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Hero from the Past: Irmscher GT

It took all of 30 years before I finally got the opportunity to meet this old hero of mine – and then I learned something shocking. Here goes:

I vividly remember this car from when it was new. From the papers and magazines, of course. On print, naturally. This was 1988, after all.

As I recall, it created quite a stir at the time – although that might mostly have been within the confines of my teenager room. Even all those many, many years ago, I must have had a penchant for the rare and quirky. The Irmscher GT was most obviously the latter, and only later did it turn out that it would stay quite rare as well – as in “never venturing beyond the prototype stadium”.

Press photo from the good old days: Making the Irmscher look its best.

It was originally intended for limited series production: Under the name of Irmscher, firmly connected to Opel – where the connection between the two usually meant something fast and sometimes rather spectacular as well. Cue Manta i200. Remember? Maybe its succes had spurred Irmscher on – or it might have the emergence of the rather succesful Opel Omega of 1986. So good in fact, that it went on to win European Car of the Year in 1987.

As such, it was of course a much better base for a modern interpretation of the GT car, than any Manta could have ever been. A proper GT – or at least this was my understanding of exactly what the Irmscher GT was. True to Irmscher tradition, the original Opel engines did not suffice, and the tuners at the engine workshop performed some old school crankshaft and bore-work, modified the cylinderhead and ended up with a 3,6 liter version of the Opel straight six, which now pumped out over 200 horsepower. Yes, that was considered more than just okay back then!

The GT was a true coupé, something Opel themselves never offered on the Omega platform.

The looks were a bit controversial though. The GT was a large car and didn’t do anything to hide that fact. Add to that a rather slabsided look and not least an almost brutally chopped off rear. To top it all off, a bright red paintjob on the prototype and you had… well, a very obvious prototype – as opposed to a finely honed series production car with all the typical early faults corrected.

The Irmscher GT formed part of a 50 Years of Irmscher-exhibition.

I always liked it though, as its overall proportions are not bad and then there is that masterpiece: The air vents behind the front wheels. They manage to be rather brutal and almost elegant at the same time – and certainly futuristic looking in that very eighties understanding of the word. It would be wrong to say that they define the design – like the vents do on a Testarossa, for example. On the other hand, they are the sole design element which the GT has all for itself. I always found they gave the GT character.

I loved the vents then and I love them now: Overall I feel that the GT was quite an accomplished effort.

Finally seeing the Irmscher GT in the flesh at the 50 Years of Irmscher-exhibition at Retro Classica, it did not disappoint. I found it a handsome and strangely wholesome and masculine design – although the car undeniably had that prototype air of “not quite there yet”. This applied to the overall design as well as the actual finish of the car. Of course none of that is unheard of in the world of prototypes, and overall I was quite chuffed with meeting my old hero.

Chunky and perhaps a bit bland – but not without character.

And actually it wasn’t until I got back home and did more research on it, that I discovered the ugly truth: The design I had admired for 30 years as an original Irmscher effort and a rather fine one at that, was in fact not that original!

The exhibited car mentioned none of this, of course. But it turned out that the little Irmscher team did not have the manpower nor knowledge to create a more or less complete car, and had back in the Eighties subsequently turned to Isdera. Yes, that Isdera – more famous for a few of their own creations of supercars during the Eighties. Bear in mind that the name Isdera is an acrynom for Ingenieurbüro for Styling, DEsign and RAcing and it suddenly makes complete sense: Isdera were in fact responsible for several engineering projects for other companies.

This is completely understandable of course, and the only real problem here is probably that Isdera had only one year earlier performed almost the exact same exercise for Baur, best known for their BMW connections. They had the same grand intensions as Irmscher regarding a small series of cars in their own name – only they were naturally based on a BMW chassis. And they too turned to Isdera who of course obliged and built the Baur TC3 of 1987.

I’d never seen the TC3 before, but here it is below. Have a good look and tell me what you think:

The Baur TC3 of 1987.

See what I mean? I just don’t think I can possibly see the Irmscher GT in the same light ever again. In fact, I am sort of happy that I saw the GT first, and discovered the Baur TC3 afterwards. I don’t blame any of the parties though. But I am rather amazed that two so closely related designs, produced by clearly very closely related design briefs, could end up as different branded prototypes with only one year between them.

I think it says a lot about how quickly the automotive world forgets about those “nearly there”-prototypes. Still, the resurfacing of those prototypes at this kind of classic cars show remains a very sound reason to go – for a chance to finally meet your old heroes.

Problem is – now I want to see the Baur TC3.

5 Responses

  1. Jakob356

    The Baur is horrible, but the Irmscher looks just like the missing link in the Bristol line of cars, fits perfectly in between the 603/Blenheim (1976) and the Fighter (2004).

  2. Anders Bilidt

    I too recall the Irmscher GT from the late eighties – and I too really liked it back then.
    I can only agree with @jakob356, the GT is much better resolved than the TC3. It’s clear to see that the design for Irmscher came after the one for Baur, and thus Isdera had time to improve it. Not that the GT is perfectly balanced either, but it’s funny how the “not quite finished” prototype-look can sometimes be rather appealing…

  3. My name is ?

    I see no problem at all, as they are both ugly, reduntantally superflousy and happily forgotten!
    Next please, and may that be something more real than teenageous wet dreams ?

  4. Jewer

    @jakob356 – Hahah – when I saw it I thought low version of a Bristol :>)

  5. Dave Leadbetter

    I can see the appeal of the Irmscher GT and it would have been quite useful with 200 horse. It does give the impression of needing a few tweaks and bit more finishing, but it’s not far off. Could have made a good alternative to a Bitter, for those seeking an obscure Opel based bespoke coupe, which probably wouldn’t have been many people, admittedly…

    Looking at the front third of the Baur TC3, I can see where the Z3 came from.


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