The title phrase, which sounds like the beginning of a joke, immediately popped into my mind when I came across this sight. With some cars I might attempt to flesh out the joke, but these cars are just too appealing to make fun of.
Opels were not uncommon sights in the United States of the 1970’s. As GM’s European import sold through Buick dealers, Opel was both a little exotic and Middle-American-Normal all at the same time.
But currency fluctuations wreaked havoc on lower priced German cars in the late ’70s and the German Opel was soon replaced by the Japanese Opel, which was in turn replaced by no Opel at all. Or Opels cleverly disguised as Saturns and Buicks perhaps? Given this history, how cool is this sighting?
When is the last time any of our American readers saw one vintage German Opel in a gas station, let alone two of them. You can imagine my surprise when Mrs. JPC and I were stopped for a restroom break somewhere in Illinois on our way to Madison Wisconsin for a weekend visit with one of our kids in the summer of 2017. Of course, I had to get over there for a closer look.
As you might guess these owners knew each other (they may well have been married, I was not keeping notes) and were on their way to an Opel meet nearby. They kindly allowed me to take some pictures as they gassed up.
The Opel GT was the first in Opel’s 1-2 punch of German grand tourers that were both attractive and reasonably priced. It is hard not to see the Corvette influence in this car. Moving a styling theme to a smaller car is often a very effective way to botch things, but General Motors of the Bill Mitchell era could still pull it off, and quite nicely.
The closest I ever got to one was a blue one that belonged to some neighbors of a cousin I visited. It was a little worn by the late 1970s but still carried a bit of mystique for me.
The Opel Manta was an attractive sports coupe (in a Mini-Camaro kind of way). Actually it is the car most Vega buyers should have chosen as their lifespans overlapped almost exactly. Or, for that matter, the kind of car the Vega should have been.
With Opel being part of General Motors it should not be surprising that the Manta was not as outright Teutonic as cars from VW or BMW. It was, however, a mixture of some of the better traits of American and German cars rolled into one attractive package. Really, wouldn’t the Manta’s lines have worked really well as a convertible?
Neither the Manta nor the GT was able to transition itself into the more rarefied price class in the way that BMW did with the 320 in the late 1970s. In fact, the Manta developed a reputation in Germany as a bit of a low-class car, an image that it was fortunate to avoid in the U.S. It is interesting to contemplate whether Opel could have survived in the American market by trading on its German heritage as a way to justify the prices brought on by inconvenient exchange rates.
Perhaps not as the car was always conceived as a product for the lower tiers of the market. I suppose the recent Buick Cascada proves the point in modern times, though both the Manta and the GT were more appealing cars at the start.
Enough of the wouldda-couldda-shouldda that we old car nuts like to engage in. Let us instead just bask in the rare treat of these two cars stopping in for some liquid refreshment. At least these are not hard drinkers like the two overweight Americans I saw at another filling station.
Whenever I see an old car I ask myself if it is something I would adopt and take home if given the opportunity. The answer here – a yes, even though this is not the kind of car I normally gravitate towards. Really, I would have a hard time if I had to choose just one. Fortunately, these folks do not have to make that decision.