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I’ll allow myself the liberty of proclaiming the first generation Opel Manta as a sassy little number. I’m sure we all remember it from our youth, where it did magic for our eyes, dreams and tarmac fantasies.

There’s just that one little issue that it’s an Opel, so it’s invariably related with that rather unflattering pipe and flatcap grandpa image which tarnishes every Rüsselheim product. This image seems to be particularly profound within Scandinavia, and it’s a subject which has been discussed repeatedly on our Danish website over the last few years. We’ve tried talking down the phenomena, but whatever your opinion of classic Opels, there’s just no denying the existence of this impossible-to-kill image. The Opel Manta A first saw the light of day in 1970, where it was an attempt to create a fresh and sporty design with often quite modest engines. There was a strong belief that the model might do well in the USA, where there was of course a tendency of being somewhat un-modest with engine size. But with the unset of an oil crisis, things were beginning to look bleak for the oversized gas-guzzlers, so Opel’s marketing gurus reckoned the time was ripe for the cost efficient yet trendy Manta.

The Opel Manta A was manufactured from 1970-1975.

Inspiration for the model name and elements of the design were found in GM’s American-based department for prototypes, where they since 1963 had created multiple sports car concepts under the shark theme: Mako Shark. Along the way, the final evolution of the theme ended up with the name Manta Ray, and that’s where Opel came up with their Manta name and not least the striking Manta Ray logo. The most obvious design link is probably the round rear lights which also distinguish Opel’s Manta A-series.

GM’s Manta Ray prototype from 1968-1969. The name and a few minor design features were borrowed for Opel’s new Manta A, while the rest went to Corvette C3.

The mechanical components for the Manta were sourced from the production line of the much more family-orientated Ascona model. This was to be the power source of the Manta’s sporty bodywork, where engines ended up being a variety of small but, for the time, relatively effective 4-cylinder engines ranging from a 60hp 1.2-litre with a single carburettor to a 1.9-litre with fuel injection pushing out 105hp. Hardly headline grabbing figures, but with a curbweight just below 1000kg., it still managed to translate into respectable performance. And what the Manta might have failed to deliver in topspeed and acceleration, it instead attempted to compensate for with good handling capabilities. The Manta A was praised in period by the media, but the lack of real oomph still remained its biggest shortcoming – even more so when specified with a slow 3-speed automatic in place of the old 4-speed manual transmission. With what was really a thoroughly good product, Opel had somehow managed to fall between two stools and essentially created a “looker”. A car which promised a whole lot with its strong and handsome design, but ultimately failed to deliver the goods.

One might compare it to waking up “big-spoon” behind your better half. As the morning light breaks and you’re feeling rather upbeat about the whole situation, she breaks wind. Mind you; not in a big way – just a small and discrete fluff. Talk about anti-climax! You’ve just tumbled from excited anticipation to quiet disappointment. This I suppose, is how Mr. Manta owner must have felt when he came to popping the bonnet of his brand new Manta to show of the hardware. It was made to be so good, yet ultimately something just wasn’t right.

Opel tried to improve the situation. In the Manta line-up, their top-of-the-range model was the GT/E. It performed well, boasted fuel injection and even had sexy go-faster stripes down the flanks and a matt black bonnet, but it just wasn’t quite enough for the speed-obsessed enthusiast.

The range-topping Opel Manta GT/E

Opel initiated the heavy artillery, which led to two different versions of the Manta A pumped up with a serious dose of vitamins. One was the Turbomanta, which despite turbo technology still being in its infant years at the time, was still arguably the most straight forward way of – literally – boosting the Manta. The development work was entrusted to Broadspeed in Great Britain, who were given five lhd Manta’s to use for their prototypes. They came up with a somewhat peculiar solution which combined a Holset 3LDG turbocharger and a carburettor all within the same enclosed air chamber. The engine was equipped with a thicker and stronger headgasket made of copper, which lowered the compression ratio to 7,6:1. The result was a 1.9-litre engine which delivered 156hp and propelled the Turbomanta from 0-100 km/h in 7.6 seconds. All five cars were painted “Signal Yellow” and had a bold black stripe along the side with the letters “TURBOMANTA”.

However, a bi-product was a huge thirst for premium fuel! Turbo charging the 1.9-litre engine had almost doubled the Manta’s fuel consumption, and to add further insult to injury, the build cost was equally extreme. Opel pulled the plug on the project and only those five cars were finished.

Yet one of the engineers from the British D.O.T – Dealer Opel Team, which was the motorsport department of Opel in Great Britain – was so impressed with the Turbomanta, that he convinced D.O.T. to build another 28 cars on their own behalf for the UK market and thus in rhd form. Black and sinister, these were purposeful looking coupés and they had the performance to back up those looks – and more!

Then there was the second attempt at more power: bigger engine capacity. However, shoehorning a straight-6 into the small engine bay of the Manta quickly proved to be another project which Opel neglected to give the green light. Once again, the build cost was too high and the market was deemed too small and already filled to the brim with hard competition from other marques.

But as with the turbo charging, there was someone else ready to take over the initiative. The Belgian company TRANSEUROP Engineering saw the potential and invited Opel to take part in the project by sharing their experience from their own canned attempt at a 6-cylinder Manta. However, Opel had lost interest by now, so TRANSEUROP soldiered on with their own interpretation by installing the 2.8-litre straight-6 from a Commodore 2.8GS into the engine bay of a Manta 1.9SR. Largely the whole front end of the car needed to be re-engineered with new engine mounts, larger radiator and a different bonnet to make space for the big lump of a Commodore engine. Further to that, both the transmission and the differential needed to be swapped too in order to handle the extra power.

The rather aggressive looking TE2800 – it certainly didn’t try to hide what it was capable of.

Without the help of Opel, TRANSEUROP Engineering instead approached Opel’s own go-to tuning company, Steinmetz. They came up with a new bonnet in fibreglass which basically consisted of one massive power bulge, and delivered this to TRANSEUROP along with a complete set of Steinmetz wheel arch extensions and a specially constructed front bumper with a deep integrated front spoiler. All part of the rather dramatic changes required to make the engine transplant work. The 2.8-litre engine remained stock though, and continued to breathe through two Zenith carburettors giving the macho Manta 142hp and loads of torque through the 4-speed Commodore transmission. The all-important sprint from 0-100 km/h was now executed in a mere 7.5 seconds.

The model name was changed to TE2800, and thanks to Opel’s reluctance to take part, all Opel badges were duly removed and replaced with a “TE” logo. They built 79 cars which were sold through Steinmetz in Germany.

So even though the TE2800 is the fastest Manta A ever manufactured, it isn’t officially an Opel. Regardless, rumour has it that it was brutal enough to do bad things to even the 1973 Porsche 911 Carrera and the 1973 BMW 2002 Turbo! It was down on power compared to them both, but low curbweight and a set of well chosen gears were claimed to give the Manta a slight advantage.

Today, in some odd twist of fate, one might argue that we are lucky that Opel never went all in to create a hugely iconic and coveted performance Manta. Such a performance powerhouse could have easily ended up in the same out-of-reach league as the legendary 911 and 2002 Turbo with similar values. Without the heavy vitamin diet, the Manta A is left as “just” a really handsome and classic coupé with plenty of style, sufficient performance and good handling characteristics. Furthermore, you get to keep both your bank account and your driver’s license intact. If only I owned a Manta A, I would have other things to do than bother with “big-spoon” on a beautiful Sunday morning…

 

19 Responses

  1. Tony Wawryk

    Big Manta A fan here – I wanted one for my first car a hundred years ago; a firefighter at our local station owned a beautiful metallic blue one but said it wasn’t for sale, and I ended up with a Dolomite 1850HL which it turned out hid an entire house of horrors.
    It’s true that there are versions of the Manta A, like the Opel GT, that are underpowered compared to the performance their sporty styling promises – whoever thought a 1200 cc engine was OK for the Manta A (or indeed an 1100 for the GT) was deluded – but in my dotage I think I’d be OK with a standard 1900 now, though an SR would be nice…the yellow and black SR and TurboManta look fantastic! The TE2800 is a little too aggressive for my tastes, although it would definitely have appealed to me more when I was younger..
    Manta A prices are starting to rise – it is still possible to get a good one for less than EUR 15,000 in Germany (very hard to find one at all in the UK), and there are a couple of tidy looking SR’s for EUR 19,000 on mobile.de. However, there are a few for well over EUR20k and there’s one – a newly fully restored GT/E for a bonkers EUR 49,900! The dealer is comparing it to an”Alfa Romeo Bertone”, and while the price is ridiculous, the comparison imo is reasonable if you can ignore that one is an Opel…

    Reply
  2. GTeglman

    I like the Manta A a lot, and I have great memories with me and my friend driving on
    vacation in his 1.9S with our two very hot girlfriends.
    The exterior styling is great and I remember that it also handled quite well.
    That said the Manta (as well as the GT) has been a victim for many obscure and appalling “body-kit-modifications”, and criticized for not packing enough power to match the sporty look, and no doubt the 1.2S must have been a pain to drive.
    However the bigger Opel CIH engines (the iron pig) are very sturdy and easy to get more grunt out of, even without going totally bonkers.

    Reply
  3. YrHmblHst

    Personally, I love the Manta. have since they came out. Never owned one, but had a couple of friends/acquaintances who did. neat cars, and look the business.
    These were terrors in SCCA Showroom Stock racing when the class debuted; they OWNED their class due to good handling and good brakes. Modest power yes, but on shorter courses, these were the ticket…until, naturally, the SCCA reclassified them way up to where they were no longer competitive. And guess who was suddenly in ownership of the class? Seems that Opel/GM wouldnt pay the sanctioning body enough, yet the yens flowed in freely….
    If I could find a decent one over here at anywhere near a reasonable price, I think I would hafta scratch that Opel itch. Cool looking cars.

    Reply
  4. Anders Bilidt

    Another big Manta A fan checking in here. I’ve always really liked the styling – a very handsome and sleek coupé with a look very much of its own.

    @tony-wawryk, the comparison with the Giulia Bertone probably isn’t all that bonkers to be honest. Even so, to me at least, the most obvious competition to the Manta A has to be the Capri MkI. And it’s a difficult choice between the two! I actually prefer the Manta, but there’s no denying that the Capri edges into the lead with the option of that big 3-litre V6 Essex powerplant. But if I were to restrict my Capri choices to the 4-cylinder models, then the table turns quite abruptly and there’s no doubt what so ever that I would end up a Manta owner long before considering the Capri. Proof – if any was needed – that Opel truly should have built the 2.8-litre Manta themselves…

    Today though – viewed as a classic car rather than a new one – exciting and intriguing as the Turbomanta, the D.O.T. Manta and the TE2800 are, I would quite happily settle for much less. A 1.9 SR or 1.9 GT/E would be very welcome indeed in my garage space! In fact – while some may regard it as a bit of a Sunday morning fluff, I would even be content just cruising around leisurely in a very clean and tidy 1.6S in medium green metallic with a black vinyl roof and Rostyle wheels…

    Reply
  5. GTeglman

    @anders-bilidt & @tony-wawryk, EUR 49,900 for a fully restored is Manta A is madness, and I belive you can get a damn good one for less than half. The 1.9 GT/E is a good choice.

    Reg. the Opel CIH engines you can swap parts between several models, and it will still looks standard (nudge nudge). Some of the more creatives tuners have mixed 2.0 blocks, with 1.9 heads, 1.6 Crankshafts, ENEM camshafts, etc, etc. and while still very drive-able, they do pack a pretty good punch..- but of course there is no free lunch.

    Unfortunately many of the original high performance tuners no longer offers parts for the classic CIH engines.

    Reply
  6. GTeglman

    @tony-wawryk That looks astonishing, and in your favorite color…- it would
    complement Die Zitrone quite well. The Manta-Ray badge just makes everything better.

    You could buy it as a Christmas present for your self. It’ll suit a man with your
    impeccable taste.

    Reply
  7. Tony Wawryk

    @gteglman Looks great, doesn’t it? It’s seriously tempting and would give me a great excuse to clear a whole load of rubbish out of the garage, but I have a feeling my better half might have a few things to say about it…maybe next Christmas!

    Reply
  8. GTeglman

    @tony-wawryk I read your “An E-type Kind of Weekend” article with great pleasure, and I remember that your better half was driving along, enjoying tour so how about buying the yellow Manta A for her (and yourself) as a Christmas present ;-))

    \Anders

    Reply
  9. Tony Wawryk

    @gteglman she might have done….
    @anders-bilidt I think you’re right about the Ford Capri being the more direct competitor to the Manta, and I’m with you on being happy with a standard 1.6S to cruise around in. That SR looks really nice though…got to stop looking at it…

    Reply
  10. Tony Wawryk

    @anders-bilidt that’s the kind of thinking that will open me up to a world of pain…and I haven’t finished spending money on die Zitrone yet…

    Reply
  11. GTeglman

    @anders-bilidt, Found it on mobile de, maybe I should purchase it myself, and keep in store for @tony-wawryk…- I will only claim a EUR19K, + a small fee next year.

    You can trust me , MURHAHAHAHA

    Reply
  12. Anders Bilidt

    I was travelling through Germany in the days leading up to Christmas when I came across the latest Oldtimer Markt at a newsagent. On the cover was a rather brutal looking Opel Manta A, so needless to say, I bought a copy.

    Reading through the article, I learnt that it was an Irmscher Opel Manta SI. It looked fab in bright green, yellow and matt black. I understand that the Irmscher doesn’t have any direct link with Opel themselves – unlike the Turbomanta and the TE2800. Nonetheless, with a 135hp 1.9-litre turbo engine, it too is a valid candidate if you’re after a classic Manta A with a bit of extra punch…

    Reply

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