Owning a classic car is something most motoring enthusiasts aspire to – it’s a bit like an itch that you simply have to scratch. Actually, you can almost not be called a true petrolhead if you haven’t owned a classic of some sorts. That is why there is such a vibrant market for “cheap” classics such as Alfa Romeos and MGs. By the way, this is also the reason why most men end up poor and bald, and sleep on the couch a lot… but that’s another story.
The subject of my particular “itch”, however, has always been something quite left field, the Opel GT. I first saw it in CAR magazine when I was about seven, and ever since I’ve wanted one.
Finding one, however, was a different story. It took me about 25 years! Not a lot is known of this little in South Africa. As far as I’ve been able to find out, General Motors only ever officially brought in one, while the rest were private imports – Alan Ramsay, chairman of RamsayMedia, publishers of CAR, owned one too.
I’m not going to repeat the full history of the car here, but there are a number of unique things about it that I like quite a lot. The first is obviously the design…
Quite frankly, I don’t think this model has ever received the praise its stunningly curvaceous lines deserve, and neither has Clare MacKichan (who also worked on the Corvette C3), the lady who penned it back in the late ‘60s. It is a very small car, standing only 1 225 mm tall and measuring only 4 114 mm in length, most of which is accounted for by that impossibly long nose. The body, by the way, was made by French firm Brissonneau & Lotz and there are two details I’d like to highlight. Number one is the headlight design. As you can see from the pics, they’re hidden, and as you can see from the following video, they don’t quite flip up Porsche-style. No, you have to manually use a lever in the cabin to rotate the lights into position. This requires some muscle, and back in the day the joke was that you could always spot an Opel GT owner by his over-developed right arm. The other exterior detail worth mentioning is that there’s no boot, even though it looks like there is one. No, you have to slide your luggage into the “boot” by lifting a flap that doubles as the rear “seat” backrest.
The Opel GT was sold as a 2+2, but it’s only a four-seater in the way that a modern-day Honda CR-Z is a four-seater… in other words, not at all. Still, the cabin is quite comfortable, there’s good headroom and the footwell is deep. A comfy driving position is easy to find as long as you don’t have huge feet (pedals close together).
The GT shared much of its underpinnings with the Kadett B, and though a 1,1-litre model was initially offered, it was the 1,9-litre, four-cylinder engine that most GTs were sold with. This engine offered only about 70 kW, so it was/is no fire-starter, even though it weighs less than 1 000 kg. CAR magazine tested a GT in its January 1970 issue, and achieved a 0-60 mph (96 km/h) time of 11 seconds and a 173 km/h top speed. This means the speedometer, marked to 280 km/h, is a great example of optimism. So, it is slow and you can’t really say it’s got an engaging engine, as the Italian cars of its era. Nevertheless, I absolutely adore driving it.
By now I am quite used to driving cars that have people walking into telephone polls or tripping over their poodles’ leaches. Few new cars, however, draw us much attention as my little GT. And it’s positive attention too. People ask questions, guess what it could be (usually Ferrari or Jaguar) and once, one fellow was so taken with it he wanted to walk to the ATM and draw enough cash to buy it on the spot.
I also like the way the little (and very thin) wood-rimmed steering wheel never stops communicating, the precise and surprisingly slick four-speed manual ‘box. It has been said many times before – a great plus with these old cars is that the sensation of speed is so enhanced, that 80 km/h feels like 160 km/h in a modern car. That means you don’t have to go so fast to have fun. But the GT isn’t a dynamic star – it is a nice cruiser. I’ve loved taking it on early-morning drives around the peninsula.
Classic car ownership isn’t all moonlight and roses though. I’m sure I’m going to loose money on this project, and its restoration process has been the source of considerable frustration. I’m also quite sure that the reason why so many older folk are so addicted to driving these cars is because the cabin fills with exhaust fumes, which is intoxicating and mildly hallucinogenic. This explains why I’ve always felt mildly hung-over after a long drive, yet can’t wait to go again the next day.
So, the pending arrival of child number 2 and the need for a new kitchen are real-world reasons why this love affair is about to end (yes, the GT is for sale). The itch has been scratched and it’s time to move on. What’s next? Well… I’ve always had this bizarre attraction to the Lamborghini Espada. Or maybe a Citroën DS? I’ll let you know when the itch flares up again.