Ford Capri vs Opel Manta A – Two sporty coupés for everyday use
In 1970, the “Trimm Dich fit” campaign was launched to motivate Germans to do more sport and thus fight the “prosperity belly”. With various slogans and campaigns, this campaign of the German Sports Federation DSB ran until 1986. Whether it is a coincidence that the Ford Capri (1968-1986) and the Opel Manta (1970-1988) were produced in the same period, we do not know. But we do know that both vehicles represent this zeitgeist wonderfully.
The Ford Capri and the Opel Manta were the stuff of automotive dreams in the early 1970s: Inexpensive and suitable for everyday use because they were based on mass-produced technology, but with the sporty look that made not only young men weak. Classic Trader did the fitness test and compared the two popular classics.
Ford presented the Capri in January 1969, a coupé that quickly became the European equivalent of the Ford Mustang, the successful American ponycar. An endlessly long bonnet, a crisp coupé rear end with a narrowly cut passenger compartment in between, which was officially supposed to offer space for four, but in reality reached its capacity limit with two adults in the front and two small children in the rear, made the Capri look fast and sporty even when stationary.
The mass-produced technology with the chassis of the British Cortina and – in Germany – the V4 and V6 engines from the Taunus (in-line four-cylinder from 1972) ensured favourable prices and a wide range of performance from the 50-horsepower sleeper to the 2.6-litre Porsche killer. Ford advertised it with the phrase: “A little fun, a little custom, a little prestige”.
Opel fans had to wait until late summer 1970 before they too could live out their sporty dreams – with the Manta, which was based on the platform of the Ascona presented two months later. The Bochum car impressed with its attractive, almost Italian lines, which made it seem more modern and airy and offered more space inside than the Ford Capri. Not for the five adults promised in the advertising, who alone would exceed the maximum payload of 375 kilograms, but it was certainly enough for children and teenagers on the back seat.
Technically, Opel offered little choice to Manta disciples: There were three four-cylinder engines with 60 to 90 hp, and in 1974 the ultimate Manta GTE appeared with fuel injection and 105 hp. The Opel advertising copywriters were sure that the Manta had rolled “off the assembly line straight into the imaginations of hundreds of thousands of motorists”.
FORD CAPRI AND OPEL MANTA A – SPORTS CAR FEELING FOR EVERYONE
Both the Ford Capri and the Opel Manta were in tune with the spirit of the times and the tastes of customers at the time. Over 780,000 of the first two Capri generations were sold by 1973, i.e. in four production years. By the end of production, almost 1.9 million Capris of all model series had been built. With just under 500,000 units, the Manta A was the second best-selling model. Total production of the Manta A and the Manta B, which is not included in this comparison, reached just over one million units.
During the entire production period, the Capri scored points with the sportier drivers due to its more powerful engine range and probably also its success in racing, while the Manta A with its successful shape appealed more to the aesthetes. In everyday life, both were well-behaved and reliable workhorses, which were offered in various equipment variants from spartan to luxurious. Contemporary testers attested both a high suitability for everyday use with compromises in space and an acceptable road holding, which was described as “tight, but still comfortable”.
Ford initially offered seven engines – four-cylinder with 50 to 75 hp, and six-cylinder with 85 to 125 hp. With the 1974 model change to the Capri II, the 2.6-litre V6 was replaced by the three-litre British “Essex” V6, which delivered 138 hp to the rear axle, and the 2600 RS was dropped without replacement. The bodywork now featured a large tailgate and larger windows, making the car more manageable. The 1978 model update, which was heavily revised and unofficially named Capri III, appeared more modern with its visually smoothed body.
The engine choice remained largely unchanged, but in the spring of 1981 the 3-litre V6 was dropped and replaced by a more modern 2.8-litre fuel-injected V6 with 160 bhp. The top model, produced in only 200 examples, was the 188 hp 2.8 turbo, which was visually distinct from the large series with wing flares and wide 235/60×13 tyres.
Manta buyers had the choice between 1.2 and 1.9 litre four-cylinder engines with 60 to 105 hp. The Capri four-cylinder appeared to critics to be too underpowered, although the 75 hp 1.7-litre V4 was probably the most frequently sold. In the case of the Manta, it was felt that the 1.9-litre engine would best suit the car’s character, the smaller engines being described as lacking in power, albeit well-behaved and robust.
ORIGINAL VS. CONTEMPORARY styling
“Our” Capri, a silver 2-litre sports car from 1971 with the “big” cockpit with six round clocks stands there like a one. The paintwork is almost as shiny as new, and you won’t find any rust on this example in its year-old condition. Except for the leather steering wheel from the Ford parts rack, the car is absolutely original. Only the driver’s seat is still waiting to be refurbished.
The yellow and black Steinmetz Manta A from 1972 is the result of a loving and detail-obsessed restoration. The owner acquired the Manta 1.9 SR, which had been deregistered for two decades, in 2008, stripped it down to the last screw and rebuilt it in Steinmetz trim. This was not easy, because original Steinmetz parts are almost as rare as the blue Mauritius. The steering wheel was found after a long online search, the valve cover with club friends and probably the only Steinmetz front spoiler preserved in Germany on a farm near Memmingen. Even the chrome trims for the rims with the Steinmetz logo were found after a long search.
FORD CAPRI VS OPEL MANTA A – THE COMPARISON
With its long bonnet and short rear, the Capri looks stockier than the more elegant Manta. Visually, the Ford is a child of the 1960s, when sports cars were still made for tough guys, while the Opel, with its large windows and businesslike styling, appears more dainty and modern.Under the sheet metal, both offer well-honed, proven and robust large-series homemade cars with rigid axles and drum brakes in the rear, disc brakes in the front and well-behaved bumper engines.
The show was more important than the sport in the production cars! But how do you drive, the silver Capri and the yellow and black Manta SR?First I get into the Capri – it’s snug, but you sit comfortably, the view of the cockpit with its six round instruments and the small leather steering wheel as well as the easily accessible short gear lever on the centre console give you that sports car feeling. Start the engine, depress the clutch, engage first gear and off you go! The operating forces for clutch and steering are low, the sound not really sporty, but the V6 runs silky smooth and swallows even higher revs without sounding strained or becoming loud. The propulsion from 90 hp is noticeable, but not rapid. The chassis is firm and just about comfortable, the lateral inclination in curves quite low.
Only when the pace picks up does the car push over the front wheels and understeer slightly. For sporty oversteer, you have to depress the accelerator firmly and call up high revs. Then even the two-litre becomes a fun car that makes you feel a bit like Dieter Glemser or Jochen Maas.
The Manta appears much larger, the driver and passenger sit on comfortable sports seats, the view falls on easily readable instruments behind the Steinmetz leather steering wheel. Three additional instruments in front of the gear lever create a sporty ambience. After starting, the four-cylinder engine with a good 100 hp shows its good-natured side, the clutch has little power and the steering is smooth but precise.
Thanks to the Steinmetz treatment, the Manta feels a little more powerful than the Capri, but is still some way from a real sports car feeling. This is not a disadvantage, however, because the engine pushes the car forward without any power gaps and is so refined that you don’t shy away from higher revs. The chassis is comfortable and pleases with good road holding. A little softer than the Ford and harder than the Ascona, but still suitable for families and long journeys.
Cultivated driving pleasure, then, if the limit is not the goal of driving dreams. That was the idea at the time, because the era of power-sapping sports cars was drawing to a close anyway – except in England – at the beginning of the 1970s.
And the winner is …
The question of the winner of the short comparison drive is difficult to answer. If you like it (visually) sportier, go for the Capri, while the Manta is the right choice for aesthetes. The choice is easier for brand fans, because an Opel fan will never flirt with a Capri and a Ford lover with an Opel. The Manta has a little more space, the Capri the more classic shape. Both have personality and offer everyday driving pleasure with a sporty touch. In the Capri, this touch can become a whirlwind with the more powerful V6 engines as standard, Opelians would have to go to their trusted tuner for more power.
Considering the high number of units, both models have become really rare, good examples are traded between 10,000 and 15,000 €, for fully restored vehicles prices of over 20,000 € are sometimes called for.
The Ford Capri 2600RS is a completely different story, good examples are priced above the 50,000 € mark and cars with a bit of racing history can command six-figure sums. The civilian 2600GT is the better choice! My favourite would be a Capri 2.3 or 2.6, which delivers the right performance values for the sporty outfit and is also more formally reminiscent of the sports cars of the 1960s than the Manta – but I am also a friend of the 1960s!
Text Jörn-M. Müller-Neuhaus Photos Christian Wimmer
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