One Step Better

I remember that back in the late 1960s, Ford (Europe) came out with a little gem of a car which was, quite frankly, the coolest car on the block.  It was meant to be the European version of the Mustang, and to be honest, I actually preferred the Capri’s shape and styling:

Of course, most of the car reviewers sniffed and called it “Cortina’s cousin” (Cortina being Ford’s top-selling brand everywhere outside the U.S.), but the hell with them, because they knew nothing.

A buddy had one and I loved going out with him and our girlfriends of a weekend night, because the Capri not only looked cool, it was a joy to drive, with handling which rivaled the Fiats and Alfa Romeos of the time.  Even its little 1600cc four-banger had excellent performance, and was only constrained by its silly 4-speed gearbox (which was still silky-smooth, and its tiny stick-shift made gear changes quicker than any Alfa).  The Capri was, I think, the best-looking compact car of its class during the 1970s, bar none, and I wept bitter tears when Ford stopped making them.  (Hell, I wouldn’t mind one today.)

I don’t know if GM (Europe) copied the Capri or it was just coincidence, but in 1970 they released a similar model called the Manta under their Opel brand.  Here’s its first incarnation, the Manta A:

Of course, it never sold anything like the numbers of the Capri (over 1.9 million Capris, vs. fewer than 500,000 of the Manta A), but that’s not what I want to talk about here.

While the Capri was progressively “souped up” over its lifetime, the Manta wasn’t (except in the United States, where the imported models were often modified).  But what Opel did (and which Ford never did for the Capri) was to make a sporty GT version of the Manta.  Here it is:

Apart from the headlights, this is one seriously-pretty little car*.  I saw several of them back in South Africa, and let me tell you, they were crowd-stoppers.  (Many people scoffed at them, of course, calling them the “poor man’s Dino” but hell:  I was poor, couldn’t afford a Dino, and I would have bought a Manta GT in a flash if given the opportunity.)

Okay, this is yet another in the series of “Stuff That Kim Thinks Looked Better Back Then”, but I challenge you to find any modern-day GM (or Ford, for that matter) car that can compare with the Manta GT.  The front looks a lot like the Corvette Stingray of the the 1960s, of course, but in terms of size the Manta was a midget by comparison.

*Yes, I also know that the Manta GT looks something like the Renault Alpine A110 (also of the 1960s), but then again I think the Renault’s gorgeous too:


  1. Being from a small town in central Pennsylvania in the sixties, there was not much opportunity to come in contact with foreign make cars. This was one of the few that could be seen at the local Mercury dealership. I also was taken with the Opel GT at the Buick dealership.

  2. I knew an Air Force pilot who had one, back around 1973, and I got to drive it once when our Civil Air Patrol squadron’s T-34 got weathered in at an airport one or two hundred miles away. We took his Capri down to the airplane, then he flew the plane home while I drove the Capri back. It was fun, but I discovered that I had no idea how to select bright/dim headlights. When I pressed the plunger on the floorboard, the windshield washers sprayed! I never did find the dimmer switch, cleverly hidden on the turn signal stalk like most cars today.

  3. I took one look at the picture without reading, and wondered why Kim was posting pictures of an AMC Hornet.

    Not impressed; but then, I don’t have the memories to go along with that.

    1. I must admit my first thought on the pic of the Capri was “why in the world would Kim post a pic of a dressed-up Pinto?”

  4. I recall the Opel GT selling relatively well on this side of the pond. I saw any number of them on the roads at the time. There was a quite enjoyable refurb of one on a recent Wheeler Dealers episode. I’ve never seen an A110 here but I’ve always had a serious soft spot for its sublime shape. Supposedly there will be a modern incarnation of it but from the pictures my reaction is whatever the french phrase is for fugetaboudit.

  5. Remember them all. I did like the Capri and the Opel and like you I thought the Opel GT looked a shrunken Stingray. I had a Capri from the 90’s but by then they were rebranded Mazdas built in Australia.

    I think one of the newer Miatas might be fun. In a more civilized fashion

  6. Hundreds of thousands of Mercury Capris sold, almost none around today. We had one once, it burned up in a forest on a fishing trip. Have been looking for years for one, can’t find any….

    1. OrangeEnt,
      No connection. Needs work but its not burned up.

      I liked the European built Capris, though I never considered one when shopping my first car (used) in 1979-80. I didn’t want to have to start buying metric tools, and freely admit a still present preference/bias towards American cars. A lot of that was due to exposure to so many foreign cars due to my family’s business (foreign auto parts and service). The Capri’s were pretty, and decent performers, but I’d still take a first gen Mustang (or better, a first gen Cougar) over the Capri.

  7. I had an Opel GT for about a year or so. bought it used, sold it well used. Hand lever to rotate the headlights up and down. Anemic 1.9 litre SOHC engine. Nice, good looking little car, but oh lordy did it rust, almost as bad as the Fiats of the time.

  8. In the time, I was working my way to current by flipping 5-10 year old “mechanics specials”. So I admired Capri from some way far away.

    Whether BS, actual fact or neat story, recall reading that in designing Capri’s interior layout, Ford borrowed the procedure used by R.J. Mitchell in designing the cockpit of the Supermarine Spitfire. In that design, Mitchell began with a pilot sitting in a chair and building out from there the ideal location of interior flight controls and the pilot’s view of flight surfaces. No idea where-when the term ergonomics was first used, but R.J. Mitchell may deserve a nod.

    And yeah, the Renault Alpine is indeed gorgeous. Do wonder though if it’s reliability is less so than some of my flip’n specials of yesteryear.

  9. One of the guys I went to school with in the navy had an Opel GT. We thought that it was fiberglass because it looked so much like a Vette but we learned differently when somebody backed one of those old beater “base cars” – the ones that got sold every time a class graduated to an incoming student because they weren’t reliable enough to make it to your next duty station – into the Opel and put a nice crease in the fender. Some work with a hammer, a little filler, and some rattle can touch up paint and the job looked pretty good if you didn’t get too close.

    One night three of us were somewhat elevated in drink and we decided to head into town for pizza. The only ride available was the two seat Opel. Being the smallest, I somehow managed to wedge myself into the space behind the seats. Guys at the pizza joint said that we provided some great entertainment when two big drunks tried to pull the smaller drunk out of the back of the car. The big guy who didn’t own the car wanted to go back to the base and get an acetylene torch and cut the roof off. The owner didn’t see the humor in that. Eventually they must have gotten me out of the car because I didn’t spend the rest of my life in an Opel GT. I sort of remember catching a ride back to the base with another guy in the front seat of his Austin Healey Sprite.

    As has been mentioned, the headlights were retracted by a lever and linkage arrangement. When the linkage broke on the Opel, my friend said that the car was winking at all of the girls.

    I saw a pretty trashed out GT on a trailer here in Norman OK a few months back. I hope that it was going to a good home and will end up back on the road in good shape. The biggest disadvantage to an older sports car in this climate is the lack of air conditioning.

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