An in-depth look at the new Opel GT concept, CAR+ March 2016

Published: 24 February 2016

► We take an in-depth look at the Opel GT
► The design marks the 50th anniversary
► Same turbocharged engine found in the Corsa

This curious curveball, with rear-drive, bizarre doors, odd tyres and job-share Vauxhall badge, channels a 50-year-old concept. What does it all means?

The inspiration came from the Experimental GT, a mid-1960s concept that looked part Corvette, part Miura, which Opel blew the dust off to mark the 50th anniversary of its Rüsselsheim design centre. ‘As a design team, it was great to pull all that stuff out and look at what was done in the past,’ recalls Mark Adams, GM Europe’s design VP. ‘But what really struck us was how simple and how small that vehicle was.  And that started generating the “Mmm, what would a modern interpretation of that look like in today’s very complex world?”’

Two years later, this new Opel GT concept – badged as a Vauxhall here for we Brits – is the answer. Appearing at the 2016 Geneva motor show, this is a tiny car – approximately the size of the latest Mazda MX-5 – and envisions ‘a vehicle that has a huge emotional connection but one that can be aspired to by anyone. It’s not a £1million car that only a few people in the world can afford.’

Underlining this and the emphasis on simplicity, it weighs less than a tonne and is powered by a front-mid-mounted, 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo petrol engine, a development of the production unit already in use in the Adam and Corsa. But here it produces 143bhp and drives the rear wheels instead of the fronts; with a sequential gearbox to speed through the changes, 0-62mph is estimated at less than eight seconds, and top speed is 134mph. 

Opel GT concept

Clearly, though, whatever the performance it would be secondary to the appearance. For not only has someone painted the front tyres red, they appear to have forgotten to fit any windows. And at first glance it seems to be lacking the requisite number of shut lines for the doors.

‘It was one of the very first sketches that led to this design. We experimented for several weeks beyond it, but I kept coming back to this sketch,’ says Adams. The sketch included that two-tone body: ‘I really found intriguing the light colour running through into the glass and then the dark colour plugging in on top of it. A bit like yin and yang, two elements coming together in a very simple way.’

Not only does this use of the light and dark ‘exaggerate and enhance the proportions’, according to Adams, it also enabled Vauxhall/Opel to overcome a typical limitation with sports car design – the tension between wanting a ‘light and airy’ interior in combination with a ‘tailored’ exterior, which can lead to high beltlines, tiny windows and claustrophobia.

The GT solves this problem by using ‘transitioning glass’ to integrate the windows into the bodywork, so you get what Adams calls ‘a very solid, sporty and sleek appearance from the outside’ with ‘a very fresh graphic’, yet a low beltline that’s only obvious from the inside. This gives the GT that light and airy feeling and an unexpectedly ‘commanding driving position’ – though whether drivers would still think that level of exposure is a good thing when rubbing elbows with truck axles remains to be seen.

‘To keep that simplicity going, I challenged the guys to only have one cut line on the door,’ Adams continues. Sounds impossible, but they’ve done it by using a fulcrum where the conventional hinge would be and having the forward part of the door pivot into the front bodywork – something that surely only a compact engine like a 1.0-litre three-pot would make possible. This shifts the forward shut line well away from its conventional position by the A-pillar, further exaggerating the GT’s long-bonnet shape.

On the inside, back-projection is used instead of conventional instruments. ‘It’s walking away from taking the rectangular blocks of regular screens and trying to fit them in, to making one sculptural surface where your information is displayed.’ Simplicity again.

Opel GT concept

The red splashes seem to clash with this ideal, but they’re part reference to the use of bold colours in modern product design – think Nokia smartphones – and part homage to a 1928 Opel Motoclub 500 motorbike with red tyres, which happens to be sitting in the museum also located on the Rüsselsheim site. ‘That really triggered off a thought about using the rubber on the tyre, almost like describing the energy created pulsing through the car.’ The back tyres remain black to emphasise the ‘heavy traction’ of the rear-wheel-drive layout in contrast to the ‘spontaneity’ of the steering at the front. Of course they do.

All of which is fine for a concept, but what really is Vauxhall/Opel hoping to achieve with this car? While the Mk4 MX-5 appears to have captured the buying public’s imagination, after a lot of soul-searching Nissan canned the similarly back-to-basics iDX coupe project due to a perceived lack of demand. Is there really a market for this kind of thing?

‘We feel that there’s a demand for vehicles that connect with your heart and your head, and I think this is definitely one of those,’ Adams confirms. ‘We’re trying to pare back everything that’s not needed, and I think people are looking for that in the modern world. Something you can go have fun in, that is not overly complex but is easy to use and puts a smile on your face.’ 

Is that a commitment to build it? Not quite. ‘Obviously there are challenges. But we’re looking and investigating and seeing what’s possible. We haven’t made any calls at this point. But this car is already influencing a lot of things happening in the studio. That’s what a great concept car does – it doesn’t just connect at the level of that particular execution, it connects at a broader level.’

While that’s unlikely to mean red tyres on the next Corsa, it does suggest a continuation of the move towards lightweight design and fun handling that’s already been started by the latest Astra.

Breakdown

That front end: Concept’s droopy snout mimics original Opel GT, but it’s not retro, says design chief Mark Adams

Those red tyres: They’re meant to look spontaneous. In fact they look silly. Not helped by ‘rollerskate’ wheels

That smooth look: ‘Transitioning glass’ simplifies shape. 1.0-litre turbo vents through integrated exhausts

Those instruments: They feature back-projection to simplify design and avoid ‘rectangular blocks of regular screens’

Those strange doors: Doors pivot on a fulcrum, hiding the front shut line. Looks cool, but is it practical?

The specs: Opel GT

Price: £20,000 (est) 
Engine: 998cc 12v 3-cyl turbo petrol, 143bhp, 151lb ft
Transmission: Six-speed sequential with paddleshifters, rear-wheel drive
Performance: Sub-8.0sec 0-62mph, 134mph 
Weight: Less than 1000kg
Made from Steel:  On sale 2020. Maybe

Read more from the March 2016 issue of CAR magazine

By CJ Hubbard

Former CAR magazine associate editor, road tester, organiser, extremely variable average wheel count

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