In Aug. 14 IssueRussell County NewsBy Ron Cowell, Columnist
General Motors’ Opel brand has had a presence in North America that began more than fifty years ago. Back in the 60’s when it first showed up it was known as the poor man’s Corvette. No, we’re not talking about the car that we know over here today as the Saturn Sky but instead going back to 1968 when the original Opel GT debuted.
Opel’s entry-level Kadett donated the basic mechanicals for the GT, a two-seater that had an uncanny resemblance to the then-new third-generation Corvette.
Two transplants from GM’s home office to Opel’s headquarters, Clare MacKichan and Chuck Jordan, along with Bob Lutz shaped the body and came up with one of the most aerodynamic designs of the era. The engine was set back in the chassis more than a foot for better balance. GM could market it with a straight face as a true sports car. And it was one - with American design, German mechanics, and a French body. How’s that for a combination?
The end product offered an exceptionally smooth nose finished with a delicate, Vette-style chrome blade. Federal bumper standards were still years away. Oval hideaway headlight housings that rotated up from left to upright, clockwise as you face the car, were controlled manually by a lever that makes for a great conversation piece and a nice workout for the driver’s right forearm. Sort of like that in the first-generation Corvette Sting Ray coupes, the doors extend into the roof for comparative ease of entry. The rear end was styled and set off by four round lights, recalling the Dino by Ferrari. Trunk is a relative term when discussing the Opel GT, as there’s no external access. The “trunk” space behind the seats is accessible only from, well, behind the seats.
Opel GT was imported into the States and put in the unsuspecting Buick dealer’s show rooms.
They were equipped with one of two four-bangers. The car’s low weight and low design along with the 67 hp gave it the pep to move it right along. An overhead-cam, 1.9-liter engine was optional and provided a significant horsepower advantage. The four-speed manual transmission was certainly more sporting.
Once you sat in the Opal GT you would find the car to be surprisingly roomy, that is unless you’re like me, extremely tall or portly.
The Opel is not a particularly fast car, but because it’s so low to the ground, you get a feeling of moving right along. With rear-wheel drive and a solid axle, it’s a car that you could toss around and always be reasonably certain of a recovery if the back end should break away. Stopping the car was easy with its’ disc brakes up front and drums in the rear.
In Germany, the GT was a halo car, meant to draw attention to the full line of Opels. Over there, it attracted both interest and sales for itself. More than 100,000 units were sold worldwide over the course of a model run that concluded at the end of 1973, with
Buick dealers peddling nearly 70 percent of that total in the United States. The real fun in owning an Opel GT now is that it draws much more interest than the far-more-common Corvette on which it is modeled. Prices have stayed reasonable, so if the design and concept captures your imagination, you might consider buying one, and by the way, would still set you back less than the price of a single Corvette. You’ll have fun, look cool, save money, and own a piece of German/American/French automotive history.
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Until next time, Keep Cruisin’!