16 December 2021

More than an old car #183: Opel Manta A

With the year drawing to a close, I thought it was fitting to write about one of my archives from 2 years back: the rainy weather actually fitted the overall vibes somehow during this time. Seeing unknown classics is always gratifying, especially when no one has yet to bring in new units. It is interesting to see how the usual models are in demand but not like this 1971 Opel Manta A L!

Founded by Adam Opel in Rüsselsheim, Germany on 1862, Opel started off as a manufacturer of sewing machines. It began to make bicycles in 1886 and the first cars were designed in 1899. Opel was the first German car manufacturer to incorporate a mass-production assembly line and by 1928, it was Germany's largest car exporter and had a 37.5% market share. Opel was also instrumental in popularising rockets as a means of propulsion for vehicles, and thus played a significant role in the history of spaceflight and rocket technology. In 1931, General Motors fully acquired Opel and the highly successful Kapitan was introduced in 1935. Automobile production stopped in 1940 and munitions production began in 1942 for the war effort. 

After the war ended, the Opel factories were rebuilt by former employees. GM had also acquired Vauxhall and this led to a rationalisation of the Vauxhall/Opel range across Europe. By the 1980s, Vauxhall and Opel were one and the same. However, GM began making losses in the 1990s and it prompted them to enter an alliance with PSA Peugeot Citroen in 2012: the complete acquisition by PSA was finalised in 2017. 

The Opel logo changed over the years: initially sporting an AO logo, it was changed to a ring crossed by a flying thing in the 1930s. The current logo (with a ring and horizontal lightning) was developed at the end of the 1960s, which is both easily recognisable and reproducible. Opels were sold in Singapore since the 1940s and enjoyed moderate success: quite a few can be seen from old photos from that period. However, classic Opels do not appear to be as collectible as their fellow German brands even till today. Currently, Opels are more commonly seen on private hire cars and their numbers are decreasing every year.

In the 1960s, Opel developed a competing model for the Ford Capri known internally as 'Project 1450': this was in response to the advent of 'pony cars' first introduced by Ford with its Mustang. Opel also noted the 'Stingray' name affixed to Chevrolet Corvettes and decided to adapt the manta ray to its newest offering. From the beginning, Opel marketed the Manta as a sporty men's car: the swooping, graceful body was unlike any other Opel even though it was partly based off the Ascona. The elongated hood with the 'sharknose' front reminiscent of BMW's E9, the rear section with its 4 round headlights and wide doors with frameless windows captured much attention from the public.  

Although it was available only in a 5-seater coupe form, there were 3 main engine types (1.2 litre, 1.6 litre and 1.9 litre). Various trims and special editions were also developed: for instance, the L (for Luxury) trim included chrome-plated tailpipes, pivoting windows for the rear passengers, cigarette lighters and an electric clock. This Manta A with the L trim was powered by a 1584 cc Opel CIH i4 engine, allowing it to reach a top speed of 154 km/h with an acceleration of 17 seconds [0-100 km/h]. It was 4343 mm long and weighed 945 kg, with a fuel consumption of 9.8 litres/100 km.

Production of the Manta A ended in 1975 with 498,553 units made, where it was replaced by the Manta B. Manta As were sold in Singapore in 1971 by Singapore Motors, although most reviews at that time were focused on the 1.9 litre variant. This unit is an original Singapore-registered car and it is believed to be the only one left here: apparently no one has imported any in currently. Based on old car listings, it has changed colour a few times from blue, to white and its current gold paint scheme. 

Coming across one of these rarities is always a pleasant surprise: one naturally wonders what adventures it has experienced and how it actually survived all these years. Considering that Opel does not seem to be desirable among classic car collectors, hanging on to one is a testament to the owner's passion and love for what it is. Perhaps you will be able to see it one day and admire this survivor for yourself!


4 December 2021

More than an old car #182: Maserati Indy

After a rather hectic week, it is a relief to have some time set aside for more writing. Having trawled through my archives, I was inspired to cover this rather unique 1972 Maserati Indy: it has been a while since I wrote about continental cars and I figured that though the trident brand is relatively well-acquainted with many (for good or for worse), few people would be aware of the rich history behind the older models..

The Indy was conceived as an alternative to the 1960s Ghibli, featuring a V8 engine and seating for 4 people. 2 coachbuilder prototypes were introduced at the 1968 Turin Motor Show, one by Ghia and the other by Vignale: Maserati already had established relationships with both coachbuilders as they had designed other cars for the company. The Vignale design was chosen and was launched subsequently at the 1969 Geneva Motor Show: its name was a reference to Maserati's 2 victories at the Indianapolis (Indy) 500 race in 1939 and 1940.

The genius of Vignale's design was evident in the Indy's side profile: the full-width window hatch flowed down to a cut-off tail incorporating the now-standard horizontal rear light clusters above a full-width rear bumper. Despite not possessing the long low line of the Ghibli, the use of retractable headlights helped to accentuate the flowing lines of the car. In 1970, a larger 4.7 litre engine was introduced and major changes were made to the dashboard: a grab handle was fitted and the aircon vents on the centre console were removed. Instead, it was replaced by gauges for temperature and fuel, and even an analogue clock.

In 1971, cars bound for the North American market were renamed to 'Indy America', and a 4.9 litre engine was also introduced. Externally, an extra grille was fitted on the hood and the Borrani wheels were increased in size to 15 inches. The Indy was available in both automatic and manual transmissions, and was rear-wheel drive despite the engine being located at the front of the car. This unit was powered by a 4136 cc V8 engine (instead of the 4719 cc version), allowing it to reach a top speed of 250 km/h with an acceleration of 7.3 seconds [0-100 km/h]. It was 4740 mm long and weighed 1650 kg, with a fuel consumption of 19.2 litres/100 km.

Production of the Indy ended in 1975 with no direct successor. A total of 1,104 units were made, of which just 74 were in RHD. The Australian registration suggests that this was 1 of 5 4.2-litre version with a manual transmission sold new in the country! This particular unit has a burgundy exterior with a cream interior, and has clocked about 63,000 miles currently. It was sold in 2016 for A$16,612, where it was acquired by a local classic car collector. Despite being exhibited a few times over the years, it has not been road-registered locally. Indys were not known to be sold in Singapore, though a 4.9 litre unit was test driven here in 1973. The automatic version was noted to have a quick start and the controls were smooth and responsive, along with the brakes. There was praise for the ample rear seat space, although the long seat belt and aircon vent positioning left much to be desired. 

Older Maseratis tend not to be well-recognised, perhaps because of its general lower presence in popular culture etc. Whatever it is, this obscurity is something that is right up my alley and I hope that this has been informative about its presence right here in Singapore. Perhaps you may be able to catch it at exhibitions or even registered on the road!