Once again we fondly pay homage to the one time past masters of motoring in this popular section.
This one offered a more restrained image over its arch rival Ford Capri but also went on to make a huge impact in motor sport.
Words: Mike Humble Photography: Keith Adams
More Old Boy… Less Del Boy
If like me you’re a child of the 70s, you would unwittingly find yourself falling into one or the other camp. Whether it was Swap Shop or Tiswas, Blue Peter or Magpie on the telly or Spangles vs Texan Bars in the sweet shop – the same would apply with certain cars. One of my earliest motoring memories was the Capri GT my father had imported back into the UK after a lengthy Army posting in Germany back in the mid 1970s. For some reason the Capri never did it for me, maybe it was the blue oval badge that took the shine off the otherwise eye catching if not, iconic shape. Terry McCann drove one in Thames TV’s superb Minder and of course, who could forget Derek Trotter and his lime green ‘Capree’ Ghia in BBC’s Only Fools and Horses – was this the issue?
To be honest the Capri was not a bad car, it just seemed to attract either the wrong type of driver or portray an image of loutish or vulgar mannerisms. That said, the later 2.8i Special and the run out Capri 280 of 1987 looked every inch a showstopper either in the brochures, or out on the road. The Ford Capri had only one serious rival which came from the GM stable and that of course… was the Opel Manta. My first real encounter with the Manta came in 1985 after re-locating to Suffolk. Scanning the teacher’s car park on my first day at my new school, Initial impressions looked promising as I spotted an X- plate Beta HPE and a brand new B-reg Manta GT/E – teacher car credibility was always paramount in my eyes.
I had of course seen the Manta in the flesh before in a local Vauxhall-Opel showroom, but the owner of said teaching staff car was Mr Ridgewell who would occasionally ferry one or two overspill kids to the local swimming pool. Should you time it right, you would catch a lift if there was no room in the school minibus. Everything inside the Manta seemed just right, restrained sporting luxury with Recaro seats trimmed in two tone velour and a facia lifted straight from the early Ascona/Cavalier range. Gone was the long spindly Cavalier style gear lever replaced with a stubby short leather clad affair which was almost in line with your rib cage, such was the low slung & snug driving position.
The 110bhp 2.0 Bosch injected CIH (cam in head) engine was pure Germanic engineering of the time with both head and block cast in iron – none of this namby pamby alloy stuff. The engine was designed to last offering heaps of bottom end torque rather than balls out power, in all making the GT/E as effortless round town as it was on the open road. The plump looking body was offered in a brace of variants, a two door hatchback or two door sports coupe. Lesser models included the base GT/J and Berlinetta both featuring 1.8 versions of the GM Family two engine but towards the end of production, the base level GT/J was deleted in `87 with total production ceasing the following year.
The Opel to really make your mouth water
The final run out model of the Manta was called the Exclusive, which started out as a model bedecked in a GM option pack produced by the in house styling company Irmscher who notably also kitted out the awesome Cavalier SRI 130 Caliber in 1988. To many, the GTE and GTE Exclusive were seen as the ultimate Manta models, but all models offered a more restrained touring image which was seen as a cut above the 1.6 or 2.0 Capri. But of course, who could forget the astounding Manta 400 rally car making household names of the likes of Russell Brookes and Jimmy McCrae – father of the much missed Colin. Making its world debut in the 1983 Corsica rally, the GM Manta team in Group B caused sales to soar in the showroom.
For those who lusted for extra power, a road legal version of the Manta 400 came with 144bhp – somewhat less than the 275bhp Cosworth engineered Group B rally special, and saw just 200 produced to satisfy the homologation rules for group B rallying – the long gone but show stopping group the likes of we will never see again. The Manta ‘B’ range, produced from 1981 to 1988 marked the end of the Opel brand in the UK and notched up impressive sales just short of 200.000 units. So to summarise, thanks Mr Ridgewell wherever you may be, for starting my never ending love affair with the thinking mans Ford Capri – the Opel Manta GT/E.