We’ve established multiple times here on ViaRETRO that there are few things which will catapult a car to iconic status as motorsport success. And while the rest of the world gets all excited about Formula 1, I’ve always vastly preferred touring car racing and not least rallying – needless to say, both from their golden era during the seventies and eighties. That’s when true icons were created!
Many rally fans will tell you that Group B was – obviously – the pinnacle of rallying. In terms of technical specifications and sheer performance, that’s a claim which is difficult to counter. However, for me personally, it’s the old-school sideways action provided by the more conventional rear wheel drive Group 4 cars which really captivates. It’s a subject which I’ve touched on a few times previously such as here.
But there were a few contenders which had a wheel firmly in both camps – the old Group 4 and new Group B. Granted, in terms of FIA homologation that’s obviously not possible, but cars like the Nissan Silvia 240RS, the Toyota Celica TCT and the Opel Manta 400 were fully fledged Group B cars, even if they in spirit and execution were more comparable with the old Group 4 cars such as the Ford Escort RS1800, Vauxhall Chevette HSR and the Opel Ascona 400.
That arguably makes these rear wheel drive Group B cars the ultimate incarnation of the conventional rear wheel drive rally car – incorporating the high-tech of Group B with loud-pedal-to-the-floor, sideways action with rear wheels scrambling for traction which only a rear wheel drive chassis can deliver with such drama.
Ultimately though, there’s no denying that these rear wheel drive Group B cars just weren’t a significant threat to the fire-breathing four wheel drive rally weapons like the Audi Quattro, Peugeot 205 T16 and Lancia Delta S4. They did however still have their moments. Both the Nissan and the Toyota were built so rugged that they found considerable success in the tougher safari rallies, and the Opel Manta was hugely popular on the national rally scene – especially within Britain, Ireland and not least Germany.
Opel had previously found victory with their highly efficient Opel Ascona 400 during the final years of Group 4 rallying – a car which also happens to be the last rear wheel drive car to ever win the Rally Driver’s World Championship. But when Opel were faced with making it compatible with the new Group B, they had also just ceased production of the old Ascona B in favour of the new front wheel drive Ascona C for the model year 1982. Needless to say, the Ascona C was never going to be competitive in rallying, but as the Manta B was planned to remain in production, Opel instead continued development of the still rear wheel drive Manta in their attempt to remain a stronghold within rallying.
And that’s how we got what is quite possibly my all-time favourite rally car (well, perhaps second favourite after the Lancia Stratos – of course): The Opel Manta 400 Group B homologation special. Mechanically it was virtually identical with the Ascona 400 – utilising the same 2.4-litre CIH engine block sporting a Cosworth developed twincam head with four valves per cylinder. The Manta 400 retained the stock Bosch fuel injection from the road-version Manta 2.0 GTE which subdued the strong twincam engine to a relatively modest 144hp. But in rally trim, the fuel injection was always the first part to get binned and subsequently replaced by 48mm DCOE Weber carburettors allowing the engine to breath freely and let rip with as much as 300hp despite still being naturally aspirated! Drive was through a strong Getrag transmission and a ZF limited-slip differential. But where the Manta really differed from its predecessor was in the bodywork – and no, I don’t just mean the obviously different design either. Group B allowed expansive use of composite materials such as carbon fibre. Opel tuning company Irmscher made the most of this and thereby ensured that the body panels they provided Opel with for the Manta 400 made it approximately 70kg. lighter than the Ascona 400 had been while also having a lower centre of gravity.
Most of those Manta 400’s obviously earned their keep travelling sideways on some gravel stage, but there were a few which were preserved as stock road versions of their homologation special. It is one such gem which has now come up for auction, and which our very own Claus Ebberfeld promptly sent me a link to. One of only 245 Manta 400’s built. One of 59 road-going Manta 400’s to be fully kitted out with the ever-so-cool Irmscher widebody arches. And one of only 12 to be delivered in Astro Silver rather than the usual white.
As if that wasn’t enough to make this a very special Manta B, this car was furthermore imported while brand new to Northern Ireland in early 1984 by Opel’s Manager of Sports Relations, Tony Fall. It was then treated to a manufacturer specification RHD conversion by main dealer, Pentlands. Of course, whether that’s a good thing or not probably depends on whether you reside on continental Europe or in the UK (or any other RHD country for that matter). But there’s no denying that it makes this Manta 400 quite unique.
The Manta was then used sparingly on special occasions up until 1990 when it was put into long-term storage. Its second owner then treated the Opel to a fully documented restoration during 2005 – 06 using OEM parts wherever new parts were required. Since then it has covered only a mere 3.000 miles, which has brought the total mileage up to 29,250 or 47.000 km. We’ve borrowed these pictures from the auction site:
As can be seen from the pictures, this Manta 400 really does present amazingly well. Needless to say, any classic car should always be inspected thoroughly in person before any money changes hands, but it really does appear to be virtually flawless. It is perhaps especially impressive that a car which was always intended to be modified and then driven to within an inch of its life (and maybe even beyond), is still in absolutely original and unmolested condition 36 years later. Just look at that fabulous factory “Blitz” interior, the Opel Sport steering wheel and those gorgeous 5-lug Ronal alloy wheels. Even the factory fuel injection system has been retained. There really can’t be many Manta 400’s like this left in the world!
Of course, a car like this is never going to come cheap. So this week, our Prime Find doesn’t earn its title by virtue of its financial accessibility, but rather due to its rarity, it’s condition and it’s downright awesomeness. If you’re tempted, you will have to be quick! It’s currently up for grabs on an internet based auction with Collecting Cars, and the auction ends in only 2 days from now. At the time of writing this, bidding has reached £ 35.000 – currently equating to Euro 39.600 – with 16 bids. Amusingly,a bit of internet research shows that its third owner bought this Manta for £ 50.600 (plus buyer’s premium) at another UK auction a year and a half ago in December 2017. It’ll be interesting to see where the price ends up this time…
Here’s a link to the online auction: 1983 Opel Manta 400
With our Saturday instalment of Prime Find of the Week, we’re offering our services to the classic car community, by passing on our favourite classic car for sale from the week that passed. This top-tip might help a first-time-buyer to own his first classic, or it could even be the perfect motivation for a multiple-classic-car-owner to expand his garage with something different. We’ll let us inspire by anything from a cheap project to a stunning concours exotic, and hope that you will do the same.
Just remember – Any Classic is Better than No Classic! We obviously invite our readers to help prospective buyers with your views and maybe even experiences of any given model we feature. Further to that, if you stumble across a classic which you feel we ought to feature as Prime Find of the Week, then please send us a link to firstname.lastname@example.org