The Manta MANTRA

Neil Boy­lan bought his Manta sight-un­seen… surely it’d be OK? Con­fronted by the rot­ten re­al­ity, he learned to weld

Practical Classics (UK) - - THE BIG RESTORATION -

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.

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