The Opel GT

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A sports 2-seater

It was at the Earls Court Motor Show in 1968 that I first saw the Opel GT and it looked so nice and felt so right when you sat in it, that I was eager to try it on the road. It really is amazing to think that nearly two years have gone by before the opportunity to drive one arrived, but I suppose this is mainly because the world of Opel and their family cars is one that I do not frequent. However, over the pat eighteen months I have been conscious of all sorts of noises coming from Adam Opel AG in German and motor-racing colleagues have frequently disappeared off to the Opel factory muttering words like “Significant, improved, very good”, to which I have usually replied “Don’t tell me Opel are beginning to make good cars, they have never made a car to interest me, I wonder why they are starting now?” Further noises on the grape-vine kept saying that General Motors of America were getting a bit sick of Ford receiving so much publicity from competitions and that ford were using racing t build a successful sales image. This obviously meant that General Motors, in one form or another, were going to join the motor racing band-wagon and develop the sporting image. That Opel have produced a sleek, purposeful-looking little sports coupé, called the GT, can hardly be coincidence. As soon as I saw the Opel GT I felt it must sell, no matter how good or bad it was, especially in Europe where sales and service for GM products is widespread. All over Europe the GT is appearing in larger and larger numbers, being available in 1,100 c.c. and 1,900 c.c. form, and while the former must be a bit gutless the latter can’t be bad, especially as the 1,900 c.c. model is quite a sophisticated single o.h.c. layout, with on over-square engine of 93 x 69.8mm. bore and stroke.

It was fortunate that just as I was having a weekend off from European racing, with the idea of taking a look at two other sports, namely a round in the Shell/RAC Hill-Climb Championship and an Autocross, the Editor found himself with more cars than he knew what to do with so he offered me the Opel GT, and I did not hesitate. After using the little silver coupé, with left-hand drive and automatic gearbox for a few days I was very reluctant to give it back and I now realise why those various colleagues had returned from Adam Opel muttering “hmm, significant, remarkable, very good”. Until now the name Opel has brought a tolerant smile to the lips of motoring enthusiasts and they have gone on talking about Lotus Elans, MG-Bs, Alfa Romeos, even TVRs and Gilberns, but the Opel GT has changed all this. During the weekend the most convincing this was when I lent it to a Lotus enthusiast, who knows what he wants in a sports car, to the point of building his own, and who only knows one say to drive. He came back with a very puzzled and quizzical look on his face, and when I asked him what he thought was wrong with it, he said quietly and still rather puzzled. “There’s nothing wrong with it”. Of course, we were talking about the conception of the car, the way it performed, the way it steered and went round corners, how it braked or changed directions and so on; in other words its roadability. On nit-picking” details there are lots of things wrong, like the window winders that are practically under the seats if you have them forward on their runners, or the fact that the steering wheel spokes are rather thick and mask the rev.–counter and speedo, and that the spare wheel is inside the tail and has to be pulled out from inside the car (imagine having to put a punctured tyre and wheel back in the tail in the dark and rain, just after having run through some cow pats), or that the headlamps do not always retract completely. Looking at the Opel GT as a sports car, for the way it goes and the enjoyment you get from driving it, it has reached a very high standard and I put it in the Lotus Elan category without reservations.

Looking underneath it was reasonable to find unequal-length double-wishbones at the front and telescopic shock-absorbers, but a surprise to see a transverse leaf-spring, of three wide and thin leaves. At no time while driving the Opel GT was there any need to think about the rea axle or rear suspension, so it was another surprise to see a beam axle underneath; however, it was suspended on large-diameter coil-springs and located by forward-running radius-rods, a Panhard rod, a torque tube trunnion mounting, telescopic shock-absorbers mounted at 45-degrees and an anti-roll bar in a manner knows as “well tied down” and it was all very effective on corners as well as giving a Lotus-like ride and control. Cornering was assisted by 165 HR x 13 G800 Goodyear tyres on 5J rims, and the steering is by rack-and-pinion and nice and direct. This coupled with the suspension makes sudden changes of direction at 60-70 m.p.h. no trouble at all and the car can be dodged about either for fun or to avoid wayward cats, dogs, pheasants or birds, or for traffic manoeuvres. The single overhead chain-driven-camshaft 1.9-litre engine is quoted as giving 90 b.h.p. DIN at 5.100 r.p.m. or 102 h.p. SAE 5.400 r.p.m, with a recommended maximum of 6,000 r.p.m. using a 9.5-to-1 compression ratio.

On the road the test-car, with the three-speed automatic transmission, would show 5,000 r.p.m. in “high” on any piece of straight road, and given a bit of a run it would wind up to 5,800, where the yellow segment on the tachometer begins. An Autobahn would allow it to creep on up to a full 6,000 r.p.m., so the 3.44-to-1 rear axle gearing would appear to be about right, especially s the four-cylinder engine was nice and smooth at peak r.p.m. The automatic transmission, with no clutch pedal, was operated by a rather nice T-handled lever on the central backbone between the seats, moving in a simple fore-and-aft plane, from “Park” fully forward to “Hold in Low” fully back, passing though “Reverse”, “Neutral”, “Drive” and “Hold in Middle” on the way, with a safety catch under the “T” to prevent inadvertently selecting “Reverse”. The car was best driven on the “left foot braking” principle and as the automatic transmission had all the usual goodies, like “Kick-down” and “hold” positions you could drive the car as with a three-speed gearbox without a clutch. However, by the time you had played all the games with the automatic, you felt you might just as well have a decent close-ratio four-speed box like an Elan, except that by all accounts the four-speed manual box offered as an alternative on the Opel GT is not “a decent close-ratio four-speed”. In fully automatic, changes took place at 5.200 r.p.m. on full-throttle or else when you eased your foot on the accelerator.

In daylight the indicator stalk on the left of the steering column is used to flash the low-mounted spot-lamps, and at night the headlamps are brought into use by a lever alongside the gear-lever. You push this forward and a mechanical linkage rotates the elliptical plates on the nose about their fore and aft axes and the headlamps appear. No worries about the coming round slowly, out of phase, or on half-cock, there they are with a resounding “clang”, and a pull on the lever rotates them back out of sight. When in use the very rigid indicator stalk operates the dip mechanism on the pull-back, positive-stop system, but the cut-off on dip is a bit lethal when travelling fast at night. The disc front and drum rear brakes, with dual servo, would avoid any “blackness” embarrassment and are very powerful, with a nice progressive feel, so that the harder you push the faster you stop. At maximum speed, which is in the 110-112-m.p.h. area, the car is low wind-noise factor, its penetration obviously being very good.

It is described as the Opel GT two-seater sports car, and that is what it is, for the tail is filled with the 12-gallon fuel tank, the spare wheel and the jack, so that luggage space is at a minimum. In every way it gives you a confident feeling that it is the product of a serious Research and Development department and test facility, coupled with a giant production plant, in opposition to a car build by enthusiasts from proprietary parts. If the Opel GT is an attempt to instil some sporting character into the name of General Motors, and in particular that of Adam Opel, it has certainly succeeded. In Great Britain it is handled by General Motors Ltd., of 23, Buckingham Gate, London, SW1, and the basic price is £2,057 4s. 9d. with the 1.9-litre engine, and £2.227 1s. 6d. in the form tested, with automatic transmission, fatter tyres and heated rear window.–D. S. J.

Brief specification of Opel GT – 1.9 litre

Wheelbase: 7 ft. 11.7 in. (2,431 mm.).
Track, front: 4 ft. 1.4 in. (1.254 mm.).
Track, rear: 4 ft. 2.6 in. (1,284 mm.).
Overall length: 13 ft. 5.9 in (4,113 mm.).
Overall width: 5 ft. 2.2 in. (1,580 mm.).
Overall height: 4 ft. 0.2 in. (1,225 mm.).
Kerb weight: 18.9 cwt. (960 kg.).
Wheels: 5J x 13.
Tyres: 165 HR 13–G800
Steering: Rack and pinion
Suspension: Front: transverse leaf i.f.s.; rear: rigid axle, coil springs
Bore and stroke: 93 x 69.8 mm.
Capacity: 1,897 c.c.
SAE horsepower: 102 at 5,400 r.p.m.
Max. r.p.m.: 6,000.
Compression ratio: 9.5 to 1.
Main bearings: Five
Camshaft in head: Chain driven.
Valves: Side by side operated by rockers from o.h.c.–valves at angle to centre-line of engine.
Carburettor: Single 32 DIDTA-4 Solex, double-choke.

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