G&G’s Project Cars: Introducing Tony’s 1970 Opel GT
What’s the worst that could happen with a $1,200 Craigslist find?
I never, not once, thought about buying an Opel GT until I saw the car I eventually purchased. To be quite honest, I knew barely anything about them, so it’s no surprise that our relationship started mindlessly scrolling the overgrown fields of The Internet.
My browser auto-filled craigslist.com before I could get to the “g,”—what self-respecting automotive enthusiast’s browser doesn't?—and the location defaulted to Ann Arbor, where I’d recently moved to work for a previous automotive publication. I clicked on “cars & trucks,” then filled in a few filters: $300 price min, $2,000 price max. I hit [search] and began scrolling through a mess of junky metal and rubber. Mainly ‘90s and ‘00s Chevys and Fords.
Just for fun. Just to browse. Just to kill some time.
Then I saw it.
That shape triggered something in my brain. The evocative long hood, squat stance, and unique headlights immediately drew me in and demanded an all-night research session. What was this thing? Why didn’t it have a trunk? Why do its headlights rotate sideways like a barrel roll? Why aren’t these more popular, and most importantly, why is this one sitting in the woods for just $2,000?
Deep down, I knew the answer to that last question, but the prospect of owning a classic project car that looked that good was too enticing to pass up. With a coworker in tow, I drove south of Ann Arbor to Salem, Michigan, where we were surprised to find a beautiful mansion, a large barn, a high school kid, his brother, a Wrangler project, and the 1970 Opel GT.
The front mid-engine sports coupe came with a 1.9-liter four-cylinder and a four-speed manual transmission. In 1970 that’d supposedly make about 100 horsepower, and the rear wheels push around its weight of about 2,000 pounds, give or take. Now, well...
The Opel GT before me had a good solid shape to it, but there were tons of obvious issues. Oil was sprayed all over the engine bay, including around the gaskets. We saw about five different colors of paint and primer, it had a rattling Alpine head unit, the dashboard and wooden wheel were cracked, the front seat was broken, the hood latch was janky, one of the wheels didn’t match, there were obvious Bondo and rust issues, and those brilliantly quirky headlights were tough to turn over.
Despite the red flags, we took it for a test drive, but only down the long driveway and down the street and back, as we were instructed not to go too fast because of the oil leak. We barely got it to 20 mph.
But I saw that it could run, and I couldn’t help but think this was too unique of an opportunity to pass up, even if I knew it probably wasn’t the best financial decision. I offered $1,000, and we settled on $1,200, including trailer delivery back to my work’s office. The Opel GT was mine!
In my eyes, this was a win-win. I had always dreamt of working on a car with my dad, but upon realizing I’d never afford a 1968 Chevrolet Chevelle SS 396 (a car my my dad previously owned) or a 1969 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28 RS, this was a significantly cheaper route that’s still seriously cool, if not completely random.
This was also the closest I’d lived to my family in more than 10 years. Even if the Opel is a complete money pit, $1,000 was worth the shot. At the very worst, we could take it apart and put it back together, or sell it for parts and scrap while learning new wrenching skills and drinking some beers along the way.
Three years later...
I now live in an apartment in Chicago even closer to where I grew up, and the car is in a million pieces at my parents’ house. The car sat parked for close to two years while I saved up for parts, which are extremely easy to find thanks to OpelGTSource.com. That this site existed was another reason I felt comfortable adopting the GT.
We’ve been slowly chipping away at the project, literally and figuratively, and it’s been a joyfully frustrating process of discovery, excitement, disappointment, and confusion. These things are only worth $10,000 in very good condition, maybe, but we’ve already spent a few thousand on new parts and will absolutely be spending a few thousand more.
We’re in too deep to bail now, which I’m required to say that about my project car, right? Because of the Opel’s value, we’ve waffled on how perfect we want to try to be but settled on making it look pretty good and drive straight. We just want to pick it up, dust it off, and put it back on the road, where it belongs. Unknown countless parties have apparently already tried with this one before and failed. We will not.
The biggest upgrade we might make is boring the engine out to 2.0 liters for some extra juice. Down the road, I might upgrade some suspension bits, but that’s a decision for future me. It's not going to be show quality, and there will be defects, but who cares? I’m building this thing with my dad, and it’s already a success in my head, even if it doesn’t drive yet.
With the project fully underway, I’m going to start sharing my new devotion to this car with all of you. Some posts will explore the many tasks we’ve already accomplished, how we did them, what tools we used, the car’s multicultural history, and other stories that fit with Guides & Gear’s mantra, “Satisfy your need to wrench.”
I just want to talk about my passion project with all of you and hear about yours. Look out for a continuous series of big and small articles about the car, our successes, and our failures in the near future.
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