I Owe It All To The Opel Manta B2
Photography by Alex Bodi
I’m an ‘80s kid, and I grew up not knowing too much about cars in an era and a country where most of the cars on the road were copies of the less-interesting Renault models at the time. They all looked the same, all sounded the same, and they weren’t too exciting, so it’s easy to see why they didn’t pique my interest.
The roads were a sea of Dacias, Trabants and Skodas, and back then the superstar of our neighborhood was a Passat owner. His car wasn’t expensive, new, or in particularly great shape, but it was different. It was German. He would spend multiple hours, every day, washing the car, moving stuff around in it, checking the oil every 10 minutes, the tire pressure, or anything else that would keep him near the car and in front of people. I still wasn’t too interested in cars though, and to me he was still just Mr. Miki from the 2nd floor.
That would change. While walking back from school on a typical weekday, this loud, orange car shared my route for a moment. It was something I’d never seen before. It was sleek, angry looking, a car with only two doors—I thought to myself is there such a thing as a car with just two doors that isn’t a hatchback? It was like I’d entered another world, one with cars that I might want to own for reasons other than utility.
I started hanging around Miki, the Passat guy. He would teach me what he knew about cars, and at some point the terms and codes started to be less foreign, and before I knew it I was hooked. Since I was still a ways away from driving, I collected posters and these little images that came in a certain kind of chewing gum at the grocery. I learned everything I could, and included in that was the identity of that orange car that started all of this: it was an Opel Manta B2.
Of all the major German manufacturers, I think Opel was always the least appreciated. It didn’t have the luxury and prestige the “top class” had. An Opel was a rather economical car, and in no way could it compete with a BMW, Audi, or Mercedes-Benz. Opel was always more of a “people’s car,” like its competitor, Volkswagen. But VW had the Beetle, and later on came up with the Golf. Opel didn’t have that.
In 1970 though, they launched the Manta. It was, as I learned on that first day seeing one, a very good looking machine, with round aggressive headlights, a sleek body, elongated hood, and an overall presence that gave you the impression it could really move. It sort of resembled the general shape of the ‘60s GTs, with some ‘70s flair, and just enough German seriousness. But for all that, the car couldn’t topple the Capri which still reigned supreme for years.
However, the B2 is the ‘80s. Show a picture of it to anyone, including non-car folks, and they will instantly recognize the decade it came from. Those were the years when manufacturers were giving up on curves and complex shapes and started building with boxes. These were also the years when German cars became more popular than ever due to the success Audi had in rallying, and the increase in popularity of hot-hatches built by Volkswagen and then everyone else. Everybody wanted a German car, but Opel never sold all that many Mantas.
In Ireland (where I live now) and the UK, the Manta was even less popular than in the rest of the world, but there are still some guys out there that cherish these German coupes. One of them is Tim, who was gracious enough to wake up really early in the morning for a photoshoot of his Manta B2, and share a few words about why he sought the car out.
Alex: Why an Opel Manta?
Tim: I have been asked a few times why I love the Opel Manta so much, and there are a few reasons, mostly sentimental. Mainly, I remember as a child seeing the Rothmans-liveried Manta 400s coming over Molls Gap, four wheels in the air, at the Rally of the Lakes. I said to myself, ‘I will have one of those someday!’ For me, this is the type of car that’s up there with the Mk1 Escort, Porche 911, Audi Quattro, BMW M3/M5.
Alex: Where did this particular car come from?
Tim: I found this beauty—admittedly not a 400, but a classic Manta GT/E—untouched and immaculate. The car was for sale not too far from me, in Killarney, and at a reasonable price too. I figured it couldn’t be as good as it seemed, but after two very extensive chats with the owner, I went to see it and was happy to find a car that was everything it was made out to be. I bought it, and have been enjoying the ownership experience ever since. I’m of a group that thinks it’s a crime to butcher and modify a classic like this, and so I intend to preserve this car as a factory-spec Manta and keep it original.
Like my own, Tim’s life was touched by this little German GM, and in my case it opened up a whole new world. Now, over 20 years later, my life revolves around cars, and I owe it to the Manta, which reminds me with a pang of shame that I’ve yet to have one in my garage. Do you remember which car kicked off your automotive infatuation?