Truth be told, my Manta fixation goes back over 25 years. As a kid visiting Northern Ireland, I was inextricably drawn to GM's Euro ponycar; it seemed the most American thing on the road, coiffed, as it was with cues that spoke of Yankee muscle. Camaro ducktail here, Monza curve there. Okay, fine. I was influenced heavily by 1970s muscle-appearance cars. But the Manta just looked like the baddest-ass thing on the road in what was then a fairly poor country. That said, I knew that Manta drivers, even back then, were revered for their manliness and reviled for their loutish nature. Eleven years ago, eight years after Manta production ended, I studied in Germany. Although nobody mentioned Mantas, per se "Manni" was shorthand for your stereotypical Bitburger-swilling, mulleted hoon. Which brings us to Manta - der Film.
Jalopnik has procured a copy of this fine example of Teutonic cinematic excellence. I cannot exactly call it Bruce on Film. I can, however, call it a fantastically kistchy coming-of-age fable that parallels my own. At age 14, I inherited a 1975 El Camino. I admit, I've always loved El Caminos, but '75 wasn't what one would call a prime year for such vehicles, especially in 1990, when California smog regulations mandated regular engine swaps if one wanted to extract a modicum of performance from the 2bbl, single-exhaust, early-cat vehicle. My dad, recently able to afford mechanics, had had enough of dropping his own transmissions to save a few bucks and the paltry recompense earned from mowing lawns would have put me on schedule to buy a TPI motor in roughly an eon. Some friends thought my El Camino was awesome. Most of them were guys. Dorky guys. I wished I had a GTI numerous times. But the El Camino had an "I-will-hit-you" factor that no GTI could possibly hope to hold a candle to. And in the end, "My first car was an El Camino" carries way more cred than "Daddy bought me a GTI."
Manfred Grabowski (Sebastian Rudolph) ultimately learned the same lesson. At film's start, he's daydreaming at driving school, imagining his hottie classmate, Tina (Nadja Therese Brennicke - who looks eerily like a blonde version of my teenage French girlfriend with less in the way of T&A) menaced by a Manta in a parking garage. He sweeps in, rescuing her in a white GTI, when his gold-chain, Mantafahrer instructor shakes him out of his reverie just as he's about to get some. Through some turn of events I don't quite get (Mein Deutsch ist rusty), Fred — as he refers to himself — wins a Manta.
At his eighteenth birthday party, he's showered in foxtails, snakeskin low-cut cowboy boots and of course, the all-important foxtail. Meanwhile, having won Tina's affections after rescuing her from a bunch of lecherous GTI drivers scoping her in the shower at the squash court — after which the Manta drivers are goaded into a chase by Phil, the lead GTI-driving soft-core pornographer — Fred goes to meet Tina at work. She happens to be a hairdresser (apparently a Mantafahrer stereotype in-joke) and has just cut Phil's hair. She's also completely distraught that Fred shows up in a Manta, to the point of forcing him to drive down the street past her salon before she'll be seen getting into his car.
A scene at a club follows, where a couple of sartorially-challenged bouncers force Fred unknowingly into Mantafahrer attire, leaving him to be heckled by a horrendous lounge singer in front of Tina, who runs off with Phil to take sexy, sexy pictures at his place. Fred keys obscenities into Phil's hood. Tina catches him, slaps him and runs off. Despondent and furious at the hand the Automotive Gods have dealt him, Fred breaks out the Jerry can and attempts to set his Manta ablaze. At the last second, a six-wheeled Manta appears to push Fred's steed out of harm's way, reversing away as quickly as it arrived.
The next day, Fred swings by Sascha's garage, and the Russian emigré wrench hammers the bent bumper into place with his bare hands. The driver of the Glorious Mantamino teaches Fred some sort of lesson.
Later, a scuffle ensues, Fred ends up inducted into the Manta Club, he donuts an Opel logo into the gravel in the Manta Club's lot, and ends up chosen to compete against Phil in a Manta-vs.-GTI race. Having pleaded with Sascha for help, Fred gains use of the six-wheeled Übermanta, dons a foxtail-adorned Manta jacket and becomes "Manni." Phil tricks him into a crash during the race after luring Tina into the car, on a quest to retrieve the negatives of her sexy photoshoot. The Übermanta is halved on its longitudinal axis, but somehow still operational. In the end Phil's goons accidentally blind their leader with a banner and send the GTI into an end-over spiral that culminates in Golf flambé. Manni sets the three-wheeled Manta down, rescues Tina and carries her off to a refinery backdrop where, bruised and battered, he lives his fantasy from the beginning of the film, truly embracing his inner Manni. In the interim we're treated to a lavender Mantamino, a Polizei Manta and best of all, an amphibious Manta hatchback with questionable rear suspension. Seriously, this has to be one of the greatest automotive films of all time. If you're a fan of bucks-down Kraut hoons, that is. And what individual with any self respect isn't?
Sorry I was so long on plot, but for our Bruce-deficient readers, I thought it prudent. And ultimately, it brings me back to the reason I've fixated on both Mantas and El Caminos for much of my life. They may be dorky. They may be mulletmobiles. But they carry an inextricable aura of awesome about them. And they always have. The same cannot be said for the Camaro. Or the Firebird. Or the Mustang. All three of the latter have had fantastically amazing moments. Boss 302. COPO 427. SD455. But Mantas and El Caminos? They're always rad. They just require embracing your inner metalhead. And in some cases, your inner Teutonic mullethead. Might we recommend starting with Restless and Wild?
"Fast as a Shark" is a weekly electronic broadside aimed at what has been historically right and terribly wrong with the autmotive industry and culture. Somehow, we like to think that when Accept was first starting out, Udo Dirkschneider drove a Manta.
Mein Gott! Manta, Der Film! [Internal]