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Opel GT

The Opel GT was manufactured between 1968 and 1973 and in that time over 100,000 were produced. Whilst that doesn’t make them particularly rare, they are rare in Australia as all were produced in LHD form only, and of course not sold here. Wim, the owner of this beautiful example imported his car in 2015 after first importing himself 10 years earlier to live here permanently.

Wim always had a soft spot for these cars. Growing up in the Netherlands it was not uncommon to see one on the road. What really triggered his interest was that, in the corner of the factory where he was working during school holidays, a guy was restoring an Opel GT. This started Wim’s love for the car and in the back of his mind he knew one day he would own one.

“It’s an easy car to drive and enjoy, great on twisty roads, you point it into any corner and the car will go where you want the car to go.”

After moving to Australia permanently he returned to the Netherlands every few years for a holiday and catch up with family. On his trip in 2014 he had some spare time and went online to see what GT’s might be available. After checking out a few he came across the example you see here. A 1971 Opel GT with an interesting travel passport. The car was sold new in the US then transported to Germany, then travelled to Netherlands where is was eventually restored in 1992. At that time the mechanicals were renewed with the engine having a full rebuild. The engine was rebuilt again in 2008, this time to European specs. It ticked all the boxes for Wim so taking the plunge, he purchased the car and applied for import approval.

Whilst imports can often be a difficult process Wim tells me his experience with past importing into Australia (an MGA) gave him the confidence to go ahead. ‘The car was ready to be collected in Brisbane around midday. I drove up there with a friend and having already lined up the compliance and roadworthy inspections was able to drive the car home fully registered that afternoon.’

Opel cars were developed by the German company started by Adam Opel in 1862, making it the 3rd oldest car manufacturer in the world. Originally building sewing machines then Penny Farthings, the company moved into vehicle production becoming the largest car manufacturer in Europe by 1930. After being listed on the stock market in 1929, General Motors acquired a majority stake in the company and although World War II drastically crippled the company, it managed to survive and in the late 1940’s started producing passenger vehicles again. From 1962 Opel was determined to produce a sports car for the general public and to that end, the ‘Opel Experimental GT’ was created as a styling exercise and first shown in 1965, at the Paris and Frankfurt motor shows, with overwhelming positive feedback. It then went into production as the ‘Opel GT’ from 1968. The single piece steel body work came from Chausson in France and full assembly was then completed in the Opel factory in Bochum – Germany.

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Opel was aiming for a sale price of DM 10,000. The timing was perfect. There were no other sports cars available in that price class at that time and the popularity of the Opel GT exceeded all expectations. 103,463 cars were built in only six years of production through until 1973.  Both a 1.1 litre and 1.9 litre engine option were available with the larger one being most popular, providing the sporty feel to match its looks.

The Opel GT is a good looking car from all angles and has more than a hint of Corvette to it (third gen C3), which may not be a coincidence as both companies were owned by GM at the time – although, as Wim points out, the Opel GT was designed first. Whilst the engine is mounted up front, it is technically a mid-engine car as the engine sits behind the front axle. This combined with a very low centre of gravity means the steering is sharp and the handling tends toward neutral. The engine is a 1.9 litre 4 cylinder ‘CAM in Head’ engine which in itself is highly unusual – and as an awkward fact was the same engine used by Holden in the early Sunbird variants in Australia. Whilst not a noted performer in the Holden guise, remove 300kg, move the engine to the middle and lower it as per the Opel GT, and you have a completely different recipe – the Opel GT being more than 3 seconds quicker to 100km/h!

The Cam in Head design is virtually unique to the Opel GT. It was a transitional design step when moving from the older Cam in Block/pushrod designs and prior to a fully Overhead Cam design. Whilst still relying on pushrods to activate the valves, the cam and the pushrods are now fully housed inside the head rather than down in the block. This design was a comprise to improve efficiency and performance (happy Opel engineers) whilst using up existing stock from the Opel parts bin (happy Opel bean-counters).   Another unusual design element, the headlights, are totally unique on the Opel GT’s, physically being rotated remotely from a lever next to the gear shift. They rotate around a north/south axis via a system of rods, transforming the sleek bonnet to an unusual ‘Moon Buggy’ like appearance when lit up.

For those of you enjoying the positiveness of this story, it may be time to look away as we are about to get a bit dark… Whilst out for a drive in 2018, Wim found the car suddenly start to run poorly, like it was running out of fuel, something was definitely wrong. When he had to stop for a red light, the engine stalled and at the same time flames erupted from underneath the bonnet.  The fuel line had  come off the carburettor splashing fuel onto the hot exhaust below – an instant fire. Luckily Wim had a fire extinguisher in the car and with help from a local, managed to extinguish the flames. The engine itself faired ok, however the majority of the engine bay wiring and the front-end paint job were very damaged. Thankfully the car was well insured and Wim decided to take the required repair opportunity to bring the car to the next level, so instead of only painting the front section, the car received a full respray. His Opel GT was transported to JH Classics in Yatala, just south of Brisbane, where the team there went to work replacing the damaged wiring as well as other burnt items and repainting the engine bay and then the entire exterior of the car. Paintwork was now restored to the original colour ‘Flame Red’, the best and fastest colour to show off its aerodynamic good looks.

Back on the road in September 2019, Wim drives his Opel GT as much as he can. He enjoys taking it out for a drive into the Gold Coast Hinterland where there are many great roads perfectly suited to the GT. The GT is also a regular at various Cars & Coffee events. Any excuse to take the GT for a drive is a good one, even an occasional drive to his job at Oldtimer Australia in Brisbane, where he is the Operations Coordinator for this classic car dealer, a bucket list type job for sure.

‘It’s an easy car to drive and enjoy, great on twisty roads, you point it into any corner and the car will go where you want the car to go. It’s such a unique car here in Australia. Wherever I go people want to know what the car is, where it came from and why haven’t they seen one here before.’

Wim tells me it has 59,000 miles on it, however adds that the speedo only has 5 digits so could be 159,000 or… Either way his example drives well and thanks to the recent respray now looks stunning as well.

The Opel GT production story ended in late 1973. The need to re-design the car to be competitive with newer designs such as the Datsun 240Z and the ending of the contract with the French body manufacturer, forced the decision to end production. For the lucky Opel GT owners like Wim, their cars live on, his example having its 50th birthday next year. So there may be a cake, but just to be on the safe side, no lit candles.