Son of Stingray: The 1969-1973 Opel GT

As it took shape, Projekt 1484 began to look quite a bit like the Monza GT. The Opel design was not mid-engined, nor was it in any way Corvair-based, but it shared many design cues with the Monza: a sloping nose with concealed headlamps, a low-slung fastback roofline, and a cropped Kamm tail with quad taillights.

We don’t know if MacKichan had been involved with the development of the XP-797 (it appears that the Monza SS and Monza GT were built after he left for Germany), but Bill Mitchell later confirmed that the Opel design was indeed based on the Monza GT, a design of which Mitchell was very fond. An additional connection was Tony Lapine, who joined MacKichan at Opel in 1964 and was involved in the sports car project’s subsequent development. (Interestingly, while Projekt 1484 did not share the Monza GT’s lift-up canopy, that feature reappeared on the 1969 Opel CD, a concept car based on the Diplomat 5,4.)

By 1965, Projekt 1484 had reached the full-size prototype stage. While it had found some support outside the styling department, principally from marketing executive Bob Lutz, senior Opel officials had little interest in pursuing the project even as an auto show confection. Opel’s philosophy at the time was that the company should show what it sold, and Opel was not in the sports car business.

In July 1965, Semon “Bunkie” Knudsen was promoted to group VP of GM’s Overseas and Canadian Group, following successful stints as general manager for Pontiac and Chevrolet. MacKichan had worked with Knudsen at Chevrolet and knew of his fondness for sporty cars. We assume that most GM executives were aware that Knudsen had revived the moribund Pontiac division with a new emphasis on performance. Suspecting that the sports car would be right up Knudsen’s alley, MacKichan and Lutz arranged for him to see the prototype. As expected, Knudsen loved it and gave his support for exhibiting the car on the auto show circuit.

Opel Experimental GT (orange) front 3q - Copyright 2012 General Motors LLC. Used with permission, GM Media Archive. (GMMA 16670, photo 61545)
One of the early prototypes of Projekt 1484, the Opel Experimental GT. Note the comparatively featureless nose, lacking the production car’s under-bumper grille and cooling ‘nostrils.’ There is no hood bulge, either; the experimental four-throat Solex carburetor set-up didn’t require it. Another major distinction is the prototype’s electrically operated rectangular pop-up headlights, chosen to minimize aerodynamic interference in the raised position. In back, the prototype sports a Kamm tail with quad taillights reminiscent of the Monza GT and SS, albeit with vestigial bumpers. The similarity to the Monza GT was not lost on contemporary automotive journalists. (Photo copyright 2012 General Motors LLC. Used with permission, GM Media Archive.)

The prototype made its public debut at the Frankfurt International Auto Show in October. Prosaically dubbed Opel Experimental GT, it was described as an aerodynamic test chassis for Opel’s new high-speed test track in Dudenhofen. Despite that cautious presentation, response was sensational. The car attracted hordes of curious showgoers and raised many eyebrows among the representatives of other automakers, who expected nothing more from Opel than bland porridge.

Seeing the enthusiastic reaction, Opel management reexamined the sports car project in a new light. There seemed to be a market for a production model. The question now was how to build it.

THE GT AND THE KADETT

Given the sports car’s likely volume — and the likely complexity of its body — Opel decided to outsource production of its body shell. Initial thoughts involved Karmann, but in early 1966, Opel officials met with representatives of the venerable French coachbuilder Brissonneau & Lotz, who had been trying unsuccessfully to pitch the idea of a Rekord convertible.

Brissonneau & Lotz were interested and signed a deal to produce tooling and bodywork for the prototypes. The actual stamping, welding, and body assembly would be subcontracted to the Parisian firm Chausson, best known today for its recreational vehicles. The Brissonneau & Lotz plant in northern France would handle paint, trim, and wiring before sending cars back to Opel’s Bochum plant for mechanical assembly.

1969 Opel Kadett LS Coupe front 3q © 2008 Lothar Spurzem (CC BY-SA 2.0 Germany)
The Opel GT’s brother under the skin, the Kadett B, seen here in LS fastback coupe form. It was built at Opel’s plant in Bochum-Laer, which opened in late 1962 specifically to build the Kadett. The GT shared the Kadett’s floorpan, although the GT’s front suspension was relocated forward slightly, increasing its wheelbase from 95.1 to 95.7 inches (2,415 to 2,428 mm), and its tread widths were 0.4 inches (10 mm) wider. (Photo: “Opel Kadett B Coupé LS (2008-06-28)” © 2008 Spurzem – Lothar Spurzem; resized 2012 by Aaron Severson and used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Germany license)

There was little chance of any exotic hardware under the skin. Even if Opel management had been willing to make large investments in a relatively low-volume new product, selling price was a concern. Market research suggested that the sweet spot would be around 10,000 DM (about $2,500 at the contemporary exchange rate), where the new car would face little direct competition. At that price, a bespoke platform was out of the question. Instead, the sports car would share most of its mechanicals with the Kadett B.

The one major concession the stylists and engineers wanted was the location of the engine. The Kadett’s engine was normally mounted well forward in the interests of packaging efficiency, which was problematic with the sports car’s sloping nose. To preserve the prototype’s sleek profile, the styling team wanted to relocate the engine 15.75 inches (40 cm) farther back, but Opel’s cost accountants balked, seeing the engine relocation as an unnecessary expense.

Hoping to appeal to Teutonic pride of engineering, proponents insisted that the change would make a perceptible difference in the car’s handling and overall feel. To test that thesis, Hans Mersheimer authorized the construction of two test mules, one with the engine relocated, one without, and hired Porsche works driver Hans Hermann to test both at the Nürburgring. Predictably, Hermann’s professional opinion was that the car with the relocated engine felt better, so Opel management grudgingly conceded the point.

1969 Opel Kadett B LS Coupe rear 3q © 2008 Lothar Spurzem (CC BY-SA 2.0 Germany)
Like the Kadett A, the Kadett B’s front suspension used upper and lower control arms with transverse leaf springs and a torque tube rear axle. Early cars had parallel leaf springs in back, later exchanged for coil springs with radius rods and a Panhard rod for axle location. That layout was previewed on the original Opel Experimental GT and introduced to the Kadett line by 1968. (Photo: “Opel Kadett B Coupé LS – Heck (2008-06-28)” © 2008 Spurzem – Lothar Spurzem; resized 2012 by Aaron Severson and used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Germany license)

The running prototype shown to the press in 1967 had the 1,897 cc (116 cu. in.) version of Opel’s new cam-in-head (CIH) engine, recently introduced on the Rekord. In the prototype, the engine used an experimental 4V Solex carburetor and a modified head with 10.0 compression, giving a net output of 128 PS DIN (126 hp, 94 kW) and 115 lb-ft (156 N-m) of torque. Since the prototype weighed less than a ton and was quite slippery aerodynamically, it had excellent performance and a claimed top speed of 130 mph (210 km/h). It looked very promising.

THE PRODUCTION OPEL GT

Clare MacKichan departed long before Opel’s new sports car went into production. In 1967, he returned to the U.S. to become director of advanced styling, turning over the reins at Opel to Chuck Jordan, who had spent the previous five years as GM’s director of exterior design. Jordan would oversee final development of the production sports car, now known simply as Opel GT.

Inevitably, the GT’s shape underwent many changes between prototype and finished product, emerging taller, thicker of snout and plumper of hindquarters, with a more sharply cropped tail, a prominent hood bulge, and a pair of cooling slits atop the nose. Some of the changes were undoubtedly driven by production necessity, others by regulatory requirements (the prototype’s rectangular pop-up headlights would not have been legal in the U.S.), while others were dictated by wind tunnel testing. In production trim, the GT had a drag coefficient of 0.39: not great by today’s standards, but first rank for the late 1960s and significantly better than the C3 Corvette, to which the Opel was now taking on a decided and probably non-coincidental resemblance.

32 Comments

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  1. Excellent article which covers all bases of this car’s history.
    Great job and keep up the good work guys!

  2. Great article. I always have had a fond desire for the GT. My mom bought a brand new Kadett in 1966. So when the GT showed up, I wanted one. Never got it, but always admired them. Thanks again…

  3. I am rather surprised that nothing was mentioned about the Pontiac Banshee. To me it seemed closer in styling and concept. Though I don’t know that the development of the Banshee had anything to do with the Opel.

    1. I mentioned it in passing in the sidebar (and I discussed the Banshee project at length in the Fiero article), but as far as I know, there’s no direct connection between the two other than their general conceptual resemblance. Bill Mitchell was obviously aware of both of them (and was apparently keen on the idea of a small sports car), but most of what I’ve read about the Banshee suggests that it was driven more by DeLorean than Mitchell.

      Still, the Opel and the Pontiac were developed at roughly the same time, and it does raise the question, “Why was Buick selling a small sports car in 1969 when GM had vetoed Pontiac’s attempt to do the same thing five years earlier?” I think the answer has more to do with Buick’s established relationship with Opel than anything else; if Buick had developed the GT in-house, I suspect they would have gotten the same response DeLorean did.

  4. Growing up in germany in my late teens the Opel GT (and the Ford Capri) immediately caught my attention as it brought some drama to a rather uninspired car design scene. Unfortunately my pockets weren’t deep enough to afford one. But during the 1969 IAA in Frankfurt I was invited to the Opel Design Center in Ruesselsheim. I had the good fortune to meet Erhard Schnell who showed me round the less sensitive areas including clay models of the Aero GT and the Opel CD Concept.
    Allow me two comments. I am surprised you did not include a picture of the NSU Prinz 4, the absolute best clone of the original Corvair, albeit at miniature scale.
    The pictures of the Kadett B coupe show the later LS version not the first coupe version, which to me looked more harmoniuos. Thanx for another great and well researched story

    1. Thanks!

      The main reason I included a picture of the Imp, rather than the Prinz 4 or some of the other obvious Corvair scions, was just that I had one handy. The list of cars obviously influenced by the Corvair is lengthy — Paul Niedermeyer over at Curbside Classic did a more exhaustive survey last year.

      There are two different Kadett coupes shown: a red one that I *think* is a ’67 (please correct me if I’m wrong) and a 1969 LS fastback coupe. They’re definitely not the same car.

      1. I am afraid that all three Kadett B coupes shown(plus or minus wheeltrim and vinyl roof) are of the "LS" type built between 8/67 – 7/73. The first B coupe had different sheetmetal from the B-pillar rearwards. It was built from 8/65 – 7/70. Here is a picture of it [Wikimedia Commons]

        Again thank you for the great work!!!

        1. Thanks for the clarification! Detailed information on workaday Opels of this vintage is a little scarce for those of us who don’t read German, and identifying model years is made more challenging by the disparity between when models were released in Germany and when (or if) they appeared in the U.S.

      2. While my parents lived in Paris during the mid ’60s, they owned a Simca 1000, one of the many Corvair clones. I drove that car to the 1967 Le Mans 24 hrs and watched Foyt and Gurney make it two in a row for Ford.

  5. Thanks for the fantastic story of the Opel GT. The latest in a long line of brilliant, well researched and informative stories about the auto industry and its most interesting products. I always lusted after one of these when I was in high school. Keep the great stuff coming.

  6. I owned two Opel GTs at different times in the late 1970’s. One of them was the actual J. Edgar Opel (!), so I can attest to its still existing in 1977-1978, in upstate New York (Dutchess County).

    By the time I had it, it had passed through several hands. The original paint job Car& Driver gave it had been painted over in a not-very-appealing metallic brown. It still had all of its C&D installed modifications, exhaust, etc. The engine was a little tired by the time I had it, compression was down – it had led a “well used” life by every owner flogging it in the spirit of C&D. It was an absolute blast to drive.

    Up until then my interests leaned more to American iron – Mustangs and the like were a core part of my automotive formative years. J. Edgar Opel, low compression notwithstanding, opened my eyes to how much fun a great handling ‘European sports car’ could be. At the time it was nothing less than a religious revelation – it would take hard 90 degree turns at 40 mph with barely a trace of body lean. The stock Opel GT I had which came before it was a delightful car, significantly mroe civilized than the MBGs and the like of the time, much more comfortable and practical as a ‘daily driver’ sports car, but J. Edgar Opel was a mystical experience for me.

    I traded it for a 1972 Camaro SS396 – mistake. The person I traded it to was going to rebuild the engine and repaint it back to the original C&D colors. I didn’t personally stay in touch with him, but heard through the local grapevine that he wrecked it hooning around one night, which would have been around 1979. The rumor was that a few years later the wrecked car was still in his garage in Kingston NY in the early 1980’s.

    I’ve now owned 103 cars in my 38 years of driving, and this is one of the ones I regret selling. I’ve been trolling e-bay and craigslist for years looking for a nice, stock GT.

    1. Hello, I don’t know if you’ve found your dream stock opel gt or not, but I have a 1970 1900 GT that is almost all stock except for things you wont miss like the original solex carb, and Points. it has a weber 32/36. it has electronic ignition and an aluminum radiator. it has an added ignition relay and a modern sony stereo. but the engine,transmission and exhaust are all original, as is the interior. here is a link to my CL post, which will be active until it’s sold. some great pictures. my plan for it was to install a 98 VW TDI engine(minimal computer)using an Acme Adapter and a Toyota 5 speed, but this car is too nice at 44 to go swapping in a non stock engine and the stock engine runs beautifully and sounds so nice it would be kind of a shame. it’s a very exotic looking car for sure.

  7. Aaron,
    Thank you for the memories, so to speak.
    I was in Munich in the summer of 1970 where I saw a red Opel GT in its natural enviroment on Belgium Block pavement. A fantastic memory. I returned home excited and smitten by the GT. Later in late spring 1971, I learned that the local Buick dealer had a red 1970 1.9Litre CIH GT in stock which had languished at the dealership , I initially believed, because of competition from the Datsun 240Z and Porsche 914. I was able to buy that car with a $500 discount for about $3000. Later I learned that Opel GT’s sold because of enthusiasts like me despite the indifference of Buick and its dealers to the Opel brand. Buick never properly understood the potential of the GT and later the Opel Manta, but we owners did.

    Shortly after I bought the Opel GT, I swapped out the stock Goodyear tires for Michelin XAS tires, added a rear anti-roll bar, and Koni shocks–the results were transformative. It was such a fun car to drive both in summer and in winter with snow tires. I also loved watching the headlamps swivel with the forward push of the headlamp lever–because it was a manual system, the headlamps never failed to open and engage, summer or winter.

    During the winter there were many great skiiing road trips to Vermont with the GT initially stopping at Smith College in North Hampton to pick up a girl friend on the way usually to Stowe. The GT easily ran at over 100+ on the Interstate with two sets of ski’s on the diminutive ski rack. Driving the GT on Vermont 100 was always great fun. It handled the curves with the pleasure one experienced during a fun mogul run. Wow, was it fun.

    The only downside of the GT was the poor rust conditioning/prooofing. By 1976, despite solid mechanics at about 113,000 miles, the tin worm had been very destructive and I unfortunately sold my loved Opel GT for the worst car of my life, my disastrous VW Rabbit–but that is another story for another time.

    Thank you for reminding me of all of the great miles and smiles I had with my GT.
    Vic

    1. Rust seems to have been an endemic problem with the GT. The GT’s body WAS rust-proofed by Brissonneau et Lotz, but from what I can tell, the design of the body structure appears to have made it particularly susceptible and more challenging to repair once rot (or serious collision damage) does set in.

  8. The Steinmetz kits were available in the US. They were sold and installed by MORE Opel in Seattle. Modified Opels with 125 to 140 BHP gave spirited performance, easily matching the 240Z, but for much more money!

  9. What should a 1969 opel gt 1900 with 33.500mls very good con cost me

    1. I’m sorry, I’m not able (or qualified) to assess or estimate values for cars.

  10. I am trying to restore a 1973 Opel Gt. anyone know a mechanic in Toronto that can help with an engine swap or fixing the original engine?
    anyone have an old body they would like to sell?

  11. I had three Opel GT 1969, 1970 had 4 weber carbs fast, 1973 had a automatic was the cleanest and should of kept,
    The 1900 engine I fItted a down draft 2300 ford pinto carberator and it fit with a manual choke.

  12. Thank you for the article. I had heard and read of the Corvette connection in a Corvette magazine article and it made passing reference to the link between the Corvair and the GT.

    I bought a field-find 1969 GT a couple of years ago sort of as a joke. We’d paint it up as a Compuware Corvette and take it racing in the 24 Hours of LeMons. That was three years ago, and the little car has done well in its 12 or so races plus a trip to Bonneville. It certainly has grown on me, and it has developed a bit of a following in LeMons circles.

    To show you how much I have been sucked into the Opel world I am now the editor for the Blitz, the Opel Motorsport Club’s newsletter. I’d love to be able to reprint this article in the Blitz.

    BTW, Opel GTs and to some extent the Mata are still well supported. There is a company in California that hoards old parts and when needed has reproduction parts made. The is also a company in Germany that does the same. Prices are very reasonable.

    Mike

    1. Mike,

      If you’d like to talk about reprinting the article, drop me a line — I’d be happy to discuss it. Thanks!

      1. Aaron,

        I happened on this article, and my post above, while researching the J Edgar Opel. I never got your reply. I’d still love to be able to reprint the article.

        1. Hey Mike,

          I either missed, forgot, or somehow lost your inquiry. Feel free to send me a message via the contact form and we can discuss it. My apologies — I do try to reply even if the answer isn’t always yes.

  13. Hey guys anyone know where I can find a ’69 Opel GT windscreen , just fully restored and in order to sell im going to need a windscreen, im based in Cape Town – South Africa

  14. Where can I sell 1969 opel gt engine and transmission in good running condition.I am located in south western Virginia and its taking up space in my garage and needs to go.

    1. Sorry, I can’t help with buying or selling cars or parts!

    2. Grey this is Mike do you still have the Opel engine and transmission I would like to buy the parts my email is mkniazuk [at] msn [dot] com thanks

      1. Mike,

        I took the liberty of editing your email address to make it a little less obvious to spam bots. If you want me to put it back the way it was, I will, but I take no responsibility for any consequences. (I don’t know about you, but I get a lot of spam email as it is!)

  15. I had a neighbour, when I was a boy in the 1970s had a 1971 Opel GT coupe. At the time, I thought it was the ugliest car in the neighbourhood. At the time, I thought the Toyota Corona and Corona Mark II was the best looking car, or the American Chevy Nova. But with time, I found the car more attractive than any of the American cars sold during the 1970s and the 1980s. And certainly better looking than the Toyotas, Datsun/Nissan cars sold during the 1980s.

  16. GREAT article and a great reference for restoring my 1970 GT!

  17. Always loved this car. Mine was a Orange 1972 with white interior. Once on a whim I drove it to find out the best mileage I could get on level roads at 55mph I was able to get 36.2 mpg. The car had 47000 miles on it, all stock. Sold it for what I paid for it in the 70’s. Wish I had never sold it, never saw a better one even the clock ran perfectly.

  18. Great history on the GT! Thanks!

    Age 16, I had saved my pennies for 2 years working part time after school and mowing grass on weekends, bought a 2 year old 69 1100cc GT. It was silver with red interior, a great color combo for this car I thought. It was very reliable and ran good even with the small engine, I sold it after 3 yrs for what I paid for it!

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