In this week’s Throwback Thursday column, we summed up the 1968-’73 Opel GT thusly: “The GT was by no means a great sports car. Honestly, it wasn’t even a very good sports car. But it was charismatic, beautiful, and had a tremendous amount of potential.” When it was released, its baby Corvette lines and compact footprint made it a hit with young buyers, and GM sold over 70,000 of them in America. But its humble economy-car underpinnings kept it from any serious sporting potential, and it was overshadowed by both big-block offerings from American manufacturers and affordable real-deal sports cars like the Datsun 240Z. As a result, most of them had rusted into oblivion by the mid-’80s, and today, most survivors are in the hands of a small but dedicated cult following.
But in many ways, the GT was ahead of its time. It was a small, affordable, sporty car that brought a little style and exotic escapism to the masses — an idea that would take off in the 1980s and carry on to today. Models like the RX-7, CRX, AE86, Miata, FR-S/BRZ, and upcoming Toyota SF-R may have done it better, but the GT did it first, and after after 43 years, it’s coming back — albeit in concept form for the upcoming Geneva Motor Show.
Opel is one of the largest automakers in Europe, but to put it mildly, the 21st century has been a disaster for the General Motors subsidiary. As competition has improved, the brand has been plagued with a reputation for selling boring cars with questionable build quality. Current models like the subcompact Adam, and Insignia sedan (sold as the Buick Regal stateside) have helped some, but they haven’t done enough to rehab the brand’s image, or earn back the $18 billion it’s hemorrhaged since 1999. The new GT concept is designed to inject some much-needed life into the brand, and could go a long way in making its years in the wilderness seem like a long time ago.
Opel is breathless in its description of the new GT, calling it “Avant-garde yet puristic. Reduced to its bare essentials. No door handles, no exterior door mirrors, no windshield wipers. The Opel GT Concept: a new expression of pure driving passion.” The brand says it was “Designed For Emotion”; we think it’s a smart-looking tribute to the original car without veering too far into retroism. Beyond the gimmicky red front tires and “seamless transition” side glass that doesn’t look like it rolls down, the car is less a rolling sculpture and more a possibility of what Opel could do with its current resources — just like the original GT did 50 years ago.
Under the long hood lies Opel’s 1.0-liter turbocharged inline-three found in the Adam, Corsa, and Astra. Like the original car, it’s front-mid mounted and drives the rear wheels. But while the original GT in hottest trim could only muster 102 horsepower, this turbo three pumps out 145 horses and about 150 pound-feet of torque. Opel says the car can go from zero to 60 in under eight seconds. Top speed is a shade over 130 miles per hour.
From here, it seems unlikely GM would green-light a compact two-seat sports car for its struggling German brand. But stranger things have happened; after all, it had no intentions of building the original GT after its 1965 Geneva debut either, but public response was so strong the car was in showrooms around the world in less than three years. Plus, it’s tantalizing to think about this thing going up against the FR-S/BRZ, Miata, or (if they import it here) SF-R. Plus, with Opel’s strong ties with Buick, it would be a great way to reintroduce the brand in America and get younger buyers into the brand’s showrooms. Even if the new GT doesn’t excite the part of your brain where a love for sports cars and oddballs overlap, a new cheap corner-carver would be a welcome addition to the automotive world in the late-2010s. Here’s hoping GM’s feeling generous toward Opel in the coming months.
Like classics? It’s always Throwback Thursday somewhere.