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August 2010
Retro Cars August 2010
Carl Foster has always had a real passion for the Opel Kadett C, this XE'd '79 Coupe is his latest weekend toy...
Words:Simon Jackson Photos:Matt Woods
Any self-confessed aficionado of '70s vintage Opels (or Vauxhalls for that matter) will tell you one thing: Kadett Cs are cool, period. And they're not wrong. Sure we've got a very public soft spot for the later Kadett D (also badged as the Mk1 Vauxhall Astra, of course), but there's something that little bit extra special, extra retro, extra alluring, about the C variant - especially as seen here in sleek fastback guise.

Something of a rare beast these days, the prime slices of lesser-spotted Kadett C Coupes were always the 'hot' Rallye and GT/E incarnations. First fitted with a decent 1897cc engine, GT/Es later boasted a juicier 1998cc OHC mill. But these now highly sought after cars are the ones that fetch silly money on the open market today, so for potential Kadett C buyers looking for a slice of classic, fast-paced GM-brand sideways, there's only one option: buy a base model and throw a bloody big engine in it. Oh, did we fail to mention that the venerable 2.0-litre XE red top will just so happen to slide directly into the Kadett's engine bay? Carl Foster, owner of this '79 example, clearly needed no such education on the subject.

"I've had Kadetts since I started driving," the Hull-based 38-year-old explained. "I've had this one around ten years now, I bought it off a guy I was working with at the time - they were getting rare even back then." Working as an electrical contractor, Carl gets about day-to-day, and back at the turn of the millennium he was plying his trade at a prison of all places - it was here that he spotted the Kadett lined-up in the clink car park. With another two-tone black and yellow GT/E replica Kadett C in his possession at the time, Carl knew he was looking at a good basis for a project in the virgin white 1.2-litre Auto model in factory trim. Having pestered the owner to part with the car over a period of time, Carl eventually became its third registered keeper. And at the time the car had just 42,000 miles on the clock. Good times, yes?

"It was the slowest car I've ever owned!" Carl recalled. "I had it resprayed by my mate, Steve Bryant at Advanced Bodytech, shortly after I got it, and then it just sat in a garage...."

Carl was up for playing the (very) long game with the '79 and with a few other projects on the boil over the years coming atop his 'to do' list (ahead of his new little Kadett), the car ended-up garaged for a staggering eight years. Throughout this time though Carl ensured the car stayed mobile and MoT'd; dragging it out of the lock-up once a year for its annual dust off and official Ministry inspection. "I think it covered 2000 to 3000 miles in eight years," we're told, "I just stopped it from seizing, and kept the brakes free."

Having kept the aforementioned black and yellow car waiting for four years before starting its own modified transformation, Carl was comfortable with the fact he'd get around to tackling the white car before too long. And actually having spotted a Kadett with a 16-valve conversion at the popular VBOA event at Billing, his taste buds were suitably whetted for a similar conversion with the '79. A finger-on-the-pulse kind of guy, Carl had seen several such conversions into old Opels and Vauxhalls over the years, both first-hand and in media such as Retro Cars, some carried out by the talented folk at Suffolk County Mantas. Simon Peckham and the guys down in Bury St Edmunds have indeed featured in these pages before; they definitely know their Opel onions, and as such Carl knew they'd execute the Kadett's conversion beautifully. A swift phone call to Simon for a chat revealed that Suffolk County Mantas hadn't ever actually tackled a 16-valve swap into a Kadett shell before, but they were more than up to the challenge of Carl's clear brief: "I wanted to lift the bonnet and instantly make a statement."

Retro Cars August 2010
Given that Carl was based way up in Hull, Yorkshire and Simon was obviously in Suffolk, the logistics of the operation had to be carefully planned, but first things first; Carl was to see what all the noise was about down in Bury. As it happened, he was taking a trip down south en-route to his honeymoon destination, having just been wed. His new bride Kerry, must have been pretty understanding as the couple took a detour to Simon's premises for a gander on their way to the airport! "I had a look at Simon's place. At the time he was just finishing a red Mk3 Cortina V8 featured in Retro Cars back in the August '09 issue - I saw that and said 'that's what I want!', hence why I ended-up throwing in some extra budget for the throttle bodies..." he explains.

The plan was pretty simple: Carl wanted a weekend warrior and occasional show car that he could use properly. He wanted a tidy bay and some decent, pokey performance, but the Opel didn't need to become some big budget prima donna in the process. Handily, he had already sourced an engine - the 2.0-litre 16v XE from his regular daily drive no less - a Mk3 Astra GSI. In a concerted effort to prove the engine was sound, he'd cleverly been using the car everyday for quite some time, thinking he'd cure any potential running issues with the lump in the donor car before offering it into the 1970s Kadett shell. "I thought to myself that if the engine went anything like that in the Kadett, I'd be happy," Carl said. The donor car duly went to Simon's Suffolk HQ first, ready for the stripping and the removal of said four-pot from Mk3 shell. It was swiftly followed by the Kadett's arrival back in around October 2008 and Carl's deadline was set: the following year's Billing-based VBOA event.

Simon and the guys obviously didn't struggle with the swap, executing Carl's request for a wow factor under the bonnet beautifully. Around the 2.0-litre block the guys simplified the aesthetics; they binned and tidied away various clutter, including hiding the wiring and screen waster bottle (this now lives under one of the wings), they also relocated the battery out back to the boot. Tapping into their in-depth knowledge of the larger Opel Manta model, the final spec sheet includes the likes of a Manta sump, prop and Getrag five-speed transmission, not forgetting the inclusion a Manta A-series rear axle. The cherry on the engine setup cake though has to be those SBD throttle bodies; they're responsible for Carl having to dig a little deeper in his pockets, but provide the gnarly bark and healthy performance punch he so desired. SBD's equipment package here is called the '208bhp' kit, and although Carl has no specific output figures for his finished engine, there's a damn good chance the XE is now pushing out a figure closer to 200bhp than its standard 150bhp factory claim. The engine install really does make the car; it certainly has the impact Carl wished for when the bonnet is raised now, and with a bit of luck it catches a few unsuspecting folk off guard too, raising an eyebrow in the process.

As it happened, Suffolk County Mantas had the car finished off by March 2009, way in advance of Carl's prized show weekend, giving him the chance to polish the car up in preparation for its first proper outing in almost a decade. Usually forced into tagging along with another GM-based club in his various Kadett projects over the years, Carl and a few mates have since set out to put the record straight by highlighting the car's small but passionate following in the UK. They've even started their own owners' club ( With eight members (and growing) the club is small, perfectly formed, and allows the guys a patch of grass to call their own and park on come show day.

Retro Cars August 2010
Carl may have owned his fair share of Opels and Vauxhalls throughout his career behind the wheel (he even currently runs an red top-powered Mk1 Astra everyday), but as he says the Kadett was his first love, and Carl's passion for these cool little German cars shows absolutely no sign of abating.

The '79 is currently off the road, in for paint as we type. It's actually being sprayed by Steve at Advanced Bodytech again, but rest assured it'll be out and ready to roll though the gates of billing's Aquadrome again this year on VBOA weekend. If you're in Northampton that weekend and aren't sure where to find it, it'll be parked-up with a bunch of other cool German Fastbacks - 1970s vintage, naturally.

2.0-litre XE 16v conversion, SBD '208bhp' throttle body kit, MBE distributor-less ignition system, Opel Manta 1.8-litre sump and pick-up pipe, Manta Getrag five-speed gearbox, Manta B-series auto propshaft, custom heavy duty engine mounts, custom alloy radiator, custom 2" exhaust system, bay tidied with hidden wiring and battery relocated to boot, hidden washer bottle mounted under wing.
7x15" TSW alloy wheels with 195/50 tyres, Spax PSX adjustable suspension with 60mm drop all-round, Mk3 Astra GSI front brake calipers with Audi 80 vented discs, Manta A 9" brake drums (rear), Manta A-Series rear axle.
Fully respray in factory white.
Factory black velour trim, temp gauge mounted in air vent.
SHOUT, Steve Bryant, Advanced Bodytech, Simon Peckham, SBD.
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