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Local Finds: 1974 Opel Manta Rallye

October 7, 2016 by Matt

1974 Opel Manta Rallye

It’s always nice to see an example that’s obviously received some care and feeding during its lifetime. Most Spannerhead readers know I have a real soft spot for the Opel Manta, so I was pleased when this ad popped up.

1974 Opel Manta Rallye

The seller is asking $4,200, an entirely reasonable price for a Manta in the condition shown, especially since—by the seller’s description—there’s very little rust, and none of it structural. The color doesn’t really appeal, but the paint appears to be in good nick. If I bought it, I would consider painting the hood to match; the black hood was part of the “Rallye” trim package and doesn’t really jive with the brown.

1974 Opel Manta Rallye

The above really represents the Manta’s best view. The mini-pony car proportions are shown to good effect and the simple, cohesive lines draw together nicely at the rear. I don’t even mind the federally-mandated crash bumpers. Are they big? Sure. Would I prefer the thin chrome bumpers fitted to the 1970-1972 cars? Yes I would. But they’re not a dealbreaker.

1974 Opel Manta Rallye

I believe the seats are aftermarket pieces, or at least not original to the Manta, although they look period and quite comfortable to boot. The aformentioned Rallye trim package includes a tachometer and additional auxiliary gauges.

1974 Opel Manta Rallye

The car is equipped with a 1.9l CIH 4-cylinder engine and a 3-speed automatic transmission. As much a fan as I am of rowing my own gears, I’d gladly make an exception for the Manta, since the whole point of ownership isn’t about performance so much as style and presence. When it was first released, the Manta boasted very competent handling, but nowadays an average modern family sedan could wipe the asphalt with it in the corners. Owning and driving one, then, would be about cruising and enjoying the elemental feel of a little gem of a car from the 1970s.

4 Comments on Local Finds: 1974 Opel Manta Rallye

A Local Find: 1968 Opel Kadett

October 1, 2014 by Matt

Opel Kadett Green

Some long-time Spannerhead readers may be aware of my affection for the 1970-1975 Opel Manta. I featured an example of the spry little coupe in my first Ones That Got Away series post, and mused on it again more recently. I’d love to own one, and seeing as how one of my default downtime Internet activities is Craigslist tire-kicking, I type the term “Opel” quite often in the Craiglist search field.

But Mantas are rare beasts in the US, and what pops up most frequently are GTs, Opel’s more popular, plastic-bodied mini-Corvette. Last week, though, an ad for the 1968 Kadett shown in this post appeared.

Opel Kadett Green

Built from 1965 to 1973, the Kadett B, as it’s called, is mechanically similar to the Manta, but doesn’t quite match its stablemate’s delicate proportions and detailing. The Kadett is much more prosaic-looking, but it still has a great deal of charm. This particular car has been repainted, as evidenced by the color of the engine bay and door frames, among other bits, but at least the deep green is a lovely, classic choice of hue.

Opel Kadett Interior Inside Cockpit Console

The interior needs some help. The dash is cracked in multiple places, but the seats appear to be in good shape. It’s possible the owner added the aftermarket gauges because the originals were too difficult to repair or too rare to find working replacements for.

Opel Kadett Interior Inside Cockpit Console

Some rust is in evidence on the door sill, probably a sign of additional rot elsewhere.

Opel Kadett Back Rear Seat

As with the fronts, the back seats seem to be in very good shape.

Opel Kadett Engine Motor

As far as I can determine, the engine fitted to this Kadett is a 4-cylinder, 1.5l, 64-hp CIH unit. It’s certainly not going to win any races, but the appeal of the car isn’t the performance, but the style and the experience. It’s a fair bet the carb isn’t original, but overall, the engine bay is remarkably clean. A little elbow grease and it would be very presentable indeed.

Opel Kadett Literature

The seller also includes OEM literature, always a bonus. I wonder if the car was painted to match the covers?

I’ve tried to figure out what it is exactly that draws me to these little vintage coupes, and I’ve decided it’s what I’m going to call the European Mustang Effect. As Ate Up With Motor discusses in its excellent history of the contemporary Ford Capri, small coupes like the Kadett, Manta and contemporary Capri filled the niche in Europe the Mustang did in the US: Plucky, stylish personal statements that were thoroughly customizable to each buyer’s specific preferences. They had a dash of performance (the Capri and Manta more so than the Kadett coupe), but like the Mustang, above all, their most prominent attribute was that they were—and are—incredibly cool. Other cars were faster, and cheaper and handled better, but none cornered the market on cool quite as effectively as the Mustang in America, or the Capri and Manta in Europe.

Having spent 5 of my formative years in France, and that period being the real genesis of my automotive interest, it’s understandable my initial tastes would have been shaped by what was around me at that time. So as much as car buffs who grow up in the States have an ingrained affection for the apple-pie-American Mustang and its domestic flavor of cool, I think I was weaned on the European variation of that quality. As a result, I’ve always had a semi-conscious affection for sporty RWD coupes from that side of the pond. That’s the formula that holds the greatest appeal for me.

2 Comments on A Local Find: 1968 Opel Kadett

Technical Curiosities:
Opel’s Cam-In-Head Engine

May 3, 2013 by Matt

Opel Cam In Head CIH Engine Motor GT Manta

As with single-point fuel injection, the design of Opel’s cam-in-head (CIH) engine was an attempt to bridge the old and the new, to incorporate some up-and-coming features while using as many existing parts as possible. It’s a transitional form, as it were, between ’60s and ’80s tech.

Fitted to the 1.9l, 4-cylinder blocks of the engines of Opel’s GT and Manta coupes, among others, the CIH head is a hybrid of overhead-cam and pushrod technology. The camshaft is located in the cylinder head, as in an OHC engine, but the valvetrain still uses a pushrod setup’s rocker arms and lifters. It’s as if someone had taken a pushrod design and simply moved the cam upward until the rods themselves were rendered superfluous.

Opel Cam In Head CIH Engine Motor

Advantages? The CIH engine was obviously an easier sell to Opel’s corporate overlords at GM, reusing as it did much existing pushrod valve gear while still offering some of the benefits of a true OHC engine. The valvetrain is more compact than in a pushrod engine and its associated inertia is much less, allowing a redline north of 10,000 rpm for race-prepped CIH engines with roller rockers and suitable springs and cam profile. Hydraulic lifters can be easily used, and in case they aren’t, valve adjustments are much more straightforward than they would be if the cam operated directly on the lifters. And significantly for the Opel GT, with its low-profile hood, the location of the camshaft farther down meant the engine’s overall height is lower than if the camshaft were truly overhead.

Opel Cam In Head CIH Engine Motor Schematic Diagram Drawing Layout Timing Chain Gear Sprocket

Downsides of the CIH engine mainly revolve around the standard limitations of a non-crossflow, 2-valve design, including relatively poor airflow and necessary compromises in combustion chamber design. Also, the cylinder head casting is relatively complex, which introduces a risk of cracking, and the head was only ever made out of cast iron, incurring a weight penalty over an aluminum head. And whatever the valvetrain’s inertial advantages over a pushrod design, there still exists considerably more valve gear than a more direct OHC layout.

Opel’s cam-in-head engine was a stepping stone, but a unique and noteworthy one.

Image credits:

Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing series spotlighting obscure automotive engineering solutions. Read the other installments here:

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Opel’s Cam-In-Head Engine

The Opel Manta Connection

August 13, 2012 by Matt

Opel Manta A Red

I think I may have figured out my uncanny attraction to these. In a nutshell, the Opel Manta is the “cooler version” of my first car, Twinkie.

Twinkie was my 1982 Toyota Tercel. Commendably loyal, peppy below, say, 30 mph, and possessed of an endearing (yet dorky) coupe shape, Twinkie’s character forever spoiled me for anything so mundane as a boring transportation appliance. And the Opel Manta, I’ve determined, takes all the attributes that drew me to Twinkie, and amplifies them. Consider:

  • Small-ish size: Check. The Manta is barely bigger than my old Tercel and checks in at a featherweight 2,100 lbs.
  • Endearing coupe shape: Yessir. There’s nothing as appealing about the Manta as its beautifully-penned proportions, restrained and tasteful fascia and fetching teardrop profile. Lovely.
  • Peppy below 30 mph: Got it. Only offered in the US with a robust-yet-indifferent 1.9l cam-in-head 4-cyl producing a ground-pounding 90 hp, acceleration was nothing to write home about. In its defense, smoky burnouts were never really in sync with the Manta’s delicate aesthetic, and furthermore, during its 1970-75 model run, its contemporaries’ power figures were taking emissions-choked nosedives as well.
  • Snappy handling: Right on. The Manta improves on Twinkie’s admirably taut demeanor in the (low speed) twisties by being RWD and featuring rack-and-pinion steering, along with a rear sway bar and more European-style (read: firmer) suspension calibration. In its day, it was roundly praised for its chassis dynamics, and garnered quite the rally race competition pedigree.

Opel Manta A Red Rear Back Angle Taillights

Yes, I can say with a fair degree of confidence that my 5-odd year “relationship” with Twinkie primed me for my heretofore unexplained attraction to the Manta. I’ve written about it before, in the very first entry in my Ones That Got Away series, but hadn’t really figured out why I like it so much other than waxing effusive over how cool it is, and going on about how well it seems to complement my own self-image.

But now it all makes sense. One day…

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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:

10 Comments on The Ones That Got Away, Part I