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The Opel GT: A History

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It's okay if you don't think about the Opel GT a whole lot. While a pretty popular sporty car in its heyday, almost 40 years have gone by since the last ones were made in 1973 after a five-year production run. Most people probably see one in a backyard, labeled as a project car.

I came across this restored, 76,000-mile example a few days ago and it's about as minty as I've seen outside of a car show in many years. The price, unfortunately, reflects that.


Still, I was inspired to tell backstory, with help from How Stuff Works: The Opel GT was a small two-seater from GM's famed German subsidiary. Underneath, it's an Opel Kadett, a small rear-drive car that was pretty mundane transportation even for 1960s Germany. But Opel designed a stunning body for it, one that left no concessions to practicality. A trunk lid? Who needs that?

This is a car that looks sweet from every angle, probably because it has this mini-Mako Shark C3 Corvette-thing going on. In proper sports car fashion, it has a long hood and super-short rear deck. The snout is low and pointy, with headlamps that rotated and flipped up, sort of like what the Porsche 928 did a decade later. It's a low car, but it had broad shoulders that made some of the British sports cars of the time look skinny and awkward.


The man who designed the GT, Clare MacKichan, had a hand in the 1955 Chevrolets, the Corvair and Camaro, so the looks that resemble other GM cars of the period aren't coincidental. But it's like some of the best aspects of Opel's corporate relatives were brought into the GT. I'd say it still looks good today.

Things fall off when we start talking about what was under the hood. Light as a feather at barely 2,000 pounds, the 1.1-liter and 1.9-liter four-cylinder engines made about 67 and 100 horsepower, respectively. The European examples made upwards of 120 horsepower thanks to a higher compression ratio. Some had a four-speed manual, others a wet blanket three-speed automatic.

Performance wasn't sparkling with even the stick shift, and the primitive Kadett underpinnings –- there was a live rear axle and a front disc/rear drum brake combo –- meant it wouldn't exactly do battle with prestige sports cars. Not that it was meant to go Porsche chasing, though. Think of it as an egghead's Corvette that was sold at Buick dealers, like a lot of Opels in the 1960s and 1970s.


Speaking of eggheads, the Opel GT's biggest claim to fame was that it was Maxwell Smart's vehicle of choice in the final season of the TV comedy Get Smart. It replaced his Volkswagen Karmann Ghia, which in turn supplanted the supremely badass Sunbeam Tiger. But the Opel is a Maxwell Smart kind of car, being subtly stylish and small. Having Agent 99 riding shotgun made it look even better.


The Opel Club's GT page says that more than 100,000 of the things rolled off the Bochum assembly line before Opel canceled the GT and replaced it with the less sporting Manta Coupe. Like many sports cars from that era, it fell victim to the success of the Datsun 240Z, which performed better, made a lot more sense and looked good in its own right.

An estimated 70,000 of them left Buick showrooms, but most later rusted away or ended up in LeMons races. Opel revived the GT name in 2007, but it was on a rebadged Saturn Sky Red Line that was a bit rough around the edges. I know GM is concentrated on stopping the red ink from flowing at its German operations now, but Opel could use a sexy halo machine like the old GT in showrooms now.


And send it to Buick dealerships again. But don't call it a Reatta.

Photos credit granada_turnier, jns001, General Motors