How to turn an Opel GT into a budget Corvette race car

By Staff Writer
Jan 28, 2023 | Opel, Corvette, 24 Hours of Lemons, Opel GT, Low-Buck Tech, Tinyvette | Posted in News and Notes | From the Oct. 2022 issue | Never miss an article

The Opel GT is a frequent flyer on “forgotten classics” and “affordable vintage autos” lists. In other words, it’s an old car that can be scored for cheap. 

That’s obviously good news for vintage enthusiasts on a budget. The news gets better when you consider that those lists are naturally focused on nice examples. Cars that are a little rough around the edges are cheaper still. And, as Team Tinyvette discovered, cars even worse than that are basically free–perfect for Lemons.

Team captain Mike Meier wasn’t sure what he was looking at when he found two Opel GT carcasses decomposing under a tree. “I thought they were Japanese cars,” he recalls. Struck by the curvaceous, mini-C3-Corvette-lookalike bodywork, Mike struck a deal–$500 for both cars–and set out to learn more. 

The small German (as it turns out) coupe is a fairly simple machine with a 1.9-liter, four-cylinder engine connected to a four-speed manual gearbox and a solid rear axle. Coil springs in the rear are paired with a (Corvette-familiar) transverse leaf spring up front. Front discs and rear drums provide more than adequate braking for the sub-2000-pound machine.

[The Porsche-Beating Opel GT]

The overall lack of complexity makes wrenching easy–something the team has greatly appreciated. Any older hardware facing the torture test of Lemons is bound to have some failures, and in more than a decade of campaigning the Opel, the team has cycled through numerous engines and transmissions. The team estimates it’s swapped out at least 20 engines. The current powerplant is still based on the stock Opel four-cylinder architecture but is a homespun 2.5-liter version assembled around a long-stroke diesel crank. 

With iconic (what else?) Corvette Racing livery, the Tinyvette is a familiar sight at West Coast Lemons races, and it’s racked up several class wins and other awards to go with all those blown-up engines. The car also sees regular street use, makes frequent car show appearances, and even completed a coast-to-coast Cannonball run. (In fact, it was a Cannonball-and-a-half, with the team running nonstop from California to New York and then back to California again.) 

A crowning motorsports achievement was making a top speed run during Bonneville Speed Week, where the car registered 117 mph before melting a piston and ejecting the dipstick through the hood. 

Some gearheads lament turning old cars into Lemons racers, but in the case of the Tinyvette, the journey from misidentified hulk rotting under a tree all the way to Bonneville is a pretty impressive trip. At the very least, it’s not bad for a “forgotten classic.”

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preach (dudeist priest)
preach (dudeist priest) GRM+ Memberand SuperDork
8/26/22 8:37 a.m.

They also did a double cannonball trip. 2 guys in a caged small car 6000 miles. Documented in the book Horrible Idea.

EDIT: They are over 30 lemons races as well.

stroker PowerDork
8/26/22 9:37 a.m.

Needs moar John Greenwood.



strawman GRM+ Memberand New Reader
8/26/22 7:33 p.m.

As a former member of Team Tinyvette, I believe our crowning achievement was knocking out transmission swaps within 45 minutes from the time the tow truck dropped it off and our getting it back on the track. I think I still have burns on my scalp from scalding gear oil that poured out of one dead box! Another fond memory is looking up at the door handle of the stretch limo "Rolling Chicane" while passing it in the Esses at Buttonwillow Raceway, and essentially seeing eye-to-glowing-brake-rotor... it really is a small car.

preach (dudeist priest)
preach (dudeist priest) GRM+ Memberand SuperDork
8/26/22 8:52 p.m.

In reply to strawman :

All of you are legend. My GT is in the drive, yet does not. 

livinon2wheels GRM+ Memberand New Reader
8/26/22 10:14 p.m.

I'll never forget my opel gt my first car, taught me how to fix my own car, made mistakes learned from them.  the car made it almost 100k before the engine blew. Fortunately that happened after I traded the car for a Honda not sure that was a great choice but it was what economics required. Miss that car more than you know.

Larry734 New Reader
11/1/22 5:42 p.m.

I remember from the C&D road test of the Opel GT that they said it had alot of  understeer.

Bigben HalfDork
11/21/22 11:55 p.m.
Larry734 said:

I remember from the C&D road test of the Opel GT that they said it had alot of  understeer.

Bind in the transverse front leaf spring caused the front end to be very stiff and the US models didn't get a rear sway bar, so yes stock ones understeer. 

CrustyRedXpress GRM+ Memberand Dork
11/22/22 11:36 a.m.

In reply to Bigben :

Hey, didn't you run one of these at the challenge?

Colin Wood
Colin Wood Associate Editor
11/22/22 11:44 a.m.

All this talk has made me want an Opel GT. Anyone giving one away?*




*(Please nobody actually give me one)

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