Who’d have thought that a Kadett estate could be turned into a show-stopper? Remco Gijzen’s been having a real gas confusing passers-by with his twin-cam Opel…
Everything has potential. That’s one of the undeniable constants of the modifying world. Sure, there are established ways of doing things, well-trodden paths which ensure that every modern showground is bristling with Mk5 Golfs on air-ride and E46s with CSL styling, but you’ll always find unexpected treats based on cars you’d never thought could be cool.
There was a Rover 75 estate on the scene a while back, slammed over WORK Seekers, it looked awesome. Someone’s buttered the mechanicals from a TT Quattro into an old Skoda 120. There’s a Xsara Picasso on hydraulics with chrome smoothies. No matter how unappealing a car may seem, it only takes one well-modified example to let you see it in a whole new light.
Take the Opel Kadett E estate, for example. What we’d know in the UK as a Mk2 Astra, this boxy station wagon (amusingly called the Kadett Caravan in Europe, for extra dork points) is something that we used to see everywhere in the 1980s, and never gave a second glance toward, as they were dull cars for pensioners, their spacious boots ideal for trips to the garden centre. These cars have all but died out because nobody gave a toss about them.
And then, out of nowhere, this shimmering green vision of magnificence appeared on the show scene, and suddenly everyone had to have a bit of a rethink. It twists your melon, unexpectedly falling in love with a car you’d never cared about before. It takes some getting used to.
The master of the double-take here is Remco Gijzen, a Dutch entrepreneur with a penchant for the offbeat. Indeed, with his proclivities leaning toward the East German unusualness of the Trabant, a booted Astra is near enough mainstream in his world. It certainly represents the fulfilment of a lifetime’s ambition for him. “I was fourteen years old when I first got the bug for modified cars,” he explains.
“It was at a Trabant meet in Zwickau, Germany, although it was the Kadett GSi that became my boyhood dream.” The car that we know as the Mk2 Astra GTE, it’s understandable that a fresh young petrolhead would become infatuated with this iconic hot hatch – and when he reached the age of eighteen, Remco bought one. “I was infected by the Kadett E virus!” he laughs.
Three more GSis followed – two of which he still has – along with a T5 Transporter and, yes, a Trabant, all having been eagerly modified… but it’s the Kadett Caravan which offers perhaps the clearest window into this offbeat modifier’s psyche.
“I’d built one of these Caravans before, just as a winter car, and I always regretted selling it,” Remco recalls. “So I bought this one back in 2010 – and it’s fair to say it’s been through a few different renovations since!”
He’s not kidding. And while the car did actually sit fallow for around six years while Remco got his new business up and running, he attacked the thing with great vigour once the vision of the finished product had crystallised in his mind. Keen to roll up his sleeves and tick things off the growing to-do list, our plucky hero took care of about 95% of the mods on the car himself, working to a vision that encapsulated the performance of the GSi, the imposing profile of the Caravan, and the stance of the modern show sweetheart.
The engine is a 2.0-litre XE, as you’d find in a GSi/GTE, but here it’s been converted to run on twin Weber carbs, which sounds utterly sublime – particularly combined with Remco’s own home-brewed stainless exhaust system. It nestles jewel-like in a fully shaved bay, the top mounts raised and the fluid reservoirs and battery relocated.
“I custom-built the air-ride system too,” he says. “It uses Air Lift Performance components with 3P management and Koni Yellows at the back, with modifications to the front legs and rear axle; all the suspension points on the chassis have been raised to get everything as low as possible – as a result, the trailing arms lie on the ground when it’s aired out! There are Powerflex bushes throughout and every component has been powdercoated; I also made new camber plates for the front, and shortened steering rods.”
The interior is an absolute work of art too. The rear’s been gutted, with a flat floor fabricated to provide a home for the air-ride system, and Remco’s installed a swanky gold-painted rollcage with bolt-in door bars. Have you ever seen a Kadett estate with a ’cage? This may well be a first. The seats are pretty special as well, being top-spec Cobra items with custom Players stitching. Why Players? “Well, I don’t go to a lot of shows, as I prefer to be in the garage tinkering,” he admits, “but the Players Classic at Goodwood is one of my favourites.” Again, all the work inside’s been carried out by this unstoppable force of nature – the Alcantara trimming, the seat frames, the superstructure for the air lines, the works.
Naturally there’s no point going to these extreme lengths if you’re not going to lavish the same level of attention on the exterior, and Remco’s really gone to town here. Just look at those flawless panels – we’ve got no proof to back it up, but we’re going to say that this has to be the straightest, cleanest Kadett E Caravan in the world. It must be. And to accentuate that flawlessness, he’s shot the whole thing in a unique shade of crystal green, using just a few select embellishments to act as breaking detail: GSi bumpers, Kamei spoiler, tinted headlights, Irmscher taillights, Astra F door handles. It’s at once an exercise in subtlety and a boisterous slap in the face.
“Really, I just want to see how far I can go,” Remco shrugs. “I do as much as possible myself so that I can learn all the techniques. In addition, it was a personal challenge to get the car as low as possible while maintaining the original look and parts. I think old-school cars modified the old-school way always look the best, but obviously I like to modernise things to complete my vision.
And like I say, I’ve got the Kadett E virus – you don’t often see these three-door station wagons, it makes this a fun and unique project.” And with that, he’s hit the nail on the head. Everything has the potential to be an awesome show winner with a jaw-dropping stance and electrifying performance – even a dull Opel estate can become an aspirational dream car. It only takes one well-modified example to let you see it in a whole new light.
TECH SPEC Opel Kadett
Custom green paint, Kamei front spoiler, GSi bumpers, Astra F door handles, tinted headlights and indicators, Irmscher taillights.
2.0-litre 16v XE, twin Weber carbs, custom 55mm stainless steel exhaust system with Simons silencers, shaved engine bay with fluid reservoirs and battery relocated.
8×16” ET28 BBS RS wheels with 1.5” lips, custom Air Lift Performance air-ride with 3P management, Koni rear shocks, raised front top-mounts, polybushed throughout, rear disc conversion.
Retrim in cloth/Alcantara, Cobra bucket seats with custom Players/Air Lift branding, Beltenick 5-point harnesses, custom rollcage in gold with bolt-in door bars, Opel Motorsport steering wheel, stripped rear with custom flat floor.
Words Dan Bevis Photos RonV