One time not too long ago, General Motors ruled the world, and Chevrolet was its ambassador. Chevrolet was as American as Mom, baseball, and apple pie, but there was a Chevrolet presence in other parts of the world with their own home-grown vehicles.
Racer Basil Van Rooyen was instrumental in the Can-Am's creation. Image: totalvauxhall.co.uk
In particular, General Motors of South Africa was represented by the Chevrolet brand, and they received a little bit of American muscle in the process with the Firenza Can-Am.
If you are unfamiliar with General Motors’ presence in Europe, there were two main brands: Opel out of Germany, and Vauxhall out of the UK. Both were rather independent until the 1960s when certain models began to be merged. Specifically, the 1963 Vauxhall Viva shared similarities to the 1962 Opel Kadett.
Two generations later, in 1970, a new Viva was introduced with the same Coke-bottle styling that was popular with American General Motors offerings at the time. The coupe version of this car was dubbed “Firenza” and was available with a dual-carb 2.0-liter four-cylinder.
In South Africa, the Vauxhall Viva was marketed as the Chevrolet Firenza.
While the coupe was slightly smaller than America’s Chevrolet Vega, the folks of GM-SA managed to stuff a small-block Chevy between the frame rails to homologate it for the South African Argus Production Car series.
Rules specified that one hundred of the 1973 Firenza Can-Am were to be built to be legal for the series. All were white with blacked-out hoods, and under the hood was an honest-to-goodness 302 putting out 290 horsepower – the same motor found in the 1967-69 Camaro Z/28.
M21 four-speed with Hurst shifter, belt line stripe, alloy wheels, and an aluminum spoiler made by American Racing Equipment rounded out the basic package.
Performance for the little 2,500 lb. coupe was 0-to-60 in 5.4 seconds and a top speed of over 140 MPH, which is near the top of muscle-era American cars, not to mention that South Africa didn’t have the EPA breathing down everyone’s neck.
Today the Firenza Can-Am is a leading collectible in South Africa with enthusiasts in Australia and the UK, but little is known about them in North America.
The Can-Am would be at home in our Trans-Am series. Image: AUTOSPORT bulletin board