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."
Although the sheetmetal reconstruction looked great, due to the Opel GT's unique chassis design, it created a whole new set of issues. "These Opels used monocoque construction, which means that the body panels serve as structural support for the chassis. They don't have a full frame, and they don't have subframes like a unibody car, either," Ricky explains. "The stock suspension attaches directly to the body, and since I cut out the floorboard I thought 'man, I better build a full frame for it.' I bought a Fatman Fabrications Mustang II front clip and a Quarter Max rear clip, then connected them together by making some custom square-tube framerails. My son, Callahan, and I did all the chassis work in our garage. Afterward, I channeled the frame into the body by building custom floorpans."
Space is at a premium in the two-seat interior, but it’s not oppressively small. To make r
Ultimately, Ricky amped up the Opel's visual kick so much that pictures can't accurately convey how seductively voluptuous the car's proportions are in person. To put things into perspective, stock Opel GTs measure nearly 2 feet shorter and 8 inches narrower than a 1968 Corvette. A car this small packing 315mm-wide rear meats, massively flared fenders, and a sinister stance looks borderline ridiculous, but in a very good way. Given the Opel's diminutive dimensions, Ricky didn't want to ruin the car's balance with a big lump under the hood. "A small-block Chevy would have made the nose too heavy, while an aluminum Buick 215 only weighs 280 pounds. Since Opels were originally sold through Buick dealerships, I thought it would be cool to put a Buick V-8 in my car," Ricky says. "After GM sold the tooling and manufacturing rights for the Buick 215 to the British Rover company in 1967, they became very popular in the U.K. I figured that if people figured out a way to shoehorn a Buick motor into small cars like MGs, Triumphs, and Morgans, then it should fit in an Opel GT, too."
In order to get some more grunt out of the all-aluminum mill, Ricky shipped it off to McMurtry's Engines for a complete rebuild. The Buick was bored .030 over, fitted with a fresh set of pistons, then finished off with ported factory cylinder heads, an Edelbrock 500-cfm carb, and a Crower 214/218-at-.050 hydraulic flat-tappet. Although Ricky has never strapped the engine combo to a dyno, he estimates output at roughly 300 hp, which is more than enough for the 2,800-pound Opel. The motor is tied to a Tremec T5 five-speed manual transmission, which channels torque back to a Ford 9-inch rearend.
Considering this is a hobby built on backyard engineering, the tale of Ricky's Opel GT will resonate with people who have never even seen one in person before. The fact that a devastating wall of saltwater served as the impetus for such a wild creation makes this saga that much more impressive. It kind of makes you scratch your head and wonder, what have you got to lose?
By The Numbers
1969 Opel GT
Type: Buick "215" 220ci small-block
Block: stock aluminum, bored to 3.530 inches
Oiling: Melling pump, factory pan
Rotating assembly: GM 2.800-inch stroke forged steel crank and rods; Hastings 9.0:1 pistons
Cylinder heads: ported factory Buick aluminum castings
Camshaft: Crower 214/218-at-.050 hydraulic flat-tappet; .488/.488-inch lift; 112-degree LSA
Valvetrain: Crower lifters, stock rocker arms
Induction: factory Buick dual-plane intake manifold; Edelbrock 500-cfm carb
Fuel system: custom aluminum fuel cell, Carter electric pump
Ignition: MSD billet distributor, 6AL ignition box, coil, and plug wires
Exhaust: D&D Fabrications 17/16-inch long-tube headers, stock Corvette mufflers and side pipes
Cooling system: Ron Davis radiator and dual electric fans
Built by: David McMurtry
Transmission: Tremec T5 five-speed manual, Centerforce clutch
Rear axle: Ford 9-inch rearend with 31-spline axles, 3.89:1 gears, and Strange limited-slip differential
Front suspension: Fatman Fabrications front clip, control arms, and spindles; AFCO coilovers
Rear suspension: Quarter-Max four-link and subframe connectors; S&W sway bar; Strange coilovers
Brakes: Engineered Components 11-inch discs, front and rear
Wheels & Tires
Wheels: American Racing Torq-Thrust 17x8, front; 17x11, rear
Tires: Goodyear Eagle F1 215/40ZR17, front; 315/35ZR17, rear
A custom 14-gallon fuel cell tucks neatly between the rear framerails. A ’63 Corvette gas
Stuffing the aluminum Buick V-8 inside the Opel required extensive firewall modification,
Although a hoodscoop wasn’t originally part of the plan, channeling the frame into the bod