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Opel Manta

Published: 12th Jun 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Opel Manta
Opel Manta
Opel Manta
Opel Manta
Opel Manta
Opel Manta

Buyer Beware

  • The Manta A was built like a BMW (less so the B we reckon) and good ones keep remarkably rust free. That said most now will be riddled with body rot in all the usual places and this includes inner wings, chassis legs, floors and so on.
  • Cosmetically the tops of the front wings are a favourite, as are the rear wheel arches, boot lid etc. The front valance is another vulnerable area.
  • Replacement panels aren’t easy to come by for the Manta A, so you need to do some searching. The B is better served, not least because the majority of panels (apart from the front snout) were also shared with the Cavalier.
  • The unusual cam-in-head engine is quite robust although can sound tappety at high miles (it’s not a particularly smooth unit). Just the usual check suffice. Parts supply isn’t too bad as the engine also served in the later Vauxhall Carltons and the Frontera of the 1990s.
  • The rest of the running gear is strong so just check the usual. Parts supply is good (Lotus used the front suspension for its Esprit) and there’s a fair amount of interchange-ability possible.
  • Where you will come unstuck is trim and detailing, especially for Manta A. Manta B stuff is far more widespread although a lot of it will be GT/E – depends if you’re a stickler for originality.

Fast Facts

  • Driving: 3/5

    A driver’s delight thanks to fine handling. Engines could be sportier

  • Usability: 4/5

    Roomy for its size – fit a five speed ‘box and it will cope with touring well

  • Maintaining: 3/5

    Servicing parts okay but body parts becoming scarce for Manta A

  • Owning: 3/5

    Not much harder than a Capri and as cost effective. Club support ok

  • Value: 4/5

    Considering what Capris can now sell for the Manta looks a bargain

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Alan Anderson reveals why he’s so hooked on opel’s manta – the classier, more sophisticated capri

We’re not sure if the word Manta is actually German for ‘Capri’ but in automotive terms it certainly was during the 1970s and 80s. Launched just after the Ford, the sporty Opel stayed in production the same length of time too, and was hugely popular in its native Germany.

Us Brits rather took to the car almost as well, despite its high pricing, thanks to the import duties which were in force back then. Parent company General Motors loved the car even more and, by the mid 1970s, had re-badged it in the UK as a Vauxhall.

If you’ve had your fill of the fast-backed Ford, then why not consider the Opel? It’s the superior, classier ‘Capri’ in many ways and a lot more exclusive. Here’s why.

Which One To Buy?

There’s not as much choice as with a Capri and it may be a case of what you can get hold of – but given the option we’d go for the original Manta A.

For a start it looks really cool, while the car’s rarity now ensures its exclusivity. Those sleek, graceful lines look great, more than 40 years on, and this German knocks sports off the Viva-based Vauxhall Firenza which was launched soon after. That said, the Manta B is also a good looker, plus it is decidedly the roomier and can be had in useful sports hatch form.

With no V6 flagship like the Ford, the only true performance model was the Manta B GT/E, which used a fair bit of Ascona 400 rally car development, plus fuel injection for the venerable 2-litre cam-in-head (a sort of mid way between ohv and ohc) engine. Offering an honest 110bhp, it was the fastest Manta of them all.

Without doubt the larger 1.9/2.0 engine is the sensible choice for today’s roads. The 70bhp 1.6 is willing and possibly a bit smoother but performance is, at best, average, although the later swift and smooth FWD Cavalier-derived 1.8 ‘Family‘ engine fitted to the 1.8 S GT/J goes as well as the old 2.0 (at 113bhp it is slightly higher-powered) and is the most economical.

If you like automatics, then you’re in luck as the GM unit used was one of the very best of its era. It didn’t detract from the driving pleasure one jot, while performance wasn’t notably affected either.

Trim choices were essentially the De Luxe, S, SR (replaced by GT/J in the ‘80s) and the top-flight Berlinetta – unless you went for the flagship GT/E which was the most luxurious of the lot, especially in the more luxurious ‘run out’ Exclusive guise.

As we said earlier, beggars can’t be choosers and, given the car’s comparative rarity in the UK, the choice may well come down to condition and availability – and so perhaps this should include the Ascona saloon? But, trust us, you won’t be disappointed by any model.

Behind the wheel?

This is where the Opel Manta – any Manta – excels. A combination of excellent design and engineering lifted the Opel way above Capri and Marina Coupe levels. “Handling is the name of the Opel Manta’s game – handling of a very high order” is how one road test summed up the car, while Motor reckoned the car (actually the Vauxhall Cavalier model) had superb steering and handling. Certainly the car was one of the best driving vehicles on the road during the 1970s, with outstanding balance. A limited slip differential was even optional on the 90bhp 1.9 SR and Berlinettas.

It was because of the vice-less nature of the rearwheel drive Manta that the car always had driver’s crying out for more power. The engine, derived from the bigger Vauxhall Victor-sized Opel Rekord, is gutsy and hard working, but always sounds agricultural and lacks any sporting character, even the GT/E to be honest.

On performance terms, the 1.6 and 1.8/1.9/2.0 units perform better than their paper horsepower figures suggest, and are on par with a rival Capri 1600 GT and 2000GT – perhaps a tad lustier.

The GT/E is a lot more spirited but no match for a V6 Capri. A fair number of enthusiasts have slipped in a V8 (there is plenty of room under that big bonnet) and it makes for quite a car.

Comparisons with the fastback Ford are inevitable and of course personal preferences will no doubt apply!

The German boasts better, firmer seats, the Capri perhaps a nicer pedal layout, slicker gear change, better instrumentation (some of the additional sports dials look a bit like an after thought on the Manta A) and more goodies. In true Germanic fashion, back then, the Opel majored on functionality rather than glitz although what you got was well built.

Ah yes, the build. What is not in dispute is just how well made the Opel was against its major rivals, and this included its kissing cousin (Firenza) from Luton which it embarrassed. Boasting an air of solidarity and quality that raised the brand above the likes of Ford and Vauxhall to virtual BMW standards, it’s no wonder parent General Motors decided to re-badge Opels as Vauxhall to rescue Luton’s flagging fortunes during the 70s. A good move but the German made Opels were always that bit better than Luton’s Cavaliers…

Testing a Manta A SR auto back in ‘73, Autocar admitted that the Opel was one of the most desirable coupes around, while Hot Car during a comparison of a plain 1.6S against the all singing and dancing Capri 1600 GT XLR reckoned that the sober-attired German was the “more sporty, sporty car.”

The daily option?

There’s no reason why you can’t use a Manta as a daily driver. Performance is adequate and, if you go for one of models equipped with five-speeds (such as the 1.8 and the GT/E), you’ll get good long legs and economy, say 30mpg or more. The old cam-in-head engines aren’t quite as frugal; 25-30mpg at best. By the way, some SR models needed a diet of five-star to happily run and we certainly advise a lead replacement additive as well as an occasional octane booster for peace of mind.

The Manta may not look it, but it’s longer and taller than a Capri and so is much roomier. The boot on the coupe is certainly more spacious. If there is an area where the Opel falls down on, particularly the original car, it’s the mediocre heating and ventilation set up – Capris are easily the best served in this respect.

Ease of ownership?

This is probably where a Manta owner may wish he had a cruder Capri! Spares and specialist help is nothing like as comprehensive as it is with a Ford, and that’s understandable, although there are enthusiastic owners clubs under the VBOA cloak – see our club listing in this issue for fuller details.

Body and trim parts are the main concerns, especially for Manta A’s, but the mechanical parts are fairly plentiful, especially as the more popular Vauxhall Cavalier was essentially the same car.

The engine, in fact, survived in the Vauxhall Carlton as well as the Frontera 4x4 well into the late 1980s. And, if you can get hold of one of these units, as a 2.2 or a lusty 2.4-litre unit giving over 120bhp, you’re on to a good thing because if you use the Manta’s sump and ancillary parts it will drop straight in and give the Manta’s performance a useful boost.

Servicing is simple enough; the tappets on early engines used a single stiff nut and are self setting on hydraulic types plus there’s minimal greasing to do. Fitting electronic ignition is a move we’d advise on any classic, for sheer peace of mind.



Manta A introduced in the UK that October, before Ascona saloon it is based upon. Choice of 1.6 and 1.9-litre engines and S and SR trims, the latter boasting sportier look and larger tyres.


Luxurious Berlinetta joins range, based upon 1.9 SR but with vinyl roof, cloth trim and other cosmetic detailing. Automatic transmission optional. Hot Broadspeed Turbo joins range a year later, based upon SR.


Roomier, more refined Manta B replaces original that autumn, with an all new look that is also shared with Vauxhall’s Cavalier. Mechanically similar as are trim specs but the car feels more upmarket.


Sports hatchback derivative joins line up and the 1.9 is upped to 2-litres. Opel range amalgamated into Vauxhall line up in 1981; plainer GT/J is replaces SR along with new, slimmed down line up and 1.6-litre option discarded.


Range realignment sees fwd Cavalier 1.8 power featuring on mainstream models. Flagship is new GT/E (coupe or hatch) with fuel injection for exisiting 2-litre engine, five-speeds, Bilstein dampers, body kit and sports seats.


Manta is finally killed off after two decades – final fling was Exclusive model – as was the Opel name in the UK. Car spiritually revived two years later when Calibra coupe is launched, based upon FWD Cavalier.

We Reckon...

It may come as a surprise for many to learn that Opel was held in very high esteem before GM diluted the brand by re-badging its cars as Vauxhalls. Drive an original Opel Manta and you’ll soon discover why they were regarded as a poor man’s BMW… before The Griffin dragged the name down.

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