Never mind the bollards . . .
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Let's find Steve Hart his dream car - a 1973 Opel Manta coupe
My new car was a million miles away from the one it replaced. Chalk and cheese you might say.
A sports car, metallic blue, two doors, 1.9l, and it stuck to the road like glue. It accelerated to the urban speed limit in a trice and powered along motorways without breaking into a sweat. And the sound from the engine? Imagine the roar of a lion blended with the sweet breath of angels on steroids.
It was 1982 and I had just ditched a rusting Hillman Hunter estate for a 1973 Opel Manta A series coupe. I was 22, and going places.
Turns out the 4 cylinder engine was an odd one, an Opel Cam-In-Head, or CIH. According to Wiki, its name comes from the location of the camshaft which was a compromise between an overhead valve and an overhead cam layout — an evolutionary dead-end and not used in other engines by the carmaker.
My friend Andy helped me find the Manta, leading me to car yard after car yard across the county of Essex in the UK. Eventually we came across a typical Arthur Daley-style used car dealership. We arrived at Arthur’s about 6pm. And there it was. A gleaming Manta. I’d never seen anything like it.
This car looked a bit like a shortened Ford Capri, had a pointed nose, aluminum wheels, and round rear lights like those on a Ferrari. It looked pristine, impeccable interior, manual transmission. And unlike my old Hillman Hunter, I was told the Manta’s heater worked. And it had a new MoT certificate.
But there’s no way I could afford this. I mean, look at it! It’s glorious. Why are you even showing this beautiful car to me?
“How much have you got to spend my boy?” I had exactly £1800.
“That’s exactly how much this car is.”
Where do I sign?
Sitting behind the wheel I felt like the man about town — until the wheels came off. I was reversing into a spot outside Andy’s house a few days after buying it when the steering suddenly felt funny. I stopped, got out and couldn’t help but notice one of my front wheels was horizontal.
Literally 10 minutes earlier I had been gunning down the A127! Andy called the dodgy dealer, who sent a recovery truck to collect it. He reckoned I had bumped the kerb causing something to break, but that wasn’t the case.
After some argy bargy, including me calling the police over a possible dodgy MoT ticket, Arthur agreed to fix it and I got a call to say it was ready.
The recovery vehicle chap had dented the nose of my pride and joy. But Arthur walked away as I pointed to the damage.
Driving the Manta was a dream, though. Sometimes shifting up to fourth was a struggle if I wanted to stay below the urban speed limit, but on the motorway it was glorious and seemed to have unlimited power. Road handling was solid, which is why it did so well in rallies at the time.
Working nights, I’d often drive home around 3am — and had started seeing the police following me home. I mentioned it to Andy in passing one day and he roared with laughter. He had told some mates with blue uniforms that I was a “wheelman” — a getaway driver for criminals.
I arrived late for my show at a radio station one Sunday afternoon. Pulled up, jumped out the car, engine still running, and locked the door as I shut it. So while I did my show the police were called, broke into my car — like true pros, without causing any damage — and turned the engine off.
Another day the engine wouldn’t idle steadily, there was a flat spot when accelerating and it wasn’t running smooth. I had it serviced, but the issue soon returned.
I can’t tell you how many lost Sundays were spent fiddling with the engine, and mechanics — the people who should know about these things — were unable to fathom the problem.
No matter; it was driveable, reliable, It just didn’t perform perfectly. My partner and I went across the UK in it. The Manta always started first turn of the key and never left me high and dry — it always got us home.
Reversing into a supermarket car park next to a trolley pen one night, I opened my door to look — it was raining, and dark, and I couldn’t see what I was reversing into. My door was bent backwards when it hit a bollard and the panel creased. It was time to say goodbye to the Manta.
Now, 33 years on I am looking to own a 1973 Opel Manta again. But they appear to be as rare as hen’s teeth.