Over 70,000 GTs were peddled in the U.S. from 1968 to 1973.
The history of captive imports is a tale of ill-starred orphans. If you recall the Plymouth Cricket (née Hillman Avenger), Plymouth Fire Arrow, (aka Mitsubishi Lancer Celeste), or the Ford Sierra sold here as the Merkur XR4ti (complete with pronunciation guide), you need to get out more.
Captive imports were usually marketed in the U.S. until a competing domestic product came along, demand slackened, or the exchange rate shifted. Then they disappeared -along with parts and dealer support. So it was with GM's Opel GT, done in by the excellent Datsun 240Z and the weakening U.S. dollar.
The GT started out in a promising enough fashion with renowned designers such as Clare McKichan (think '55 Chevy) and Chuck Jordan involved. Like most sports cars of the day, it was based on a prosaic sedan-in this case, the Opel Kadett. Utterly conventional, with a live rear axle located by trailing arms and a Panhard rod, sprung by coils, and sporting adequate disc/drum brakes, the GT at least had decent rack-and-pinion steering and a relatively modern "high-cam" 1.9-liter, almost SOHC engine making a modest 90 bhp. A diminutive 1.1-liter version was built but not sold in the U.S., though a few sneaked in from Canada.
GM farmed out production of the bodies to Brissonneau et Lotz of France. B&L had been around as a carrosserie for some time and the GT bodies were decently finished, although just as rust-prone as anything else of the era.
Most observers liken the GT to a 2/3 scale C3 Corvette. There are a lot of common cues, with the Opel's four round tail lamps, hidden headlights, and swooping fender lines. But its resemblance to the 1964 Pontiac Banshee concept car is even more pronounced, down to the ovoid headlamp covers. Unfortunately, unlike the 'Vette, the Opel was offered only as a closed coupe-and with no outside trunk access. The Corvette resemblance carried over into the interior with a generally similar layout to the gauges although the Opel sported a cool row of rocker switches that the 'Vette did not.
As if to emphasize the comic aspect of a shrunken Corvette, a GT was selected as Maxwell Smart's ride during the final season of the classic sitcom "Get Smart." The cone of silence evidently descended on what GM had to pay for this piece of product placement, as no source mentions it.
With a 2,100-pound curb weight and modest power, one doesn't expect much from the GT. Performance, however, is a cut above the MGB-GT level. Many attribute this to the fact that McKichan and crew had access to the University of Stuttgart wind tunnel. The GT was reputed to be the most aerodynamic GM car of the era, boasting 0-60 in under eleven seconds. Handling was deemed to be "mostly harmless," though right and left slalom Gs vary significantly with only the driver in place.
Over 70,000 GTs were peddled in the U.S. from 1968 to 1973-no small achievement given that the geniuses at GM deemed the Buick division to be the official Opel outlet. Sales trailed off markedly after 1970. A mass extinction of mediocre sporty coupes was underway, precipitated by the excellent Datsun 240Z.
The Opel GT expired along with the MGB-GT, Triumph GT6, and Fiat 124 coupe, though the B-GT had to endure "dodgem car" bumpers first. The fact that the Opel GT wouldn't have met the 1974 bumper standards was a moot point. It was priced close to a 240Z and, then as now, one wonders why anyone would pay nearly the same money for the novelty Opel when a real sports car is available in the 240Z. Or for that matter, when a '74-'77 Corvette can still be had for under ten grand, why mess with the four-cylinder one?
At least the GT is easy to live with. Aside from rust and the usual deferred maintenance that 30-plus-year-old disposable cars always suffer from, there are few inherent problems. However, the sump holds only about three quarts of oil and the stock Solex 32/32 carburetor is best replaced with a Weber DGV 32/36. An electronic ignition conversion is advisable, as the cars have a reputation for eating points. Finally, check to see that the headlight wiring has been replaced as this was known to cause GTs to ignite.
I am continually amazed at how many obscure orphans seem to have at least one patron saint in the parts department. With the GT, that happens to be the aptly named Opel GT Source of Sonora, California (www.opelgtsource.com). They can supply most mechanical parts as well as some unusual trim items that they reproduce, such as the unique lenses found on the car.
If you've wondered about the potential of the Opel GT, check out Virgilio Conrero's record with racing GTs in Europe. His 1,300-cc and 1,600-cc Alfas had dominated their classes when GM asked him to tackle the Opel GT. Conrero punched out the engine to near two liters, bumped compression to 11:1, and added 45 DCOE Weber carbs. With free-flowing exhaust, power jumped to 190 bhp, the 0-60 time dropped to six seconds, and the quarter mile took 15 seconds at 150 mph. By the time he'd finished with the chassis and suspension, the baby Corvette won its class in the Targa Florio and came in ninth overall.
As a collectible, the GT will never rise above a curiosity, but the rise in old car values has not missed the Opel GT entirely. Nice cars trade on eBay in the $5,000-$6,000 range. Given its relatively modest performance and general obscurity, don't expect a huge return during your ownership. If the idea of a mini-Corvette appeals to you and you can handle witless "Honey, I shrunk the Corvette" jokes, you could do worse for the money.