Ford’s Mustang is a legend, alongside others like the Camaro and Cougar these cars helped bring a new style of car forwards: the pony car.
Pony cars and the larger, more powerful muscle cars from the same period are distinct but share a common trait – they are American in spirit and design.
Europe has historically drawn considerable inspiration from the US in terms of automobile design and following the Mustang bomb which dropped in 1964, Ford had the Capri drawn up for Europe.
Although there was no standard V8 option available apart from the Perana which was only for South Africa, the Capri went down well on the other side of the Atlantic, where smaller engines were more common, but the Germans also had designs on a small, affordable, and reasonably quick pony car of its own.
The Opel Manta Was Small, Cute, And Aggressive Like A German Chihuahua
Although it wasn’t really a muscle car in the traditional sense, some styling for the Manta was definitely inspired by a certain era of American auto design.
It was more an Opel pony car, something which was cheaper than other German marques but could still offer style and get-up-and-go performance for the weekends.
Opel was previously owned by PSA who you might remember as being the French group consisting of Peugeot and Citroën, but now it sits under the giant umbrella of Stellantis – in the UK however Opel vehicles are sold under the Vauxhall brand.
For the Manta, production would almost span the same time as the Capri, starting two years later in 1970 and continuing for 18 years across two main generations, finishing two years after the Capri in 1988.
Opel’s Manta Had Almost All The Prerequisites For A Great Pony Car
Across both generations, the Manta, named after the sea ray, would be rear-wheel-drive and based on small family car underpinnings.
Styling for the first car in 1970 was perhaps more timeless than what followed, with some modest engines.
Whereas people familiar with the Mustang would have wanted some V8 action under the hood, instead there were small engines with varying power and capacity up to a fuel-injected 1.9-liter with just 105 hp, but in the 70s this was reasonable in a small and nimble car.
It wasn’t just a spartan unit-mover for Opel either, it could be offered with a sports steering wheel, vinyl roof, heated rear screen, halogen headlamps, electric windshield washers, and more – remember, these were the early 70s – all this with a light 2150 lb car and a four-speed manual transmission option.
There Was A Turbo Manta Which Made More Power At A Cost
Before the end of the Manta A which ran from 1970-1975, there was a Manta Turbo, perhaps the real pony car Europe was waiting for.
Available in the UK, the 1.9-liter was fitted with a turbo and power went up to 156 hp and a useful 174 lb-ft, with the quarter-mile in 15 seconds and 0-60 mph obtained in around 7.6 seconds, eventually hitting 125 mph.
This kind of performance from a small engine in 1974 was adequate and combined with the simple but elegant styling made the Manta into the car it always should have been, although it was made only in 28 examples and cost the equivalent of £38,000, or $50,000.
Opel’s Manta B arrived in 1975 and the looks had changed considerably, this model today looks inherently like a commercial for the 80s with its huge bug-eyed square headlamps but the fastback/coupe idea remained at least in the beginning.
For The Best European Muscle Car, Try The Turbo Manta, If You Can Find One
So against the Capri, the Opel was perhaps underpowered, with the Manta A not offering anything bigger than 2-liter engines, while the Capri could come in anything up to a 3-liter V6 with 138 hp initially with no assistance from a turbo.
However, today the 70s design of the first Manta has stood the test of time well, aging like a fine wine similar to Ford’s Mustang and maybe even better than the Capri.
The later Manta B would evolve greatly and include homologation versions offering around 150 hp; but the name would live on even in 2022, after one million examples of Manta A and B.
It has a 31kWh battery pack with 147 hp and manual 4-speed transmission even though it’s an EV – sadly though it’s not a production car and probably never will be.