The Carchive: The Opel Manta

Last week, we plumbed the depths of the filthy lagoon of automotive history, and the turgid corpse that bobbed to the surface was the third-generation Chevy Impala and Caprice. This was a car famous all around the world – mainly for appearing in North American films in police cruiser or yellow cab form.
This week’s subject is rather less internationally renown on the small screen, but is a far more familiar sight on the streets of Europe. It was, nominally, a sports coupe, but – like its rival from the Blue Oval, some versions were sportier than others.

Images get bigger when you click ’em

“A new car that offers you more than you’d expect from a sports coupe. New styling – a brand new car, with exciting performance, built in safety and luxury”.
We’re actually talking about the second-generation of Opel Manta here. Like its predecessor, it was based on the Opel Ascona, the German company’s combatant to the Ford Taunus and Cortina. GM’s British division, Vauxhall, still held onto some of its independence at that point and had no direct equivalent to the first Opel Ascona, the Vauxhall Viva was a little smaller and the Victor was slightly bigger. The second one, though – the Ascona ‘b’ – would be sold in the UK as a Vauxhall Cavalier.
Our Cavalier was different to the Ascona, though, in that it had a sloping droopsnoot nose – uncannily like that of the Manta. In fact the first Vauxhall Cavalier, launched in 1975, predated the famously grille-free Ford Sierra by seven years, yet it was always the latter that is regarded as a trend-setter.

“The Manta Deluxe is very well equipped with everything you need for safe, all-year-round motoring.”
Deluxe was, if we’re honest, the bottom-of-the-range model. It had “everything you need”, but precious little more. The ‘finishing touches’ were front seat head restraints and hard-wearing nylon trim for the seats. The more luxurious Berlinetta was really quite a lot more plush inside, with wood grain door trims and soft loop carpeting, while the exterior bore headlamp wipers, and there was a black vinyl roof cover – such things were very much in vogue at the time.
For those who are interested in such things, we only got the Berlinetta here, and then only from 1977 onwards when the Manta hatchback arrived – badged as a Cavalier GLS Sports Hatch.

“Manta SR… the most sporty Manta”
Naturally, the sporty Mantas are the ones that are most fondly remembered, but the SR was really more about the look of speed than anything extra in the form of performance. Truly fast variants didn’t appear until quite a long way after launch. This brochure offers a choice of 75bhp 1.6-litre or 90bhp 1.9-litre engines, the latter only available in the SR and Berlinetta.
The Manta really came of age in the ’80s. There was a major facelift for 1982 and the looks of the Manta were transformed, enough to see it remain in production for four more years. The 110bhp GT/E (GSI in Europe) was a relatively fast and sweet handling car, and appreciated by enthusiasts. It had a slightly more sophisticated feel than the archaic Ford Capri, which was based on even more humdrum technology. The 1987 model year was its last, with a final run in ‘Exclusive’ trim with quad headlamps and dolphin grey seats with red piping.
More interesting were the Irmscher and Cosworth co-developed rally models, including the Manta 400, which could generate vast amounts of power. Homologation versions were offered, naturally, but surviving brochures for these beats are genuinely sought after, and therefore way beyond the scope of The Carchive. Today, in Britan at least, any Manta is a rare sight, they having suffered from the twin curses of rust and the indifference of unsympathetic owners. Those that remain, though, are fastidiously maintained – yet they still live in the shadow of the more famous Ford Capri. Perhaps unfairly.
(All images are of original manufacturer publicity materials, photographed by me. Copyright remains property of, er, I guess PSA group. Strange times.)

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13 responses to “The Carchive: The Opel Manta”

  1. Rover 1 Avatar
    Rover 1

    “uncannily like that of the Manta”
    but not quite the same, without those slots. I’ll bet they use the same starter pressings though.
    Some South African immigrant near here bought one of their versions with them, the Chevrolet Chevair, with it’s 2.3 litre chev six based four, ( that they also shoved into the HC Viva to make the SA Firenza), and another version of that nose. We never had any version of the GM U-car here as we had Holden Toranas and Sunbirds instead. The Sunbird picked up a trick from the Chevair with it’s cut down ‘Starfire’ four based on the Holden ‘Red’ six. Isn’t it funny how GM recycled their model names around- and even badges, I’ll bet Pontiac enthusiasts can recognise the Sunbird badge.

  2. Rover 1 Avatar
    Rover 1

    Was it the Manta 400 that introduced the ‘quad light’ replacement of standard lights into general use?

  3. salguod Avatar

    What year is this and is it related to anything in the states? It looks somewhat similar to our H bodies, the Chevy Monza and the like. Mostly in the door and windshield as the Monza was only a fastback hatch or formal roofline coupe, not a sleeker coupe like this.

    1. tonyola Avatar

      This generation Manta was introduced in late 1975. I don’t think it shares anything with an American GM car.

      1. Evertzen Danny Avatar
        Evertzen Danny

        according to wikipedia, only in south africa it shared the engine with american gm…
        the 3rd generation ascona shared more, it was a j-platform gm car…

      2. Rover 1 Avatar
        Rover 1

        Nothing shared with anything from GM USA. Those were still the days of tariff barriers and import controls and protection of local car production and assembly. For a laugh, look up GM in South America and contrast GM in Uraguay to GM in Brasil or GM in Venezuela, or Paraguay. Sometimes one overseas division would model their vehicles on a design from another, usually because of design quality, Opel in Germany. Over time GM Opel and GM Vauxhall started sharing more and more parts. After Britain came into the EEC Vauxhalls, increasingly became RHD Opels with different badges and despite the culturally inevitable nay-sayers, Vauxhall was proportionally more successful in the UK than Opel was in Europe with a greater percentage of market share. For further interest try the Vauxpedia website for a fuller view of what is now no longer a GM division but a PSA one.
        Holden in Australia derived their first Torana model from the second model British Vauxhall Viva, with the six cylinder versions getting a locally developed long bonnet/hood to cover the locally designed and made six. The designer of both the HB Viva and the later Torana was the same person, Leo Pruneau, ex Detroit, which helped with styling continuity.
        HB Viva UK/NZ Vauxhall
        HB Torana Australia/NZ four cylinder
        HB Vauxhall Envoy, from your friendly Canadian Pontiac dealer, bigger four cylinder
        Next model LC Torana four cyl, restyled ‘c’ pillar, short nose
        LC Torana six the top triple carbed version the GTR XU1 that won Bathurst
        Peter Brock winning Torana GTR XU1 beating the V8 GTHO Falcons to win ’72 Bathurst
        Saehan Camina for sale in Korea based on Torana for GM Korea before it was Daewoo, also sold as Chevrolet Camina.

  4. tonyola Avatar

    “The Sporty Opel 3-speed Automatic”
    Was it the Opel that was sporty or the 3-speed automatic? If it’s the latter, I have some issues with that…
    Decent looking car nonetheless.

    1. wunno sev Avatar
      wunno sev

      well, your “Prejudice against automatic transmissions is out of place when the transmission concerned is as reliable, smooth, and responsive as the Opel 3-speed Automatic.”

  5. Sjalabais Avatar

    The Manta had its own movie in Germany. It probably was one of the most derided domestic products ever, which should really be enough to make it cool again decades later:

    1. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

      There was also this, which didn’t take itself even slightly seriously.

      1. nanoop Avatar

        You, sir, know some shitty cultural references!
        The Manta still suffers from the unsolicited attention in Germany, and only recovered slightly with the advent of 1980s coolness (Radwood and creoles worn by post-hipster youths.)

        1. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

          I’m not sure I know many non-shitty cultural references!

    2. Vairship Avatar

      Jersey Shore auf Deutsch, mit Autos!