1970–75: Opel Manta A
The Manta A was released in September 1970, two months ahead of the then new Opel Ascona on which it was based. A competitor to the Ford Capri, it was a two-door "three-box" coupé, and featured distinctive round tail lights, quite similar to those on the Opel GT and which in fact were used on the GT in 1973, its final model year. In the UK market, the first Manta was sold only as an Opel: there was no Vauxhall-branded Manta (or Ascona) until after the launch, in 1975, of the Manta B1 and Ascona B. (In the UK the Ford Capri niche was till 1975 contested, with only limited success, by Vauxhall's Firenza, based on the by now aging Vauxhall Viva.)
The sales approach for the Opel line in the U.S. Market was equally odd. The Manta A was one of only a few Opel models sold in the U.S. Market. Opels were imported by GM and sold through Buick dealerships and not their own dealership network, so they were limited in what makes and models they could sell here. Other Opel models sold in the U.S. market were the 1956–61 the Rekord P1 and Rekord P2, the Kadett A (1964–66), Kadett B (1967–71), GT (1969–73), Manta / Ascona A (1971–75). The Ascona A, was the saloon version of the Manta A chassis and was sold in the U.S. under the 1900 name as a 2-door and 4-door saloon and 2-door "Sport Wagon". The only difference between the Ascona and Manta was exterior sheet metal, glass and trim. The frame, all the mechanicals, dash, front seats, and many other parts were shared between the cars. The Manta was even sold in 1971 and 1972, as the 1900 Sport Coupe, not the Manta. In 1973 the Manta nameplate was added to the U.S.-spec Mantas, but the Asconas kept the 1900 badge throughout their model life. The last year GM imported European made Opels into the United States, under their marquee, was 1975. In that year the only Opels imported were the Manta and Ascona A.
The Manta was normally equipped with a 1.6–1.9-litre CIH engines, although in Europe a small 1.2-litre motor was offered. All Mantas sold in the U.S. had the 1.9L and larger heavy duty radiator (an option on European models). It came with either a 4-speed manual or an optional 3-speed TH-180 automatic. The Manta was known to be one of the best handling cars in its class and went on to win a large number of rallies in Europe and the United States.
In the U.S. Market, there was a sport model known as the Rallye from 1971 to 1974. The "Rallye" model was overall an appearance and gauge package, the most noticeable difference was the addition of a Black Hood and on 1970–73 models addition of fog lamps. Mechanically the only difference was the gear ratio in the models with manual transmissions, and the Rallye model came with standard stiffer suspension, tighter turning radius, and very aggressive front caster adjustments. Both had dual rear sway bars, providing the best in class handling.
In 1973 and 1974 there was also the "Luxus" model which included "refinements" like corduroy seats, colour-coded interiors (blue or burgundy), and faux wood panelling. The only special edition Manta ever produced for the U.S. market was the "Blue Max" in 1973, this amounted to a blue 1973 Luxus model, with a unique dark blue vinyl roof, mechanical sunroof, and automatic transmission.
In 1975, All Manta and 1900 models were equipped with the Bosch L-Jetronic fuel injection in the United States due to emission regulations. Yet in Europe this feature was only available on the high end GT/E Models, which also sported fog lamps and a lower front spoiler, which was not offered on any of the U.S. Spec Manta models. Also of note is that the 1974–75 Opel Manta Models sported large aluminium 5 mph (8 km/h) bumpers to comply with U.S. crash standards of the time; the European Mantas did not receive the large bumpers.
With the Deutsche Mark becoming stronger, and with other costs also rising, US imports of Opels ended in 1975. Instead, the Isuzu Gemini version of the T-car was imported from Japan and sold by Buick dealers as the "Opel by Isuzu", later "Buick Opel". The Opel name was last used in the US in 1979.
The European market had a number of different versions of their own. Most were basic trim packages, the most popular being the "Berlinetta", which was similar to the "Luxus" but included rubber trim on the bumpers (standard on all 1973 U.S. Opel Mantas), vinyl roof, and other misc. features. The one major exception being in 1975 Opel offered the GT/E and a number of special editions based on the GT/E. The GT/E was a fuel-injected version of the European 1.9L and the performance figures were very impressive for the time. Most notable special editions models based on the GT/E were the "Black Magic" (with black and plaid interior), and the "Swinger" edition in white with an equally odd interior choice.
Special Opel Manta A-series cars
There were two different special models made of the Manta A. The primary objective was to up the power of the car. Both projects started approximately at the same time (around 1972–73). There was the Turbomanta and the TE2800.
The Turbomanta is the rarer of the two. Production was a total of 33 cars ever made, whereas the 5 of them were the prototypes, and the ones used for public relations.
The Turbomanta is actually a 1973 SR with a 1.9-litre "S" spec engine, originally putting out 90 bhp (67 kW). The British company "Broadspeed" was chosen to build the turbo cars, and eventually started building 5 left hand drive cars for the German Opel AG. These cars were meant only as prototypes. Broadspeed came up with a somewhat special solution, and used a combination of a Holset 3LDG turbocharger, and a carburettor mounted inside a big plenum chamber. The engine itself was fitted with a thicker copper head gasket, and as such the compression ratio was lowered to 7.6:1. The outcome was a 1.9-litre engine which put out a staggering 156 bhp (116 kW), and more impressive was the acceleration. 0–60 was done in only 7.6 seconds, faster than most "supercars" at the time like the Porsche 911. All 5 cars were in GM "signalgelb" sunflower yellow, and had a large black stripe on the side, where a sign said "TURBOMANTA". The downside to this was fuel consumption. The turbocharger had halved the economy of the car, and building it was also a thing that cost a lot. Therefore Opel closed the project, leaving the 5 cars as the total production number. However a British engineer at the D.O.T (Dealer Opel Team, which was the British importer and builder of Opel cars in Britain) was so enthusiastic about the cars that he had D.O.T. build an additional 28 cars. The cars were all based on the 1974 Berlinetta model, which was the luxury model, with a full gauge pack, automatic transmission, and alloy wheels. All 28 cars were black, with vinyl roofing. The only thing identifying that the car was indeed a Turbo Manta was a small sign at the rear quarter of the rear wings saying "turbo". Very few of these cars still remain today. the car also had great handling
The TE2800 was a totally different project. Actually the TE2800 wasn't really an Opel as Opel had nothing to do with the project. A Belgian company called Transeurop Engineering also wanted to up the engine power of the Manta A. Opel had previously tried a 6-cylinder engine layout already in 1971 and 72, but with no success. The cars were rendered too expensive to build, and the market was overwhelmed at the time with big engine cars. But Transeurop Engineering did not agree. They basically took a 2.8-litre CIH type engine from the Opel Commodore 2.8GS model and fitted it into the engine bay of the Manta 1.9SR. A lot of problems occurred. The radiator, the bonnet, the entire front end of the car, the rear axle, the transmission, it all needed to be changed. To solve this fast Transeurop Engineering tried to get Opel to join the project using Opels earlier experiences with the transformation, but with no luck. Even worse Opel didn't even want the Opel brand on the cars, if the project ever became a success. Transeurop Engineering therefore turned to Opel's number one tuner of the time Steinmetz. Steinmetz supplied the new fibreglass bonnet with a large bulk on it to give room to the engine, a set of widened arches, and a special front bumper integrated with the lower front spoiler, to make room for the dramatically changes that needed to be made to the cars front end construction. Several of this was cut out and replaced with other parts being mounted further to the ground to give room for the radiator. A closed radiator system was installed so that the radiator had a water tank in the engine bay (like we know it from modern cars today). The engine was still the 2.8-litre unit from the Commodore GS and this was originally fitted with 2 Zenith carburettors. The output was 142 bhp (106 kW), and with the Commodore four-speed manual gearbox and a 3.18:1 rear axle the car went from 0–60 mph in just 7.5 seconds. A total of 79 cars were made and sold through Steinmetz in Germany branded not as an Opel but as a TE2800. All Opel brands was removed from the cars and replaced by the logo "TE".
Steinmets offered a tune-up for rally and motorsport use. The tuneup consisted of porting and flowing the head, higher compression ratio, a race spec camshaft, and triple carburettors, giving the car a total of up to 230 bhp (172 kW).
No doubt that the TE2800 is the fastest Manta A ever made, even though officially it isn't an Opel. It could outrun cars like the 911 Carrera of 1973 and the BMW2002 turbo from 1973, even though those cars had more engine power. The low weight of the Manta bodyshell, and the combination of the right gear ratios, was what gave the car its success. Unfortunately Opel was right though. The cars were too expensive costing almost twice the price of a 105 bhp (78 kW) GT/E in 1975. Very few of these cars exist today, as most were used in rally and motorsport events.
1975–88: Opel Manta B
The second car to use the Manta name was launched in August 1975. This two-door "three-box" car was mechanically based directly on the then newly redesigned Opel Ascona, but the overall design was influenced by the 1975 Chevrolet Monza. The Manta had more "sporty" styling, including a droop-snoot nose not seen on the Ascona, although it was standard, on the UK version of the Ascona, the Vauxhall Cavalier. There was still no "Vauxhall Manta", with the car remaining an Opel in the UK. However, a Vauxhall Cavalier was available with the same coupé bodyshell.
Engines were available ranging from the small 1.2-litre OHV engine, the 1.6-litre CIH and the 1.9-litre CIH. Also in 1976 the GT/E engine from the Manta A series was adapted into the Manta B programme spawning the GT/E Manta B series. In 1979 the GT/E had the engine replaced with the new 2.0 litre CIH and with a new designed Bosch L injection system. Power output was now 110 bhp (82 kW). The 1.9-litre engine gave way to the 2.0 litre S engine which was aspirated by a Varajet II carburettor. This engine was the most used engine by Opel at the time, and was to be found in several Opel Rekord cars.
In 1977, a three-door hatchback version appeared to complement the existing two-door booted car. This shape was also not unique, being available on the Vauxhall Cavalier Sports Hatch variant.
Both Manta versions received a facelift in 1982, which included a plastic front spoiler, sideskirts for the GT/E and GSi models, a small wing at the rear and quadruple air intakes on the grille. Also the 1.2-, 1.6- and 1.9-litre engines were discontinued and replaced by the 1.3-litre OHC engine, the 1.8-litre OHC and the 2.0-litre S and E CIH engines. The GT/E was renamed and was called the GSi from 1983 (except in the UK where the GT/E name continued).
Production of the Manta continued well after the equivalent Ascona and Cavalier were replaced by a front-wheel-drive model "Ascona C". In 1982 the 1.8-litre OHC engine from the Ascona was fitted in the Manta B making a more economical Manta B to drive. It could run 14 km per litre and use unleaded fuel. The 1.8 was very popular and was in production for 5 years (1982–1987). The 2.0S models where discontinued in 1984 and only the GSi was available with the "large" engine (GT/E in the UK). In 1986 Opel released the last Manta B model the Exclusive (1987 in the UK), giving it all of the best in equipment. Recaro seats with red cloth, grey leather like interior and the full bodypack known from the i200 models. This consisted of twin round headlights in a plastic cover, front spoiler and rear lower spoiler from Irmscher, sideskirts and the known 3 split rear spoiler of the Manta 400 (producing 80 kg (176 lb) of weight on the rear at 200 km/h). In the UK, the Exclusive GT/E models were available in colours such as Dolphin Grey with matching dark grey cloth seats with red piping. These also had the quad headlights, front spoiler but a rear bumper which housed the number plate, coupled with a black plastic strip between the rear light clusters. The rear spoiler was similar to the standard GT/E. Opel finally ceased the production of the Manta B in 1988, only producing the GSi exclusive the last 2 years (GT/E in the UK). Sales continued in 1989 until the Manta was replaced by the Opel Calibra (known as the "Vauxhall Calibra" in the UK).
Today, these cars are hard to find in an original, good condition; consequently the value has risen considerably over the last few years. It has again become popular, because of its good looks and well-respected handling.
Rally and special versions
In 1979 work began on a rally-spec Opel. Both the Ascona B and the Manta B were used for this. Although the Ascona 400 model was the most successful of the two, largely due to better weight distribution, the fact still remains that the Manta 400 was a remarkable car.
Opel joined forces with German tuner Irmscher and Cosworth in Britain, to make the 400. Cosworth was given the task to develop a 16-valve 2-cam head for the CIH spec engine block, and Irmscher who earlier in 1977 and 78 had proven that they knew their way around an Opel building the i2800, was to design the exterior and interior of the cars. The results were not bad. Opel however had problems with the engine. The first idea of using a 2.0-litre engine and then using the 16-valve head from Cosworth simply did not give enough power. The problem was that the heads had already been built, so the heads were made to fit on the CIH type 4-cylinder engine block. So they built an unusual engine using a 2.0-litre engine block with an overbore and larger pistons, a crankshaft from the 2.3-litre diesel engine of same type (CIH) and ended with a 2.4-litre engine block. Mounting the 16-valve head on this gave a massive output, and the opportunity to make several tune-ups for the rally drivers.
Opel delivered the first 23 specimens in 1981 which were recognizable by the 2 slot front grille (1982, 83, and 84 models had 4 slot grilles). The cars were delivered as both street cars and factory tuned rally cars. The streetcars known as Phase 1 cars, were luxury versions of the known Manta B Coupé. Although all the changes to give the body more strength were still implemented, the cars were delivered with all kinds of exclusive packaging. Recaro seats with big Opel badges on the cloth, Irmscher leather steering wheel, and even front light washers were mounted. The cars were all delivered in Arctic White colour, with White Ronal lightweight 7x15" alloys. The engine was fitted with a Bosch LE injection system and power output was 144 bhp (107 kW). The Phase 2 however was quite different. It had large extended arches front and rear made of exotic materials like carbon and kevlar to keep the weight down, lightweight doors, bonnet, spoilers and windows. The wheels were still from Ronal but now measuring 8x15" front and 10x15" rear. The engine output was 230 bhp (172 kW) using a set of 48 mm (1.9 in) DCOE style carburettors, and the cars could be delivered with different gearboxes from ZF and with different rear axle options like LSD. Phase 3 which is also a term used when talking about the i400's was not a factory tune-up. Many racers of the time had their garages tune up the engine even further. Some made it across the 300 bhp (220 kW) mark and even today, engines can be tuned to deliver just over 340 bhp (254 kW) still naturally aspirated.
The Manta 400 was produced in a total of 245 specimens following the homologation regulations by FISA (today FIA). But the i400 also spawned some other "i" models. The i200 which basically was a GSi model Manta B was made in 700 specimens and is still today considered a collector's item. The i200 used a tuned 2.0E engine delivering 125 bhp (93 kW). The i240 which is rarer was only produced in 300 specimens and was fitted with the i400 engine block but using a normal 8-valve cast-iron head from the 2.0E engine delivering 136 bhp (101 kW).
Also Irmscher themselves tried building the Manta with their own specs. The reason they were used for the 400 project was that in 1977 they had taken a 1977 Manta B 1.9S and put in a 2.8-litre H spec engine from the Opel Admiral of that time. Success was limited though and the cars were on display in the 1977 Geneva car show. The cars had been painted in some special colours giving it the nickname "Paradiesvogel" (Bird of Paradise) because of the rainbow like colour theme on the cars. However they did produce 28 specimens with the 2.8H engine delivering 150 bhp (112 kW) and 220 N·m (162 lb·ft). The cars are considered extremely rare today. The cars are considered extremely rare today.
After the success of the 400 (and i200/240) Irmscher once again tried the 6-cylinder layout. This time producing the most powerful Manta B ever released on the public market, the Irmscher i300. In 1985 Irmscher bought 29,400 cars from Opel, which were on stock. The cars had no gearbox or engine but were fitted with the Phase 2 equipment. Irmscher installed the new 3.0-litre LE engine from the Monza and Senator models, which delivered 176 PS (129 kW) and 232 N·m (171 lb·ft). Power was transmitted to a big Getrag 265 gearbox, onto a 3.18:1 LSD rear axle, giving the car some awesome specifications. 0-60 mph was over within just 8 seconds flat and the car topped out at 225 km/h (140 mph) making it the fastest street Manta ever built. If not for the big 1980s fuel crisis being at its worst at that time, several are sure that Opel would have adapted the idea and built a series of 6-cylinder Mantas. But instead they chose to build the economically more affordable Manta B with a 1.8-litre alloy head OHC style engine in 1985.
Vauxhall, from 1978 until 1979, offered the Cavalier Coupe in convertible format called the Centaur. Only 118 of these were made and less than 30 are believed to survive as of 2007. About a quarter of these conversions were built using a Manta, rather than Vauxhall basis. The cars were developed by Magraw Engineering and sold through Vauxhall dealerships on behalf of Crayford.