The TE2800 History
A considerable number of articles, tests and reviews have been written about the TE2800, a sporty 6 cylinder version of Opel’s successful Manta A model of the early seventies. The most accurate is the authoritative,well written and also richly illustrated article by Rainer Manthey in the June and July 2009 editions of the German Powerslide magazine.
Powerslide Magazine june / july 2009
The story recalls how in the early seventies Opel’s competition department was looking for a much needed replacement for their no longer competitive Commodore model against stiff competition like Ford’s V6 Capri and Alpina and Schnitzer BMW touring racing cars. One of the ideas suggested by Transeurope Engineering managing director Vic Heylen, was an homologated 6 cylinder version of Opel’s light and very aerodynamic Manta-A model. After an initial discussion with Bob Lutz, Opel’s Sales and Marketing director at Opel’s Headquarters in Rüsselsheim, the idea was further discussed during a meeting at the Zolder Circuit Pits Hotel with GM Chevrolet and Corvette racing engineers and Bob Price, CEO of the GM Continental Antwerp assembly plant. Transeurop Engineering proposed to build a prototype and after a positive evaluation, to assemble 500 cars in their workshop in Bolderberg Zolder, near the Zolder Corcuit, in order to be able to qualify for FIA homologation. In theory 1000 cars are needed for FIA homologation. Since Ford did not have any problems to homologate their V6 Capri mo-dels with only a few hundred cars produced, it was assumed that a production run of 500 cars would be sufficient to convince the FIA motorsport governing body.
The Zolder Hotel Pits meeting was followed by a visit from Opel’s CEO Alexander Cunningham and Chief Engineer Chuck Chapman, including a test drive on the Zolder circuit and a subsequent signing of “a letter of intent” at the Antwerp plant in june 1973 for the assembly of 500 TE2800 models. Instead of producing small weekly batches of Manta A bodies to Transeurope Engineering specifications, the Antwerp plant decided to produce one batch of 500 engine-less bodies and store them on the plant’s parking lot, awaiting delivery in smaller weekly batches.
What then followed is a strange sequent of events. October 6th 1973 saw the start of the Yom Kippur war between Israel and its Arabic neighbors, followed by an oil embargo to Israel friendly nations. Countries affected by the embargo introduced stringent speed limits, Sunday traffic ban,petrol rationing etc. Within months oil prices increased fourfold from 3 to 12 dollars a barrel.
National GM subsidiaries who in principle had agreed to sell 500 cars decided that this was no longer a business climate to introduce a new fast, sporty car model. In December 1973 Germany introduced a ban on all motor-sport events. The organizers of the Geneva Show declined Transeurope Engineering’s demand for floor space on the 1974 Geneva Show. To allow Porsche’s and Ferrari’s was on the thing, but the organizers did not think it was appropriate to facilitate the arrival of a “speedy” newcomer under these circumstances.Bob Lutz, by then Director Sales and Marketing at BMW,ran into heavy flak in Geneva because of his idea to put a BMW 2002 model on display with BMW2002 lettering in mirror writing on the top of the windscreen. Indicating that this would become a familiar sight in the rear view mirror of autobhan users. This was considered to be acceptable for ambulances, but under the circumstances, not on the windscreen of a fast car. The Geneva incident is considered as the beginning of the end of Lutz’ career at BMW. He left BMW to become CEO of Ford of Europe at end of that year.
A TE2800 painted A red and white painted TE2800 took a prominent place on the Opel stand at the 1974 Brussels International Car Show.
In the mean time the TE2800 project had lost three of its most fervent supporters: Bob Lutz left Opel for BMW on January 1st 1974, the same month that Opel CEO A.Cunningham was replaced by J.P McCormack. Bob Price had already left GM Continental to become CEO of GMSA, GM’s South African operations. In Februari 1972 Bob Price had already invited Vic Heylen to visit him and South Africa to discuss the possibility to set up a similar project in South Africa. Two TE2800’s sample were exported to GMSA for evaluation. A transfer of the project to South Africa was however not a practical alternative.
A new market opportunity arose in july 1974 with the publication of a tender for the purchase of 135 “fast intervention” vehicles for the Belgian Rijkswacht police. A TE2800 met easily all the specifications of the tender with regard to speed, acceleration,luggage compartment volume etc. at a considerable lower price, easy maintenance at any Opel dealer, low-price spare parts etc. The only other contender was the Porsche 911 Targa model. The TE2800 also offered considerable Belgian economic local content: the Manta bodies were to be assembled in GM’s Antwerp plant for final assembly at the Transeurope Engineering workshop in Zolder. In contrast, the Porsche importer could not offer any Belgian content. During tests at a soaked wet Nivelles racing circuit the TE2800 with Chris Tuerlinckx at the wheel showed considerable better dynamic qualities than the Porsche 911 in the hands of Porsche’s official rest driver Peter Falk. Apart from political pressure, there was no rational reason for the Rijkswacht not to order TE2800 models. The final decision was however postponed time and again….until Opel had ended the Manta-A production and replaced by the Manta B model. ( see drawing “ Rijkswacht”)
Not all stories about the TE2800 are as accurate has the already mentioned articles by Rainer Manthey. The internet Wikipedia encyclopedia TE2800 story is for instance far from accurate with regard to the facts of the TE2800 development. Opel tuner Klaus Steinmetz was never involved in the TE2800 development. The TE2800 was in fact designed by George Gallion and his team at the Opel Design Center in Rüsselsheim. ( see TE2800 Opel drawing).The team also produced the castings from which the body extensions, front spoiler were later produced. George Gallion and his team also designed Opel’s GT model – the mini-Corvette.