Here’s What Made Richard Hammond Buy Another Opel To Match His Famous Top Gear Car


Key Takeaways

  • Richard Hammond has restored and unveiled a new car, Olivia, at the CarFest event this year in the UK.
  • Olivia is a 1962 Opel Kadett ‘A’ and will become a partner car for Hammond’s other classic car, Oliver.
  • Hammond is considering options for Olivia, including leaving it as is, turning it into a rally car, or performing a V8 engine swap.


Famous Grand Tour personality Richard Hammond is back on DRIVETRIBE’s YouTube channel with a teaser of his latest vehicle acquisition. It’s an important car because it will ostensibly become the partner car or ‘girlfriend’ to Hammond’s other famous classic car 2007 Top Gear Botswana Special: Oliver. We take a look at ‘Olivia’, find out exactly what it is, and see what’s in store later for this 60s English classic. The heat is on, as all the prep for the unveiling happens right in front of the public.

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Richard Hammond Restores And Unveils A Classic Car At CarFest

CarFest is an annual family fundraising festival held in the UK, which focuses on car culture and includes live music and other events, with money raised for charity. This year in 2023 Hammond brought along ‘The Smallest Cog’ auto workshop, along with Oliver the classic car.

Part of the purpose of the workshop was to reveal, strip down, and completely restore a new car during the festival: Olivia. The idea is for Olivia to become a ‘partner car’ for nearly identical to Oliver, the Opel Kadett. Imported the same year to the UK as Oliver from Johannesburg, South Africa, the owner contacted Hammond to see if he would like to buy it.

The Plan For Richard Hammond’s Olivia

  • Complete restoration at CarFest with a fully-equipped workshop
  • Olivia is the new twin of a much-loved car in Hammond’s collection
  • Stripped back the car and removed the engine, polished exterior but not painted
  • The public witnessed the engine getting reinstalled
  • Restoration and mechanical work were all done to a schedule during the event

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Looking Closer At Olivia, The Modest 1962 Opel Kadett

Highlights Of Richard Hammond’s 1962 Opel Kadett Project

  • Identical to Hammond’s other Kadett from a former Top Gear special except for the different body color
  • A complete, numbers-matching, and now fully restored classic car
  • The car is a family favorite despite its age and quirky 60s style

Olivia, like Oliver, is no muscle car. Despite its humble looks, the 1962 Opel Kadett ‘A’ was a successful and innovative new model produced by German company Opel, which is now under the corporate umbrella of Stellantis.

Opel’s Kadett competed with Volkswagen and followed in the footsteps of the first Kadett which introduced the affordable compact car philosophy. It came in three body styles: a sedan, coupe, and station wagon; all with a humble 1-liter engine. Innovations included the ‘lively’ water-cooled four-cylinder engine, low maintenance costs, and the external fuel filler cap.

A common location for the filler at the time was in the trunk, which made the trunk (and cargo) smell like gas. The Kadett would continue as an affordable economy car through later generations: it was also an affordable base for customizing to produce amateur street racing cars like this one. Hammond then asks the DRIVETRIBE YouTube channel what he should do with the car next. Options include leaving it in its current restored state, turning it into a rally car, or even performing a V8 engine swap.

1962 Opel Kadett ‘A’ Specifications

1962 Opel Kadett A

Type

Economy car (sedan, station wagon, coupe)

Generation

Second generation (1962-1965)

Engine range

1-liter, NA I4 (water-cooled)

Power

circa-40 hp

Drivetrain

Front engine, RWD

Data courtesy of Stellantis

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Hammond Is Contemplating A Possible Small-Block V8 Engine Swap

A V8 engine swap would be a worthy choice: it would retain the cute, boxy look of the car but give it the power, torque, and sound it deserves, turning it into a baby muscle car in the process. In the video, we can see the 1-liter engine block occupies very little of the engine bay.

However, a V8 would need custom engine mounts and reinforcement. It would also presumably need upgraded suspension to take the extra weight, upgraded disc brakes, and a new transmission and clutch. Below, we look at two common GM small-block engine swaps Hammond could offer Olivia. LS swaps for example are highly popular today. Check out this article on an LS-swapped Chevy C10 truck, which shows how flexible the engine is for different applications.

Examples Of Theoretical Engine Swaps For Olivia

GM LS1

GM LT1

Honda K20A3

Engine format

Naturally-aspirated V8

Naturally-aspirated V8

Naturally-aspirated I4

Displacement

5.7-liter

5.7-liter

2-liter

Power

345 hp

300 hp

160 hp

Torque

350 lb-ft

335 lb-ft

141 lb-ft

Example car model

C5 Chevrolet Corvette

C4 Chevrolet Corvette

2002 Acura RSX

Figures courtesy of Acura / Hagerty

Highlights Of The Engine Swap Options Above

  • Olivia would likely need modification to receive a V8 engine swap, for example, a new clutch, transmission, engine mounts, brakes, suspension
  • The LT1 and LS1 small blocks would increase power by around 8 times the Opel Kadett’s factory output
  • GM’s LT1 proceeded the LS1, and both are still highly popular as engine swaps today
  • Honda’s K-Series ‘K20’ engine is another relatively common engine swap that is compact and tuneable: with 4-times the Kadett’s factory output
  • None of the engines above would be straightforward and would need some custom parts

Oliver The Opel Kadett Is More Than The Sum Of Its Parts

Top Gear Botswana Special Cars Front View On Salt Pan
Via: YouTube via BBC

Highlights Of Oliver And The Botswana Trip

  • The car’s lightweight helped traverse the Makgadikgadi salt plains; simple mechanics proved reliable
  • It didn’t need to have its doors removed to reduce weight, which helped in the dust storm
  • The 1,000-mile trip departed from the Zimbabwe border to the Namibian border also crossed the Okavango Delta
  • This episode contributes to the ongoing popularity of Oliver the Opel Kadett

Although petite, modest, and unassuming on the outside, the ’62 Kadett earned its stripes in the popular Top Gear ‘Botswana Special’. This episode has a 9/10 rating on IMDb, the Internet Movie Database. In it, the Top Gear team had to make a 1,000-mile, highly demanding trip in cars bought for just under $2,000 in Africa.

The condition was that the cars be two-wheel-drive, and not SUVs. In the end, the Kadett performed admirably and Hammond grew attached enough to the car that he brought it back to the UK, where it underwent a restoration. Its simple, easy-to-fix mechanicals and the light weight would have worked in its favor on the trip. This is fortunate, as Hammond refused to remove pieces of Oliver to reduce the weight of the vehicle in Botswana. With that in mind, it’s great to see that Oliver will now have a true partner in Hammond’s new Opel, Olivia.

Sources: YouTube @ DRIVETRIBE, YouTube @ BBC, Acura, Hagerty, Stellantis, IMDb, CarFest



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