In tortured fits and starts, General Motors' Opel brand has had a presence in North America that began more than fifty years ago. These days, with GM emerging from bankruptcy, Opel is struggling for survival on its German home turf and is in the process of yoking itself (or not) to a new corporate master as some of its current products, thinly disguised as Saturns, are left to twist in the wind.
As Opel, perhaps for the final time, abandons the New World, it is worth looking back to one of the automaker's rare successes on these shores: the Opel GT. No, we're not talking about the car that we know over here today as the Saturn Sky; instead, set the Wayback Machine for 1968, the year the original Opel GT debuted.
Opel's entry-level Kadett donated the basic mechanicals for the GT, a two-seater that bore an uncanny resemblance to the then-new third-generation Chevrolet Corvette. Two transplants from GM's home office to Opel's Rüsselsheim headquarters, Clare MacKichan and Chuck Jordan - with a nod from none other than Bob Lutz - shaped the body and came up with one of the most aerodynamic designs of the era. The engine was set back in the chassis more than a foot for better balance, and with some other tweaks, GM could market it with a straight face as a true sports car. And it was one - with American design, German mechanicals, and a French body. Huh?
The last item was due to the fact that Opel had reached production capacity (those were the days, weren't they?) and wasn't in a position to add a new, albeit limited-production, model. The services of French carrosserie Chausson were engaged to fabricate the unibody shells that Brissonneau & Lotz finished, inside and out. The bodies were then shipped from Paris to Opel's plant in Bochum, Germany.
The end product offered an exceptionally smooth nose finished with a delicate, Vette-style chrome blade (federal bumper standards were still years away). Oval hideaway headlight housings that rotated up from left to upright, clockwise as you face the car, are controlled manually by a lever that makes for a great conversation piece and a nice workout for the driver's right forearm. As in first-generation Corvette Sting Ray coupes, the doors extend into the roof for comparative ease of entry. Out back, the tail was Kamm-styled and set off by four round lights, recalling the Dino by Ferrari. Trunk is a relative term when discussing the Opel GT, as there's no external access. The "trunk" space behind the seats is accessible only from, well, behind the seats.