Opel Rally Car brand has faded from automotive prominence today, it enjoys a significant motorsport legacy built through rally racing success. Models like the Kadett, Ascona, and iconic Manta coupe proved formidable competitors in the 1960s through 1980s on loose and tarmac surfaces. Let’s revisit Opel’s potent rally racers who battled for glory in European events.
Early Kadetts Show Rally Potential
Even Opel’s humble Kadett economy car demonstrated rally prowess in the 1960s. Lightweight Kadett A and B models claiming wins at the grueling Monte Carlo Rally and Swedish Rally pointed to greater potential. Opel further developed the Kadett into a proper rally racer for the new European Rally Championship in 1953.
These early Kadetts featured tuned 1.1L and 1.3L engines and upgraded suspensions ideal for slick surfaces. Driven by female Swedish legend Pat Moss, rally-prepped early model Kadetts served notice that Opel could compete.
Ascona 400 – Giant Slayer
As Opel moved into the large family car class with the Ascona, engineers created the homologation special Ascona 400 variant specifically for competition in 1975. Named for its 400-unit production run, the Ascona 400 packed a Cosworth-tuned 2.0L engine producing around 210hp paired to a 5-speed manual.
Bilstein suspension tuning and vented brakes improved dynamics. In the hands of drivers like Walter Rohrl, the Ascona 400 exceeded expectations, winning rallies outright and even claiming the European Rally Championship in 1982 against fascinating competition.
Manta Rally Dominance
But Opel’s greatest rally fame came with the Manta coupe. Prepped Mantas won the fearsome Press on Regardless rally in Michigan an astounding six consecutive times from 1973-1978. On the tough Safari Rally in Africa, the Manta was victorious in 1983, 1984, and 1985.
The Manta’s rigid chassis, potent engines, and balanced rear-drive handling proved unbeatable on the world’s roughest tarmac rallies. Unlikely Opel stood atop podiums against the likes of Porsche and Fiat.
Opel Rally Car Transition to Touring Car Stardom
As Group B ended Opel’s works rally efforts in the 1980s, the brand channeled its expertise into touring car racing. The Manta once again formed the foundation for success. The Manta 400 and V8-powered Manta 500 racers battled BMWs and Alfa Romeos, keeping Opel’s motorsport legacy going strong.
Sadly, General Motors’ support eventually waned through the 1990s as costs climbed. But Opel’s competition prominence remained anchored by its rally racing golden years.
Why Opel Rally Car Ruled Match
So how did an underdog GM brand excel in European rallying? Opel made the most of limited resources by maximizing durability and using privateer teams when needed. Models like the Kadett and Manta proved rugged enough for rally abuse.
Opel also didn’t rely on raw power, instead emphasizing agile handling for momentum on loose and tarmac surfaces.
Opel Rally Car Lasting Legacy
While Opel ended serious motorsport efforts decades ago, older models still compete today. The brand’s giant-killing racing achievements capture imaginations.
For Opel fans, the glory days of the rally in the 1970s and 80s represent the pinnacle of the brand’s engineering and talent. The Manta coupe endures as an Opel icon thanks in part to its rally fame.