Always fear the man who's got nothing to lose. Sometimes he's the underdog, as in Eli Manning taking out Tom Brady in the Super Bowl not just once, but twice. At other times, he's the guy who's down on his luck—whose fortunes couldn't possibly get any worse—itching to push his luck even more. Every once in a while, these dire back-to-the-wall circumstances inspire the greatest of triumphs. Just ask Ricky Slade. "I had a 1969 Opel GT back in college that I used to drag race, and 30 years later, I found a car just like it sitting in the woods. I planned on restoring it just like my first Opel until a little storm named Hurricane Katrina hit," he recalls. "Since the car had been buried under 20 feet of saltwater, I figured I had nothing to lose by cutting into it. Suddenly, the plan changed from a stock restoration to a custom Pro Touring build." In reality, Ricky's sandbagging on us, as the GT's ridiculous yet sizzling proportions affirm. More specifically, he widened the Opel 6 inches in the back, lengthened the car another 4 inches, and wrapped it all around a custom tube chassis replete with a twin A-arm suspension up front and a four-link in the back. Power comes from an all-aluminum Buick 215 small-block bolted to a Tremec T5 stick. So while all the Opel diehards said it was impossible to modify the body lines of a GT and make it look good, thank goodness Ricky disagreed.
Before delving further into Ricky's flare for the dramatic, first thing's first: What the heck is an Opel GT? What looks like a 2/3-scale early C3 Corvette is actually an Opel product, GM's German subsidiary that's been in the car manufacturing business for over 100 years. GM took control of the company in the 1920s, watched helplessly as the Soviets ransacked Opel's assembly plants after World War II, and consequently rebuilt it from the ashes of countless Allied bombing raids. While the Soviets used the heisted tooling and fixtures to put their own unique communist twist on the Opel Kadett from deep behind the Iron Curtain, GM and Opel put their heads down to fire up the production line once again.
The result was the Kadett A, a car designed go head-to-head with the VW Bug. That model eventually evolved into the Kadett B that became the basis for the Opel GT. "The Kadett B was a small economy car that Opel gussied up to create the GT concept car in 1965, which went into production in 1968," Ricky explains. "The car was tested in a wind tunnel during the design phase, which was very rare for the time. Rumor has it that many of the same engineers who designed the C3 Corvette also worked on the Opel GT, which would explain why they look so much alike. As I was building my car, I thought it would look so much cooler if I just beefed the proportions up a bit."
A DIYer tackling extensive sheetmetal modifications at his house is usually a disaster waiting to happen, but Ricky persevered. He wanted to stuff some 315mm-wide meats in the back, which required both tubbing the wheelwells and widening the quarter-panels by 3 inches on each side. "I cut the quarter-panels off of both my car and a parts car. By cutting the quarters on the parts car farther inboard, it gave me plenty of material to widen the tubs while retaining the factory contours," Ricky explains. "To attach the quarters off the parts car, I flanged the original quarters, welded support rods beneath them, then welded everything together. After that, it was just lots of hammering, dollying, forming, and shaping. There's hardly any body filler in that area, and I didn't have to cut into the floorboards much at all to finish the tubs."
Since the Opel GT's wheezy four-cylinder wasn't going to cut it, Ricky needed to make room for a real motor. This presented the opportunity to further enhance the car's lines, and the solution was stretching the Opel 4 inches by lengthening the fenders and hood. Since the quarter-panels turned out so nicely, Ricky took a similar approach with the fenders. "The driver-side fender, passenger-side fender, and nose section on an Opel GT are all one single piece. Miraculously, I found someone in South Carolina who had some NOS fenders for sale," he says. "By cutting into the flat section of the OE fenders near the firewall and then welding the new fenders to them, I was able to stretch the car 4 inches using the stock and NOS sheetmetal. There's no telling how many times I cut and welded, didn't like how it turned out, and did it all over again. It was a lot of work, but I wanted the body mods to be inconspicuous."