European Hill Climbing Personified:</br> Opel Kadett Howler
Run To The Hills

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?

Peter Kelly
Instagram: pedey_kenmeri_creative



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Sweet. The third photo blew me away. Great storytelling too. Smurf city!!!


a racing Opel Kadett on SH... :) THX!


short and sweet, cool build, cool article, great photos


veecee8 Thanks for the feedback, appreciate it!


One of my first cars was a Chevette, but I wished I had one of these puppies instead.


Is there going to be a Delta S4 feature by any chance?


opel kadett isnt a legend....




Great photo and awesome little car. I love that Frédéric did the fiber grass fenders himself. It's an amazing car that's not over done and too technical. Great coverage!


Can't wait until next feature!!


160hp the hard way, awesome. gatebil monsters are great and all but there are a million little builds like this that are truly inspirational to a guy like me, truck in the driveway project in the garage.


anybody know the wheels on it?


@gckw  So you have never been to a european or swiss Hillclimb race then?! They are dominating the whole interswiss class and they have a massive following here. I'm not the biggest fan of Opels but the older ones like the GT/E have their own Character and a lot of coolnes. This car was created at a Point when opel was competitive to other german brands and has nothing to do what opel is today. Just because an average granddads rusty Opel Kadett isn't  Lamborghini doesn't mean it can't be cool. Have a passenger ride in one of the hillclimb Kaddetts or just watch them race and it will Change your mind. i promise ;)


Hmm, nice car, but the article doesn't mention what suspension setup it runs :(

Gianluca FairladyZ

@gckw  Man the Opel Kadett is like the European Hachirokuh!!!! ( AE86) ;)


ger231 I believe those are some BBS RS wheels, without the BBS cap on.


Gianluca FairladyZ @JDMjunkies_ch nailed it!


Sonicboom64 ger231 Hi guys, from the story: "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."


Yossarian Make sure you've checked out both chapters of this story, but you're right, I was a little light on suspension details for sure. Frederic told me that the suspension set up is SACHs and has been completely custom built for this car.


Afroneck That's exactly what I liked about it too. Clean and simple!


apex_DNA Great to hear, expect it in the next day or two!


Sick, I love little features like this, especially from hillclimb cars. Hopefully you've got a few more up your sleeve?


Moisty Thanks, yep we do, keep an eye out for some more gold from this even in the next day or two.


Great feature, more like this please!
Some awesome european hillclimbing vids here, I watch them religiously :)


zapsnyder Have to agree. To most, it seems too low of a number to appreciate, but if you take into consideration the work involved, inspirational is definitely right.


Please tell me Bergrennen will be coming to SH...Enough Gatebil bring on the Hillclimbs!


When I got my licence a 2200 lb car with 140hp was a quick car. Ask any ae86 owner of their car is fun to drive.


maxvr6 Thanks for the link, trawling through now to see if I can find something I haven't seen haha


Peter_Kelly maxvr6 No probs :) Im a Honda nut (have a DC5 and used to have a DC2) so this one is my fave, epic sounds!


Peter_Kelly Sonicboom64 ger231 Mk2 Gti items I'd say! Pretty sure mk3's never came with them


At first thank you very much for this great article, nice to see hill climbing on SH. I come from germany and I love to walk through the pits which are usually in the village, sometimes even in the residents garages. This down-to-earth racing and familiar atmosphere is impressed by just this sort of cars although the are 2 litre Kadetts with 300hp. Standing in the woods an hear the incredible intake sound is a great experience.
But I got to clarify some facts. I don´t know where this myth comes from that the Golf GTI established the class of the 'hot hatches', it wasn´t the first one and not even the fastest.
The Golf I GTI came out '76, the Kadett C GT/E in '75 so it wasn´t the success of the GTI that was responded by Opel but rather the success of the Rallye Kadett B with 90hp from a 1.9 litre engine (which is the base for the GT/E engine) that came out in 1967!