The Chevrolet Can-Am was always referred to as, ‘The Little Chev’ in advertising campaigns. However a V8 power plant that chucked out massive amounts of power, sat in the insect sized chassis. Result a ultimate track winner that shredded its competition to pieces. Before the car could be raced, one hundred had to be built for it to comply with the rules for the Argus Production Car series.
It is estimated that today only thirty of the genuine models are still in existence. Therefore owners such as Hilton Myerson, who owns three original examples with matching engine and chassis numbers, are sitting on a very large gold mine. The Can Am owes its existence to two entities; the other South African great V8, the Capri Perana, and to the efforts of local racing legend Basil van Rooyen. Van Rooyen was a race driver, engineer and founder of tuning company Superformance at the time. This establishment oversaw the building of two Firenza coupes with a 308 cubic inch Holden V8, Van Rooyen took the cars to Port Elizabeth to prove a point to General Motors management.
The project was giving the go ahead by the top brass, although funding only came from the Chevrolet Dealer Team, set up by Van Rooyen. The initiative established that for every Chev sold in the country, R5 would be contributed to the competition budget. Geoff Mortimer was appointed to build and maintain the two race cars for the season, along with the rally car that was driven by Jan Hettema.
The Argus Production Car regulations stipulated a maximum capacity of five litres. The V8 was therefore 45 cc over what was needed, a batch of 302 CI small block engines were sourced and imported from Michigan, USA. These engines were prepared for the Camaro Z28s competing in the Trans-Am racing series. The big-valve engine had four-bolt main bearing blocks, ran a 11:1 compression ratio and with an 800 CFM Holley on top, it was rated at a conservative 290 hp and 300 foot pounds of torque.
Production took place in the latter part of 1972 and early 1973. Chassis numbers suggest the Can Am’s were built in small numbers, with a task team of specialists assembling the cars. Superformance provided GM all the kits comprising of; the Personal 13 inch wheels, the Personal three spoke leather steering wheel, Koni shocks and vented bonnet slats. Added to the package was the trademark American Racing Equipment boot spoiler which could be adjusted. The wing was aluminum while the bonnet was fabricated using some rather crude fiberglass. This helped keep weight down to 1100 kg, helping the Can Am sprint from 0 – 100 km/h in a very impressive 5.4 seconds, while top speed was an estimated 229 km/h. All cars were fitted with a Municie M21 four-speed manual box.
The ‘Little Chev’ is firmly embedded in South Africa’s motorsport history. The oil crisis did harm sales, although new examples were still being purchased in 1975 at a reduced price of R5800. If only everyone knew their value today, many more would have been purchased.