Son of Stingray: The 1969-1973 Opel GT

RUN OUT

The introduction of the GT/J brought total Opel GT production to more than 17,000 units for 1972, but the end was in sight. The Kadett was about to be redesigned, so continuing the GT past 1973 would have necessitated a major revamp to accommodate the floorpan of the new Kadett C and the 5 mph (8 km/h) bumpers that would be required for U.S. cars starting in 1974. Furthermore, the rising value of the Deutschmark following the collapse of the Bretton-Woods system of fixed exchange rates would make it difficult to hold the line on price, something that would ultimately drive Opel out of the American market entirely.

1969 Opel GT-AL 1900 headlamp © 2011 Rudi Simon/RUD66 (used with permission)
Perhaps the Opel GT’s most distinctive feature is its retractable headlights. When the lights are engaged via a dashboard lever (mounted just ahead of the gearshift), both light covers rotate sideways, toward the left side of the car, to expose the headlamps on their undersides. When each headlamp locks into its upright position — usually accompanied by an audible clunk — a switch automatically activates the light, at least as long as the contacts are not worn or damaged. If the headlamp units are not fully engaged, a white warning lamp is illuminated on the dashboard. (Photo © 2011 RUD66 (Rudi Simon); used with permission)

The GT returned for the 1973 model year, but it would be for the last time. A sure sign of the model’s imminent demise was that when Opel prematurely ran out of taillights in early 1973, they hastily adapted the lights from the Manta rather than ordering more of the original units. European cars were little changed otherwise, but federalized GTs had further emissions-related changes, reducing output to 75 net horsepower (56 kW) and 92 lb-ft (125 N-m) of torque.

Opel GT production ended in August, although some leftover cars lingered on dealer lots into 1974. The final tally was 103,464 units.

GT/W, GT/2, AND THE BLACK WIDOW

In the early 1970s, Opel considered a number of possible successors for the GT, including one based — once again — on a mid-engined car intended to replace the Corvette.

In 1971, Clare MacKichan’s Advanced studio in Detroit developed the XP-897GT, a mid-engine car based around GM’s two-rotor GMRCE2 Wankel engine, then in development. The XP-897GT, built but not designed by Pininfarina, debuted at the Frankfurt International Auto Show in October 1973 as the Corvette 2-Rotor. Had it reached production, GM considered offering an Opel version as a next-generation GT. Opel stylists developed their own mid-engine rotary concept, originally called GT/W (for Wankel), but the termination of GM’s rotary engine project meant that the GT/W got no further than the non-running prototype stage. It was shown publicly in 1975 as the Opel Genève.

1975 Opel GT/W front 3q - Copyright 2012 General Motors LLC. Used with permission, GM Media Archive.  (GMMA 16670, photo 203220)
We don’t know how directly the Opel GT-W was based on the XP-987GT/2-Rotor, but except for the Opel’s concealed headlamps, the two designs look very similar, particularly in the relationship between the side windows and the rear quarterlights. Unlike the 2-Rotor, the GT-W/Genève was only a mockup, not a drivable prototype. (Photo copyright 2012 General Motors LLC. Used with permission, GM Media Archive.)

An alternative was another in-house Opel concept, a fastback 2+2 coupe nicknamed “Schwarze Witwe” (Black Widow), a name previously applied to Tony Lapine’s own modified Kadett (which allegedly inspired the original Kadett Rallye). Presumably based on the Kadett C, the Schwarze Witwe was seriously considered for production, but was canceled during the OPEC oil embargo in 1973–1974.

1973 Opel GT 2+2 'Schwarze Witwe' front - Copyright 2012 General Motors LLC. Used with permission, GM Media Archive. (GMMA 16670, photo 219706)
The Schwarze Witwe looked very different from the Opel GT, with a rounded fastback roofline, forward-swept, glassed-in B-pillars, and 2+2 seating. This prototype’s covered headlights would not have been legal in the U.S. and there don’t appear to be any provisions for meeting U.S. 5 mph (8 km/h) impact standards. (Photo copyright 2012 General Motors LLC. Used with permission, GM Media Archive.)

In 1975, some months after the public unveiling of the Genève, Opel developed a sleek, futuristic concept car called the GT/2, which was shown at Frankfurt, London, and Paris late that year. Built by Michelotti but developed by Erhard Schnell’s Advanced studio in Rüsselsheim (then under the direction of Henry Haga), the GT/2 was based on the GT/E version of the new Manta B, powered by a fuel-injected 1,897 cc (116 cu. in.) CIH engine. The GT/2 was even more aerodynamic than the first GT, with a claimed drag coefficient of only 0.33. It featured a hatchback roof and manually operated sliding doors with their latches concealed beneath the side mirrors. (Regular readers will recall that the latter feature was originally patented by Howard “Dutch” Darrin in 1948 and used on the short-lived Kaiser Darrin, although Darrin’s patent expired well before the GT/2 was built.) Opel officials suggested that a toned-down version of the GT/2 might become a production car later in the decade, but it never happened.

1975 Opel GT/2 front 3q - Copyright 2012 General Motors LLC. Used with permission, GM Media Archive. (GMMA 16670, photo 230548)
With its flush glass and sliding doors, the Opel GT/2 still looks futuristic today. To increase structural rigidity, the door glass is actually fixed, but there’s a small retractable window on each side to manage tollbooths and the like. As with the original GT, the engine is set back about 16 inches (406 mm) to clear the sloping hood. Inside, the cabin featured 2+2 seating and a digital instrumental panel. (Photo copyright 2012 General Motors LLC. Used with permission, GM Media Archive.)

A second-generation Opel GT did not emerge until the 2006 Geneva auto show, going on sale later that year. Based on a 2003 Vauxhall concept car, the VX Lightning, the new GT was a two-seat roadster based on GM’s Kappa platform, shared with the Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky. Ironically, the new GT was built in the U.S. alongside its Pontiac and Saturn siblings, but it was sold only in Europe. The Kappa GT survived only three years, dying with the Solstice and Sky in the summer of 2009. Production totaled 7,519 units.

1972 Opel GT/J and 2007 Opel GT © 2011 Rudi Simon/RUD66 (used with permission)
A Kappa-platform Opel GT roadster next to a vintage GT/J coupe. The modern Opel GT weighed over 1,000 lb (454 kg) more than its namesake, but it was substantially more powerful, making 260 hp (194 kW) from its 1,998 cc (122 cu. in.) turbocharged Ecotec four. Opel’s version of the Kappa platform did not offer the larger normally aspirated engine available in its Pontiac and Saturn brothers. (Photo © 2011 RUD66 (Rudi Simon); used with permission)

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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