Feature | Opel GT restored by nut and bolt
Owner: René Beenhakkers
Author: Sim Van Gyseghem
Photography: Sim Van Gyseghem
With only just over 100.000 cars produced between 1967 and 1973, and the oldest ones already over 50 years old, the original Opel GT is always a special thing to see. Presented in 1965 as a design study “Experimental GT”, it was so popular with press and public that Opel decided to launch its first sports car in 1968. Opel enthusiasts like to call the Opel GT “Europe’s answer to the Corvette”, despite it being a lot smaller and less powerful. One of its characteristic features are the manually operated rotating headlights. At Frankfurt’s IAA of 1969 Opel presented a targa version, called Aero GT, but this was never put into production.
The GT was available with 1100cc and 1900cc 4-cylinder engines, respectively producing 60 and 90 hp. The mid-front engine was coupled to either a 4-speed manual gearbox or a 3-speed automatic box. Needless to say, the 1.9 engine from the Rekord sold a lot better than the 1.1 Kadett lump. The manual gearbox was the most popular in Europe, while the American market prefered the automatic (no surprises there either).
In 1970, Opel discontinued the 1.1 (because who wants a 60 hp sportscar?) and replaced it with the more basic GT Junior (GT-J). You can recognise a GT-J by its black bumpers (instead of chrome) and striping on the sides. It also has voltage and oil temperature warning lights instead of gauges.
René had been looking for an Opel GT for a while, when he got a lead on a dealer only a few kilometres down the road in 1991. After meeting up, René was presented with a choice of several GT’s, and decided to go with this pale orange US-spec 1900 and manual gearbox. He decided the car could do with a restoration, and spent the first two years of his GT ownership pulling the car apart. The largest part of the restoration was carried out by René himself in the garage behind the family’s home.
Not taking half measures, every nut, bolt, washer and spring was sandblasted and galvanised. Every electrical wire got new connectors and every single part was completely disassembled, cleaned and restored to new or better than new condition. During the whole process, two other Opel GT’s were pulled apart for parts.
Like many car projects, René’s GT restoration had its up and downs. After working on the car in his spare time the first couple of years, the project was put to a halt after René lost his leg in an accident. After a long recovery, he wasn’t sure he would even be able to drive his car when finished, and for a long time he didn’t feel like working on it. Ultimately, one of his sons convinced him to take up the project again, and they continued work on the little Opel together.
The only jobs that were outsourced are the engine rebuild and the paintjob, both of which were performed by specialized companies. The paint is now brighter than when René bought the car, but matches the original orange better than before.
René and his son rebuilt the car with the greatest attention to detail, from placing original factory stickers in their exact places to finding the right type of burlap for the underside of the seats. They did make a few concessions: the mile speedometer from the US model was replaced by a kilometer unit and the US-spec side markers at the rear side panels were removed, essentially turning the GT into Euro-spec. Having an entirely new car with rebuilt engine and every other part you can think of, the decision was made to revert the odometer to zero kilometres. When sitting inside the GT, the only thing giving away that you’re not sitting in a brand new car and that it’s not 1970 is the Pioneer radio with CD and USB.
When sitting inside the GT, the only thing giving away that you’re not sitting in a brand new car and that it’s not 1970 is the Pioneer radio with CD and USB
After 26 years of work, the Opel GT project was finally finished in the spring of 2017, and René has recovered well enough that on most days he can drive the car himself. He and his son are now giving the same treatment to a VW Golf mk1 GTI which, apart from the colour, will also be entirely restored to factory perfection. They also have plans for a VW Caddy mk1 with a crazy engine swap once the Golf is finished.