Vintage C&D Review: Opel GT 1.9 – The First Lutz-Mobile

(first posted 3/24/2018)     Bob Lutz is associated with a lot of cars; some good, some so-so (or worse). There is a recurring thread in the latter category — aggressive styling but with compromises in the packaging or underpinnings. The Opel GT laid down that formula for the first time and went all the way to the Pontiac Solstice/Saturn Sky, the latter being sold in Europe as the Opel GT.

To be fair, Bob Lutz isn’t solely or even primarily responsible for the Opel GT, as he was a mere marketing executive. But he became its most enthusiastic promoter, pushing hard to put into production the concept Opel GT shown back in 1965 at the Frankfurt Motor Show. But in order to make it work cost-wise, the GT had to share the platform of the quite-lowly Opel Kadett, a car designed to be as cheap to build as possible in order to compete against the VW Beetle. So it should come as no surprise that the production Opel GT looked quite a bit better than it really was, hardly a unique and unusual reality at GM. The one consolation: most of its veteran sports car competitors in 1969 weren’t any better technically. But that house of cards would quickly collapse in 1970, when Datsun unleashed its similarly-priced 240Z.

The Opel’s 1.9 L cam-in-head (“CIH”) four came in for a lot of criticism. Although this engine was not designed with lofty ambitions, over the years it seems to have been praised more commonly than in this review, and the final injected version in the Manta/1900 was given quite high marks in this R&T review. Even C/D waxed eloquently about their 1900 SCCA/project car. Maybe it harmonized better with the Ascona/1900/Manta chassis. Speaking of, if Opel had waited a couple of years to use that platform under the GT, it might have come off much better. But by that time its mini-me Mako Shark/Pontiac Banshee styling might have started to look increasingly out of date.

Here’s the original 1965 Opel GT concept, with Bob Lutz looking on. The platform donors Kadetts are in the background.

It was designed by the young Opel designer Erhard Schnell, under the direction of Clare MacKichan, former Chevrolet Chief designer who was doing a five year stint at Opel to shake them out of their stylistic doldrums. Well, the GT did that, and paved the way for a much more dynamic period at Opel under Chuck Jordan, who was sent from Detroit by Bill Mitchell to take the next shift as design chief.

The production GT suffered some from the changes made to fit the narrow Kadett platform. Opel might have helped that issue with some slightly bigger and fatter tires, and a bit of more suspension tuning would have been welcome too.

The Opel GT went on to sell fairly well, racking up some 100k total sales over its lifetime, a good percentage of them in the US. Its styling was undoubtedly the key to its relative success, as it was never really embraced by the hard-core sports car community.


More on the Opel GT at CC:

Automotive History: The Opel GT. 1968-1973 – The Long Road From Inspiration To Production with Many Cooks Adding to the Broth Along The Way.