In an effort to give its car lineup a more youthful image, Opel (named after the company’s founder, Adam Opel) started working on the GT in the early 1960s. Opel reaped the fruit of its labor in 1965 at the Frankfurt Auto Show with a concept car called the Experimental GT. The production GT, which bowed in 1968, took some styling cues from the 1965 concept and blended them with bits and pieces from the Opel Kadett parts bin. The aerodynamic body was built at Brissonneau and Lotz in France and has been accused of too closely resembling the Corvette Sting Ray of the same era. This forty year old debate is best left untouched as it is mostly subjective.
Contributing to the GT’s sleek style are its pivoting headlights. Rumor has it these headlights were part of the design to meet US Department of Transportation regulations: with them the GT can wear a low, aerodynamic hood but still meet the height regulations for headlights. They turn on via a big lever located on the center console which requires a notoriously large amount of effort to activate.
In Europe the base GT was powered by a meager 1078cc four cylinder, though buyers could opt for the Opel Rekord’s 1897cc. Deemed too anemic few 1078cc GTs found homes and Opel phased out the engine in 1970. To fill the bottom-level gap the 1078cc left in the GT lineup Opel offered the GT/J, a variant powered by the same 1897cc but with less standard equipment, thus cheaper. The engine transmitted power to the rear wheels through either a four speed manual or a three speed automatic. Vacuum-assisted front disc brakes and rear drum brakes offered effective braking without requiring the driver to put all his weight on the pedal.
The GT sold fairly well because it was a lot of car for little money: about $3,500 in Vietnam War-era dollars. For weight distribution reasons the engine was located behind of the front wheels. Marry that to a responsive, non-assisted steering and you get a nimble little car with a point-it-where-you-want-to-go handling. The GT’s aerodynamic body was designed in a wind tunnel, something not common in the 1960s, and could boast a top speed of approximately 115 miles per hour. To put this in perspective, a 1969 Mustang with a 351 V8 maxes out at about 119 miles per hour with almost three times the engine displacement.
“A lot of car” stops with the driver since the GT has two seats and no trunk to speak of. That isn’t an exaggeration for how small the trunk is, it literally has no opening trunk. Instead it has a tiny area behind the seats where the driver and passenger can attempt to store their groceries.
Approximately 70% of the 103,463 GTs built took a ferry to the US where they were sold through Buick dealers. The example below was photographed in a Salt Lake City junkyard.
The GT’s interior. Close observers will notice the headlight lever, further up from the shifter on the center console:
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