The Manta MANTRA
Neil Boylan bought his Manta sight-unseen… surely it’d be OK? Confronted by the rotten reality, he learned to weld
Like many a 17-year-old during the Eighties Neil Boylan was into his turntables, it’s just in his case it was the one in his local Vauxhall dealership. ‘There was a red Manta GT/E Exclusive on it going round and round, and I can remember thinking: “I’ve got to have one”.’ Fast forward two decades and an outing to a Welsh rally summoned forth that long buried memory. ‘A guy with a green 400 put it in a ditch, and my mates and I helped him out. As he drove off, it went “bwaaaah” and I thought, yes I love that. I have to have my Manta.’
Neil found this 1987 model on ebay. ‘The guy was a classic car buyer and seller – the ad had two grainy pictures. I asked him what it was like, he said: “It could do with a good paint job and new rear arches, but it’ll make a nice car”.’ Neil paid £500 and another £100 to have it transported from Sheffield. ‘When it arrived I got in, and it stank of wet dog – the floors were rotten. It allegedly had three months MOT so I quickly caned it around my village. Despite pulling heavily to the left, I thought: “I love this – it’s staying”.’
Where to start?
Stay it did, in the garage for months. ‘I could push my finger through some of the panels, so I took it to the lad that services my cars for a professional opinion. He said ‘it’ll be nice when it’s done, but you’ll have your work cut out.’ Believing all he needed were some bits, Neil then visited a breaker’s yard. ‘The lad there hadn’t had one in for years, but he gave me the number for a “fella that’s mad for them – he’ll put you right”.’ The chap in question was Ian Goacher. ‘He asked what I’d bought, and what I’d done to it. He told me to take the wings off. OK, ‘how?’ I asked. At that point he said he’d be round to have a look.’
Having purchased a secondhand MIG welder for £70, Neil set to work. Another friend Steve Moulton advised him to practice on scrap metal first and then not to try and put little bits in, instead to take a big bit out and put a big bit back in. ‘That became my Manta mantra.’
‘ I can fix it, I won’t be beaten.’ That became his second mantra’
Working his way around the car, he completed both A-pillars, sills, all wheelarches, chassis legs and doors. Then it was time for the front end. In need of a decent nose cone, Ian put him in touch with Martin Warner in the Opel Manta Owners’ Club. ‘He’s a great guy,’ he says. ‘There’s nothing he can’t make or fix. His place had bits everywhere, and a nose cone, which I got for £15 – it’d cost about £500 now.’ He asked if Neil knew how to put it on. Cue a smile, as he recalls his answer: ‘kind of’.
If I had a hammer
He shoved two big pieces of 2x2 into the chassis legs, then slid the nose cone on, clamped and welded it up. ‘I’m not very good at maths and stuff like that, but I’m quite practical. I enjoy making things and it became a bit of a challenge… I can fix that, I won’t be beaten.’ That became his second Manta mantra and, combined with specialist equipment, ‘a big hammer’, would serve him well. Next up, the final piece of the bodyshell jigsaw, the roof.
With his beyond redemption, Ian sourced another from a rusty spares car owned by Danny Ormerod. ‘I just went up with a steel saw, cut it off and brought it home. Even today people can’t believe I cut through the pillars, but what was the worst that could happen?’. Jim Murphy ‘fits windows, great with a tape measure’, as well as Ian and Martin, mucked in and gave Neil a hand. ‘We all loved watching American Hot Rod and welded bracing across the doors, then marked everything up ready.’ Despite that the worst did indeed happen, with the front pillars shooting forward because of the tension. ‘I’m not easily frightened by things, though,’ says Neil.
After welding the rear and the middle, the front pillars remained 6mm out. Cue ratchet straps as the car was pulled straight, with Martin and Neil welding a respective front pillar simultaneously. ‘I had a video of the last Manta being made,’ admits Neil. ‘It was priceless and showed how they originally did it. We cut a bit lower than the factory joins to avoid having to spot weld round the edges, which would have been a real pig as it’s on the gutter.’ With the body sent to another aquaintance for painting – Neil built him a patio in return, and sourced paints from Spectrum Paint and Colourtone – he set about the mechanicals. Luckily, there was less to do. The engine required a de-gunk, paint job, new water pump and clutch, while the still sound gearbox was also cleaned and detailed. The front crossmember was stripped, cleaned and had new bushes fitted, with the rear receiving similar treatment.
Le personal touch
‘Jim came with me to pick the body up once painted,’ says Neil. ‘We had towing dollies, but had never used them before. We pushed the body up two ramps, locked
the wheels in and strapped it down. However, we didn’t realise that they pivot, and as we turned out of the farm it nearly rolled off!’
Safely home (just), he set to building the car up again and putting his own mark on it. The Manta collective again aided with refitting the engine and gearbox, while Neil sourced superior earlier Manta B brake calipers to replace the sticking-prone sliding originals. The interior only required a deep clean, although new door cards were fabricated.’
In this day and age of classiche this and that, and much restoration to original spec, didn’t he have any quandaries about personalising his? ‘No, none. The colour was originally Carmine Red, an Opel colour, but I went for Vauxhall Flame Red, which is a bit zingier. It has a K&N air filter, for the noise; secondhand sports exhaust, ditto (from friend Andy Rutter). Earlier GT/E decals just for something a bit different, the rear lights are lightly smoked and replica BBS wheels.’
To MOT and beyond
Three years after the project began, the Manta went for an MOT and failed because it was ‘properly slammed’. Cue new springs for a more reserved suspension drop of just 40mm, and the ticket duly materialised. ‘I just thought, I’ve done it,’ says Neil.
‘Now I look back at the pictures and think “wow, I really did all that” – loads of times I could have fixed it with a big hammer, but I did enjoy the process. The car’s not perfect but it gets used a lot, and driven to shows.’
Through the club the car’s history has come to light. Purchased from the main GT/E importer Steve Thompson of Walsall, the original owner drove it for several years before it was parked up due to a headlight MOT failure. It passed to his friend Simon Powell for £100, who fitted Capri units. ‘He had Shire horses,’ says Neil. ‘And told me he used to put a full bale of hay on the back spoiler because ‘it just fitted perfectly’ and drive it through the pig farm to the horses. It’d had a hard life, towing all sorts and he couldn’t believe it was still going.’
That rugged life lived makes his GT/E resurrection all the more impressive, something that wife Donna and daughter Olivia agree with. ‘My missus said: “That car is you, you’ve put your heart and soul into it”, but I couldn’t have done it without the club. Those guys really take care of you.’
Any final words of guidance for readers thinking of embarking on the same? ‘Take your time, and do it to the best of your ability,’ is Neil’s forthcoming, and most important, Manta mantra.
Neil has got his Manta at long last and can be very proud of his work.
The Manta collective signed the car.
Interior only needed a deep clean, but new door cards were fabricated.
On the road, this Manta is a real driver’s car.