It wasn’t all just standing around with our mouths wide open and convulsing in pure, unadulterated ecstasy last weekend at the FIA European Hill Climb Championship round at St. Ursanne Les Rangiers. We also managed to take a closer look at a couple of cars that caught our eye as they blasted up the amazing 5.2-kilometre piece of road.
The first machine, Frédéric Fleury’s 1978 Opel Kadett C GT/E, came to our attention midway through practice on Saturday morning. We were standing on the start line (thank you press pass!), admiring all the aggressive, wildly-flared racers of the Inter-Swiss class as they launched off the line at minute long intervals. All these cars were interesting in their own right, but it was Frédéric’s GT/E, one of many Opels racing that weekend, that stood out as it was waved forward towards the line by the marshals.
There was just something about this muscular old coupe that perfectly personified grass-roots European hill climbing as we had seen it thus far. After all, it isn’t all screaming open wheelers and Group B rally monsters attacking the course de côte.
The bright blue Kadett loped forwards towards the line with a rhythmic, undulating idle, before squealing to a halt on the line. As the big digital display to the right of the drivers reached zero, Frédéric’s brought the revs up and dropped clutch.
The Opel crabbed wildly out of the starter’s tent before straightening up and sling-shotting down the road towards the first corner, accompanied by the glorious signature roar of sidedraft carburetion. Yes, we were definitely going to need to find this car in the pits…
After some exploring, we eventually found the 25-year-old driver and his Opel in a pit area over the other side of town, and he happily showed us around the car. Frédéric explained that in this part of the world, the top-of-the-line Opel Kadett C GT/E is somewhat of a racing legend, and because of this, he had always wanted to build his own version. This particular car was saved from the scrapheap by Frédéric two years ago to be turned into a dedicated hill climb and slalom racer.
The Kadett, which was Opel’s version of General Motor’s ‘T Car’ global platform, might be partially recognised by readers from other parts of the world as a Holden Gemini (Australia), Isuzu Gemini (Japan), Buick Opel (USA), Vauxhall Chevette (UK), Chevrolet Chevette (Brazil), or even a Daewoo Maepsy (South Korea). The GT/E is Opel’s high performance, rally-derived model created in response to the success of Volkswagen’s Mk1 Golf GTI.
Frédéric’s GT/E still retains the legendary original 2.0-litre Opel ‘Cam In Head’, or ‘CIH’ eight-valve engine, though it has been rebuilt and modified to now produce around 160hp.
This is thanks to an aggressive 302-degree camshaft, a rise in compression and a pair of howling Weber 48mm DCOE sidedraft carbs, which have replaced the original Bosch fuel injection system.Built To Climb
The inline four is backed up by the surprisingly strong original four-speed transmission, though it now works with a twin-plate clutch, lightweight flywheel and 4.2:1 limited slip differential in the rear.
While yes, 160hp isn’t massive, the car has been fully-stripped and lightened up using fibreglass panels, and now weighs in at 880kg wet, making for a great, lively and – as Frédéric tells us – extremely fun, set up.
Numbers aside, it’s the quality of the build that drew us to this car in the first place. Everything looks brand-new, including the fresh and simple interior.
The blue exterior is, well, was immaculate, too. This shot reveals a little damage from a small mishap earlier in the day, but it detracts little from how good-looking the car is.
The fibreglass flares were created by Frédéric himself, and envelop 15×10-inch BBS RM wheels, which are actually stock Mk3 Golf GTI items that have been widened with new hoops.
After poring over the car for as long as we could, we were politely ushered to the side as Frédéric got ready for another run up the hill. That was fine with us – we wanted to make sure we were sitting at the course’s fastest section, Les Grippons, to hear and see the Opel charge through.
We weren’t disappointed. The signature sound of the carbed CIH flooded the valley as Frédéric chopped through the gears up the straight, then into the daunting stone-lined left hander at warp-speed. The custom Sachs suspension kept the car nice and flat through the corner before the big brakes, originally from a Opel Rekord, were used to pull it up in preparation for the more technical forest section ahead. Perfect.
Cars like the popular Opel Kadett truly are the essence and heart of European hill climbing, and Frédéric’s GT/E is one of the best. It’s simple, aggressive and hugely fun to push as hard as you possibly can up a challenging mountain road – who needs a $200,000 Reynard, Norma or Osella?