Sporting Comfort From Two Under-rated Opels
DURING the spate of announcements that surround the London Motor Show, it is easy to find that something worth while has been overlooked after the first flush of enthusiasm. The Luxus versions of the Manta and Ascona cousins from Opel are a good example, for their tally of extra equipment comes at competitive prices, especially among German cars. To bring us up to date the loan of the 4-door Luxus Ascona and the top-of-the-range GS/coupe was arranged, the latter car providing a blend of sporting excitement and temement that provoked many journalist drivers into asking “why pay £3,000 more ?”. First, the £1,871 Ascona Luxus. This model is the most expensive Ascona saloon offered in Britain (the range starts at £1,743 and culminates in the £1,898 Estate SR model) and theoretically puts Opel into the
lucrative Executive market, epitomised by Ford’s Cortina 2000E. For example the Manta Luxus is powered by the 1.9-litre, 90-b.h.p. version of the Opel Camshaft-InHead engine, while the Cortina has a 100 horsepower s.o.h.c. unit. Both rely on frontend wishbone suspension and coil sprung live rear axles, with a front disc, rear drum, braking combination.
The Luxus specification provides such favourite Ford-style goodies as heavily styled steel sports road wheels (Goodyear 165 x 13 radials on “ours”), black vinyl roof, black nylon seat trim and quartz halogen lighting, plus the much-appreciated steel sunroof and twin door-mounted mirrors.
Though we have pointed out the similarity to Ford options, these two conventional cars differ completely in feel and comfort on the road. Opel say only 400 Luxus models of Manta and Ascona will be produced, presumably to keep that exclusive feeling, but the truth is that the Luxus specification looks and feels rather an afterthought. Some of the parts have that “bolted-on” feel, while Ford—whether you like it or not, and many dislike the Executive conception—have had plenty of practice at integrating E-levels of trim.
Seated in the Ascona Luxus, the plastic steering wheel jars and both carpeting and seat covering look adequate, rather than luxurious. The well-engined feeling of all Asconas prevents the owner feeling disillusioned, supplying accurate steering, a swift gearbox, and excellent brakes, which beg a much more enthusiastic driving style than the equivalent British offerings.
Clear instrumentation, including a massive clock to match the speedometer (just a single distance recorder, calibrated with tenths of a mile) and combined fuel/water temperature dial, is a big help in making the driver’s job easy. The eminently controllable heating and fresh air ventilation system, was appreciated too. At night the Bosch H4 headlamps and twin Lucas auxiliaries allow tremendous visibility, though we found it was the headlamps which were outstanding. In fact the Ascona 19s are seen at their stable best on the most difficult and twisty roads, when the combination of punchy acceleration and handling that pro
vides no unpleasant surprises at all, shows why the Ascona has become so popular in rallying, where the bodyshell is often quoted as the example of mass-produced strength. It must be a help to the many privateers who run Asconas that fuel consumption is frugal in relation to performance: we recorded 28.3 m.p.g. overall.
In short the mirrors and sun-roof proved useful and the car well priced (a Cortina 2000E is £2,262) to provide a very worthy machine for any enthusiast. This applies especially to one who finds he needs baggage and passenger space for four or five people.
GS/E Silently Sporty
C.R. tested the basis of this energetic 160b.h.p. version of the Commodore coupe when he pitted the GS version against the Granada Ghia last year. The “E” designation not only .brings more power (the Bosch electronically fuel injected six-cylinder provides an extra 18 horsepower compared to the GS), but also a very high level of equipment. The Commodore GS/E coupe is a car that worthily upholds the head of the Opel line in Britain, as well as providing the basis of an exceptionally competitive production racing saloon marque in the UK and Europe.
The tremendously tough engine is short of stroke at 92 mm. by 69.8 mm., but the resultant 2,784 c.c. is blessed with a potent 182 lb. ft. torque at 4,200 r.p.m. Maximum horsepower of this Opel Camshaft-In-Head design occurs at 5,400 r.p.m., with the red line on the tachometer indicated at 6,400 r.p.m. The 9i to 1 compression ratio is happy to take four star (98 RM) petrol. Our car was fitted with GM’s 3-speed automatic transmission which, when combined with the 3.45 final drive and the chunky 195 Pirelli CN35 radials, allows 20.8 m.p.h. per 1,000 r.p.m. The category in which the Opel is competing is emphasised by the adoption of 10.7 in. dia. disc brakes on all four wheels, those at the front utilising ventilation disc slots. By contrast the basic suspension principles—wishbone front, coil sprung live rear axle—are as cheaper cars, but considerably
refined. Damping is by gas-filled Bilstein units and extra refining comes from anti-dive angles for the front wishbones, four-link axle torque location and a Panhard rod for sideways axle control. We mentioned that impressive array of standard equipment: to substantiate that remark the plush seat covering (it looks as though a smart furniture store has been robbed of its prize period pieces, though tassels are mercifully not included), built-in screen radio aerial, limited slip differential, tinted glass with laminated front screen, headlamp wipers and washers, power steering, and extensive instrumentation, provided through the six dials, all illustrate a generous level of appointment. We appreciated the provision of a Philips RN71 2 combined stereo radio and cassette tape player, especially as the united effort of screen aerial and radio were able to
function with startling clarity in an underground car park.
The sumptuous seating allows an air of relaxed grandeur within the otherwise adequately trimmed interior. Unfortunately these beautiful seat coverings tend to look rather rumpled, rather quickly in normal use. Even the immaculate 9,000-mile Press car demonstrated that this material is liable to show up stains and crumpling in more vivid fashion than less mundane fabrics. The fourspoke safety wheel appears to be something of a mandatory fitting on German sporting machinery. The Opel is no exception, its padded wheel sprouting in just the correct position to marry-up with the well-supported driver.
An automatic choke ensures first-time starting with the windows totally frosted over. Idle curiosity prompted us to hand-time the period in which the standard electric rear window and viscous coupled fan could allow sufficient heat to clear the frosted windows. The rear screen was clearing rapidly in under a minute, but a wasteful two or three minutes of engine power and full blow from the heater were needed to restore norm& driving vision to all glass areas.
The automatic by GM offers excellent manual gear selection for country lane conditions, coupled to the svelte exchange of ratios when left to get on with its task automatically. The only poor selection point is that a swift change from second gear could go straight through the Drive section of the gate and into neutral. We have seen this happen on automatic Commodores before, though luckily without expensive results, as the seven bearing six has the strength of a tractor unit.
Although agricultural endurance is a feature of the engine, its smooth power delivery from 2,000 to 6,000 r.p.m. is one of the car’s outstanding attractions. There is a tremor when exceeding 6,000 r.p.m., but that could well be a good thing to avoid the unit’s constant abuse. Like all the best straight sixes the engine allows a marvellous surge of acceleration to be enjoyed, but retains fuel consumption that is realistic in these times. We were sufficiently impressed with the GS/E’s performance on a long hard journey following Dealer Opel Team entries on a rally in Northern England to return and test the Opel’s performance accurately around our Surrey test track. The results were extremely encouraging for a car of this bulk. A maximum of 52 m.p.h. in first gear means that 30 m.p.h. can be reached from a standstill in 3.2 sec., 40 m.p.h. in 4.8 sec. and 50 in 64 sec. The manual hold provides 82 m.p.h. in second, and this means that 60 m.p.h. can be reached from a standstill in just 9.1 sec., 70 in 12.2 sec., and 80 m.p.h. in
15.4 sec. Swift progress past the quartermile post occupies 16.6 sec. from a standstill, while 90 and 100 m.p.h. are reached in 21.4 sec. and 28.7 sec. respectively. We found that the car’s natural cruising gait would be so far beyond this country’s
legal limits as to be embarrassing. Given its head the Opel GS/E just swallows time and distance efficiently, but it does not fall into the trap of being dull. The power steering (by ZF) relays the same rod feel that one finds in a Mercedes. Even the slick surfaces of a Yorkshire moorland frost could be covered quickly in this remarkable Opel combination of power steering, automatic transmission and hardworked limited slip differential. Naturally the Commodore can be steered virtually on the throttle on slippery roads, but the steering and traction properties are sufficient to ensure that the car can be placed accurately, even if it does happen to be travelling sideways over gravel and frost.
After close to 1,000 miles of hard rally coverage and a session at our test track, the travel on the brakes had naturally increased, but the four big discs still halted the 26 cwt. GS/E in a manner that really should be imitated by British cars in this class: superb. Equally encouraging was the negligible oil consumption.
The easy 100/105 m.p.h. cruising gait and agile acceleration are paid for by fuel consumption figures that averaged 18-20 m.p.g.
The writer was unhappy to note that the GS/E needed servicing at one of the 176 UK Opel Dealers every 3,000 miles. In this respect Opel’s advertising toward the 20,000-mile a year man might backfire, as these busy mileage-gobblers might well prefer the 6,000mile intervals offered by some British rivals.
At £4,610.97, and there is a four-door saloon that is mechanically identical at £4,499.82, the Commodore GS/E has no obvious direct rivals. Cars with similar performance from Mercedes and BMW cost considerably more (the Mercedes 280 CE looks a £6,219 bargain compared with BMW’s £7,657 CSi). The comparably-priced Ford Granada Ghia representatives—also made in West Germany—are no match for the GSM. in straight line performance or handling, even though there is no reason why Ford shouldn’t make them become really sporting vehicles, if they wanted to.
In summary it must be said that the Opel Commodores are let down only by their live axle ride in this class, and the sporting handling should be more than sufficient compensation for that in any MOTOR SPORT reader’s hands.—J.W.