opala

The Opala was manufactured and sold throughout South America, by Chevy’s South American division, Chevrolet do Brasil (Chevrolet of Brazil). Throughout its production, it was one of the company’s most popular South American models. Not only was the Opala a popular car with South American (especially Brazilian) consumers, for many years, it was also the car of choice for many taxi companies and the Brazilian Federal Police due to its reliability and ease of maintenance. These attributes also contributed to the car being very popular on Brazilian race tracks.

Guedala Veiculos' 1976 Chevy Opala SS is the most popular car you've never heard of.  Images by author.

Guedala Veiculos’ 1976 Chevy Opala SS is the most popular car you’ve never heard of.

To this day, the Opala remains an extremely popular car in Brazil. Chevrolet sold more than one million units during the car’s production. Chevrolet do Brasil’s first passenger car, it came in three variants: coupe, sedan, and Caravan (the Brazilian version of the station wagon). After Chevrolet terminated production of the Opala, which ran from 1969 until 1992, portions of the car, such as the chassis, were used in other Chevrolet do Brasil vehicles, including the Santa Matilde, Puma GTB, and Fera XK, which was a poor knock-off of the Jaguar XK.

Tracing The History Of The Chevrolet Opala

American readers will surely recognize the Vega and the Monza influences in the lines of the Opala. However, those weren’t the only, or even the major contributors to the genetics of the Opala’s interior and exterior styling. The car’s design is more closely-related to two Opel models — the Rekord Series C, and the Commodore Series A.

Three exterior views of the 1976 Opala SS. How many different styling cues from other cars can you see?

Although the styling of the car is multi-national, the engine, as most engines in vehicles sold throughout the Americas, were sourced from cars sold in North America. The first engines that were installed in Opalas were four-cylinders. These were based upon the 153 cubic-inch engine that are recognized as the powerplant in early Chevy II/Novas. A couple of years later, that engine received changes to the bore and stroke, reducing the displacement to 151 cubic-inches. Later, sport models were upgraded with the inline six-cylinder engine that was found in many contemporary cars and light trucks sold in the North American market.

The 1976 Chevrolet Opala SS

The straight six 250/S is clean and runs strong, even without having been rebuilt. This is a tribute to the reliability of the engine.

The straight six 250/S is clean and runs strong, even without having been rebuilt. This is a tribute to the reliability of the engine.

This 1976 Opala SS is one of the models that had GM’s 250 cubic-inch inline six-cylinder engine installed in it, and this particular engine has a 3 7/8-inch bore with a 3 17/32-inch stroke.

For a car built in Brazil, it’s fast. – Carlos Guedala

The major difference in engine equipment between the Opala SS and other Opala models is that the SS was equipped with a two-barrel carburetor. However, this combo had to be run extremely rich in order to ensure an acceptable air-fuel ratio in cylinders one and six. To overcome this, most performance-minded owners either heavily modified their stock intakes, or installed performance intakes such as one with “three-twos,” which was so popular in the mid-’70s. In stock trim, the engine produced what was then a respectable 171 hp. This rendition of the Opala SS is equipped with a four-speed manual gearbox and rear-wheel drive. Buyers at the time had their choice of this transmission, or a five-speed manual. Automatic transmissions are still quite rare in Brazil, even in buses and luxury cars.

The engine bay. You can see the problematic stock intake that struggled to create an equal air/fuel mixture between cylinders. Two ways you can identify this as an Opala SS are the six-blade fan and the power-brake booster.

One quick note of trivia about the 250 engine, is that it was developed because the Opala had begun to lose races to Fords. The straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back was when drivers Bob Sharp and Jan Balder lost at the 24 Hours at Interlagos race to a Maverick in 1973. Although Chevrolet do Brazil engine-development manager Roberto B. Beccardi had already been working on a more powerful replacement engine for the Opala, it took Sharp and Balder losing the Interlagos race to convince upper management that a better engine was needed. Thus was born the 250/S in the Opala 4100 models.

A Quick Tour of the Undercarriage

We saw this Opala SS, at a classic car dealership, and unfortunately, the manager didn’t have any information about the rearend gearing. However, a quick check through the archives shows these cars were produced with live-axle rearends. They also came equipped with independent front suspensions, and coil springs front and rear. Look closely, and you can see the SS logos on the stock 14-inch wheels. Unfortunately, while we were photographing the car, the shop’s mechanic was rebuilding the stock two-barrel carburetor, and performing a tuneup when we arrived to take pictures, so we weren’t able to get any images of the undercarriage/suspension.

This One’s Never Been Restored

Step inside and you can see that the previous owners took very good care of it. All Carlos and his guys did was give the interior a through cleaning.

Step inside and you can see that the previous owners took very good care of it. All Carlos and his guys did was give the interior a through cleaning.

Floor manager Carlos Guedala assured us that this car had never been restored, but he did mention that they had initially been planning to send it to their restoration shop, which is affiliated with American Classic for a full frame-off restoration. However, once they finished the inspection, they decided they didn’t need to. Chevy’s Brilliant Orange color of the era covers the body. It’s also got the “SS stripes” that are a Chevy hallmark.

The three-spoke steering wheel and tach integrated into the dash are also dead giveaways that this is an Opala SS.

Walking around the car, one sees the original center caps on the aforementioned wheels, which are also a giveaway that it’s an SS. Where’s the SS badge on the grille you ask? Carlos told us the grille had been crunched in a minor fender bender, and they had been unable to find a correct SS grille so they had to settle for a standard Opala grille.

Like the rest of the car, the interior doesn't look almost 40 years old.

Like the rest of the car, the interior doesn’t look it age at almost 40 years old.

However, peeking into the passenger compartment, one immediately spies the tachometer that only SS models were equipped with. Looking at the car’s interior, we were mildly surprised that it was a ’76 model, and had never been restored. One of the seat back latches wasn’t working, but other than a little dust that had blown into the open windows, that was the only real problem we noticed with the interior.

This 1976 Chevrolet Opala shows that the hardcore Chevy hot rod spirit is alive and well in Brazil. During our chat at the lot, Carlos told us, “For a car built in Brazil, it’s fast. It’s almost as fun to drive as some of the hot rods we have here.”

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