanmusclecars.com

Vauxhall Firenza: Wikipedia 

Superformance: Website