Home Cars 14 Unbelievably Cool, Rare and Fast South African Muscle Cars

14 Unbelievably Cool, Rare and Fast South African Muscle Cars

Vukasin Herbez August 30, 2018

Most car fans and historians are dedicated followers of the global car scene with an emphasis on the American car culture, including muscle cars. But it is interesting to see other places in the world where they have accepted and even improved on the American car philosophy. But the car culture isn’t only limited to Detroit’s offerings. Today, we will tell you about unbelievably cool, rare and fast South African muscle cars.

Yes, that’s right. South Africa is a country known for its segregation policies, Apartheid, high crime rate and racial hatred. It is also a country that was isolated for a few decades. It is also the last place on Earth you would expect to find bona fide muscle cars. But, contrary to popular belief, the South African performance car scene was thriving during the 70’s and 80’s. This was mainly because a lot of American, Australian, England, German and even Italian manufacturers had factories there to produce local versions of their popular models.

Over time, performance enthusiasts persuaded the car companies to introduce limited edition models with powerful engines and drivetrain combinations that fans couldn’t get anywhere else in the world. This is how South African muscle cars were born. So, read on to learn about an interesting blend of U.S.-Aussie-European influences baked under the hot African sun.

1. Ford Fairmont GT

Ford introduced the Fairmont in 1970, as a full-size sedan designed by their Australia division, but their South African branch built and sold it, too. It was basically a version of the Australian Ford Falcon XY. As you may know, the Falcon GT was one of the first, most popular Australian muscle cars, but the South African dealers wanted their own, local version. And that is how the Fairmont GT came to be.

Powered with a Ford 351 V8 engine, the 1970 model had a two-barrel carburetor, while 1971 to 1973 model had a 4 BBL version with 300 HP. This made it one of the fastest, most powerful cars in South Africa at that moment. The 0 to 60 mph acceleration time was a respectable 7.2 seconds. But the Fairmont GT was an expensive, rare car, so in four years of production Ford only built 1,824 of them.

2. Chevrolet “Chev” Firenza CanAm

One of the craziest muscle cars they ever produced in South Africa is the Chev Firenza CanAm. Chevrolet introduced it in 1973 and based the Firenza CanAm on the Vauxhall Firenza. It was a two-door sedan they designed and constructed in England. However, they built it in South Africa under the Chevrolet badge.

However, the best thing about this car was the engine. It was a 5.0-liter Chevrolet V8 straight from the Z28 Camaro with performance intake and heads producing close to 400 HP. Since the Firenza body was light, the V8 could launch this homologation special in 5.4 seconds from 0 to 60 mph. These were acceleration figures closer to a Ferrari than a Chevrolet. They produced just 100 Firenza CanAms, almost by hand and mostly for racing. Today, the surviving examples are quite rare and expensive.

3. Valiant Barracuda

What the Plymouth Barracuda was in the U.S., the Valiant Barracuda was in South Africa. They built it there in only one body style from 1967 to 1971. Interestingly, the cars were identical, but only the South African version had one engine to choose from, a 383 V8 and right-hand drive. However, they offered the Valiant Barracuda with a Formula S package. This meant the 383 V8 had different intake and heads to produce 300 HP of pure Detroit power.

The performance was quite good for the standards of the day. In fact, the Barracuda Formula S could accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 7.2 seconds. The exact production figures are unknown, but they produced a significant number of Barracudas for the South African market, so you can probably find one in many South African backyards and barns.

4. BMW 530 MLE E12

Did you know they produced the first M BMW car in South Africa four years before any M cars appeared in Germany? In fact, in 1976, BMW South Africa introduced a special model called the 530 Motorsport Limited Edition (MLE). It featured numerous performance upgrades over the standard 5 Series 530 models.

The biggest change was the almost fully race-prepped six-cylinder engine that had a 3.0-liter, performance intake, head and beefed-up internals. The result was fantastic 274 HP from three liters. This made this four-door sedan one of the fastest, most powerful passenger cars in the world at that time.

They set initial production to just 100 examples for homologation purposes. However, the customers were so interested in this model, that BMW South Africa decided to produce 101 more in 1977. This set the final production number at 201 copies. This model is not only important for the history of South African muscle cars but for BMW M Power history, as well.

5. Alfa Romeo GTV 3.0 V6

Although Alfa Romeo was a rare car outside of Europe, in South Africa this Italian brand had a nice market share. They also had a factory that produced right-hand examples of sporty sedans and coupes for the local market. However, in mid-80’s, Alfa wanted to go racing. They needed a proper sports car, so they decided to turn the GTV coupe into a homologation special.

The Alfa GTV coupe was an interesting car. It featured a front-mounted 2.5-liter engine, transaxle gearbox and De Dion rear suspension, which made it a great handling coupe with sharp steering. They also sold the 2.5 GTV in America where it met modest success. However, that wasn’t enough for South African car enthusiasts. So, they decided to add the biggest engine Alfa produced. It was a 3.0 V6 with around 230 HP, thanks to the Bosch fuel injection.

At that time, the Alfa GTV 3.0 was the fastest South African car and winner of many races. You can tell the 3.0 GTV by its different hood, front bumper and right-hand drive. During a couple of years of production, Alfa produced only 200 of them.

6. Ford Capri Perana

The most popular South African muscle car is the legendary Capri Perana that Basil Green Motors built and marketed. It was a performance car dealership in Edenvale, Gauteng near Johannesburg, South Africa. Basil Green was an accomplished racer turned tuner and dealer. When Ford introduced their affordable, cool-looking Capri coupe in late 1969, he realized the potential and soon introduced the Capri Perana.

Basil took the 3.0-liter V6 Capri delivered straight from England to his workshop and installed a 5.0-liter Ford V8 from the Ford Mustang. To make the car handle properly, Basil’s engineers modified the suspension, chassis, brakes and steering. After some thorough work, the Capri Perana was born.

The power output was around 280 HP, but in the lightweight body of the standard Capri, the Perana could reach 60 mph in just six seconds. Those characteristics made it a favorite with race car drivers. During the early 70’s, the Capri Perana dominated the South African racing scene. Since this wasn’t an official Ford product, no one knows the exact number of Peranas they produced. However, the experts agree that Basil Green Motors delivered around 500 Capri Peranas from 1970 to 1972.

7. Chev SS

Behind this strange name is the Australian-built Holden Monaro GTS. They exported it to South Africa and sold it under the SS badge through Chevrolet dealerships. The car was the same as the Monaro GTS, except for the front grille. Also, the South African SS had four headlights.

Buyers could choose between two V8 engines. The standard power plant was 308 V8, but most customers chose the renewed 350 V8 with 300 HP. With this engine, the SS could accelerate to 60 mph in 7.5 seconds and top 130 mph. Despite the relatively high production figures, the Chev SS is rare. Most examples were either in crashes or went back to Australia.

8. Valiant Charger

For buyers who found the Valiant Barracuda to be too small, Chrysler South Africa offered another muscle car in from of the Valiant Charger. They combined several Mopar products to offer South African buyers a Plymouth Duster body with a Dodge Dart front. It also came with right-hand drive and an upgraded interior.

The interesting part of this model was the engine. The standard power plant was a 225 slant six with 190 HP from the revised intake, camshaft and exhaust. Despite having relatively small power, the Valiant Charger delivered a satisfying performance. Allegedly, Chrysler South Africa made 383 V8-powered Valiant Chargers to meet customer demands, but the information on those vehicles is extremely scarce.

9. BMW 745i E23

Some people say BMW never produced an M7 model, the high-performance version of their flagship sedan. But, it looks like they did, although in limited numbers and not under that specific name. In 1983, BMW South Africa introduced a special, significant car they called the 745i. It was powered by a naturally aspirated M88 engine from the famous M1 supercar. The six-cylinder with 286 HP was one of the hottest engines BMW offered.

This engine found its way into the biggest, most luxurious sedan in the lineup, which was an unusual combination, even by today’s standards. But the 745i turned out to be a fast capable car. It was enough to go racing, so the big 745i won the South African touring car championship, becoming the first 7 Series sedan to win a major race series. Production ended in 1986 after they built only 209 of those fantastic cruisers. Most of them came with automatic transmission and all of them in right-hand drive form.

10. Ford Granada Perana

After the success of the Capri Perana, Basil Green Motors decided to introduce several performance models they based on Ford products. The most interesting among those was the Granada Perana V8. The Ford Granada was a popular 70’s full-size sedan they sold and built in Europe, Australia and South Africa. It came in four and two-door versions with a long list of optional extras.

Basil Green realized he could install the 5.0-liter V8 in the Granada much easier than in the Capri with similar results. So in 1972, he introduced the first Granada Perana. The car had 250 HP and optional automatic transmission for effortless cruising.

The performance figures were slower than the Capri Perana but more than enough to beat any other sedan at the traffic lights. The 0 to 60 mph sprint took around eight seconds and this Granada could top 120 mph.

11. Opel Kadett Superboss

The 80’s arrived and V8 muscle cars with rear-wheel drive went out of fashion. But those South African manufacturers continued to deliver hot versions of ordinary cars, although in different packages. And one of the best examples of an SA-improved model is the Opel Kadett Superboss. The Kadett was Opel’s compact, front-wheel drive car like the VW Golf. They sold it globally, even in the U.S., as a Pontiac LeMans.

In Europe, it had its hot hatch version called the GSI. However, the South Africans thought that 150 HP from a 2.0-liter engine wasn’t enough, so they produced their own version called the Superboss. The differences were several. The Superboss was much lighter than the Kadett GSI. It also had 15 more HP, but different gearing ratios and a steering system that made it even sharper and faster.

The Superboss was also a homologation special they produced in just 244 cars in the early 90’s. They pitted it against the rear-wheel drive BMW in the South African Touring car championship, winning several races.

12. BMW 333i E30

The BMW 333i E30 was an example of a factory hot rod. They used the true muscle car philosophy by installing the biggest engine in the smallest body to create a performance car. Back in the late 80’s, the smallest BMW was the 3 Series coupe and the biggest engine was 3.3-liter from the 7-Series luxury sedan. Buyers could get the 325i with six cylinders, but that was it, and not for BMW South Africa. In 1988, SA BMW introduced the 333i E30 coupe with 3.3-liter straight six, 194 HP and vivid performance.

The 0 to 60 mph sprint took around seven seconds, which was better than the M3 E30. The 333i came with a plush interior, but only two options, air-conditioning or power steering. Apparently, the big six-cylinder took up so much space in the engine bay that buyers had to choose between an air-conditioning compressor or power steering pump. This was a special model, so BMW made only 210 of those fantastic 333i E30s. They are extremely rare today, even in South Africa.

13. Ford Sierra XR8

You may remember the Ford Sierra as the definitive 80’s Ford`s mid-size family model with rear-wheel drive. They sold it in America as the Merkur XR4Ti with a 2.3-liter turbo engine and with modest success. But, South Africans had a different idea. The Ford SA produced a limited run of Sierra XR8 models featuring a 5.0-liter V8 engine straight out of the Mustang with 220 HP.

In a light body equipped with a manual transmission, the Sierra XR8 could accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in less than seven seconds. This made it perfect as the basis for a successful racing car. Since this was a homologation special, the production was small at just 250 examples that looked almost stock.


14. Ford Cortina XR6 Interceptor

Ford introduced the Cortina XR Interceptor in 1982. It was a high-performance version of the regular MK3 Cortina they sold all over the world. Ford South Africa wanted something to spark sales, so they decided to re-introduce muscle cars to the market. And Cortina’s rear-wheel drive platform was perfect for the job. The Cortina XR6 Interceptor was a performance four-door sedan with a 3.0-liter V6 engine and three Webber carburetors, a hotter cam and high compression heads.

The power was not high at 140 HP, but the Cortina was reasonably light and stable. Since it featured ordinary looks, it was the favorite getaway car for armed robberies. The plain design blended in with other vehicles and the engine was powerful enough to get away fast. Maybe that is why Ford built only 250 of them.

These are the top unbelievably cool, rare and fast South African muscle cars. They go fast and some even won multiple races. If you can find any of these rare beasts, consider yourself lucky.

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