Concord Resident to Show Opel GT
Bell, who teaches mechanical engineering at Central Piedmont Community College, is accustomed to the puzzled looks his Opel GT garners. He admits he seldom sees another one on the road, but is surprised no one remembers them.
"At one time, Opel was General Motors' second biggest brand worldwide," Bell said. "Only Chevrolet sold more cars for GM in the late 1960s, and a lot of those sales were in the U.S."
Like many companies born before and during the Industrial Revolution, Adam Opel's firm went through many product lines-sewing machines in 1862, bicycles in 1886-before joining the horseless carriage craze in 1897. In 1931, GM bought Opel as part of its worldwide expansion and started selling the German-built economy cars through Buick dealers in 1958.
U.S. buyers all but ignored gas-sipping imports throughout the 1960s, but a trio of redesigned Opel Kadett models sold respectably in 1966 (32,033 units) and 1967 (51,693), giving the company confidence to take a sleek two-seater prototype into production.
"Opel had floated the idea of a sports car in 1965 during the Frankfurt Auto Show," Bell explained. "The public response was so enthusiastic that the company turned the GT project into a reality in October of 1968."
Taking a lesson from GM, Opel engineers saved millions in development expenses by building the GT around chassis and powertrains from the existing Kadett line. The base engine was a 1.1-liter four-cylinder that generated 67 horsepower; ordering the optional 1.9-liter pumped output to 102 horsepower. The GT was extensively tested in the wind tunnel during its design phase-a procedure that was still not industry practice at the time-which resulted in the smooth, sleek appearance. French coachbuilders Brissonneau and Lotz produced the stylish car's all-metal bodies, which were shipped to Germany for final assembly.
The result was a sporty, economical car that handled well and could be maintained through any Buick dealer or German car specialist shop. Opel sold 11,880 GTs during that first year of production. Its acceptance in the American market had a lot to do with the design team, which included accomplished GM stylists Clare MacKichan and Chuck Jordan, as well as its obvious family resemblance to a certain Chevrolet product.
"People are always asking me if it's a Corvette even though it's 20 inches shorter," Bell said. "It's no accident that the two look alike, because the designers of the '68 'Vette had seen the Opel GT show car and liked the overall shape. I always enjoy showing people the similarities-the rear lights, bumpers, the pop-up headlamps and grille treatment are nearly identical, except for size."
Bell was still in high school when the Opel GT was introduced. He fell in love with the idea of a lightweight German sports car (1,815 pounds) with good gas mileage (22-26 mpg) and Corvette looks, but without the Chevrolet's price ($3,395 vs. $4,763). Upon graduation, he immediately bought a new 1971 GT, then realized how expensive college would be and sold it. Like most American males, that first car stayed in Bell's memory and tugged at his wallet every time he saw one at a show.
"Six years ago I heard that a guy in Charlotte had a GT for sale," Bell said. "I couldn't resist any longer, so I bought it. It's a '73 model-the last of the 90,000-plus GTs Opel sold in America."
From the moment of that purchase, Bell has become an Opel ambassador, gladly explaining his car's history every time he gets "the question."
"I really don't mind explaining what the car is," he said. "I guess if people didn't like it they would just keep walking and not say anything at all."
Other attractions scheduled for the Food Lion AutoFair include a flying car from the television show "Monster Garage," the wild Tornado Attack vehicle, a race car that runs on renewable biodiesel fuel, a Navy Osprey airplane capable of vertical takeoffs and landings, crazy motorcycle stunts in the Globe of Death, unusual vehicles from the Lane Motor Museum, the amazing Amphicar and a special Century of the Turbocharger display.
Food Lion AutoFair hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Thursday through Saturday, and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., on Sunday. Tickets are $10 for adults. Children under 12 are admitted free when accompanied by an adult. Parking for the event is $5.
For information, contact the speedway events department at (704) 455-3205 or visit www.charlottemotorspeedway.com.