One of the most fascinating things about working as a Speedhunter is taking a look at the way different types of cars are interpreted across the world. A car with a massive following in one part of world might be virtually unknown in another – and that’s most certainly the case with Famoso Speed Shop’s 1967 Opel Kadett, better known as Lil’ Mee-Hoe.
If you come from Europe or are familiar with its automotive scene, you probably know all about the Kadett. The lightweight, rear-drive car has long enjoyed a passionate following among hillclimbers, vintage racers, and street builders across the region. But here in the United States, it’s a different story.
The Opel Kadett is another one of those models you forget was even imported to the US. Up until the early ’70s, the German-built Kadett was actually available at certain Buick dealerships alongside the slightly more well known Opel GT. Today though, you are probably more likely to see a Lamborghini Countach on American roads than you are an Opel Kadett.
That’s a big reason we were so excited to stumble across Lil’ Mee-Hoe during our recent visit to Famoso Speed Shop. Seeing any Opel on American shores is rare enough, but to see one built like this is another matter entirely.
This car actually has a rather long history behind it and this history is the reason Randy decided to buy the Opel and turn it into a shop project. As a youngster growing up around Ventura, California during the ’70s Randy has fond memories of watching this exact car in action on both the street and the drag strip.
Of course back then the car didn’t look anything like it does today. During the ’70s, the small-block-powered Kadett sat up high, was painted yellow with a vinyl top and was dubbed “Rotten to the Core”. When the ’80s came around, the owner decided to build an S10 pickup truck for drag racing and put the Opel in a garage, where it sat untouched for about 20 years.
Randy had always wanted the car, and eight years ago he finally convinced the owner to part with it. He had just started the Famoso Speed Shop at this point, so it was the perfect opportunity to restore the Opel to its former glory – and then some.
After sitting for such a long time the car needed plenty of attention, but the plan wasn’t just to restore the car. Randy wanted to make the car his own, and also get it back on the track using more contemporary components – but without taking away from the vintage look.
One of the first problems Randy ran into after he got the car was the roof. The vinyl top had to go, and Randy actually found that a roof panel from a 1989 Ford Tempo of all things fit right on as a replacement.
Other work done during the process of the car’s rebuild included dropping the whole chassis down and installing a more functional coilover suspension system.
The resulting stance is admittedly lower and more contemporary than what you find on many vintage drag cars, but wide ‘n skinny 1960s’ style ET mags are a perfect nod to the past. The car also brings to mind Gassers from the early ’70s, when the class was shrinking and the introduction of wrinkle-wall slicks negated the necessity of the high nose. Four wheel Wilwood disc brakes all around are another nice modern convenience, especially when hauling up at the end of the strip!
Also installed during the Opel’s resurrection was a new set of ladder bars in the rear…
… along with a brand new 12-point roll cage and other equipment to get the car up to modern safety standards.
Flipping open the Kadett’s trick one-piece fiberglass front end, you get a nice view of Lil’ Mee-Hoe’s American heart. The car is still powered by the proven small block Chevy V8 swapped in back in the ’70s – this one displacing 406 cubic inches.
Up until recently the car was equipped with a blower that made it capable of eight second passes down the quarter mile. It was brutally fast. but the Opel’s extremely short wheelbase made the car an absolute handful. During its first pass with the supercharger the car hit the wall at the end of the track, causing extensive body damage and requiring the rear quarter panel to be rebuilt by hand.
The current naturally aspirated set-up is much more mild. But then again when I say that I’m talking ‘mild’ by Famoso Speed Shop’s twisted standards. The built Chevy is still making a healthy 525 horsepower and 520lb/ft of torque, easily making the 2,500 pound Opel capable of 10 second ETs or better.
With the front end closed, the scoop affixed to the high rise intake manifold and Holley 850 carburetor makes for the perfect look without going too far over the top.
The small block is mated to a GM Turbo400 automatic transmission with a transbrake, and a narrowed Oldsmobile rear end takes all the power that Randy and the boys can throw at it.
Other cool touches in Lil’ Mee-Hoe’s cockpit include a steering wheel that’s probably been there since the ’70s…
…along with an equally retro Moon gas pedal.
But aside from the mechanical goodies and the uniqueness of the Kadett itself, one of Lil’ Mee-Hoe’s coolest attributes is its paint and lettering work. The green body color and vintage style metal flake lettering perfectly matches the colors of Famoso Speed Shop’s Competition Coupe and its Green Go dragster.
It’s at the same time flashy yet simple – and it stands out nicely from the cheesy 1990s’ style paintjobs you see on so many drag cars. It also ties into to the strong sense of aesthetics that Famoso Speed Shop puts into all of its builds.
Even with the upgraded chassis and lower horsepower engine setup, Randy says the Opel is still quite challenging to drive. It’s a never-ending battle to keep the car straight and on the ground, and that’s another thing that makes Lil’ Mee-Hoe so damn cool.
Even if the car’s been swapped over with some key modern components, it still very much retains the spirit of drag cars from the ’60s and ’70s.
It flashes back to the days when drag racers would take the lightest car they could find, stuff it with the biggest motor possible and also make it look damn cool in the process.
This isn’t just Famoso Speed Shop’s take on an old German favorite – this is America’s take on an old German favorite – and for that you gotta love it.
Photos by Larry Chen
Famoso Speed Shop “Lil’ Mee-Hoe” 1967 Opel Kadett
525 horsepower, 520 lb/ft of torque
406 Small Block Chevy, 13:1 compression, Crower rods, ported heads, Isky cam, Isky springs and retainers, machine work by Valley Head Service, Holley Strip Dominator intake manifold, Holley 850 carb, Lemons headers, MSD ignition
Turbo 400 automatic w/trans brake, Oldsmobile rear end, PTO drive shaft, Henry’s axles,
Tube frame with coilovers, ladder bars, Wilwood disc brakes front and rear, Wilwood master cylinder,
ET Five-Spoke 15x4J (front), 151x12J (rear), 165/50/15 drag skinnies (front), M/T slicks (rear), ARP wheel studs
One-piece fiberglass front end, custom paint, airbrushing and lettering
12-point roll cage, JAZ racing seat, Crow harness, B&M shifter, Auto Meter tachometer