This seems to be the year of automotive anniversaries, with the latest being the Opel Manta and Ascona, which both turn 50-years old this year.
It was the year 1970 and German marque Opel was on the offensive. Its new Ascona and Manta models were designed to fill the gap between the Kadett and Rekord, and international markets were very much the target, too.
In many ways the Ascona was a car ahead of its time. Its basic platform was used to create a family of vehicles that included sporty 2- and 4-door sedans and a so-called Caravan "lifestyle" estate. Of course, the one that South Africans will remember most fondly is the Manta coupe, which used the Ascona's mechanicals but clothed in sexier bodywork.
Interestingly, the Manta reached the market after the more exotic-looking GT - a common misconception is that the Manta came first. The Ascona and Manta shared chassis, suspension and powertrains, with both models featuring engines producing 60 hp to 105 hp.
The Ascona was a winner on gravel as well as asphalt; Walter Röhrl and co-driver Jochen Berger won the 1974 European Rally Championship and in 1975, on the Acropolis Rally, they scored Opel’s first victory in the World Rally Championship. In 1982 Röhrl and Christian Geistdörfer claimed the World Rally Championship in an Ascona 400.
The Manta launch
The attractive Manta made its debut in September 1970, sporting the manta ray emblem inspired by photos taken by the marine explorer Jacques Cousteau. For Opel, the Manta was a step into a new segment. “Instead of making an existing model obsolete, the car we are presenting today is an addition to our range and meets a new demand from the market,” said the press release at the time.
The Manta was new, smart and sporty, and perfectly timed. Attractive coupés that could seat four were highly popular. Individuality was in high demand, the Manta’s shape and lines were just what the market was looking for. In the first full year of sales, Opel moved 56,200 units of the Manta out of the showrooms; 498,553 were produced in total.
The Manta range began with the 60hp 1.2 in 1972 but more models followed, and the line-up was eventually topped by the Manta GT/E, powered by a 105hp, 1.9-litre engine with Bosch L Jetronic fuel injection, which appeared in 1974. The trend towards matt instead of chrome trim continued with the Manta GT/E. The last special model arrived in 1975, shortly before the debut of the Manta B. The GT/E-based “Black Magic” was painted all black with orange stripes on its flanks.