(first posted 3/8/2017) The Opel Manta, and its 1900 (Ascona) siblings, was a deceptively good car, despite not being really exceptional in any blatant way. It was the sum of its parts, as a well-engineered German car, and its single greatest asset was its handling, which was universally praised. On the other hand, its straight-line performance was always just adequate, but these Opels proved an important point: When everything else works well, and the car is a pleasure to drive, power is not the be-all. But in 1975, the Opels got Bosch L-Jetronic fuel injection, which upped power a tad, and improved driveability.
It didn’t make the Manta any much faster, but in the face of increasing emission regulations, it showed that there was an alternative to engines being strangled and enfeebled, like so many American ones at the time.
Here’s my CC on a Manta that’s really resolved any performance issues.
The Chevette, as Buick builds it. ?
The Vega that should have been.
I was playing with the Kadett T-Car heritage, I’m not sure how much of that platform is in the Manta’s DNA, But the windshield and steering wheel are familiar. I won’t deny that this car mechanically is superior to the Vega, But Dammit, The Vega was IMHO purttier!? YMMV!
Very nice car for the times and something of a competitor to Ford’s Capri. Unfortunately the appreciation of the D-mark would make the Opel less competitive price-wise in the North American market in the coming years.
And now GM wants to sell Opel to PSA…kinda sad.
Just doesn’t have the same ring to it…
I just came to the realization that only on C.C. can I make a reference to a 1931 Buick ad campaign,, Then see a reference to “The Dead Milkmen” all in a thread about a mid ’70s German car. Man, Is this the coolest car site! ?
The last gasp of an era when German cars were still an option here for regular folks, instead of just a status symbol for the rich. And now GM is getting rid of Opel!
Happy Motoring, Mark
So the Gen 1 VW rabbit and all of its water cooled brethren and subsequent generations somehow don’t count as German cars for regular folks?
VW quality plummeted during the ’70s, and then some became ‘American’ cars for awhile after the exchange-rate forced them to build in the US.
Happy Motoring, Mark
The Bosch L-Jetronic Manta is one of the few highlights of the dark automotive days of the seventies, sort of a poor man’s BMW 2002. Unfortunately, it came at a price, and the strong Deutsche Mark meant 1975 would also be the final year for the sporty German Opel in the US. R&T only mentions the $450 price increase over the 1974 version in passing, but it wasn’t an inconsequential sum at the time and almost certainly had an impact on withdrawing the car from the US market. It’s also amusing how R&T says the ‘only’ options are sunroof, A/C, tinted windshield, rear window defroster, vinyl roof, and radio. To put the price of the ’75 Manta into perspective, the same year V8 Camaro could be had for $26 less, probably much less as I would guess Chevy dealers would be much more willing to haggle on the selling price of a domestic versus an imported German marque.
It’s a real shame because, even with some odd decontenting (no tachometer?!), it was the best version of the sporty Manta.
Had an older Manta Rallye I got off a Nashville lot in the mid-’70s, flaming orange with that flat-black hood … and an automatic! That was my first autobox, and I had no idea how to take care of one, so the car’s tendency to die at idle after a run in cold weather probably had something to do with low fluid … The car’s dry-road handling was not the best of my experience but good enough to be enjoyable, and to invite long drives over country roads. In the wet it was a little tricky. On ice it was too damn scary to be lethal, because I was afraid to go fast enough to hurt anything. A slight change in the road’s camber, for instance, caused the back end to make a sudden swoop that turned us clear around, at maybe 35 mph. I think only my brother’s Gremlin was worse on ice and snow, and that only because it was a lot heavier.
Aside from that, the only handling oddness it displayed was a bit of rear-wheel steering on the occasionally lumpy Tennessee blacktop roads, mostly frost-heaves, and that was due to the rather quirky rear suspension setup. The Volvo 122 I traded it in on had similar waywardness in the rear, but little of the same tricky behavior on slippery stuff. But then you’d expect a Swedish car to be okay on winter roads, wouldn’t you?
An interesting thought, what if the US manufacturers had correctly used their European arm to supply what came to be known as captive imports, and done so sooner? We had the Ford and GM products coming into the USA from the 50s, albeit with very few takers. Chrysler owned Simca/Talbot/Rootes, and would have had a chance as well. If the big 3 had swallowed their collective pride and instead of trying to engineer and build small versions of American cars, they could have just brought over the successful, proven small models from Europe. They could have brought over tooling when the currency made direct importing cost prohibitive. This may have slowed the Asians down in getting such a toehold into the American market when the first gas crunch hit. Oddly, the european market may have seen more Detroit iron, as they would have been incented to use the boats going back to Europe after delivering instead of deadheading them back empty. Cheaper American cars may have tempted a German or English or French person to try that large Chevy, Ford, or Dodge. Cadillac and Lincoln may have got an owner who went with a Jag or Mercedes instead. Who knows? It would have made trade more interesting, no matter what.
Well, most of the american cars made in the 50s and 60s was way better than the European in many ways. They where way more reliable, more equipped, way quieter, way more comfortable and just better built. In the 70s that may changed some, especially with the small cars from Detroit who was badly built. Even so, the big american cars still reliable and comfortable, but with European gas prices, the norm for an european car buyer and driver was a little car with about 50 hp, when the smallest engine in your Chevelle was a I6, that was pretty much extreme luxury in Europe in the 50/60/70s and not for the average working class.
So even if we wanted these american cars, we couldn’t afford to run them at the time.
I read someplace that GM had looked at the Opal to copy but the machinery in the US couldn’t match the tolerances needed to produce it. Good ole USA car manufacturing creed in the 50’s – 80’s, build the parts loose enough and we can fit anything together. Many of the restored cars today are fitted together way better than they came off the assembly line new.
That was especially the case with the Admiral and Diplomat B. They just couldn’t build them conform the high standards of their former (we can safely say that now) German division.
Various US cars were actually assembled in Copenhagen up untill the late 1960’s early 1970’s. The interest for these cars here was severely cooled by the 180% import tax, which has to be paid regardless where the car is assembled.
Other than that, I agree with you. I had my present car shipped over on a roll-on/ roll-off ferry returning from Jacksonville, after having brought European cars to the US.
I had two 1974’s: a Manta and the Sport Wagon. Loved them both. They really were a less expensive version of the BMW 2002. I replaced the standard Solex carb with a Weber 32/36 DGV and took off the EGR system. That really woke up the engine which was stragled by the poorly designed emission system. A friend had a later 1995 Opel 1900 coupe with the Bosch fuel injection system. That Bosch system was light years better. It was just what these cars needed. The power delivery was much smoother and they ran great when cold. The only problem was that these were sold by Buick dealers who did not care for them and did not know how to maintain or repair them.
Interesting that the fuel injection resulted in a drop in fuel mileage. A quirk with the car they tested I wonder?
Road testers fault, it went better so they drove it harder getting worse fuel mileage.
Fuel injection wasn’t the only change- The final drive lengthened (which also should have increased fuel economy), weight increased and it appears the tires are larger.
Since nothing happens in a vacuum, it’s hard to determine if adding fuel injection led to a fuel economy drop.
22 MPG on a long road trip in a 1.9 stick shift sub 2400 lb car, and 19.5 average is incredibly low, unless that road trip was 80-90 MPH and around town driving was pedal to the floor most of the time.
Maybe the fuel injection and/or timing was not working properly.
It just shows how far we have come in, granted, several decades of development of the basic normally aspirated I-4 OHC gasoline piston engine, along with aerodynamics of car bodies.
Emissions standards were tightened, and with the exhaust gas recirculation, fuel consumption probably increased due to that.
This is my suspicion as well. L-Jetronic was fairly sophisticated, but this far back, I don’t think it yet had a lambda sensor for mixture control. Before feedback control, it was common to set the mixture fairly rich to bring down combustion temperatures and reduce NOx formation, which hurt fuel economy. Add to that the additional back pressure of an early catalytic converter and the extra weight and the decline in mileage becomes easier to understand.
I looked this up later, and while L-Jetronic was introduced in late 1973, Bosch didn’t announce the availability of lambda sensor closed-loop feedback control for it until 1975, and the first to use it in production was Volvo, for 1976. So, this car wouldn’t have had that yet.
Did the ’75 have a catalytic converter?
I would have thought the corduroy seats in the Luxus would have had enough takers to be around for Opel’s final year. They were dark blue or burgundy, which would have been hot in summer and showed lint, but anything is better than vinyl.
Yes (and the spec sheet so indicates), but I think of the older two-way variety, which only oxidized CO and HC emissions, rather than a three-way catalyst that also reduces NOx.
Cars, like the Manta/Ascona and Cortina/Capri were mainstream in Europe. But here they were just ‘small’ cars. To US car makers, small cars were supposed to be cheap.
Many weren’t enthusiastic, or were unsure of how to sell cars like the Manta or Capri.
I think there was a lot of attitude that if you came into an American car dealer, and wanted one of the captive imports, you weren’t ‘someone who mattered’.
In the late ’70s, I owned an Opel Kadett.
I remember occasionally calling my local Buick dealer parts department, and the parts guys acted rude and surly, as if my call had ruined their day.
Happy Motoring, Mark
Buick dealers were the same way with Skyhawks and 61-63 Skylarks too. They looked at them as ‘junk’. Meant as ‘bait and switch’ items.
Parents had a ’75 Hawk and aunt/uncle got a ’61 senior compact Special. Uncle traded in for ’65 Fury. Though my dad just got bigger Buicks.
Opels were restyled and repowered with Holden engines for our market so very few arrived and none with fuel injection, GMH didnt invent fuel injection untill the mid 80s out this way.
Classic Opels from the seventies have a big following throughout northwestern Europe. A sporty Opel, the (young) working class hero & darling back then. Whether a Kadett, Ascona or Manta. (Photo courtesy of Opel Manta Club Nederland)
Along with the 1965-66 Kapitän/Admiral/Diplomat, these first generation Manta cars are the most well designed cars from the European GM Opel factory.
The Manta A was designed by Erhard Schnell, my first Studio Chief i worked for at Opel. A very talented designer and perfect gentleman who was responsible for many, many Opels from the ’60s right through to the ’90s Calibra.
Hey, I don’t know if you had a hand in the Rekord E. But a 79 Rekord 2.0 was my Dad’s last car in 1981, got with 17000 km. I got to drive it before I got my license and kept it for about 4 years. I’m always looking around to see if I can buy a good one. Here in Uruguay, only BMW and Mercedes were more expensive. A great car, comfortable, and very slow…. If you did as much as touch the design, I thank you, and commend you on a beautiful work.
I had a 1974 Opel Manta Luxus, was even better with a Weber carburetor in place of the stock Solex. Bosch L-Jetronic fuel injection could be a bit finicky.
The Manta A was a pretty car. But look at the noise numbers. 71 db at 50 mph. The luxury Lincoln Continental Town Car had 56 db in 50 mph in “road test”. Even a cheap Chevrolet was way quieter. The European never understood or paid attention to NVH, not until way passed the year of 2000.
So in 1975, the only way to get a tach option is to get the wagon?
I liked the looks of the Opel Manta back in the day and I still do. As a young guy, back in those days, any new car was out of the question. Saw a few around back then, but they never were great sellers.
I had a yellow ’74, beautiful styling in the tin and a fantastic driver. Did the Weber conversion and never looked back. They were very low geared and with 13″ tires they were spinning some rpm on the freeway. Probably why the low fuel mpg. Great cars.
In Germany back in the 1970’s a Manta driver was a concept.
“Why does a Manta driver wear a magnetic bracelet around his left wrist?”
“Because he wants to drive 110 miles/h with his left arm out of the open window.”
You could also recognize a Manta driver by the dead insects on his left elbow.
Also those “Manta-jokes” refer to Manta B and its drivers – not to Manta A.
Oh – there is a typing error (blush !):
Not “Also those …” but “All those….”
I tried out a Manta at the Detroit show. I remember the plush interior. I also remember my head hard against the roof.
TV ads for the Manta made me laff as the guy they showed driving it looked to have about 6″ of headroom. Thinking back, the guy in the Manta ad looked a bit like Ron Carey. Carey starred in the “Barney Miller” TV series in the late 70s…Carey stood 5’4″, which would have been the size the guy in the Manta ad would have had to be to have the headroom the ad showed.
Any word on the Opel history article?
Timely piece — just recently I saw a Manta parked at a gas station near here in Virginia. It’s been sitting there for a while, so my guess is that it’s waiting for some parts. I’ve never thought about what my favorite small car of the 1970s would be, but I think the Manta may be it.
Can you please post what issue of Road and Track this article was from?
July. Very telling. R&T, or GM, or both didn’t think enough of the newly fuel-injected Manta to road test it early in the year. In June 1975, the leftover 1975s were in the lots, and car manufacturers were generally winding down MY1975 production. Perhaps the foreign brands kept 1975s longer.
The point is, this car was not promoted, which is too bad.
I always liked the Manta. It was one of the cars that I aspired to in HS in the early 1980s. Manta had the looks, handling, and considered Opel superior quality. Some Celicas had a FIVE-speed, some Capris had a V6, and they all had tachometers.
I wouldn’t necessarily assume that there’s any strong correlation between when a road test was published and when the test was actually performed, and the lead time in that era was probably at least three months prior to publication (so, in this case, March or earlier).
My assumption is that a lot of cars were tested during the model introduction press previews in late summer, with the actual reviews published throughout the next nine months or so, depending on how many editorial pages they needed to fill for each issue, what they wanted to put on the cover, what ad buys they were juggling, what embargoes were being lifted when, etc.
In this case, you may well be correct that GM wasn’t that keen to promote the Manta, which led to this article getting pushed back toward the end of the season, but in general, I wouldn’t read TOO much into it.
My first car was a 3-year-old Manta Luxus. It was a svelte 1973 model (USA 1974 models bore the clunky 5-MPH bumpers). I owned it for 5½ years, replaced the worn timing chain myself and all the other fun maintaining a points-type distributor engine required for proper running.
Reading the test review, no wonder it seemed kinda slow, slower than it looked with 80 HP or less. Also, without a tach I was afraid of overrevving it so probably short-shifted it a bit. I loved the steering feel, but not the body roll. All-in-all, I was proud of it and never got tired of its sporty Bertone-styled body. In fact, a Road & Track compendium of notable cars of each decade cited the “A” Manta as one of the best styling designs of the 1970s.
My best friend was impressed enough with it (and probably how I drove it) that he got a Rallye version as did my mother. Hers was orange. For a short time, all three of us had one which I found gratifying.
I still dream about that car. Someone’s found it in a barn/garage in good running condition and I get to drive it again. Actually, I sold it to my brother as a beater in the early 80s. He drove it a few months, then sold it to a friend who relegated it to a junkyard in St. Louis. I’d love to have it back.
“But in 1975, the Opels got Bosch L-Jetronic fuel…”
Then, for 1976 model year, Buick dealers got the “Opel by Isuzu”, a Japanese Chevette, essentially. Euro sourced Opels got too expensive after ’75, same with Capri II, and got the axe.
The European Capri was sold in the States a few years longer, at least through 1977 and some were sold in 1978, before being replaced by a Fox body Mustang clone in 1979. Sales had slowed considerably by then though.
Was affected by the exchange rate, too. 1976 Capri II started sales in spring ’75. Unsold 1977 Capri II’s were still on lots and sold off in 1978, but were left overs. So, really only two model years, [within 3 calendar].
Exchange rate also led to VW building cars in US [Westmoreland PA] and MEX.
Imagine an “Opel sourced compact Cadillac” at that time would have had issues with parts, and who knows? An early Catera.
I liked the Manta back then and the other Opels also. I tried to get my mother to get the 1900 sedan in 1974 when she downsized from her 68 Satellite wagon. She demured and got a 74 Pinto wagon. Ugh!!! That lasted two ugly years before she gave it up for an Audi 100LS. Finally got down to Opel size with an 82 BMW 320i.
Cute family-resemblance styling, complimented the Colonnade coupes very well.
I had a ’74 Opel Manta Rallye – bright orange with black trim including the hood. Not the fastest car on the block but handled like an Alfa. Comfortable seats. Great 4-speed transmission. Good brakes. However, after four years, it was costing me a car payment per month in repairs, so it was traded in on a ’78 Toyota Corrolla SR-5 fastback. More reliable but less fun to drive.
Had the Manta been sold in Canada it is a model I might have considered as a first new car. However, noting the base price in US dollars from the old magazine article, that would have put sticker on my side of the border over $4,000. Same price range as the Mustang II and Capri. Which would have had me end up with a basic, no extras model.
My well optioned Vega GT came in at $3,800 in 1974. Great deal at the time and a wonderful car until the engine overheated on a long road trip.
I had a ’75 Opel Sportwagon for several years, it was a nice car but the fuel injection gave me problems almost from day one. and the dealer never could get the problems sorted out. When it ran properly(about half the time it was a hoot to drive) the other half when the fuel injection was malfunctioning it stumbled and wheezed. I lost count of the number of times I had the injectors cleaned or replaced; finally I traded it in on a 1980 Buick Skylark (one of the infamous X cars.) Talk about jumping from the frying pan into the fire.
I purchased a 74 Manta Luxus in the summer of 79. I still have it! Drove it across country from California to DC several times, and from DC to Detroit a few times as well. It was great out on the open road, and fun to drive around town as well – even though it wasn’t the fastest car on the road. I replaced the Solex with a Weber in 80, and never looked back. I’m 6’4″ and it was way more comfortable than the 72 Capri I had before the Opel. Finally gave it a proper restoration a few years ago so I can now enjoy driving it again -odometer is about to flip over for the second time so total mileage is around 190K. IMHO it was one of the better small coupe designs of the 70s.
Once again, Paul and I agree on a car.
It’s about 3 inches taller than the Vega coupe, probably one reason why Detroit GM didn’t want it.