Published on: Feb 8, 2017 @ 01:53 (C) Jay Auger - website owner & author Notice: Any form of duplication methods (including but not limited to copy/paste of text and screen capture) of the website's content is strictly forbidden.
In 1982, the rear-wheel drive Manta was already set to replace the Ascona for Group B rally competition later on in 1983, but by then the four-wheel drive (4WD) Audi quattro had started to run circles around the competition at slippery World Rally Championship (WRC) events. Opel team manager Tony Fall was thus eager to commission a 4WD prototype of the Manta B 400.
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Tony Fall contacted FF Developments (FFD) for them to design a suitable 4WD system specifically for the Manta. The British company was already offering 4WD conversions on customer cars and were providing them for Opel Monza and Senator models and had engineered full-time 4WD systems for production for the AMC Eagle and aftermarket upgrades on Triumph 2000s and Stags and for the Range Rover.
For this very special study project, Opel provided a basic, all white, “narrow body” road car which was reportedly driven straight from Rüsselsheim, Germany, to FFD in Coventry, England. It is said that it took the Ferguson team approximately six months to produce a driveable prototype. For this, FFD raided their conversion parts bin and rigged up a system that is said to having used Triumph 1300 uprights and driveshafts for the front axle. A second Manta was reportedly converted to 4WD and updated to the rally “wide” specifications for comparison purposes. However, no official documents were made available from Opel Motorsport (as it is expected of most prototypes) to confirm the actual number of prototypes built.
Bill Munro, author of the book “Traction For Sale“ (FFD’s history), explains in detail the workings of the company’s flagship 4WD system:
“The heart of the Ferguson system is the Viscous Control torque splitting device. This consists of inter-meshed vanes running in a high viscosity silicone guild that transmits torque in varying degrees depending on its temperature, which is varied according to friction generated between the sets of vanes. This is dependent on the differential between the speeds of the front and rear driveshafts. When one axle starts to slip, torque is transferred to the other axle. It reacts almost instantaneously, maintaining traction and eliminating slippage.”
The particular system engineered for the Manta project was set up to distribute torque Front 36% / Rear 64%, which is typical for a car of this layout. The extra mass of the entire system was said to increase the weight of the car to around 1200 kg (2690 lbs). Besides this, the engine of the road car prototype is said to have been a basic 144 BHP “phase 1” unit from the B 400 production model and was left untouched. For the rally version, the engine was upgraded to the “phase 2” setup as used in the Group B rally Ascona B 400 at the time. However, it was reportedly re-tuned specifically for the 4WD system which resulted in a tamer 240 BHP to help favour better low-end torque.
The rally version of the 4WD prototype was delivered to the test drivers with a brash statement: “With this car you can no longer spin-out!“. The tests were performed under the supervision of then Opel Motorsport project head Erich Koch. The drivers quite enjoyed debunking Ferguson’s statement by spinning out the car multiple times thanks to harsh manoeuvres. Koch quickly came to the defence of the 4WD system by citing improper time to correctly set-up the car beforehand.
Measured acceleration tests followed. The setup was said to be able to propel the car from 0 to 100 kph (62 mph) in 6.3s on the tarmac, while the same test on “wet grass” wielded a time of 8.5s. In comparison, a rear-wheel drive rally Manta achieved the same “wet grass” test in 13.5s – taking five whole seconds more. This somewhat proved the potential of the system to further aid the Manta’s prowess in rallying.
The study was however not without its issues when test drivers reported some driveability problems such as torque-steer on the front axle, uneven performance while turning and strong understeer, albeit the latter could be compensated with proper driving techniques. The suspension had limited travel and was on the soft side which didn’t give the drivers a reassuring feeling under hard cornering. Furthermore, the extra weight of the 4WD system was said to be felt through the chassis which could have benefited from further strengthening to help dampen the vibrations it created. However, the ride was reported to be fairly smooth and enjoyable nonetheless.
A few months later, the same 4WD rally Manta prototype, sporting the license plate “GG-CM 537”, was officially shown as a publicity stunt before the 1983 Swedish Rally to promote the company’s upcoming switch from the Ascona to the Manta in the WRC (the debut car sported the same plate but was not 4WD). Ari Vatanen, who was a driver with Opel at the time, tested the prototype on the Swedish snow and reportedly told the journalists that it was “better than an Audi quattro” albeit the statement was most likely prepared by the company’s promotional department. However, the car definitely sparked the curiosity from the people present as they noted other subtle visual cues differentiating it from the 2WD Manta.
In fact, apart from the rally “Rothmans” livery, visual inspection of the car shows that it is equipped with a roll cage and that it does sport the squared arch extensions from Irmscher (as is the rally version). It also features the tall roof antennae (as is the rally version). However, it is equipped with the normal production hood (bonnet). The front bumper cover is different from both the road and rally version, it seems to be closer to the road version but with the lower air duct enlarged. The auxiliary lamps are also placed differently than on the definitive rally version as well. The grille itself has only one row of horizontal slits instead of the two on the rally version. Many of these features would put the car as a modified “pre-facelift” early production version of the Manta B 400 (which 23 were produced in 1981).
Since the prototype was still being reviewed by the GM/Opel board, there were no immediate plans to produce and homologate the 4WD Manta for Group B rally competition, so the company went forward with the rear-wheel drive version as planned. Ultimately, severe concerns were put forward that the 4WD Manta wouldn’t be readily competitive without a turbocharged engine, which was planned for 1984, especially if it had any hope of going head-to-head with the Audi quattro. Furthermore, the prototype Manta was said to be too heavy and unsophisticated, again when compared to the quattro which had a few years head start in its development. High conversion costs (approx £5,500 GBP / $10,000 USD per car (200 would be needed), in 1982 money, also was a strong concern. While the official reasons were never revealed, the whole project was abandoned.
It is arguable if Opel made the right decision since in its inaugural 1983 WRC season the rear-wheel drive Manta could only watch the fight between Audi and Lancia without being able to truly impose itself. At about the same time-frame, Tony Fall ordered another study based on the Manta, the Kadett D 400, as a stepping stone while the next generation car was being finalised. Meanwhile in 1984, overwhelmed by the fierce opposition, the Manta fell further down the leader-boards and Opel’s international rally efforts were basically put on hold. In one last push, Fall convinced the GM board that the German team’s future in Group B rallying was indeed with four-wheel drive and started development of the more nimble Kadett E 4S prototype equipped with the Xtrac system.
The Manta 4WD prototypes were reportedly sold after the project’s cancellation. Mick Quaife is said to have been the first private owner and briefly used the car in rallycross. “It was acceptably fast but not what I wanted” per his statement. The rally 4WD prototype is rumoured to still exist with its Rothmans livery but has since been converted back to rear-wheel drive after changing owners multiple times over its history.
The following specs are for the 4WD rally prototype
|Conception/Production||1982||# built: 2 (rumoured, one road, one rally)|
|Type||4S “phase 2” with Cosworth “crossflow” cylinder head, I-4, DOHC 16v, gas||located front longitudinal|
|Displacement||2410 cc||WRC: 2410 cc|
|Output power – torque||240 HP @ – rpm||– (- Nm) @ – rpm|
|Materials||block: cast iron||cylinder head: aluminium|
|Ignition||electronic, firing order 1-3-4-2|
|Lubrication system||dry sump|
|Type||four-wheel drive||5-speed gearbox|
|Differential ratio||N/A||Ferguson Formula (FFD) centre differential with viscous coupling. Front differential integrated into sump guard.|
|Type||steel monocoque chassis. 2 door coupe with integral roll cage. Kevlar bonnet, boot lid, front and rear wings with wheel arch extensions, side skirts, doors and rear spoiler|
|Front suspension||double unequal wishbones with coil springs, telescopic gas shock absorbers and anti-roll bar|
|Rear suspension||live axle with 4 longitudinal links, panhard rod, coil springs and telescopic gas shock absorbers|
|Steering system||rack and pinion||2.7 turns lock to lock|
|Brakes||front and rear ventilated rotors, cable handbrake||Dual-circuit with servo, adjustable ratio split front to rear|
|length: 4475 mm (176.2 in)||width: 1687 mm (66.4 in)||height: 1320 mm (52.0 in)|
|wheelbase: 2518 mm (99.1 in)||front track: 1384 mm (54.5 in)||rear track: 1375 mm (54.1 in)|
|Rims – tires||N/A||N/A|
|Dry/Unladen Weight||1200 kg (2690 lbs)||–|
|Weight/power||4.2 kg/HP (9.2 lb/HP)|
OTHER 4WD CONVERSIONS
Some Opel Mantas and Asconas were reportedly converted to four-wheel drive by using leftover Astra / Kadett 4×4 mechanical components after the official ban of Group B / S, circa 1986-87. These rigged-up cars often used the front hubs of the front-wheel drive Astra / Kadett and thus can be easily identified by the 4-bolt pattern on their front axle paired with the standard 5-bolt pattern of the Manta / Ascona’s rear axle. These cars are not to be confused with the original Ferguson prototypes!
AWIN Affiliates Program – by purchasing books with the links provided here you are also helping to support the Rally Group B Shrine!*
Traction For Sale: The Story of Ferguson Formula Four-Wheel Drive
(C) Article by Jay Auger – website owner & author
- PARTIAL SOURCE: (C) Auto Moto and Sport Magazine – January 1983 (translated, abridged, and much modified)
- Images & videos are the property of their original owners
DISCLAIMER / LEGAL NOTICES*
- Ari Vatanen
- Everyone at Opel AG
- Peter Hass (Opel Motorsport)
- Opel Manta Owners Forum (various insights)
- Opel Manta Owners Club (various insights, picture)
- Bill Munro – author of Traction For Sale (for providing much appreciated input on the Ferguson system)
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