I apologize. The pictures of this beautiful Manta are crap. I let myself get carried away. Hanging around with that pugnacious little Fiat 850 infected me with a burning desire to catch an Opel: Chrysler-Fiat-Opel, the new Holy Trinity. Part of me knew better; I had enough on my plate already. And I haven’t seen an Opel in Eugene in ages. But my desire was downright Napoleonic. As is the result.
The owners put me through their version of the 14-step program. Knock on door six times. Leave note on door four times. Talk to (presumably dead or incapacitated) owner’s wife four times. “You’ll have to come back later.” “Who are you writing for?” “What do you want with the Opel?” My desperate pleas to offer to push the Manta out of the carport were rejected. In the end, the best I got was “you’ll have to come back when my son is in town this summer.” My desires don’t usually last that long.
By then I felt so familiar there, I just grabbed some shots as I was leaving for the fourteenth time and called it good. True confession; there, I feel better now. But my experience trying to nab this Opel does not auger well for Fiat. Or maybe I’m just not Napoleonic enough (too tall?).
But it was a noble pursuit. When was the last time you saw such a well-preserved original Manta? It’s 1972, and I’m in love again. If it didn’t have an automatic, I’d be there knocking on the door with my checkbook this summer when the son is home. I may still, if only to fulfill family karma.
Both my father and grandfather owned Opels. But then, their experiences with them were also less than fulfilling. My grandfather was a collector of doctorates. One of them was in medicine, so for a while he practiced gynecology in Silesia during the twenties. And he bought himself an Opel, like so many other doctors in Germany at the time. But he could never master its unsynchronized transmission and ended up hiring a driver to take him on his rounds. Until he decided to pursue another doctorate and sell the Opel.
Eerily similar experience to my own father. Having never driven until our move to the US in 1960, he initially bought only automatics for the family chariots. But when we moved to Baltimore in 1965 he needed a second car for his commute to the hospital (yes, another doctor). So he bought a frog-green 1965 Opel Kadett A.
The tiny, tinny box with a 993cc engine had a hair-trigger clutch, and he just could never get the hang of it. He perpetually made the car hop just like a frog. Is it a coincidence that Opel’s extremely popular small car in the twenties was called the Laubfrosch (tree frog)? Well, after only three years, the Opel was showing fatigue from all that hopping, so off it went.
And just now it occurs to me: That’s why this Manta is an automatic. It’s tormenting me for my family history of abusing Opel clutches and transmissions. It really is hard to escape family karma. And my endless blathering about it. Sorry, again.
The Manta was Opel’s Camaro to Ford of Europe’s Mustang (Capri). But except for its sporty skin, it was an Opel Ascona sedan (called 1900 stateside) in every way. Which was mostly a good thing. The Ascona/1900 qualifies in my book as the best small car GM ever sold in the US.
The Manta and Ascona/1900 were a balanced package. Delightful handling (for the times), despite no IRS. Just good attention to details to make a very tossable, controlled and vice-free ride. The 1.9 four wasn’t exactly inspiring, but adequate, for the times. Europeans got a full choice of engines starting with the Kadett’s 1.2. And the interior was decent and accommodating, especially for us taller folks.
That’s because the Manta shared the same overall dimensions with the 1900, including height. Great for un-Napoleonic folks like me, but it does make the Manta look a little tall and unbalanced, especially on the stock wheels. Slam it an inch or two on some decent rubber, and its GM golden-age styling still looks fresh.
In 1972 I drove a Manta from the mountains of Wyoming to Iowa, courtesy of a driver who picked me up hitchhiking and needed a break in his non-stop cross-country sojourn. I felt like I was making love to his girlfriend while he was sleeping. The Manta didn’t have enough power to wake him up but had plenty of good moves to keep us both grinning for hours on end. Finding this Manta was like stumbling across a long-lost girlfriend, still looking nineteen years old. Can you blame me for the illicit photos?