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The Ones That Got Away, Part I

July 2, 2011 by Matt

Opel Manta Front

My automotive history is littered with almost-acquisitions, some potential purchases, some attempted trades. I’ll be the first to admit that my affections for one particular car, or model of car, or even a make in general, are very fickle. Also, I have a sizable appetite for the Next Big Thing™, especially for unique or rare cars that “just need a little TLC” (though they often need much more than that). Knowing myself, and trying to keep the big picture in mind as much as possible, my impulsive car buying streak is something I’ve had to work to suppress. I’ve tamed it (or it’s been tamed for me) significantly, but I can’t say it’s an urge I’ve entirely overcome.

Also, I’m a fan of the what-ifs. I like to imagine the possible, whether it be looking forward with my penchant for sci-fi, or looking back with an interest in alternate history. Revisiting the cars I’ve almost owned fits with that fascination; I visualize how I would have been perceived by others, or the resources that would have been directed to different places had a different decision been made, and the car acquired.

The one that I come back to most often is the little ’75 Opel Manta pictured above. Near the end of ’04, I had just sold my ’88 Supra Turbo, and was driving my little silver ’86 Audi 4000. The Z had suffered the engine fire and was parked (and is still parked). I was on the cusp of applying to Piedmont Baptist College’s pilot program; I hadn’t done it yet, but the intention was certainly there, so there was some direction in my life, a larger goal, which usually stands in opposition to the kind of idle noodling around that leads to random car purchases/trades. However, I had been direction-less for a couple of years at that point, so my “automotive eyes” were very used to wandering.

The owner lived in Michigan, just outside of Detroit, and wanted to trade not just the Opel, but also his ’95 Ford Escort wagon for my Audi—a two-for-one deal. No cash involved. I’ve no idea how I would have gotten them both back down here to NC. The logistics would have been crazy, or expensive. Probably both.

Opel Manta Rear 3/4

It was tough to turn down the proposition. I love look of the car, and its rarity. Here’s what I wrote at the time:

I can see myself cruising around in such a car. Mechanically it’s dirt simple and reliable, so it would be easy to maintain. But it’s the coolness that really latches onto me and won’t let go. The Audi is cool to me because I appreciate all the design details and mechanical elements that are just done right on the car, but to most anybody else it just looks like another sedan. The Opel has visual character in spades, style, and to my eye a certain amount of class as well (though class is a more nebulous quality than the other two). It turns heads, it provokes comments. It’s classic, really, especially since people notice it and don’t really know what kind of car it is.

In the end, though, my rational side won out, and I kept the Audi, probably saving myself a lot of headaches. There were downsides to the Opel that went beyond just the hassle of getting it here—the driver’s side floorpan was rusted out, and it was an automatic. Swapping in a manual transmission would have been fairly simple, but repairing the rust would have really taxed my resources and abilities at that time.

I still think about the Opel, though. If nothing else, because of that experience, I’ll always have a soft spot for the rare little coupes.

Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing series relating stories of cars I almost acquired, whether though purchase or trade. Read the other installments here:

Filed under: Ones That Got Away, Opel

10 Comments

  1. Ben says:

    Love the article. I think we all have that one that got away. I am intrigued by the manta myself. I have never seen one. I guess my knowledge of Opel is only of the GT. It’s a shame cars like this are oftentimes overshadowed by their brothers or cousins. Sort of like the Triumph Stag – nobody would ever recognize that thing coming down the road, but for the driver it would be one heck of a ride.

    • Matt says:

      I think I’ve seen maybe one in the flesh. I hadn’t heard of it until the guy came out of the woodwork and suggested the trade. Then I went on a learning binge, like I do whenever I’m really into a new model of car…

      Speaking of not having heard of cars, I hadn’t heard of the Stag. :) Will edumacate myself, proto.

  2. Kurt says:

    I recently bought a blue Manta, with a 1.2 engine. I can’t wait until the engine is repaired. The car hadn’t been running for over 17 years, it has been locked up in an old showcase for years. She wasn’t cheap though, I paid 7.200 euro for the car alone, and I still need repairs, oil, batteries, insurance, … But she’s definitely worth it, it’s a unique car, most people drive luxury cars here, or even worse tuned Civics. The weather is a problem here, it rains all year, and I don’t like to drive a classic like my Manta in the rain, rust will kill her and RWDs tend to skid in the rain. When the car is ready, I’ll install a new radio, put a The Doors CD in it, and hit the road.

    • Matt says:

      Kurt,

      I’m very jealous! I adore the Manta and your plans for it sound like automotive nirvana. Do you have a link to photos or a build page/thread?

  3. Drew says:

    That (was) my car!

    I was thinking about my opel and decided to search to see if any were for sale today and came across this article…

    I still have the Mountain Dew license plate that was on the front.

    I ended up selling this car to a collector in Wisconsin, he came and drove it home for 2800 cash.

    Not a bad deal… and I needed to do it at the time but I sure miss it…

    • Matt says:

      Drew,

      Neat! Nice to hear from you again. Glad to hear it went to a good home. I still kick myself for not taking you up on your offer, but I think it was for the best (for both of us). The pictures were taken from a photo album you had (and probably still have) online. I hope that’s ok!

      Take care,
      Matt

  4. Jeff says:

    That IS my car! I’m the Wisconsin guy who bought the ’75 Manta from Drew, and I’ve driven it ever since. It has been up to the Iola Old Car Show a few times, the Springfield Route 66 Mother Road Festival in Illinois for Opel gatherings several times, Road America, served as a good weather daily driver, my son drive it in good weather to high school and his prom, and its brought a lot of smiles along the way. When I first got it, I had to play with the tuning of the fuel injection (at that time in Southeast Wisconsin, the car had to pass the same emissions in place when the car was made and it failed the first time) and it has only needed regular maintenance, a new water pump, and shocks. This summer it didn’t see much use as it developed an overheating issue and I haven’t had time to address it yet. I’m guessing a rebuilt radiator is in the works. The body is due for refreshing as rust never sleeps, and I have the new sheet metal for the floor pan, jack points, and lower rear quarter patch panels along with some good used front fenders When I first got the Manta, my plan was to cover the blue stripes with black, but they soon grew on me and became something I really liked, plus they match the Wisconsin collector plate color! The blue stripes give the car a lot of “pop,” especially compared to my two other Mantas, a ’73 base model in Antique Bronze, and an all-orignal 43,000 mile Manta Luxus in deep burgundy. The fuel injection, which has caused some people issues over the years, has been flawless for me, and I love just being able to hop in, turn the key, and know that it is good to go. I am still enjoying this Manta after all these years!

  5. Jeff says:

    Here’s a picture of it taken not too long ago. Not sure if the link will work,, but we will see.
    http://www.opelgt.com/photopost/showphoto.php/photo/16904/title/1975-opel-mantafireglowside/cat/500
    -Jeff

    • Matt says:

      Wow! Thanks for commenting, Jeff! So neat that both the current and previous owner have found the car on here… Haha. I’m jealous you got it! But I’m glad it went to an enthusiast for sure. If you have a build thread or plan to start one once you dive into the rust repair, let me know! I’ve been on the opelgt.com boards for ages now (though I’ve never posted) in anticipation of getting a Manta one day. Thanks again, and take good care of it!

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