Firenza Can Am
dates : 11th December 2005
17th December 2005
advertising copywriters called it "The Little Chev".
It was one of the most outrageous production cars ever built
– anywhere! – and it was conceived and manufactured
right here in South Africa.
The Chevrolet Firenza Can Am was the brainchild of SA saloon
car champions Basil van Rooyen and Geoff Mortimer, produced
in 1973 to compete on our local race tracks and rally
To make it eligible for the Production Car Championship, one
hundred road-going examples had to be sold.
Some 32 years later, two absolutely original examples are
owned by twin brothers, Hendrik and Jan Vos, who bought the
cars when they were brand new!
290 horsepower from what was essentially a factory
race-level five litre Chev V8. And the cars weighed just on
The engine that Basil van Rooyen and Geoff Mortimer
specified was a Z28 motor built for competition in America,
but available in road-spec in the Camaro.
Rated in metric terms at just under 220 kiloWatts, it
produces power levels respectable for a five-litre V8 today.
And in a car weighing less than a modern Golf 5, the
power-to-weight ratio was mind-warping.
So was the gearing. First gear is good for nearly a 130
km/h, using the four-speed Muncie gearbox. Second a 162
km/h, third over 200.
As for fourth, aah, the speedo was off the dial and climbing
back right round to the zero mark again.
The benchmark car at the time was the Capri Perana V8,
another SA special, built by Basil Green.
Hendrik owned a Perana until his twin brother showed up one
evening with his new Can Am. Then he knew he had to have one
All the Can Ams were white with black bonnet detailing,
personal alloy wheels and an aluminium boot spoiler made by
American Racing Equipment. Apart from beefed up mechanicals,
the rest was stock Firenza.
Apart from the Personal steering wheel and chunky gear knob
for the Munci ‘box, the interior was stock Firenza GT. The
seats, however, came from an Opel GT for some reason.
The instrumentation was also stock Firenza and hopelessly
inadequate for a car that could top 230 km/h.
Acres of black plastic, vinyl upholstery and totally
parts-bin switch-gear were hardly calculated to impress the
On the other hand, the team led by Mortimer and Van Rooyen
had done a thorough under-skin engineering job, given the
available technology 32 years ago.
In light of all this, the asking price of R5 800 was steep.
At the time the top four-cylinder Firenza GT cost just R2
So the home-brewed V8 engined homologation special was more
than twice as expensive as the top factory-built car.
But as the Vos twins explain, there was nothing, absolutely nothing
to touch it on performance. Ferraris, Porsches, you name
it, the Firenza had them for breakfast.
These cars are exactly as they were in 1973. The engines
have never been opened, the paint is original and oh how
healthy they sound!
To make sure that the Firenza would beat the Capri Perana,
Van Rooyen ordered the very best stuff from America.
The Z28 motor has an eleven-to-one compression ratio, a
beefed up crankshaft and block, big valves and ports and a
high-capacity Holley carb.
The Muncie gearboxes are legendary for their strength, as
are the Borg-Warner limited slip differentials.
The engine number on Hendrik’s car is number forty-three
of the one-hundred built, while Jan’s is number
The Vos twins both worked as train drivers for 35, they both
still drive Chev Can Ams, and neither are planning on
Three decades on and the Vos boys are still waking up the
neighborhood. Like they say, twins have an almost telepathic
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