You rarely see an Opel Kadett on the road these days, let alone one in mint condition. But what about a Kadett that’s better than it came from factory? Without a doubt, the car that Klaus Haikkola built in Finland over four years and 3,700 hours is such an example.
This 1990 Kadett E has been in Klaus’s family for almost 20 years. It was his granddad’s car from new, up until 2000 when Klaus bought it from him. In the years after, the Kadett was sold then reacquired twice, but in 2012 Klaus decided that the car had too much sentimental value to leave his ownership again.
After so many years of use, the Opel hatchback was well worn. The carbureted 1.6L engine was leaking oil; the brakes and bushings desperately needed replacing; the wiring harness had been burnt and patched over the years to keep the car running. And then there was the dreaded rust, which had the bodywork in dire need of repair.
In 2015, Klaus decided to return the car to its original glory – with a few select modifications to make it a little more fun to drive. Initially, it was Opel’s legendary C20XE engine that Klaus thought about swapping into the Kadett, but given their rarity and popularity with open-wheel racing teams, the cost was prohibitive.
Klaus ultimately settled on a different engine, namely a turbocharged 2.0L B204L from a Saab 900 donor car he purchased. Klaus had previously heard about a Kadett swap with this engine in the UK, which was supposedly done without heavy modifications. It sounded perfect as he needed the completed car to pass the Finnish MOT test.
In reality though, the Saab engine didn’t actually fit in the Kadett’s bay, which prompted Klaus to slow down and take stock of the project. In the end, he decided press on, but now the car would be reduced to a bare shell and rebuilt from the ground up. All parts used in the rebuild were either modified, replaced or rebuilt, and the car effectively became a marriage between Opel Kadett E GSi and Saab 900 components.
Most of the Swedish parts live in the engine bay; the turbocharged inline-four and all three cooling components – radiator, intercooler, and oil cooler – came from the Saab. So did the ECU, but that was re-mapped. The estimated power output is a healthy 250hp, which is a nice number for a car that weighs just over a tonne.
On the other hand, the F20 gearbox and driveshafts are Opel fare, while the suspension and steering components are a mix of both manufacturers. The power steering, column, struts, and hubs are from Saab, while the steering rods and front anti-roll-bar are from Opel.
The exterior was smoothed out and shaved for an extra-clean look, and the rear fenders were widened by 1-inch on each side. Clear indicators and smoked rear lights together with the OEM Rembrandt Silver paint pulls the whole retro look together.
The cherry on top (literally) is Klaus’s BMX bike with vintage wheels on the roof rack.
The wheels are a subtle hint at the re-power under the hood, and the iconic Saab 9-5 Aero ‘Klingon’ 3-spokes – measuring 17×7-inch at all four corners – tuck perfectly under the fenders.
Klaus certainly hasn’t overlooked the interior either, and here the most notable modifications include a 6-point roll cage, Recaro seats from a Kadett GT, and an old school mahogany Momo Fighter steering wheel. Those with an eye for detail might notice the floor console complete with a modified Saab ignition switch.
What I really liked was the trunk space with its two layers of hidden compartments for audio, the battery, and basic safety equipment.
Klaus’s Kadett could easily weigh less than the 1,080kg it tips the scales at, but as you can see from the pictures, it’s been built properly without forgoing any comfort.
And that’s the thing with any build that has sentimental value – you don’t take shortcuts; you take the time to make them perfect.
In my eyes, the Kadett looks mint as it is, but Klaus still has many other modifications he plans to make. Those include upgraded engine mounts, stiffer suspension springs, GSi fenders and hood, and other little details to keep heart of the owner warm. We can all follow his progress on Klaus’s Facebook page.