1970 - 1975 The Manta A was released in September 1970, two months ahead of the then new Opel Ascona on which it was based. A competitor to the Ford Capri, it was a two-door "three-box" coupé, and fea...
1970 - 1975 The Manta A was released in September 1970, two months ahead of the then new Opel Ascona on which it was based. A competitor to the Ford Capri, it was a two-door "three-box" coupé, and featured distinctive round tail lights, quite similar to those on the Opel GT and which in fact were used on the GT in 1973, its final model year. It took its name, and a few minor styling cues, from the Manta Ray concept car (1961), which also famously influenced the 1968 Chevrolet Corvette C3 (both Chevrolet and Opel have General Motors as their parent company).
In the UK market, the first Manta was sold only as an Opel: there was no Vauxhall-branded Manta (or Ascona) until after the launch, in 1975, of the Manta B1 and Ascona B. (In the UK the Ford Capri niche was contested, with only limited success, by Vauxhall's Firenza, based on the ageing Vauxhall Viva until 1975.)
The sales approach for the Opel line in the U.S. market was equally unusual. The Manta A was one of only a few Opel models sold in the U.S. Opels were imported by GM and sold through Buick dealerships and not their own dealership network, so they were limited in what makes and models they could sell there. Other Opel models sold in the U.S. were the 1956–1961 the Rekord P1 and Rekord P2, the Kadett A (1964–1966), Kadett B (1967–1971), GT (1969–1973), and the Manta / Ascona A (1971–1975). The Ascona A was the saloon version on the Manta A chassis and was sold in the U.S. under the "1900" name as a two-door and four-door saloon, and as a two-door "sport wagon". The only difference between the Ascona and Manta was exterior sheet metal, glass and trim. The frame, all the mechanicals, dash, front seats, and many other parts were shared between the cars. The Manta was even sold as the "1900 sport coupé" in 1971 and 1972, rather than as the "Manta". In 1973, the Manta nameplate was added to the U.S.-spec Mantas, but the Asconas kept the 1900 badge throughout their model life. The last year GM imported European-made Opels into the United States, under their marque, was 1975. In that year the only Opels imported were the Manta and Ascona A.
The Manta was normally equipped with 1.6 or 1.9-litre CIH engine, although in Europe a small, 1.2-litre, motor was also offered. All Mantas sold in the U.S. had the 1.9 L and larger heavy duty radiator (an option on European models). It came with either a four-speed manual or an optional three-speed TH-180 automatic. The Manta was known to be one of the best-handling cars in its class and went on to win a large number of rallies in Europe and the United States.
In the U.S. market, there was a sport model known as the "Rallye" from 1971 to 1974. The Rallye model was, overall, an appearance and gauge package, the most noticeable difference was the addition of a black hood and, on 1970–1973 models, the addition of fog lamps. Mechanically, the only difference was the gear ratios in the models with manual transmissions, and the Rallye model came with standard stiffer suspension, a tighter turning radius, and very aggressive front caster adjustments. Both had dual rear sway bars, providing exceptional handling.
In 1973 and 1974 there was also the "Luxus" model, which included refinements like corduroy seats, colour-coded interiors (blue or burgundy), and faux wood panelling. The only special edition Manta ever produced for the U.S. market was the "Blue Max", in 1973. This amounted to a blue 1973 Luxus model, with a unique dark blue vinyl roof, mechanical sunroof, and automatic transmission.
In 1975, all Manta and 1900 models were equipped with the Bosch L-Jetronic fuel injection in the United States due to emission regulations. Yet in Europe this feature was only available on the high-end GT/E models, which also sported fog lamps and lower front spoilers, which were not offered on any of the U.S. spec Manta models. Also of note is that the 1974–75 Opel Manta models had large aluminium 5 mph (8 km/h) bumpers to comply with U.S. crash standards of the time; the European Mantas did not receive the large bumpers.
With the Deutsche mark becoming stronger, and with other costs also rising, U.S. imports of Opels ended in 1975. Instead, the Isuzu Gemini version of the T-car was imported from Japan and sold by Buick dealers as the "Opel by Isuzu", later "Buick Opel". The Opel name was last used in the U.S. in 1979.
The European market had a number of different versions. Most were basic trim packages, the most popular being the "Berlinetta", which was similar to the Luxus but included rubber trim on the bumpers (standard on all 1973 U.S. Opel Mantas), vinyl roof, and other miscellaneous features. The one exception was the 1975 Opel, which offered the GT/E and a number of special editions based on the GT/E. The GT/E was a fuel-injected version of the European 1.9L and the performance figures were very impressive for the time. The most notable special editions models based on the GT/E were the "Black Magic" (with black and plaid interior) and the "Swinger" edition in white, also with an odd interior choice.
Special Opel Manta A-series cars
There were two different special models made of the Manta A. The primary objective was to increase the power of the car. Both projects started approximately at the same time (around 1972 or 1973). There was the Turbomanta and the TE2800.
The Turbomanta is the rarer of the two. Production was a total of 33 cars, with five of them being prototypes and the ones used for public relations.
The Turbomanta was actually a 1973 SR with a 1.9-litre "S" spec engine, originally putting out 90 bhp (67 kW). The British company Broadspeed was chosen to build the turbo cars, and eventually started building five left-hand drive cars for the German Opel AG. These cars were meant only as prototypes. Broadspeed came up with a somewhat special solution, and used a combination of a Holset 3LDG turbocharger, and a carburettor mounted inside a big plenum chamber. The engine itself was fitted with a thicker copper head gasket, and as such the compression ratio was lowered to 7.6:1. The outcome was a 1.9-litre engine which generated 156 bhp (116 kW), with acceleration of 0–60 in 7.6 seconds. All five cars were in GM's "signalgelb" sunflower yellow, and had large black stripes on the side, where a sign said "Turbomanta". The downside to this was fuel consumption. The turbocharger had halved the economy of the car, and building it was also costly. Therefore Opel closed the project, leaving the five cars as the total production number. However a British engineer at the Dealer Opel Team (D.O.T.), which was the British importer and builder of Opel cars in Britain, was so enthusiastic about the cars that he had D.O.T. build an additional 28 cars. The cars were all based on the 1974 luxury Berlinetta model, with full gauge packs, automatic transmissions, and alloy wheels. All 28 cars were black with vinyl roofing. The only thing identifying that the car was indeed a Turbo Manta was a small sign at the rear quarter of the rear wings saying "turbo". Very few of these cars still remain today.
The TE2800 was a totally different project that Opel refused to endorse. A Belgian company called Transeurop Engineering also wanted to increase the engine power of the Manta A. Opel had previously tried a six-cylinder engine layout in 1971 and 1972, but with no success. The cars were deemed too expensive to build, and the market was overwhelmed at the time with big engine cars. But Transeurop Engineering did not agree, and a 2.8-litre CIH-type engine was essentially taken from the Opel Commodore 2.8GS model and fitted into the engine bay of the Manta 1.9SR. The radiator, the bonnet, the entire front end of the car, the rear axle, and the transmission all needed to be changed. To solve this quickly, Transeurop Engineering tried to get Opel to join the project using Opel's earlier experiences with the transformation, but with no success. Even worse for Transeurop, Opel did not even want the Opel brand on the cars if the project ever got off the ground. Transeurop Engineering therefore turned to Opel's best tuner of the time, Steinmetz. They supplied a new fibreglass bonnet with a large bulge on it to make room for the engine, a set of widened arches, and a special front bumper integrated with the lower front spoiler, all to make room for the dramatic changes that needed to be made to the car's front end construction. Much of the front was cut out and replaced with other parts being mounted further to the ground in order to give room for the radiator. A closed radiator system was installed so that the radiator had a water tank in the engine bay (like modern cars). The engine was still the 2.8-litre unit from the Commodore GS and this was originally fitted with two Zenith carburettors. The output was 142 bhp (106 kW), and with the Commodore four-speed manual gearbox and a 3.18:1 rear axle the car went from 0–60 mph in 7.5 seconds. A total of 79 cars were made and sold through Steinmetz in Germany, branded not as Opels but as TE2800s. All Opel badging was removed from the cars and replaced by the "TE" logo.
Steinmetz offered a tune-up for rally and motorsport use. The tuning consisted of porting and flowing the head, a higher compression ratio, a race spec camshaft, and triple carburettors, giving the car up to 230 bhp (172 kW).
Although the TE2800 is the fastest Manta A ever made, it is not officially an Opel. It could outrun cars like the 911 Carrera of 1973 and the BMW2002 turbo from 1973, even though those cars had more engine power. The low weight of the Manta bodyshell and the combination of the right gear ratios was what gave the car its success. However, the cars were very expensive, almost twice the price of a 105 bhp (78 kW) GT/E in 1975. Very few of these cars exist today, as most were used in rally and motorsport events.