Cohort Pic(k) of the Day: Opel Manta (A) 1900 – There’s A Good Reason Why I Have A Soft Spot For It

I can’t ever resist stopping for a Manta, like this one just posted at the Cohort by William Oliver. Yes, they were based on the Opel 1900/Ascona sedan’s body, so they’re kind of the equivalent of the Barracuda to the Mustang, in terms of the Manta to the massively popular Ford Capri, which also had a completely new body like the Mustang. So they’re tall, and sit too high on their little wheels, but they have a certain charm that is irresistible, at least to me.  And of course they had good underpinnings.

But the biggest reason is that I got to drive one for several hundred miles back in 1972, under somewhat unusual circumstances.

This is most likely a ’74, as it has the 5 mile bumpers, but not the fuel injection that came along in ’75. I’m all too aware that the Manta had a very different image in Europe, where it was the stereotypical “mullet-mobile”. In the US, it was almost the polar opposite: the discerning few drove a Manta, because they knew it handled as well as a BMW 2002 but was cheaper. And there were even fewer of them around.

This one’s an automatic, which is obviously not as ideal as the stick, to motivate the cam-in-head 1.9 L four, which although not quite in the BMW’s league, was a relatively smooth running four for the times. A paragon of refinement compared to the Vega, in any case.

There’s a ’74 that’s been hiding in a carport about ten blocks from my house. I shot it back in 2009, when it probably hadn’t moved in ten years or more, and I wrote it up at the old site. I never brought that CC over here, as it has elements that are irrelevant now. But I still see it sitting in that carport whenever I drive by, and now it’s even dustier and there’s a few cartons sitting on it. It’s an automatic too, otherwise I might have been tempted to talk to them about it.

About that drive in a Manta:

In 1972, I was returning from my four month-long hitchhiking sojourn from Iowa out to California and Oregon. I met some kids in Cheyenne, WY, and spent a couple days with them, including a memorable snowy night in the back of a Barracuda out in the mountains. When it came time to leave, they dropped me off in downtown Cheyenne, as I-80 did not yet bypass it. I stood a corner at a red light, and a single guy driving a red Manta stopped there. I gave him a friendly wave with my thumb, and he invited me in.

He was in the Navy, and driving to the East Coast to a new assignment. And he said he’d drop me off in Iowa City, a mere 742 miles away. One of my better rides ever.

He had been driving since very early that morning and was a bit tired, and asked if I’d be up to driving for a while. Umm, let me think about that a bit…  He soon fell fast asleep, and I ended up driving the better part of the way. I-80 wasn’t exactly the best place to really test the Manta’s handling prowess, but it ran like a top at 80-90 mph. Very pleasant, smooth and stable. I could tell I’d like it on a mountain road.

Nine hours later, we were pulling into Iowa City, and he drove me right to the door of where I would be couch surfing, until the next adventure. So yes, I have a soft spot for the Manta. Wouldn’t you?