Proudly South African: Chapter 1, Part 2

South African muscle steps up its game.

3y ago

2. Chevrolet CAN-AM. (1973-1974)

In the UK you guys have the Vauxhall Viva (the HC Viva) and you Aussies have the Torana. In South Africa we had the Chevrolet Firenza (literally a Viva with different badges, but it was built here at least). The Firenza came with a two types of four cylinder engines available in 1.3l (UK engine) and then the 250ci / 4.1l Chev inline 6 with two pistons missing in action in three versions; 1.9l, 2.3l and 2.5l 4 cylinder engines. Then a bloke named Basil Van Rooyen (yes another Basil) came up with the idea of sticking a V8 in Firenza Coupe’s. He put a 350 sbc with an automatic on the back of it into the Firenza and took it to Chevrolet. It was a yes from them on the following conditions; they would supply brand new engines and transmissions and it must be a manual. Chevrolet sourced the brilliant 302 V8 of the Z28 Camaro from the USA. The result was quite depressing for Capri Perana owners. There is a famous story of twin brothers of whom bought a Capri and the other a CAM-AM. After the Chevy humiliated the Ford, the loser then spent a load of cash modifying the Capri just to lose by a little less. He then sold it and also got himself a CAN-AM.

It wasn’t without fault however as the first ones were built in a massive rush and ended up with some poor craftsmanship. However, the later ones got some love and most issues were sorted.

Specs and Facts:

There are definitely, no doubt only 100 made (the bare minimum for racing homologation) excluding the race cars (they built 2 or 3 race versions for the dealerships who usually had drivers lined up which also happened with the Perana. Privateers often also took their road cars and made racecars of them) from 1973 until 1974. It had 11:1 compression, a good high rise aluminium intake, huge lift and duration Duntov 3030 solid lifter camshaft and a Holley 780cfm carb. That camshaft coupled with its high bore to stroke ratio (4 inch bore and three inch stroke) meant it loved to rev. The DZ302 5l V8 bomb was rated at 290hp/210kW (was actually more like 320hp) and 290lb.ft/393Nm of torque. However, the carburetor wasn't jetted correctly from the factory. It ran rich on the first stage down low and lean with both stages up top. Many Can-Am owners (One person my father knew also) had their cars re-jetted and tuned perfectly. This would result in dyno tests close to or even over 400hp upwards of 6000 RPM. This would then in turn result in a quarter mile time of 13 seconds flat. That is faster than Hemi Cuda's and 454 Chevelles. It was a proper racing engine at that time. They were all two tone with the body white and the bonnet, roof and boot black. It weighted 1100kg. Thanks to the long 2.92 : 1 rear gear ratio (which balanced out the small thirteen inch wheels) and the long Muncie first gear, it did 120km/h (roughly 70mph) in first gear and 0-100km/h in around 5.5 seconds and could go on to a top speed of about 140mph / 230km/h. It also blazes the quarter mile in mid to low thirteen seconds. Geoff Mortimer won the 1973 SA Rally Championship with a CAN-AM. It cost R5800, which was a lot more than the Perana. Like I said though, you can spend the difference on your Capri Perana and still be left for dead. I am not sure about the track racing history. What I do know however is that the Perana and CAN-AM race cars were extremely evenly matched and had very close races.

The Aussies had the Torana SLR5000 which was their little 5l homologation road car.

See the resemblance?

Drop a comment and tell me what you think, assuming that you’ve actually read this.

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Comments (8)

  • Definitely a similarity, especially in emphasis. I have to say the Torana looks better though...

      3 years ago
  • Interesting read. We had a firenza in the us.... it was an Oldsmobile that was absolutely awful

      3 years ago
    • I must check it out. Thanks for reading and commenting John 👍

        3 years ago
    • If memory serves me, it was on the same platform as the buick Skyhawk, Chevrolet cavalier, and some other awful thing I don’t remember

        3 years ago