1973 Opel Manta Gt

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The Manta A was released in 1970, based on the Opel Ascona of the time, as a competitor to the Ford Capri. It was a two-door “three-box” coupé, and featured distinctive round tail lights, quite similar to the Opel GT and in fact were used on the GT in 1973, its final model year. Unusually for the UK, the car was sold as an Opel rather than having a Vauxhall-branded equivalent.

The sales approach for the Opel line in the U.S. Market was equally odd. The Manta A was one of only a few Opel models sold in the U.S. Market. Opels were imported by GM and sold through Buick dealerships and not their own dealership network, so they were limited in what makes and models they could sell here. Other Opel makes sold in the U.S. market were the 1956–61 the Rekord P1 and Rekord P2, the Kadett A (1964–66), Kadett B (1967–71), GT (1969–73), Manta / Ascona A (1971–75). The Ascona A, was the sedan version of the Manta A chassis and was sold in the U.S. under the 1900 name as a 2 door & 4 door sedan and 2 door “Sport Wagon”. The only difference between the Ascona and Manta was exterior sheet metal, glass and trim. The frame, all the mechanicals, dash, front seats, and many other parts were shared between the cars. The Manta was even sold in 1971 and 1972, as the 1900 Sport Coupe, not the Manta. In 1973 the Manta nameplate was added to the U.S.-spec Mantas, but the Asconas kept the 1900 badge throughout their model life. The last year GM imported European made Opels into the United States, under their marquee, was 1975. In that year the only Opels imported were the Manta & Ascona A.

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The Manta was normally equipped with a 1.6–1.9 litre CIH engines, although in Europe a small 1.2 litre motor was offered. All Mantas sold in the U.S. had the 1.9L and larger heavy duty radiator (an option on European models). It came with either a 4 speed manual or an optional 3-speed TH-180 automatic. The Manta was known to be one of the best handling cars in its class and went on to win a large number of rallies in Europe and the United States.

In the U.S. Market, there was a sport model known as the Rallye from 1971-74. The “Rallye” model was overall an appearance and gauge package, the most noticeable difference was the addition of a Black Hood and on 1970-73 models addition of fog lamps. Mechanically the only difference was the gear ratio in the models with manual transmissions. In 1973 and 1974 there was also the “Luxus” model which included “refinements” like corduroy seats, colour-coded interiors (blue or burgundy), and faux wood panelling. The only special edition Manta ever produced for the U.S. market was the “Blue Max” in 1973, this amounted to a blue 1973 Luxus model, with a unique dark blue vinyl roof, mechanical sunroof, and automatic transmission.

In 1975, All Manta and 1900 models were equipped with the Bosch L-Jetronic fuel injection in the United States due to emission regulations. Yet in Europe this feature was only available on the high end GT/E Models, which also sported fog lamps and a lower front spoiler, which was not offered on any of the U.S. Spec Manta models. Also of note is that the 1974–75 Opel Manta Models sported large aluminium 5 mph (8 km/h) bumpers to comply with U.S. crash standards of the time; the European Mantas did not receive the large bumpers.

The European market had a number of different versions of their own. Most were basic trim packages, the most popular being the “Berlinetta”, which was similar to the “Luxus” but included rubber trim on the bumpers (standard on all 1973 U.S. Opel Mantas), vinyl roof, and other misc. features. The one major exception being in 1975 Opel offered the GT/E and a number of special editions based on the GT/E. The GT/E was a fuel injected version of the European 1.9L and the performance figures were very impressive for the time. Most notable special editions models based on the GT/E were the “Black Magic” (with black & plaid interior), and the “Swinger” edition in white with an equally odd interior choice.

There were two different special models made of the Manta A. The primary objective was to up the power of the car. Both projects started approximately at the same time (around 1972–73). There was the Turbomanta and the TE2800.

The Turbomanta is the most rare of the two. Production was a total of 33 cars ever made, whereas the 5 of them was the prototypes, and the ones used for public relations.

The Turbomanta is actually a 1973 SR with a 1.9 litre “S” spec engine, originally putting out 90 bhp (67 kW). The British company “Broadspeed” was chosen to build the turbo cars, and eventually started building 5 left hand drive cars for the German Opel AG. These cars were only meant as prototypes. Broadspeed came up with a somewhat special solution, and used a combination of a Holset 3LDG turbocharger, and a carburettor mounted inside a big plenum chamber. The engine itself was fitted with a thicker copper head gasket, and as such the compression ratio was lowered to 7.6:1. The outcome was a 1.9 litre engine which put out a staggering 156 bhp (116 kW), and more impressive was the acceleration. 0–60 was done in only 7.6 seconds, faster than most “supercars” at the time like the Porsche 911. All 5 cars were in GM “signalgelb” sunflower yellow, and had a large black stripe on the side, where a sign said “TURBOMANTA”. The downside to this was fuel consumption. The turbocharger had halved the economy of the car, and building it was also a thing that cost a lot. Therefore Opel closed the project, leaving the 5 cars as the total production number. However a British engineer at the D.O.T (Dealer Opel Team, which was the British importer and builder of Opel cars in Britain) was so enthusiastic about the cars that he had D.O.T. build an additional 28 cars. The cars were all based on the 1974 Berlinetta model, which was the luxury model, with a full gauge pack, automatic transmission, and alloy wheels. All 28 cars were black, with vinyl roofing. The only thing identifying that the car was indeed a Turbo Manta was a small sign at the rear quarter of the rear wings saying “turbo”. Very few of these cars still remain today.

The TE2800 was a totally different project. Actually the TE2800 wasn’t really an Opel as Opel had nothing to do with the project. A Belgium company called Transeurop Engineering also wanted to up the engine power of the Manta A. Opel had previously tried a 6 cylinder engine layout already in 1971 and 72, but with no success. The cars were rendered to expensive to build, and the market was overwhelmed at the time with big engine cars. But Transeurop Engineering did not agree. They basically took a 2.8 litre CIH type engine from the Opel Commodore 2.8GS model and fitted it into the engine bay of the Manta 1.9SR. A lot of problems occurred. The radiator, the bonnet, the entire front end of the car, the rear axle, the transmission, it all needed to be changed. To solve this fast Transeurop Engineering tried to get Opel to join the project using Opels earlier experiences with the transformation, but with no luck. Even worse Opel didn’t even want the Opel brand on the cars, if the project ever became a success. Transeurop Engineering therefore turned to Opel’s number one tuner of the time Steinmetz. Steinmetz supplied the new fibreglass bonnet with a large bulk on it to give room to the engine, a set of widened arches, and a special front bumper integrated with the lower front spoiler, to make room for the dramatically changes that needed to be made to the cars front end construction. Several of this was cut out and replaced with other parts being mounted further to the ground to give room for the radiator. A closed radiator system was installed so that the radiator had a water tank in the engine bay (like we know it from modern cars today). The engine was still the 2.8 litre unit from the Commodore GS and this was originally fitted with 2 Zenith carburettors. The output was 142 bhp (106 kW), and with the Commodore 4 speed manual gearbox and a 3,18:1 rear axle the car went from 0–60 mph in just 7.5 seconds. A total of 79 cars were made and sold through Steinmetz in Germany branded not as a Opel but as a TE2800. All Opel brands was removed from the cars and replaced by the logo “TE”.

Steinmets offered a tune-up for rally and motorsport use. The tuneup consisted of porting and flowing the head, higher compression ratio, a race spec camshaft, and triple carburettors, giving the car a total of up to 230 bhp (172 kW).

No doubt that the TE2800 is the fastest Manta A ever made, even though officially it isn’t an Opel. It could outpower cars like the 911 Carrera of 1973 and the BMW2002 turbo from 1973, even though those cars had more engine power. The low weight of the Manta bodyshell, and the combination of the right gear ratios, was what gave the car its success. Unfortunately Opel was right though. The cars were too expensive costing almost twice the price of a 105 bhp (78 kW) GT/E in 1975. Very few of these cars exist today, as most where used in rally and motorsport events.

Scribbled on November 22nd 2007 in Opel, Opel Manta
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