Looking for a stylish coupé but you don’t have much cash to spend? Then check out GM’s Opel Ascona-based Manta, which offers far more fun per pound than some more obvious alternatives...
There’s something that’s just so Seventies about a rear-wheel drive coupé. But while the obvious choice wears a blue oval, there’s a less predictable alternative and that’s the Opel Manta. First seen as the Manta A in 1970, this was followed up by the heavily revised Manta B in 1975, offered solely in coupé form alongside the identical Vauxhall Cavalier GLS coupé.
For 1978 there was an extra bodystyle for those seeking extra practicality – a hatchback, or as the Cavalier was known, a Sports Hatch. Both the Opel and Vauxhall were sold alongside each other with a choice of bodystyles until the Cavalier was dropped in 1981. Not only did the Opel continue, but it was refreshed in 1982 to become the Manta C in the UK (the Europeans retained the Manta B tag), and it would remain in production until 1988.
Along the way the Manta was offered with a choice of engines, most based on the same cam-in-head design. At first there was a 1.6-litre unit which was soon killed off, while for Europe there was a 1.2-litre option. UK buyers got a 1.9-litre powerplant until 1978, when a 2.0-litre lump took over. From 1982 there was also a 1.8-litre overhead cam option, but few of these are left, so you’ll be doing well to find one.
While pre-1982 cars are desirable because they’re rare and feature a relatively pure design, it’s the later fuel-injected GT/E that’s the most sought after Manta, along with the GT/E Exclusive (later just Exclusive) that arrived in 1986. As the last of the line these models are the fastest of the breed but also the ones most likely to be suffering from really bad rot. While major corrosion is a common issue, the Manta is enormous fun, a little bit left-field and eminently affordable. Which begs the obvious question: what’s not to love?
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Rot can set in pretty much anywhere, but key areas to examine include the panel area above the headlights (especially if cheap aftermarket quad-headlamps have been poorly fitted), the rear arches (they seem to suffer more than the front arches) and the sunroof aperture – as well as the sunroof panel itself.
Rotten doors are often evidence of cheap pattern parts, since the factory doors seem resilient to corrosion. The three-door’s tailgate is prone to corrosion around the base of the window, while the coupé’s boot floor is a known weak point.
Inside, lift the carpets and check for rot in the floor – water gets in via the side windows. Check underneath, too the hatchback’s petrol tank is vulnerable to rust, as it’s positioned under the floor; it lives behind the rear seat on the coupé.
Mantas are powered by a four-cylinder ‘Cam-in-Head or CiH engine. High performance models were produced (Irmscher i200/i240, Manta 400), but in relatively small numbers. B2 cars are either 1.8 OHC or 2.0-litre injection CiH units.
Each is strong and capable of six-figure mileages before re-builds, with evidence of blown head gaskets and oil leaks the only real areas of concern. If the head has been removed at some point, make sure it was replaced by a knowledgeable specialist – the correct re-torquing of the bolts is absolutely critical to the engine’s longevity. Ask to see evidence of a correct cambelt change, too – this job should be done every 30,000 miles on the 1.8.
Don’t be too put off by some engine noise the chain-driven camshaft chatters at idle even on healthy engines; and (short-lived) rattling from the hydraulic tappets is normal.
Beware any car that whines persistently or baulks at changes – especially into second or third gear. The five-speed Getrag gearbox fitted to all post-1982 UK Mantas is a tough unit that should pretty much outlive the car.
Elsewhere, issues to look out for include noisy rear axles (replacement is usually the only solution) and excessive drivetrain judder, which is curable by replacing the universal joints on the propshaft; it’s rare for the propshaft itself to give up the ghost.
Soggy handling can often be traced back to worn or broken springs/dampers, while shrieking brakes, a rock-hard pedal and poor retardation all point to seized callipers. A brake pedal with little or no feel is probably down to a failed brake master cylinder.
Avoid cars with shabby interiors, unless you have new trim on standby, as hardly any interior trim is available nowadays. The Manta’s interior is of a high quality and hard-wearing, so only badly treated cars should pose a problem. Hard or damaged window and door rubbers will wreak havoc on the carpets and floorpan, however.
The Manta’s electrics are straightforward as they’re so simple; there were no powered windows or air-con to worry about. If the gauge readings are way out it’s because the voltage stabiliser has failed; new solid state replacements cost £12 apiece and they’re easy to fit. More of a problem is damaged trim, because while everything is hard-wearing, finding used parts is a nightmare. The same goes for the exterior trim; there isn’t much of it, but if anything is missing, you’ll be doing well to find anything you might need.
More than 550,000 Mantas were made between 1975 and 1988, but the survival rate is poor. If you want a good one you’ll have to search hard – especially if you want one that hasn’t been modified. But the good news is that if you do find one, you won’t have to dig too deep to buy it.