By Classic Yorkshire correspondent, Tony Lofthouse.
Amid the great technological advances and global economic strife that symbolised the seventies came an array of sporty coupes to tempt young ‘petrolheads’ wanting to make a big impression.
Among them, Opel brought us the Manta at the start of the decade.
I remember my barber owned a mustard coloured 1972 Manta A and proudly breezed around town, complete with customised front lights. It got me thinking – what happened to this classic German coupe?
The two-door Manta A was largely based on the new Opel Ascona family car and came in a choice of 1.6 or 1.9 litre engines for UK buyers – with a 1.2 litre option available in the rest of Europe. The transmission available was either a four-speed manual or three-speed automatic.
And the name? Well it took this and its styling from the tropical world of giant Manta Rays and like its shimmering namesake it boasts slick lines, a shark-nosed front end and distinctive tail. The car’s twin tail lights are a particularly striking feature.
The ‘four-wheeled’ Manta was well built, nimble and competitively priced. Fine if you didn’t want six cylinders but Opel wanted to compete with Ford!
It’s launch was pitched against the larger engined Ford Capri and the Capri had a two-year head start – debuting in 1968.
Despite the competition, this first generation Manta and its model variations served Opel well, selling half a million cars in its first five years of production.
In 1975, a new generation of the car – the Manta B – was rolled out.
The new-look coupe was styled closely to the Vauxhall Cavalier and by 1978 came with a 2-litre option. Vauxhall even offered equivalent models such as the Cavalier MK 1 Sports Hatch and Cavalier Mk 1 Coupe alongside Opel.
Both Opel and Vauxhall would add three-door hatchback versions.
Opel continued to launch engine upgrades to the Manta B to maximise sales, including offering GT/E and GTi versions, in an effort to compete with Japanese ‘incomers’ into the hatchback/sports market including Honda and Toyota.
By the end of 1988, the Manta had reached the end of the line but not before notching up production of over 550,000 cars.
In the 80s, Opel successfully moved into the rally scene in the form of the Manta 400 fitted with a 2.4 litre Cosworth engine and German tuner, Irmscher designing the models exterior and interior. Tony Fall debuted the 400 in the UK in 1981 and the likes of Jimmy McRae and Russell Brookes went on to win top titles with Mantas.
Today, a good condition Manta A or B is difficult to find with only a handful still on the road but they continue to have a strong following from discerning buyers. Prices for a restored Manta A start at around £12,000 whilst a sought after later GT/E will start at double this figure.
It’s fair to say the Manta has left its mark and three decades on a return is on the cards with strong industry rumours that an an all electric SUV version could be hitting showrooms very soon. It’s all part of Vauxhall’s vision of becoming a fully electric maker by 2028.
To find out more about the Manta visit http://www.mantaclub.org which includes an active web forum.