50 Years Opel GT: “Nur Fliegen ist schöner…”

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Wed, 11/04/2018 - 12:45


  • Milestone: The dream sports car first rolled off the line in 1968
  • Hot favourite: Success in Europe and abroad exceeded all expectations
  • Never to be forgotten: The Opel GT was immortalised in only five years of production
  • Anniversary celebrations begin: Opel GT stars at the “Bodensee-Klassik”

 

Rüsselsheim.  “Nur Fliegen ist schöner…” – only flying is nicer. These four words are enough to generate passion and dreams. Like the advertising slogan, the car itself has also become a classic: The Opel GT sports car, which first rolled off the production line 50 years ago. Then as now a true dream-car and a milestone in the history of the automobile. The anniversary of the Opel GT’s birth begins in May at the “Bodensee-Klassik” fair for classic cars. Fans can admire the styling-icon in many additional events throughout the year.

Experimental GT: Opel’s designers show their bravery

To be precise, the career of the Opel GT began not 50 but 53 years ago – with a big bang at the 1965 IAA Frankfurt International Motor Show, where the company presented a two-seat sports car. With its sleek bodywork, low nose with folding headlamps, bulbous wheel arches and sharp tail-end, the car was unlike anything ever seen before from a European carmaker. The curvaceous exterior design was soon dubbed the “Coke Bottle Shape”. Initially, Opel described the “Experimental GT” – the first concept car from a German manufacturer – as a high performance study. It had been designed by Erhard Schnell and his team at the brand new “Styling Studio” in Rüsselsheim – the first design centre of European automobile manufacturer.

Erhard Schnell recalls that the development of the GT was a big secret: “To start with, it was just a styling project. My boss hadn’t told management. But when the study was almost finished he could not avoid informing them. We were really worried as the Experimental GT was presented for the first time. And then we were so relieved when the leadership team spontaneously applauded, they were over the moon!”

Their courage was rewarded at the IAA Frankfurt International Motor Show, where the media and the public gave the GT a massively enthusiastic reception. Nobody had expected such a radical sports car from Opel. As a result, six years after the first design sketch and only three years after the project’s green light, the GT prototype became a production car.

Cross-border cooperation, limitless fun

The first Opel GT rolled off the assembly line in 1968, an early example of Franco-German cooperation. Thanks to previous joint projects, the coachbuilder Chausson and Brissoneau & Lotz was a proven partner for Opel and the French company carried out the press work, welding, painting and interior installation of the GT, before sending it to Germany for final assembly of the chassis and powertrain.

GT buyers had two four-cylinder engines to choose from – one with 1.1-litres displacement and 60 hp came from the Kadett and the other – with 1.9-litres and 90 hp – from the Rekord. The GT 1900 was especially popular right from the start. The maximum speed of 185 km/h and zero-100 km/h acceleration in 11.5 seconds were just what buyers wanted. The rear wheels were driven via a four-speed manual gearbox. European customers hardly ever ordered the optional three-speed automatic, but on the other side of the Atlantic the transmission was extremely popular.

Friedhelm Engler, Design Director Exterior at Opel, describes the behaviour of his colleagues at the time as “Cheeky! It was pretty naughty to propose a front mid-engined concept based on the Kadett B. Instead of dressing proven mass-production parts in a new outer skin, they had the nerve to do something totally radical – a real Gran Turismo. You could say that the GT is bravery in steel!”

Revolutionary – inside and out

The body of the production GT was quite different to the original car, with an even more athletic appearance. The front end was larger, the front overhang shorter. Muscular bulges for the intake system enabled a lower hood, the rectangular folding headlamps of the Experimental GT were replaced by seductive-looking eyes, which gave the car an even more unmistakeable appearance. The powerful yet elegant lines lowered the drag without adding too much lift for high speed stability on the Autobahn. However, this did cause another, if unexpected problem: according to the press release of September 1968, prototypes of the GT could not drive anywhere unseen by the press, because the sexy shape “prevented any camouflage”.

Like the exterior design, the interior of the GT – with its bucket seats, three-spoke steering wheels and round instruments – exudes a flair that continues to excite fans to this day. But despite appealing to the emotions, the designers of the GT also paid close attention to safety, giving their creation, for example, three-point safety belts, integral rollover and side-impact protection and a safety steering column.

Motorsport successes and record-setting cars

With its low centre of gravity, stable body and dynamic chassis, the GT was ideal for motorsport. For example, the Conrero GTs scored numerous successes in long distance racing at the beginning of the 1970s. Then in 1971, Dr. Georg von Opel, the grandson of the company’s founder, turned the GT into an electric car, which reached a maximum speed of about 189 km/h and set several world records. And in June 1972 Opel built a diesel-engined GT that set two world records and 18 international records at the Dudenhofen proving ground. The maximum speed of 197 km/h over 1,000 metres was a sensation for diesel cars at the time. GT designer Schnell recalls how the diesel GT acquired its even lower shape: “We didn’t have a big budget. So we took a car that was supposed to become a convertible and simply cut off the windscreen!”

In 1969 it looked as if a dream might come true for fans of topless cars, when Opel displayed the Aero GT convertible with electric folding rear window and removable roof at the IAA. Unfortunately, the car remained just a design study.

The production GT, however, thrilled customers until the end of its production in 1973. Thanks to the performance, unique design and attractive pricing, the popularity of the GT exceeded all expectations. Total production reached 103,463 units in only five years. Not only European but also North American customers loved the radical Opel sports car, which still has many fans today on both sides of the Atlantic. The GT also shows that the Opel designers and engineers of the past had “German precision meets sculptural artistry” in mind, even back then. Or as actor and GT driver Ken Duken puts it: “The advertising was wrong – flying isn’t nicer!”

 

Contact

Uwe Mertin
Manager Opel Classic
Tel.: +49 6142/7-74 083
Mobile: +49 170 339 5246
uwe.mertin@opel.com

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