Opel Monza - (1978–1986)
The Scirocco was a reliable little car with a wicked character. The Mazda was a super rare Japanese cruiser but they were both lacking in one department…POWER!
It’s the age old question. What car can I buy for the least amount of money with the most amount of speed? My prayers were answered by Germany once again when I stumbled upon the Opel brand and found that their old luxury motors were selling for peanuts in the market place.
I remember seeing the Vauxhall/Opel Senator dressed in police uniform, here in the UK as a kid. If you were a would be thief and you had one of these on your tail, you’d better have a lead foot or balls of steel if you wanted to out run that interceptor.
Trying to follow GM’s global branding is like trying to follow a stabbed cat. One thing to mention now is that in the UK, Opel was often re-branded as Vauxhall with a few exceptions. The car I had found was a 1983 Opel Monza 3.0L E.
Mine was the A2 model, the original ‘A1’ Monza arrived on the scene back in 1978 and was direct competition to the BMW’s and Mercedes of the same class. Looks wise I think the Monza stood up but the first Monza spec and materials had a lot to be desired. Utilizing parts from earlier Opel models like the Rekord, the cloth seats and mountains of plastic, failed to impress the world market.
When the A2 model came out in the 80’s, it had undergone some plastic surgery. Improved lines, as well as having less chrome and more power. Popularity grew for this niche luxury coupe. Germany’s love of David Hasslehoff perhaps inspired the full 80’s package in the GSE model, complete with Recaro seats, on-board computer, digital dash, minus Mr Feeny.
I purchased the Monza from a man who resided in a large caravan who said things like “I got dokments” and “It’s got spenchsions”. He wore shiny black shoes, faded pale blue jeans, a worn out stripy shirt and a casual blazer. Now you’re probably thinking I’m nuts for driving 80’s cars as daily rides anyway but perhaps even more mental for buying a car from a gypsy, with a ten year olds vocabulary.
When I sat in the car, I felt like a pilot of a passenger jet, minus the depression and the hangover. The seat was oversized, spongy and soft, it went well with the even larger dashboard, full of large switches and buttons and dials. The blue velour reminded me of the Mazda and that was only going to be a good thing. Leathers alright if you’re a lizard but for me, it would be velour every time. It remains a fairly normal temperature no matter what the season and in this car, the royal blue of the cloth really set off the interior against the black.
The Monza is a long car, a little over fifteen feet long, so it has quite a presence on the road. It’s deceptive ‘fastback’ look caught me off guard a number of times. I went on a date with a girl who said “Park it in front of the house, there is space”, yeah, if by space you mean the tiny British, Morris Minor sized parking spaces of the 50’s. The car caused pedestrians to walk on the road briefly to get around.
I just loved the look of the fastback coupe though, the oversized tail end and long bonnet was something of a rarity in the UK. Back in its day, this was the kind of car your managing director would pull up in, exiting whilst chatting away on an early mobile phone about business and then later he’d leave you at the carpark in plume of smoke in an effortlessly powerful event.
Opels cast iron, three litre, six cylinder lump started first time with no hesitation, the lovely deep roar from the front end and the burbling exhaust notes harmonized quickly to the tune of something quite dignified. This would be my first automatic, obviously a manual would have been preferable…I did really want the famous GSE model but again, this was what I could get with the budget. During the test drive she purred along beautifully, the interior smelt a bit ‘horsey’ for sure and there were cobwebs in the back but I could see the potential. The engine had been rebuilt professionally at some point, I think the mileage of the chassis would have put Neil Armstrong to shame but the work had been put into the car and she held up well.
Excited, nervous but happy enough, I sat with the guy in his fibreglass home whilst he tried to remember how to spell and fill out the appropriate forms.
Driving the Monza for the first time at night was a fairly terrifying experience, butterflies once again, because I had no idea if the old girl would get me home or not. Once out on the open road, I left the little rural village, flicked on the full beam and cruised all the way back.
Surprisingly the car didn’t miss a beat, only catching me off guard with this strange experience of a car without a clutch. I quite liked it. The steering wheel felt too large at first, like steering a ship, but once I had gotten used to not having to move my hands to change gear, the power steering was a joy. The last stretch of road was the motorway and this is where the car comes into its own, cruising at the speed limit only required an ounce of foot pressure and you’re left to enjoy the low rumble of the strong engine and gearbox, sat in an armchair.
The following day I gave it the once over and checked the fluid levels were correct, before heading out for a decent drive in the sun.
What the Monza lacked in refinements it made up for in comfort and performance. Sure, the three speed Borgwarner gearbox isn’t exactly intelligent or refined but it does the job. Handling wise the Monza will surprise you, the back end never wallows or drifts, the old school heavy duty brakes are more than enough to halt progress quickly and the torque was something that always brought a smile to my face. Even though this car was released the year i was born, I once saw off a Mercedes sport, fifteen years it’s junior, licking 130mph before running out of road.
The heater matrix had packed in, and for the majority of winter I had to drive to work with gloves and a scarf added to my layers, with the windows down to stop them steaming up. I spent roughly twenty four hours over two days installing the new one, once the weather was bearable to work in it.
Sometimes owning a classic car like this is a little like spinning plates but the reward from the blood sweat and tears are some great driving experiences.
I didn’t care that i had acquired the less refined luxury coupe from this era, it looked great from all angles, inside and out. If you park up your car and you don’t look back at it when you walk away, you’ve purchased the wrong car.
The big bad Opel was rare back in the day, so you can imagine how rare it is today. She had already been saved once, engine rebuilt and bodywork stitched up. I did what I could to keep it together but in the end I had to part ways and again, sold it to someone who would give it a good home.