The Opel GT falls under the “quirky” category of the 60’s and 70’s fastback world. This FR layout two-seater was built by Opel, the then-German subsidiary owned by GM. It was only made for five years and the last model rolled off the assembly lines in Bochum over 40 years ago, so you’re more likely to see one on blocks (or under a leaf-covered tarp) than driving around your local strip. Nonetheless, the Opel GT was a sporty car with cool styling and some Chevy heritage underneath that German engineering.
The GT debuted at the Paris and Frankfurt motor shows in 1965, receiving critical acclaim for its exotic design. Casual observers of Italian sportscars can easily pick out design elements eerily like the roadsters of Ferrari. We find plenty of aesthetics shared with the legendary 250 GTO, produced just two years earlier, though American loyalists will find just as many similarities shared with the C3 Corvette.
American Design with European Touches
American designers Clare MacKichan (a legend and the designer of the iconic ’55 Chevy) and Chuck Jordan were transplanted from GM’s home office to Opel’s Russelsheim headquarters to shape the GT’s body alongside Opel stylist Erhard Schnell. The finished production sacrificed some basic functions (it had no externally accessible trunk or conventional hatchback to speak of) in favor of a long, sexy hood, a tear-drop cab, and fenders with a comparatively stout rear end.
Not Quite Practical, But Comfortable and Sexy
For its extravagance, the GT still provided loads of interior room. Passengers over 6 feet tall could comfortably fit in the two-seat cab with legroom to spare. For all that hood, the relatively small OHV straight-4 motor living underneath yielded just 1,100 cc’s and offered up a lukewarm 60 horses. A larger, 1,897-cc “high-cam” motor was optioned with 90 horses shortly thereafter.
The live rear axle provided fun in a straight line, with just moderate acceleration and a top speed of 115 mph. The Opel GT was no track car though it provided surprisingly composed handling, thanks to coil springs and a deep-seated motor that offered good weight distribution (54/46).
A Popular American Import
In all, around 103,000 Opel GTs were built and around 70,000 made it to the U.S., selling through Buick dealerships coast to coast. The American GTs all featured the larger 90-hp motor (thankfully), with 1,100-cc models selling in Europe alone.
The Opel GT is truly a wonderful car that shares plenty of unique design elements with Italian exotics of the same era. Few American coupes can say the same, with landboats, big blocks, and square bodies dominating the market. The Opel GT, then, is something of a rare find. Unfortunately, they’re few and far between today, and for many not-so-good reasons.
A Few Examples Left to Snag
For starters, the Opel GT’s tiny three-quart sump meant oil levels had to be constantly checked. Failure to do so often resulted in engines that wore prematurely. What’s more, the era’s bash-bumper laws doomed the GT’s fragile body, and the chassis was prone to rust – that is, if the car didn’t catch fire before Mother Nature took her toll.
The GT’s flip-up headlights required flexible wiring to operate. That wiring would often harden from the elements, causing the plastic insulation to crack. What followed shortly after was a risk of a short and engulfing flames. Today, a restored (or even running) Opel GT is a rare sight to see. They make wonderful projects, and parts are plenty – for some reason, junkyards and chop shops are reluctant to crush these little coupes. You can find running examples for under the $10k mark.