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The Carchive: The Opel Manta

Chris Haining October 27, 2017 Cars You Should Know, The Carchive 13 Comments

Last week, we plumbed the depths of the filthy lagoon of automotive history, and the turgid corpse that bobbed to the surface was the third-generation Chevy Impala and Caprice. This was a car famous all around the world – mainly for appearing in North American films in police cruiser or yellow cab form.

This week’s subject is rather less internationally renown on the small screen, but is a far more familiar sight on the streets of Europe. It was, nominally, a sports coupe, but – like its rival from the Blue Oval, some versions were sportier than others.

Images get bigger when you click ’em

“A new car that offers you more than you’d expect from a sports coupe. New styling – a brand new car, with exciting performance, built in safety and luxury”.

We’re actually talking about the second-generation of Opel Manta here. Like its predecessor, it was based on the Opel Ascona, the German company’s combatant to the Ford Taunus and Cortina. GM’s British division, Vauxhall, still held onto some of its independence at that point and had no direct equivalent to the first Opel Ascona, the Vauxhall Viva was a little smaller and the Victor was slightly bigger. The second one, though – the Ascona ‘b’ – would be sold in the UK as a Vauxhall Cavalier.

Our Cavalier was different to the Ascona, though, in that it had a sloping droopsnoot nose – uncannily like that of the Manta. In fact the first Vauxhall Cavalier, launched in 1975, predated the famously grille-free Ford Sierra by seven years, yet it was always the latter that is regarded as a trend-setter.

“The Manta Deluxe is very well equipped with everything you need for safe, all-year-round motoring.”

Deluxe was, if we’re honest, the bottom-of-the-range model. It had “everything you need”, but precious little more. The ‘finishing touches’ were front seat head restraints and hard-wearing nylon trim for the seats. The more luxurious Berlinetta was really quite a lot more plush inside, with wood grain door trims and soft loop carpeting, while the exterior bore headlamp wipers, and there was a black vinyl roof cover – such things were very much in vogue at the time.

For those who are interested in such things, we only got the Berlinetta here, and then only from 1977 onwards when the Manta hatchback arrived – badged as a Cavalier GLS Sports Hatch.

“Manta SR… the most sporty Manta”

Naturally, the sporty Mantas are the ones that are most fondly remembered, but the SR was really more about the look of speed than anything extra in the form of performance. Truly fast variants didn’t appear until quite a long way after launch. This brochure offers a choice of 75bhp 1.6-litre or 90bhp 1.9-litre engines, the latter only available in the SR and Berlinetta.

The Manta really came of age in the ’80s. There was a major facelift for 1982 and the looks of the Manta were transformed, enough to see it remain in production for four more years. The 110bhp GT/E (GSI in Europe) was a relatively fast and sweet handling car, and appreciated by enthusiasts. It had a slightly more sophisticated feel than the archaic Ford Capri, which was based on even more humdrum technology. The 1987 model year was its last, with a final run in ‘Exclusive’ trim with quad headlamps and dolphin grey seats with red piping.

More interesting were the Irmscher and Cosworth co-developed rally models, including the Manta 400, which could generate vast amounts of power. Homologation versions were offered, naturally, but surviving brochures for these beats are genuinely sought after, and therefore way beyond the scope of The Carchive. Today, in Britan at least, any Manta is a rare sight, they having suffered from the twin curses of rust and the indifference of unsympathetic owners. Those that remain, though, are fastidiously maintained – yet they still live in the shadow of the more famous Ford Capri. Perhaps unfairly.

(All images are of original manufacturer publicity materials, photographed by me. Copyright remains property of, er, I guess PSA group. Strange times.)