Simon Downs 1971 Opel Commodore GS/E
The Opel Commodore was introduced in 1967, launched as an upmarket version of the Rekord. It was to introduced to help push the brand into the luxury car market, that had been dominated by Mercedes at the time. Initially available with 2.2 or 2.5 litre Straight-six engines and available as a 2 or 4 door saloon or a 2 door hardtop coupe. General Motors had started to globalise the brand, and much of the development costs were shared across the world. The South American Chevrolet Opala shared platforms with the Opel, as well as other parts. The Australian Holden Monaro was visually very similar, and used the same styling cues.
The range topping GS/E coupe was introduced in 1970. The E stood for petrol injection (Einspritz) as it used the Bosch D-jetronic fuel injection system. The GS/E uses the smaller capacity 2.5 litre unit rather than the later Carburettor fed 2.8 litre but the fuel injection system made the car more powerful and faster, and at the time was the most powerful Opel in production, as a result the GS/E was a regular on the motor sports circuit too.
The coupe’s chassis was specifically developed to reflect that it was to be a pillar less vehicle, it needed the specific sill redesign to maintain body shell rigidity and an inner strengthener required to counterbalance the lack of a B pillar. Other specific cues that differentiate the car from the GS were the wheels, as well as improved equipment, over riders
The GS/E however was a slow seller, hindered by its Left hand drive format and it’s high retail price of £2126 in 1971 which placed in firmly in the E-type Jaguar market, as a consequence only 2,574 GS and GS/E variants were sold worldwide. Production ceased in 1972, when replaced by a newer design, the GS/E name continued into the Commodore B series and remained part of the line up until 1977.
Simon Downs from Buckinghamshire bought the 1971 Cardinal Red car in 2006 and had literally saved it from the banger racing circuit. When he bought it it was found with one key and was originally fitted with a vinyl roof with pencil marks still on the roof. This car was assembled in Biel/Bienne in Switzerland as one of ‘GM Suisse Montage’ knock down kits, with panels being shipped over from Germany to overcome the taxation laws. The factory continued to use the factory to assemble GM cars well into the 70’s.
The body while complete and while mostly original it needed a lot of work, which was shared with Opel restorers Suffolk County Manta’s.
The car was stripped down completely. While the body was being taken care of, Simon set to powder coating the entire front subframe and components before reassembly. Suspension and bushes were renewed, as well as the time consuming job of sourcing a huge number of parts via the internet, auto jumbles and forums, everything from a pair of rear panels sourced from South America to locating UK specification headlamps to locating NOS rear quarter trim pieces.
The rear panel from Simons car was for a Chevrolet Opala – almost the same design, but without the rear vents. In hindsight a better alternative as they were rust traps. The car also uses a modern gearbox which is far easier to live with and improves fuel economy and also finished with a digital audio player, rather than relying on MW/LW radio.
The engine has been stripped down, cleaned and rebuild.
The fuel injection system was the first commercially produced system for cars by BOSCH, and was shared with various cars such as the Jaguar XJ12 and Citroen SM. Simon needed to source new injectors, but luckily there was the knowledge and availability out there.
All microfiche files were recently destroyed with the demolishing of the factory but Simon managed to obtain proof of its date of manufacturer directly from GM Suisse SA. The DVLA needed to inspect that car prior to releasing an age related plate.
Simon himself said that the secret is not to rush with this scale of project. He’d had been tempted to cut some corners, but this wasn’t an option for a car this unique. Part of the fun of restoring a car like this is discovering new old stock, in far flung parts of the world, and learning how the car was assembled.
Parts were not cheap, typically a front wing would cost 500 Euro’s. He’s been enjoying the car, after 4 years of restoration and picking up awards at almost every show he attends! After some initial teething issues with the reliability after the restoration, Simon took the time and trouble to explore and resolve each issue – something that requires a great deal of patience as well as knowledge sharing. The sense of completing such an undertaking is a once in a lifetime achievement for Simon. he’s said that he’d enjoyed sourcing the bits required and with each delivery the excitement of opening new/replacement parts is intoxicating.
I spoke to Simon at the Retro Cars event at Santa Pod, and was kind enough to tell me all aboout his car. Not surprisingly he picked up an award for the best 1970’s car of the event.