Put a Bow on It: 1973 Opel GT

One day in 1972, my grandfather left home in a Rambler convertible that my grandmother hated, and returned home in a butterscotch-colored Opel GT. He wrapped a red ribbon around the car, tied it in a bow on the roof, and presented it to my grandmother. She drove that car for a decade, my mom and her sisters learning to drive stick in it along the way, and to this day she still remembers that Opel as one of the cars she most loved to drive. You might see this ’73 Opel GT that’s been sitting unfinished since some bodywork was started in 1982 and hear a voice in your head telling you, “never take on someone else’s project;” all I can see when I look at it is it looking new once again, sitting on a driveway with a red ribbon tied around it, ready to make a new owner happy. Thanks as always to the intrepid Bill Walters, who sent this GT our way; it’s on craigslist in the Philadelphia metro region with a $2,600 asking price.

In the here and now, though, this is a project car. The unfinished work centers on the rear end; all of the bits and pieces that have been taken off are said to be present and accounted for, and the owner claims the car was running two years ago, but there’s clearly a fair bit of work yet to be done.

Under the hood, the 1.9-liter inline four looks complete and pretty unmolested. Earlier model years of the GT were also available with a 1.1-liter engine, which looks tiny, even in this small compartment. The 1.9 pumps out 90 horsepower, which moves this small, light car pretty well, although unfortunately in this case it’s mated to a three-speed slushbox. I’m also a bit concerned by what looks like a nasty hole in the firewall in the lower right-hand corner of this photo.

If you can get past another gaping hole, in the footwell where a third pedal is supposed to be, the rest of the interior looks like a decent starting point. Most significantly, the dash appears to be free of cracks, which is unbelievably rare for a GT. The passenger seat is not missing, but several photos show it removed, giving a helpful look at the floors, which look solid, if not exactly pretty. What do you think—could you see yourself giving this Opel the care it needs to get it red-ribbon worthy?

Fast Finds


  1. Fred W.

    I’ve seen a lot worse. This is somebody’s dream project, hope it gets restored and back on the road where it belongs.

  2. Sam

    Good seller photos. A few more engine and underside photos would be nice. The interior photos are somehow reassuring that the body is in decent shape.

    I remember a high school freind having a used one in the late 70’s…lots of fun.

    I wonder if the seller will include the solar lawn lights?

  3. Mr. Bond

    I always liked these. Great fun with a friends when we were a lot younger. I prefer the black interior, and it would be a nicer contrast with the pale yellow in this case. Although there is rust lurking, this one looks restorable, but the auto kills it for me.

  4. geezerglide85

    I had a ’74 Opel wagon I bought in ’84 to teach my wife to drive on. The car needed some electrical work as the battery was located on the left side of the firewall and rusted a hole in it. Right below the battery on the inside of the car was the fuse box.After this was fixed it was dependable car for a few more years until the tin worms took their toll on it. I don’t know if these are the same or not, if they are that hole in the firewall could be an issue, hope not.

    • Leon

      I recall seeing a car years ago in junkyard. Looked in top shape. Wondered why it was junked. I saw why. Battery leaked and ruined the whole fuse box. Guess owner didn’t want to bother with a then 20 yr old car

  5. geezerglide85

    Looking closer is that hole all of the way through or just surface rust? can’t really tell from the pic.

  6. Tim

    Why did somebody remove the standard transmission and put in a wimpy automatic? For me personally any sports car should have a standard shift. But I guess to each their own. Nice project.

    • Nathan Avots-Smith Member

      That somebody was almost certainly Opel—the automatic was a factory option. Not one I would have chosen, especially with such a small engine, but, as you say, to each their own!

    • Gary

      It came from the factory with the automatic. I know cuz I replaced the automatic in my 1972 Opel GT with a 4 speed stick. Now it has a 5 spd Getrag (from a BMW). WHY the factory would put an automatic in? They thought some Americans were too lazy to shift LoL. I own four Opel GTs. Colors are silver/grey, white, black, and burgundy. All are driveable. Love these cars.

  7. BillyT

    Opel did offer an automatic transmission back in the early 1970’s. My mother had one in an 1971 Opel 1900 sedan and my sister had one in an 1974 Opel Manta. With Opel being part of General Motors the automatic they chose was a Turbo-Hydramatic 180-C. In the U.S. that transmission went by the name 3L30. Back at a time when the automatics offered in import cars were iffy at best the TH180-C was bullet-proof.

    • Elrod

      Spot on Billy. The 180 C was built in Strasbourg France. I was a dealer tech for GM then doing only automatics. These transmissions had ZERO issues. Indestructible. Also used in the Chevette, T1000 and some Fiats.

  8. tompepper

    They had a lot of electrical issues.mostly the head light covers.I owned several Opels and this model is the only one I had a problem with.

    • survivor

      The headlights are raised and lowered manually. They are not electric–except for the lights, of course.

      • Britcarguy

        Tompepper might be referring to the switch that turned the lights on when they were in the up position. I bought a 69 GT new – one of the very early cars and at that time the upgrade from the 1100 engine to the 1900 was only $100 so few 1100s were sold. The dash top in this car is amazing, perhaps because it is light colored. Most were black and my black dash cracked around the “glove hole” in a few years.

        A dozen years ago or so I was lucky enough to visit the now defunct Rosso & Bianco museum in Aschaffenburg, DE and they had an Opel GT exhibit. Photo is of the prototype car which was shown in car magazines in 1968. That is when I decided I needed that car. Well that car never made it to production unfortunately.

      • gtgus

        The switches were actually in the front fenders. When the cable broke you could roll the headlights from outside and turn the headlights on and off

  9. Steve

    My Dad had one in the ’70s. On steep hills in Pennsylvania it was like being in a roller coaster car!

  10. jackthemailman

    90hp? Huh. I owned a 1970 Kadet with a 1.9l 102hp, so I don’t quite know what to think here. BTW, that Kadet was a rocket! On the Atlanta “Autobahn” (I-285) back in 1972, I’d regularly zip at way over 100mph about 2AM. No one, no cops, no nothin’ back then in the wee small hours. I still love small 4cylinders, but I keep it to 85mph and below now.

    • Joel S

      I owned an Opel 1900 in the early 80’s… cannot remember what year It was, but it had the 1.9L it was rated at 100 +HP.

    • Michael

      You must have owned the Opel Kadett Rally. In ’70 the 1.9 did have 102 HP. In ’71 GM reduced compression ratio. In ’72 quoted HP went from gross to net.

      • jackthemailman

        I probably did; I don’t remember. I DO remember that it was bare bones. A friend and I installed an aftermarket AM/FM radio as it had just a blank plate in the dash. Traded it in May ’73 for a new ’73 VW bus, also bare bones. Now, THAT one is a whole ‘nother story!

  11. Michael

    The Opel GT was one of the sexiest production cars ever. Sometimes called the mini-Corvette, but it was much better balanced and smooth in appearance. Here is another for parts, only $600. https://tampa.craigslist.org/psc/cto/d/opel-gt/6218826438.html

  12. ccrvtt

    One of my favorite customers at the parts store just bought one of these. I told him where to find another junked one and now he’s blaming me for his sunburn. I love these cars. I only drove one once, when I was in college, but I always thought they were 10 kinds of cool. Great find and probably a great price, despite all the work needed.

  13. JoeBazots

    I like it, but would likely do more of a resto-mod on it. I’m thinking a hot (Nissan/Infinity 3.7L) V-6 w/ a 6 speed. Refurb the exterior, but make that running gear a whole lot more modern. Just me, though.

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