By: Jared Govender
When you think back about the iconic South African homologation specials that were created since the 60’s, a few cars will always remain top of my mind – the Ford Sierra XR8, BMW 325is and Opel Kadett Superboss are amongst my favourites. But the rivalry between Ford and Chevrolet in the 70’s spawned two cars that will be the quintessential homologation specials of all time – the Ford Capri Perana and the Chevrolet Can-Am. The Can-Am was created in response to the Capri Perana that was dominating touring car racing in SA at the time and with a mere 100 road-going units produced in the early 70s, it was pretty much the ultimate streetcar available to the masses. Today it is estimated that only half of the 100 produced have survived and, as a result, they are extremely sought after.
As you would expect, there are many replicas out there and some enthusiasts have made their Firenza an exact carbon copy of the original. With that being said, this particular Firenza is not a replica of the Can-Am and it was never intended to be.
Owner Darryl Naicker believes that the Can-Am is far too iconic and to copy it with the intention of passing it off as an original would be a sacrilege. Instead, he wanted to pay tribute to a South African legend and rebuild it into one bad ass muscle car.
He bought his Firenza with the 2.5 GT powerplant in 2014 as a non-runner after using an alert on a classified website. The previous owner of the car actually had no idea that the car had been put up for sale, which had been done by his ex-wife in lieu of money owed to her. When he received the call from an eager Darryl asking about the Firenza that was for sale, he was not impressed. But being the persuasive character that he is, he convinced the guy to sell it to him and the neglected Firenza was soon on the badk of a trailer headed for a new life in Durban.
When he began the restoration process, the mandate was simple: Darryl wanted the car to be so drivable that even his wife could enjoy it but that could also rip the tarmac to shreds if he ever felt the urge to do so. He briefed Sheik from RSA Auto Clinic on the mechanicals and had Clive from Car Valet in Empangeni sort out the body and paintwork. The faded red paint was removed along with any rust and the body was sprayed a bright iridescent Atomic Green that shimmers in the sunlight.
A small-block Chevy 350 was dropped in with some welcome additions in the form of flowed heads. Holley 4-barrel carburetor, Edelbrock Performer intake and a custom built Flowtech exhaust system. Darryl is quite proud to have kept the drivetrain all Chevrolet with a 350 auto box and Nomad LSD in play. The brakes had to be upgraded for obvious reasons so here you will find the booster, master cylinder and even the pedal setup from a Mazda drifter that works together with ventilated discs all round, ensuring awesome stopping power.
With the mechanics sorted, Darryl turned his focus to aesthetics. All the wiring in the engine bay was neatly tucked away within the fenders and the battery was relocated to the boot for a clean, uncluttered look. He wanted to leave the classic lines of the body untouched so all that he added to the exterior was the American Racing Equipment spoiler from the Can-Am along with a set of modern 17-inch Racing Hart rims, instead of the predictable small, wide wheels that we have seen on Firezas time and time again.
Future plans included a small shot of nitrous to give it a slight performance boost. Whenever Darryl takes the Firenza out, people often mistake it for a Can-Am and he is the first one to correct them. His version is just an awesome, well-sorted Firenza that pays homage to the legend that is the “Little Chev”.