RIDE OF THE WEEK! James Ritchie and his 1970 OPEL GT…

What goes around, comes around. And that’s this week’s Ride of the Week.

A few days ago, I got an email from an old friend — someone I grew up with.

And although I knew him, I did not know he loved cars as much as I did. After almost 50 years, James Ritchie reached out to me to say that he’s been watching our lives coincide with cars and the car life.

To my surprise, Ritchie was still in my neck of the woods in Newbury Park, and he had a cool car. So off I went to Sports Car Classics, a shop focusing on Jaguars.

As I arrived with another friend via a 1968 Jag E-Type, I was greeted by the smiling face of Ritchie and the reveal of his pride and joy, a 1970 screaming yellow Opel GT.

And thus began the kindred stories…

Among doing a lot of things in his life, Ritchie became a classic car restorer with a specialty in British marques.

And despite being over 6-feet tall, Ritchie found some love in the little yellow rocket parked just outside.

“This Opel GT is powered by 4-cylinder, 2-liter camshaft-in-head engine design, which is an upgrade from the stock 1.9-liter plant,” he explains.

“It’s normally aspirated through a 32/36 Weber carburetor and should, although this engine has never been dynamometer tested, produce somewhere in the 115 horsepower range.”

But it looks like it had to be powered by three really angry squirrels. But let’s move on.

“The mods to this GT put it in the ‘restomod’ classification with upgrades such as a Getrag 5-speed transmission, lower front transverse leaf spring, an exhaust header with a 2-inch exhaust, electronic ignition, polyurethane bushings on all the suspension points and other upgrades.”

Obviously, Ritchie knows what he’s doing, and there’s nothing more exciting than having a unique project car. I mean, when was the last time you saw one of these?

He bought the car in 2005 from its previous owner in Thousand Oaks.

“The plan was to buy the car, fix it up, and have it be for my wife to use,” Ritchie said. “As I started working, I realized that the car was going to need to be brought all the way down and essentially rebuilt.”

The whole family was involved in the restoration and it was completed by 2009.

The 1973 Opel Manta Luxus was Ritchie’s first car as a teenager, and he loved it. But even back then, he knew that eventually he would get the very exotic-looking GT.

“Being able to return to Opel as an adult has been awesome,” he said.

“My family tells me regularly that the car suits me perfectly.”

Ritchie always did have unique taste and, to listen to him talk about it, he epitomizes my philosophy of the importance of doing what you love.

The fact that this whole car, except paint, was torn down and put back together by him is point of pride beyond measure.

“It’s not my daily driver, but I enjoy being able to take drives on the weekends and it’s got terrific sporty handling,” he said.

“You can’t be a passive driver with it.”

His best short story with the car comes from the 2012 Ventura Motorsports show.

“I was being directed onto the lawn and was told to follow the other Ferraris to their show area,” he said. “I needed to point out that I was just a humble Opel GT!”

I guess those guys in Ventura needed a cool car upgrade. Why would you stick something cool like this Opel GT with a bunch of silly Ferraris?

And, finally, Ritchie mentions my favorite town.

“PCH in Malibu is dripping in car culture with extreme examples of freshly birthed hypercars, all the way through pastime classics and antiques,” he said.

“To drive here is to drive the same roads that countless automobile commercials, TV shows and movies have used as a backdrop to show one of the most desirable southern California motoring locations: Malibu!”

I couldn’t have said it better. Be sure to check out Ritchie’s ride at the next Wheels and Waves show at the Malibu Country Mart on Feb. 18!

Want to be featured in Ride of the Week? Send Fireball an email at askfireball@fireballtim.com.


FULLY RESTORED 1970 OPEL GT – FIREBALL MALIBU VLOG 741 – Fireball tours Southern California, exploring Car Culture among English Cars, Metropolitans, Concept Cars and more. Visiting Sports Car Classics, he spots a 1970 Opel GT.

The Opel GT is a front-engine, rear-drive two-seat sports car manufactured and marketed by Opel in two generations — separated by a 34-year hiatus.

The first generation Opel GT (1968-1973) debuted as a styling exercise in 1965 at the Paris and Frankfurt motor shows.

The production vehicle used mechanical components from the contemporary Opel Kadett B and two-door hard top bodywork by French contractor Brissonneau & Lotz.

The styling of the 1970 Opel GT was often cited as similar to the 1968 Chevrolet Corvette which went on sale in September 1967.

The Opel GT was equipped with a base 1.1 L OHV straight-4 engine, which produced 67 hp (SAE) at 6,000 rpm.

However, most buyers chose an optional 1.9 L camshaft in head engine, which produced 102 hp (SAE) at 5200 to 5400 rpm. Some of the early 1968 models also came with a slightly higher compression “H” code cylinder head.

In 1971, due to emissions regulations, Opel reduced the compression ratio of the 1.9 L engine used in the US and output fell to 83 hp (SAE). There was also a GT/J model, which was a less expensive version of the 1900-engined GT which was sold only in Europe.

Standard transmission was a manual four-speed. A three-speed automatic was available with the 1.9 L engine. The model run of the Opel GT was from 1968 to 1973. The Opel GT uses a steel unibody and a conventional front-engined, rear-wheel drive layout.

The engine is mounted far back in the chassis to improve weight distribution. Front suspension consists of upper A-arms and a lower transverse leaf spring. A live axle and coil springs are used in the rear.

The power-assisted braking system uses discs in the front, drums in the rear. Steering is unassisted. One unusual feature of the Opel GT is the operation of the pop-up headlights.

They are manually operated, by way of a large lever along the center console next to the shifter. Unlike most pop-up headlights, they both rotate in the same direction (counterclockwise from inside the car) about a longitudinal axis.

One standard joke about GT owners was that you can easily spot them due to the heavy muscles on their right arm built up by using the lever to pop up the headlights. Designed by Opel Stylist Erhard Schnell, the Opel GT is a fastback, that has neither an externally accessible trunk nor a conventional hatchback.

There is a parcel shelf behind the seats that can only be accessed through the main doors. Behind the parcel shelf is a fold-up panel that conceals a spare tire and jack.

The interior of the Opel GT is surprisingly large for a car of its size, owing to its original design process (exterior metal was sculpted around an interior model).

Headroom and legroom are sufficient for those over 6 feet (1.83 m) tall.

During 1968 to 1973, a total of 103,463 cars were sold. The most collectable GTs are probably the first few hundred cars hand-assembled in 1968 and the 1968–1970 models with the 1.1 L engine, which totaled out at 3,573 cars.

Of the later cars 10,760 were the cheaper model (GT/J), which lacked nearly all chrome parts and offered fewer standard features.

In some markets, items like a limited slip differential, front and rear anti-sway bars, heated rear window, and engine bay light were standard, although most cars were shipped without them.