The Lotus Seven is the most famous example, followed by models like the Austin-Healey Sprite, MG Midget, or the larger AC Ace contributed to the rise in popularity of such cars, and soon other companies that weren’t known for building sports cars decided to enter this market segment.
One of these companies was Opel, a German division of General Motors, which made a name for itself by offering cheaper alternatives to the sedans and wagons produced by the likes of Mercedes-Benz or BMW.
It all started with a successful concept car
Initially, the vehicle dubbed Experimental GT was conceived as a show car, and the company had no serious plans to mass produce it. Seemingly inspired by Larry Shinoda’s timeless Corvette Mako Shark II concept, the GT’s strengths were a lightweight chassis, sophisticated aerodynamics, and a beefed-up four-cylinder carried over from the Rekord.
This combination was meant to prove that a small, lightweight sports car with a modest engine can be just as thrilling to drive as a bigger, V8-powered Corvette.
Opel showcased its latest creation at the 1965 Paris and Frankfurt motor shows, where the GT became a star. Both enthusiasts and the motoring press were in awe of the concept, demanding a production version. Encouraged by the overwhelmingly-positive reception, management eventually gave the nod, and after about two years of further development, the GT hit the streets as Opel’s new flagship model.
A gorgeous example of aerodynamic efficiency
The GT also featured power brakes with ventilated discs behind the front wheels, while conventional drums were used to stop the rears. Steering was unassisted, but thanks to the low weight and near-perfect weight distribution, the car didn’t require much effort to steer at low speeds.
The elegant bodywork - fabricated in France by coachbuilders Brissonneau & Lotz – retained the impressive aerodynamic efficiency of the show car, attaining a drag coefficient of 0.41. For comparison, the C3 Corvette coupe - which was also extensively tested in the wind tunnel - had a drag coefficient of 0.44.
Two modest engine options
The GT seemed like a lawnmower compared to its famous American sibling, which had a 300-hp base engine. However, it was about 1,322 pounds (600 kg) lighter and only about four seconds slower from 0 to 60 mph (97 kph) than the Stingray.
This wasn’t bad considering that the GT was a fuel-efficient, entry-level sports car that has never meant to go head-to-head with the likes of the V8-powered Corvette.
On a positive note, the engines were placed behind the front axle in a mid-ship position, drastically improving weight distribution.
Crossing the Atlantic
American automotive publications tested the car extensively, but the reviews weren’t as encouraging as Opel had hoped. All the major magazines criticized the car’s tendency to understeer, but this didn’t have a negative impact on sales. Owners soon realized that increasing the tire pressure or replacing the narrow stock wheels with wider ones drastically improved handling and made the GT as thrilling to drive as a much more expensive sports car.
The tiny but mighty two-seater was manufactured from 1968 to 1973. In total, 103,373 GTs left the Opel plant in Bochum, West Germany, and about 70,000 of them found a home on the other side of the Atlantic.
This was an outstanding feat, considering it came over during the height of the muscle car era when buyers were drawn to high-horsepower machines. The GT was one of the most intriguing entry-level European sports cars available back then, proving that it could hang with the big boys in the highly-contested American market of the early-1970s.
The fist-gen Opel GT today
Its average value currently stands around $15,000, about $10,000 less than what an example of the grossly underpowered, late-1970s C3 Stingray demands. On the bright side, this makes it a classic sports car that any average enthusiast can afford.
Though it has its flaws, the first-generation Opel GT is still a wonderful pocket-sized sports car with a gorgeous, aerodynamically-efficient body that’s guaranteed to make you smile.
If you would like to learn more about this fascinating little ride, I recommend watching the YouTube video below by Boca Brothers Classic Cars.