During Lockdown I decided that the family Opel Corsa sedan that my wife gave me needed to be more than just a runaround and so I started planning things to make her as reliable as new along with a wee bit more power. The end result is to be a weekend toy that I can put on the various short tracks I shoot so that I can also have a bit of fun. After 20 years of shooting things, I want some hands-on action in my old age. I'd been posting various updates on what I've replaced on the Corsa on my social media pages and a bunch of awesome friends and companies took notice and offered their services to make the task easier for me. Simon Johnstone from STK Performance got wind of my shenanigans and without a word sent me a 270-degree STK camshaft with an SQP vernier pulley to help with the engine side of the plans. You can imagine the look on my face when the courier arrived. That was in November last year. I then asked Wikus Dippenaar from Delarey Racing Developments if he'd be keen to help fit the camshaft, and in typical Wikus fashion, he was happy to come on board to do the install. This man helps so many people in the industry that he actually deserves an award. Over and above having a fully equipped workshop and access to the every tool and machine available, DRD is run out of Goldwagen Delarey so any little parts needed for the Corsa would be immediately on hand to make the job run smooth.
Personally, the only car I've done any serious kind of mechanical work on has been a Mk1 Golf, and with DRD/Goldwagen being centred mainly on all things Volkswagen, it was pretty much the same for Wikus and Cheandre. With the patient in theatre being an Opel Corsa, I figured it would be just as easy, I mean it's also a small budget car, right? Wrong! While I love this little Corsa, it's small 1.4-litre engine is rather overcomplicated, especially when compared to a Mk1 lump. This extended the task of a few hours into an overnighter, well it technically was done in less than a day, but we left the final start up until the following morning just in case.
Fitting a camshaft on a Mk1 is simple, you make sure you're on TDC and then simply loosen the tensioner pulley, remove the cam belt, remove the cam cover, remove the camshaft caps and remove the camshaft. Then you do it all in reverse but add in a new camshaft and Robert's your mother's brother - you have successfully "dropped in a cam". On the Corsa there's not a normal cylinder head, it's a 2-piece setup that sees the camshaft located in a separate section to the cylinder head - a cam box. We located the only bolts there are to remove this cam box, and it turns out that the Corsa's cam box bolts are also the cylinder head bolts, turning the simple job into some pretty advanced mechanics - well for me anyway. So be warned if you're fitting a camshaft to one of the older generation Opel motors, you will also need a full head gasket kit to get the job done, an extra expense many aren't aware of or ready for, never mind the skills and tools needed.
In adding to the new gaskets you'll need to replace all fluids in the engine too because they all sort of fall out when you lift the cylinder head off. With so many parts stripped away, it's also a good idea to try and replace as many worn components as are available and that you can afford to make sure you take full advantage of an unplanned engine teardown.
With the cam box cover removed, you can see how the camshaft runs through the centre of the cam box. If you could easily remove the front right fender you could do the job with the cylinder head in place, but seeing as cars aren't quite modular like that, it's not an option. When the cam box is removed after taking out the cylinder head bolts, you're greeted with the bare rockers resting on the valve springs, but once you're this far the cylinder head is freed from the sub assembly, and it pretty much has to be pulled completely off because a 200k-km deep gasket just ain't going back in. This was an opportunity to give the head a once over, especially after completing over 210 000km it was kinda necessary. There was a wee bit of carbon build up, likely built up during the car's slow days when the kid drove it. Seriously, Miss Daisy would fire him for taking too long to get to the shops. The rockers and hydraulic lifters all looked brand new, no wear marks anywhere - and as we were to later discover, the camshaft was perfect too. Impressive really.
With the cam box off, the camshaft slides out of the belt end and the new one slides straight back in. It does need to be lubed up thanks to the tight tolerance where sections of the shaft and the cam box work together basically as a bearing of sorts. Wikus is highly-skilled at guiding the big shaft into the tight hole though. Once it's all the way in, a camshaft seal is popped on the belt end to make sure the oil stays where it should be.
After that, the cam needs to be rotated to match the block - being in set at top dead centre - so when you bolt it down tight you have the right lobes pushing the right valves open for the correct firing order. This was where Wikus's brain came in again, it's 100% something I would have cocked up properly, even if I was given drawn instructions. Cheandre, the other hands-on DRD crew member who's yet another top chap, cleaned the carboned up pistons with a drill wire brush and compressed air and stuff, and a close inspection showed perfect pistons and rings with zero play and the cylinder bore had no scarring. Super awesome, especially for the mileage. While the head was off, the same thing was done to the valves and combustion chambers. Even the valve stem seals were perfect, which makes me wonder how some smoking cars out there have been driven in their lives. Everything ended up looking brand new again, which makes me smile. Using a very technical-looking feeler gauge thingymajig Wikus found the EXACT top dead centre to the micro-millimetre and after a new head gasket was laid down, the head was put back on with the timing kept at TDC all round. A little care must be taken here because the rockers and their guides simply rest on top of the valve springs so you have to line things up properly, but the lube stuff used was thick and did the job.
With the head bolted down and torqued to the OEM settings - a mind-boggling process, the bits around needed to be reassembled. A new set of cam belt-side plastics was fitted before the vernier pulley went back on. With the point of the pulley being adjustable and the point of the plastic cover to protect the belt, a plan had to be made. As I said, DRD/Goldwagen has everything you need, and so the outer cover was popped into the laser cutter and a circle with a slightly larger diameter as the pulley was perfectly cut out in seconds. With the modified cover in place I now have easy access to change the timing on the pulley while the belts stay protected from anything that may flick up from the road. That's part of why I LOVE visiting this workshop, it's like being in one of those professional garage build YouTube series, there's no such thing as 'can't' there. During the assembly, a bunch of small old parts and pipes and nuts and bolts that looked a little suspect were replaced, including a new water pump. The old one worked fine, but it looked like rust was about to have a proper lunch on it and seeing as everything was open... A new cam belt tensioner went in along with a new belt and oil filter. The blue plug wires and blue air filter were cool finishing touch to match the blue of the vernier pulley. Wikus and Cheandre also sorted out an induction pipe from the bumper to the air filter giving the 1400 a cool lil' growl. So damn cool!
With everything replaced, assembled and sorted out, the Corsa's engine bay is looking just too cool and it feels great to know that it's also mechanically good again to last many more years to come, well as long as we have dead dinosaurs to feed her I guess. A completely unexpected side effect of "dropping a cam in" but I'm also grateful that there are places like Goldwagen Delarey that still carry everything you need to keep a classic Corsa safely and reliably on the road at an affordable price. Like seriously, the wing mirrors aren't available from Opel SA/GM or whoever owns them now, but the list price for a right hand side mirror is well in excess of R6000. SIX THOUSAND RAND. At Goldwaen Delarey? You're looking at under R400. So yeah, Goldwagen FTMFW!
I want to send a huge shoutout to the Goldwagen Delarey and Delarey Racing Developments crew for all the help during this feature. So very much appreciated guys 🙏🏼. Another huge thanks to Simon Johnstone at STK for sending me the camshaft and pulley - you rock man!
So what's it like having a 270-degree STK camshaft in a 1.4i Corsa? Flippin' rad man! I do love me a small capacity motor, and having one that revs up smooth and fast makes me drive like a little bit of a chop. Thanks to the full custom-built exhaust from TMSS Motorsport the little sedan has that much-loved burble only a good system and cam can make. Now you have to remember that a camshaft doesn't increase power by leaps and bounds, but with the valves staying open a little longer and lifting a little higher, there is a definitely a difference. The vernier pulley allows you to move the new power curve around the rev range so that you can set up the car and the power delivery to suit your driving style and needs.
After the cam fitment, the car drove great for a few days, but the ECU finally caught on and threw a hissy fit. I got some new generic and also some 2nd-hand OEM sensors and things stayed the same. Only after a bit more research did I discover that the only way to sort out the idling and timing on a Corsa is by fitting a piggyback chip. I did manage to find a cool balance when I set the vernier pulley advanced, everything works great but the MIL stays on. It doesn't bug me but it's not right so I will sort it out. Just after I got it running great, I managed a dyno run at DynoSport for shits & giggles and the result was 51.9kW and 89Nm.
Luckily when I mentioned that the solution would be the fitment of a Unichip in a social media update, Opel brain and all round good guy Tristan Palmer contacted me and donated his UniChip Q from his old 2.0 8-valve Corsa. Fitment and tuning of the chip will hopefully follow on in a not too distant update as soon as I have the spare funds. Until then, keep an eye out for the next update that saw the Corsa getting a visual makeover, not that she wasn't a neat lil thing already...