The original Opel GT has often been dismissed as a Kadett in a Corvette suit, but it wouldn’t have taken much to make the GT a credible sports car. Most of the pieces were there, and in some respects (aerodynamics, ergonomics, fit and finish) the GT was actually superior to the C3 Corvette. With more power and some chassis development work, the GT could have given sports cars like the Datsun 240Z a run for their money. Admittedly, getting more power out of the CIH engine while keeping it emissions-compliant for the U.S. market would have been tricky (fuel injection was only a partial answer — even with injection, the last U.S.-market Asconas and Mantas had only 81 net horsepower/60 kW) and exchange rates would have remained a sore point, but neither problem was necessarily insuperable.
We suspect the real challenge would have been convincing Opel management that making the low-volume GT into Europe’s answer to the Corvette was worth the investment. As the array of mooted successors indicates, Opel was not oblivious the GT’s value as a traffic builder, but, with the possible exception of the GT/W, Rüsselsheim’s thinking appears to have focused on greater practicality (e.g., 2+2 seating, greater cargo space) rather than greater performance. In some respects, that made sense; the GT sold well by Triumph or MG standards, but was nothing compared to the almost 2.7 million Kadetts Opel sold between 1965 and 1973. However, that also weakened the case for the GT as a separate product, particularly since Opel already had an attractive and perfectly competent four-seat sporty coupe in the form of the Manta.
The fate of the original GT suggests what might have happened to the Corvette had the ‘Vette not enjoyed continuing support from staunch defenders like Zora Arkus-Duntov and Bill Mitchell. The original Corvette was on very shaky ground for the first decade of its existence and at several points came close to either being canceled or transformed into a Camaro-like four-seater. While the Corvette eventually became one of GM’s most profitable cars, the GT didn’t last long enough to reach that point, perhaps in part because by the time its sales began to falter, many of the people who had originally championed it had moved on. Erhard Schnell was still running Opel’s Advanced Design studio, but both Clare MacKichan and Chuck Jordan had returned to the U.S., replaced by Dave Holls and later Hank Haga. Bunkie Knudsen had left GM in 1967, Bob Lutz had gone to BMW, and in 1969 Tony Lapine had gone to Porsche, where he would design the 928 and 924.
The 1969–1973 Opel GT now has a fair collector following, although many cars have succumbed over the years to rust or collisions. The GT’s body was well assembled by the standards of its time, but it was not easy to repair and it was years before resale values were high enough to make full restorations worthwhile. Quite a few survivors have been modified as well, with everything from later CIH engines (which remained in use through the 1990s) to Weber carburetors and even small block Chevrolet V8s.
If the Opel GT never got the chance to become a great car, it was nonetheless an interesting one, and in some ways it was remarkable that it was built at all. The Monza GT never got past the prototype stage, nor did a contemporary sports car concept from Vauxhall, the 1966 VXR. The GT remains an attractive little car, but we can’t help thinking that it could have been much more than a pretty face.
The author would like to thank Bob Nichols, Pat McLaughlin, and Rudi Simon (RUD66) for the use of their photos and Kathy Adelson and Larry Kinsel of the GM Media Archive for their kind assistance in locating historical images.
NOTES ON SOURCES
Information about the development and history of the Opel GT, including road test data, came from “1.9 Opel GT: Not bad but not up to expectations,” Road & Track Vol. 20, No. 10 (June 1969), reprinted in Opel GT Ultimate Portfolio 1968-1973, ed. R.M. Clarke (Cobham, England: Brooklands Books, Ltd., 2007), pp. 60-63; “1969-1973 Opel GT,” Sports Car Market, n.d., www.sportscarmarket. com, accessed 8 April 2012); “A Rare Opel,” World’s Fastest Sports Cars 1968, reprinted in Opel GT Ultimate Portfolio 1968-1973, pp. 12-15; Sam Abuelsamid, “1969 Opel Aero GT is rarer than you think,” Autoblog 27 April 2010, www.autoblog. com, accessed 8 April 2012; the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide, “Opel GT,” HowStuffWorks.com, 5 June 2007, auto.howstuffworks. com/ opel-gt.htm, accessed 8 April 2012; “Autotest: Opel GT 1900,” Autocar 11 September 1969, reprinted in Opel GT Ultimate Portfolio 1968-1973, pp. 76-80; Patrick Bedard, “Car and Driver’s Opel GT,” Car and Driver Vol. 16, No. 1 (July 1970), pp. 29-33, 53; Jean Bernardet, “Opel GT in Production,” Style Auto No. 23 (April 1969); John Blunsden, “GM’s Second Sports Car,” Sports Car Graphic April 1969, reprinted in Opel GT Ultimate Portfolio 1968-1973, pp. 26-29; Jim Brennan, “Hooniverse Lost Car Weekend – A 1972 Opel GT,” Hooniverse, 13 August 2011, hooniverse. com/ 2011/08/13/ hooniverse-lost-car-weekend-a-1972-opel-gt/, accessed 7 April 2012; Martin Buckley, “Drag Act,” Classic & Sports Car June 1993, reprinted in Opel GT Ultimate Portfolio 1968-1973, pp. 38-42; “Car and Driver’s Opel GT,” Car and Driver Vol. 16, No. 2 (August 1970); reprinted in Opel GT Ultimate Portfolio 1968-1973, pp. 127-131; “Collectible Classic: 1968-1973 Opel GT,” Automobile October 2009, www.automobilemag. com, accessed 8 April 2012; Ican Coomber, “From Olympia to Monza – Opel in the United Kingdom,” Vauxhall Bedford Opel Association, 2006, www.vboa. org.uk, accessed 7 April 2012; Mike Covello, Standard Catalog of Imported Cars 1946-2002, Second Ed. (Iola, WI: Krause Publications, 2001); Eric Dahlquist, “The Conversation Factor,” Motor Trend Vol. 21, No. 8 (August 1969), pp. 36-38; “Der perfekte Keil: Alfa Romeo Junior Zagato, 1969 – 1975,” Zagato-Cars.com, n.d., www.zagato-cars. com, accessed 8 April 2012; “Die Opel GT Entwicklung,” Opel GT World, n.d., www.opelgtworld. de, accessed 8 April 2012; Ben Field, “Fruity Opel,” Practical Classics February 2002, reprinted in Opel GT Ultimate Portfolio 1968-1973, pp. 150-153; Craig Fitzgerald, “1968-1974 Opel GT,” Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car #16 (December 2006), pp. 91-94, and “Opel Manta: GM’s Stylist Sport Sedan,” Hemmings Motor News March 2009; “GM’s [Germany] New GT,” Sports Car World November 1968, reprinted in Opel GT Ultimate Portfolio 1968-1973, pp. 18-19; Charles Goin, “The Definitive Opel GT Guide for Year, Color and Parts Identification,” Opel Association of North America, 1998-2000, clubs.hemmings. com/clubsites/ oana/tech/GTYears.pdf, accessed 8 April 2012; Stewart Grant, “Opel’s fruit,” Popular Classics September 1990, reprinted in Opel GT Ultimate Portfolio 1968-1973, pp. 154-159; Dennis Jenkinson, “The Opel GT: A sports 2-seater,” Motor Sport September 1970, reprinted in ibid, pp. 118, 165; David LaChance, “1969-1973 Opel GT: This sporty German two-seater is flying well under collectors’ radar,” Hemmings Motor News January 2009; John Lamm, “Trying to Live with Big Brother,” Motor Trend Vol. 24, No. 3 (April 1972), reprinted in Opel GT Ultimate Portfolio 1968-1973, pp. 166-169; Richard M. Langworth, “Crystal Ball: Opel GT,” Automobile Quarterly 1982; Heinrich Lingner, “Zwei Sportcoupés abseits des Mainstream,” MotorKlassik 12 April 2010, www.motor-klassik. de, accessed 8 April 2012; Longrooffan, “Curbside Classic: 1968 Opel GT: Jutta’s Daily Driver,” Curbside Classic, 26 May 2011, www.curbsideclassic. com/ curbside-classics-american/ curbside-classic-1968-opel-gt- juttas-daily-driver/, last accessed 11 April 2012; John Matras, “1970 Opel GT 1.9: Mini-Vette?” Special Interest Autos #159 (May-June 1997), reprinted in Opel GT Ultimate Portfolio 1968-1973, pp. 192-199; Gunther Molter, “Opel GT,” Road & Track Vol. 20, No. 4 (December 1968), reprinted in ibid, pp. 20-21; “Motor Road Test No. 24/70: Opel GT: For sporting gents—at a price,” The Motor 20 June 1970, reprinted in ibid, pp. 107- 112; “New Cars for 1970: Opel Kadett and GT,” World Car Guide February 1970, reprinted in ibid, pp. 92-93; Eric Nielssen, “GM’s Gee-Whizzers: Exciting Things from GM’s Brains Abroad,” Car Life December 1967, reprinted in ibid, pp. 6-10; “Opel Experimental GT,” www.medial. com/opel/expgt.htm, accessed 8 April 2012; “Opel GT,” Imported Cars 1971, reprinted in Opel GT Ultimate Portfolio 1968-1973, pp. 122-126; “Opel GT,” Road Test January 1970, reprinted in ibid, pp. 101-103; “Opel GT,” Road Test January 1971, reprinted in ibid, pp. 132-133; “Opel GT,” NetCarShow, no date, www.netcarshow. com, accessed 8 April 2012; “Opel GT 1.9,” Car and Driver Vol. 15, No. 3 (September 1969), pp. 66-69, 82; “Opel GT: Big Surprise…at your friendly Buick dealers,” Car Life June 1969, reprinted in Opel GT Ultimate Portfolio 1968-1973, pp. 48-53; “Opel GT: throughout the years,” SYL.com, 1 October 2006, www.syl. com/travel/ opelgtthroughouttheyears.html, accessed 8 April 2012; Opel Motorsport Club, “Opel GT + FAQs,” OpelClub.com, 2008, www.opelclub. com/html/ opel_gt___faqs.html, accessed 8 April 2012; “Opels with Hairs on Their Chests,” CAR May 1971, reprinted in Opel GT Ultimate Portfolio 1968-1973, pp. 162-163; Herman Pelgrom, “Honey, I Shrunk the ‘Vette: The Opel GT Story,” Motor Authority, 30 May 2010, www.motorauthority. com, accessed 8 April 2012; Sylvia Poggioli, “Marking the French Social Revolution of ’68,” NPR, 13 May 2008, www.npr. org, accessed 22 April 2012; “Road Test: Opel GT: ‘Mini-Brute’ Stage 11,” Motorcade June 1969, reprinted in Opel GT Ultimate Portfolio 1968-1973, pp. 56-59; L.J.K. Setright, “Opel GT,” CAR August 1970, reprinted in ibid, pp. 104-106; Mike Siegel, Opel GT: Story of a Dreamcar [trailer], Eldorado Film, “OPEL GT – DRIVING THE DREAM out on DVD !” YouTube, https://youtu.be/rXUrGF4-Jio, uploaded 11 December 2008, accessed 8 April 2012; Jerry Sloniger, “3000 Miles and Two ‘Small’ Rallies in an Opel GT,” World Car Guide November 1969, reprinted in Opel GT Ultimate Portfolio 1968-1973, pp. 84-88, “Opel GT,” Foreign Car Guide February 1969, reprinted in ibid, pp. 22-25 and “Preview Test: Opel GT,” Car and Driver Vol. 14, No. 6 (December 1968), pp. 74-75; Daniel Strohl, “Might Mouse: The diminutive, but sporty, 1969 Opel GT 1.1L,” Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car #7 (March 2006): 20–25; “The history of the development of the Opel CIH engine, 1966-1993,” Customs ‘n Classics, n.d., www.customs-n-classics. dk, accessed 7 April 2012; “The $3500 GT: Comparing the Datsun 240Z, Fiat 124 Sports, Opel GT, MGB GT and Triumph GT6—a closer contest than we expected,” Road & Track Vol. 22, No. 11 (July 1971), reprinted in Opel GT Ultimate Portfolio 1968-1973, pp. 136-142; “Three Ways to Approach a GT,” Sports Car Graphic March 1970, reprinted in ibid, pp. 94-100; Jerry Titus, “Corvair Monza GT: Chevy’s Forward-Look Exercise is in the right direction,” Sports Car Graphic August 1963, reprinted in Corvair Performance Portfolio 1959-1969, ed. R.M. Clarke (Cobham, England: Brooklands Books Ltd., ca. 1998), pp. 58-61; “Tuning Test: Opel GT: More power from GM’s German coupe,” CAR May 1971, reprinted in Opel GT Ultimate Portfolio 1968-1973, pp. 164-165; Bart van Ark, “Manufacturing prices, productivity, and labor costs in five economies,” Monthly Labor Review July 1955, pp. 56-72; Bruno von Rotz, “Opel GT 1100 und 1900 – nur Fliegen war schooner,” Zwischengas. com, 31 October 2011, www.zwischengas. com, accessed 8 April 2012; Glenn Waddington, “Opel Fruit,” Classic Cars August 2000, reprinted in Opel GT Ultimate Portfolio 1968-1973, pp. 43-47; Sydnie A. Wauson, ed., Opel GT • Kadett • 1900 • Manta 1966-1975 Shop Manual, 5th ed. (Arleta, CA: Clymer Publications, 1986); “Why the Excitement at Buick-Opel Dealers: Opel GT is a new, honest to goodness sports car for highway or race course,” Road Test July 1969, reprinted in Opel GT Ultimate Portfolio 1968-1973, pp. 64-70; “Wklopf,” www.opelgt. com/ forums/general-discussions/ 28343-i-think-im-love-again.html, accessed 8 April 2012; Michael Wood, “Opel-escent,” Your Classic, January 1994, reprinted in ibid, pp. 188-191; the brochure “Opel GT – Das klassicsche Sport-Coupé,” published by Opel in 1998; the Wikipedia® entries for the Bretton Woods system (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bretton_Woods_system, accessed 1 November 2011); Get Smart (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Get_Smart, accessed 1 May 2012); the Isuzu Gemini (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isuzu_Gemini, accessed 7 May 2012); Opel (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opel, accessed 8 April 2012), the Opel Rekord Series C (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opel_Rekord_Series_C, accessed 20 April 2012), the Opel GT (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opel_GT, accessed 7 April 2012), the Opel Kadett (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opel_Kadett; accessed 30 April 2012); the Opel Manta (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opel_Manta, accessed 27 April 2012); and Opel’s OHV engine (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opel_OHV_engine, accessed 30 April 2012); and the German Wikipedia entry for the Opel GT (de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opel_GT, accessed 8 April 2012).
Additional information on competition Opel GTs came from Phillippe Calvet, “Opel GT Greder Sbarro, 1969,” Franco Sbarro: Another vision of car, n.d., sbarro.perso.neuf. fr, accessed 10 April 2012; “Der Steinmetz Opel GT,” Opel GT World, n.d., www.opelgtworld. de, accessed 10 April 2012; “Opel GT Motorsport (1968-1975): Documenting the career of a mighty sports car,” European Car February 2009, www.europeancarweb. com, accessed 8 April 2012; Stefan Örnerdal and Andrew Horrox, “Formula 2 Register: F2, Voiturettes, FJ, F3 and Le Mans Results, 1998-2012,” www.formula2.net, accessed 8 April 2012; Gianni Rogliatti, “The Opel GT Lives!” Automobile Quarterly Vol. 10, No. 1 (1st Quarter 1972), pp. 50-55; Studio Futuro, Conrero Official Site,www.conrero. com, accessed 8 April 2012; and “World Sportscar Championship,” Racing Cars Chassis Numbers & Database Races Results, 2000, wspr-racing. com, accessed 10 April 2012.
Information on the Opel GT/2 came from Syed, “1975 Opel GT2 Concept,” IEDEI, 16 March 2012, iedei.wordpress. com/ 2012/03/16/opel-gt2/, accessed 8 April 2012; “Tomorrow’s Car Today: Opel’s Car for the ’80s,” Asian Auto July 1976, reprinted in Opel GT Ultimate Portfolio 1968-1973), pp. 186-187; and Ron Wakefield, “Opel GT-2: Stylish and economic sports car of tomorrow,” Road & Track Vol. 27, No. 4 (December 1975), reprinted in ibid, pp. 183-185.
Additional details on Opel design and other Opel vehicles of this period came from “Bochum Plant, Facts and Figures,” Opel Media/GM Europe, no date, media.opel. com, accessed 10 April 2012; Bill Bowman, “Corvette 2-Rotor,” Generations of GM, GM Heritage Center, history.gmheritagecenter. com, accessed 27 April 2012; “Brissonneau & Lotz: Historique,” Floride Caravelle Club de France, 2011, fccdf.free. fr, accessed 7 April 2012; “Car and Driver Road Test: Opel Kadett L Station Wagon,” Car and Driver Vol. 13, No. 8 (February 1968), pp. 53-54, 92; Corvette Museum, “2011 Corvette Hall of Fame Clare MacKichan,” YouTube, https://youtu.be/KNkDFmTzUBo, uploaded 17 November 2011, accessed 8 April 2012; David R. Crippen, “Reminiscences of Irwin W. Rybicki,” 27 June 1985 [interview], Automotive Design Oral History Project, Benson Ford Research Center, Accession 1673, www.autolife.umd.umich. edu/Design/ Rybicki_interview.htm [transcript], last accessed 8 April 2012, and “Reminiscences of William L. Mitchell,” August 1984 [interview], Automotive Design Oral History Project, Benson Ford Research Center, Accession 1673, www.autolife.umd.umich. edu/Design/ Mitchell/ mitchellinterview.htm [transcript], last accessed 9 April 2012; “Engine & Drive — Where should they go?” Road & Track Vol. 24, No. 11 (July 1973): 34–41; Mike Fordham, “Friday Car Crush #21: Opel GT/W ‘Geneve'” (28 October 2011, Influx, www.influx. co.uk, accessed 27 April 2012); “Group Test: Ford Capri 2000GT, Opel Manta 1.6S, Vauxhall Firenza 2000, Morris Marina 1.8TC Coupe, Toyota Celica,” The Motor 23 October 1971, pp. 74-79; “Johann ‘Hans’ Christian Mersheimer,” Opel History Wiki, 1 July 2011, www.cokebottle-design. de, accessed 12 April 2012; “Jordan, Charles M.,” Generations of GM History, GM Heritage Center, history.gmheritagecenter. com, accessed 8 April 2012; “Knudsen, Semon E.,” Generations of GM History, GM Heritage Center, history.gmheritagecenter. com, accessed 13 April 2012; Michael Lamm, “Opel Kadgett & Caravan 1000 Road Test,” Motor Trend Vol. 16, No. 4 (April 1964): 42–46; Michael Lamm and David R. Holls, Century of Automotive Style: 100 Years of American Car Design (Stockton, CA: Lamm-Morada Publishing Co. Inc., 1997); “Lapine, Tony,” Generations of GM History, GM Heritage Center, history.gmheritagecenter. com, accessed 8 April 2012; Randy Leffingwell, Corvette: America’s Sports Car (Osceola, WI: Motorbooks International, 1997) and Porsche 911: Perfection By Design (Osceola, WI: Motorbooks International, 2005), p. 65; Paul Niedermeyer, “Automotive History: How The 1960 Corvair Started A Global Design Revolution,” Curbside Classic, 15 August 2011, www.curbsideclassic. com/automotive-histories/ automotive-history- how-the-1960-corvair- started-a- global-design-revolution/, last accessed 21 April 2012, “Curbside Classic: 1966-1973 Opel Kadett (B) – It Dethroned the Volkswagen,” Curbside Classic, 9 March 2012, www.curbsideclassic. com/ curbside-classics-european/ curbside-classic- 1966-1973-opel-kadett-b- it-dethroned-the-volkswagen/, last accessed 14 April 2012, and “The Story Behind the Best Bob Lutz Photo Ever,” The Truth About Cars, 4 October 2010, www.thetruthaboutcars. com, last accessed 14 April 2012; “Obituary: William L. Mitchell, Auto Executive, 76,” New York Times 15 September 1988, www.nytimes. com, accessed 13 April 2012; “Opel Design: The Story,” GM Europe, 2006, planer-motorshow. gmeuropearchive.info, accessed 8 April 2012; Ken Polsson, “Chronology of Chevrolet Corvettes,” 4 April 2012, kpolsson. com/vettehis/, accessed 18 April 2012; “Rybicki, Irvin W., Generations of GM History, GM Heritage Center, history.gmheritagecenter. com, accessed 21 April 2012; Michael Scarlett, “2 Car Test: Sunbeam Rapier – Opel Manta,” Autocar 10 December 1970, pp. 57-61; Mark Theobald, “Strother MacMinn: A Man of Wit and Genius,” Coachbuilt, 2004, www.coachbuilt. com, accessed 12 April 2012; and Anthony Young and Mike Mueller, Classic Chevy Hot Ones: 1955–1957 2nd ed. (Ann Arbor, MI: Lowe & B. Hould Publishers, 2002).
Background on the Corvair Monza GT came from “2 Magnificent Monzas: General Motors Styling bridges the gap between dream and reality,” Road & Track Vol. 14, No. 12 (August 1963), pp. 16-18; the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide, “1962 and 1963 Chevrolet Corvair Concept Cars,” HowStuffWorks.com, 13 November 2007, auto.howstuffworks. com/1962-and-1963- chevrolet-corvair-concept-cars1.htm, accessed 8 April 2012, and “Sweet Dreams: Those Memorable Corvair Specials,” Cars That Never Were: The Prototypes (Skokie, IL: Publications International, 1981), pp. 14-19; Gerry Aubé, “Corvair Design Studies: General Motors’ Experimental Corvairs,” CorvairCorsa.com, n.d., www.corvaircorsa. com, accessed 8 April 2012; Bill Bowman, “1962 Chevrolet Corvair Monza GT Concept,” Generations of GM History, history.gmheritagecenter. com, accessed 8 April 2012; Richard M. Langworth and the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide, The Complete Book of Corvette (New York: Beekman House, 1987); Randy Leffingwell and David Newhardt, Mustang: Forty Years (St. Paul, MN: Crestline/MBI Publishing/Barnes & Noble Publishing Inc., 2006); and the Wikipedia entry for the Corvair Monza GT (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corvair_Monza_GT, accessed 8 April 2012).
Some exchange rates for the dollar, the sterling, and the Deutschmark were estimated based on Lawrence H. Officer, “Exchange Rates Between the United States Dollar and Forty-one Currencies,” MeasuringWorth, 2011-2012, https://www.measuringworth.org/exchangeglobal/, used with permission. Exchange rate values cited in the text represent the approximate equivalency of U.S. and British or German currencies at the time, not contemporary U.S. suggested retail prices, which are cited separately. Please note that all exchange rate equivalencies cited in the text are approximate, provided solely for general reference; this is an automotive history, not a treatise on currency trading or the value of money, and nothing in this article should be taken as financial advice of any kind!
- A Tale of the Shark and the Rat: The Chevrolet Corvette Stingray (C3)
- Bucking the System: The 1963-1967 Corvette Sting Ray (C2)
- Cheap and Cheerful: The European Ford Capri
- Plan C: The Short-Lived Six-Cylinder MGC and MGC GT
- Contrary Compact: The Life and Death of the Chevrolet Corvair
- The Original Datsun Z-Car
29 CommentsAdd a Comment
Excellent article which covers all bases of this car’s history.
Great job and keep up the good work guys!
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…
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.
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.
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
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.
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!!!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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?
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.
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.
If you’d like to talk about reprinting the article, drop me a line — I’d be happy to discuss it. Thanks!
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.
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.
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.
GREAT article and a great reference for restoring my 1970 GT!
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.
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!
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!)
Great read, really enjoyed it.
I have a ’74 Manta which has been away from salted roads most of its life, so it didn’t succumb to rust.
As a kid, I remember going to the Buick dealer with my father around 1976-77. At this particular dealer, there was only one Opel sign, way around the back nearly hidden from view. All the European Opels were gone, but there were a couple of Isuzu-built coupes in stock, one which had a turbo. We test drove one while waiting for our car to be serviced and I remember Dad liking it quite a bit. But the salesman told my dad who wasn’t knowledgeable about cars that all Opels are junk.
It’s amazing that Opel was able to sell any cars in the U.S. given Buick’s indifference to the brand
I have to wonder if some of that indifference was defensive, especially after the demise of the Bretton Woods system started making the German-built cars more expensive. It may just have been a matter of smaller dealer margins, of course — a salesman is almost always going to try to talk you into a car on which he makes $200 over one on which he only makes $100.
Although Chuck Jordan’s contributions came late in the development of the Opel GT he needs to be recognized for what he did with the rest of the Opel line during his time there. He led Opel from being the “farmer car” with lackluster design to a market leader in a very short period of time. He also turned the Opel Design studio into a “hot” place that designers wanted to be part of.
The article mentions the Manta and Rekord. Also, one should look at the Ascona. The original Opel CD may have been a fantasy image car but it really demonstrated the creativity that Opel could be capable of.
To put an aspect of this into perspective, Chuck was the #2 to Bill Mitchell and had been for a while when he went to Germany. He went to Opel not just as a directed posting but as a place where he knew he could make a turnaround that all the executive suite at GM could not avoid recognizing. The cars he created were far superior in looks, they had cast off the “farmer car” stigma and delivered increased sales.