Visiting a Legend

How do you actually address a living legend? Jens Cooper faced this question a while ago. While doing research for the book ‘GT Love,’ which he wrote together with Opel General Director Internal & Corporate Communications Harald Hamprecht, the employee of the Classic Workshop and ‘keeper of Opel’s history’ had gotten hold of the addresses of fans of the legendary sports coupé from all over the world with the help of U.S. GT enthusiast Gil Wesson. The idea was to have them share their personal GT story for the book.

And this is how Jens Cooper came across the name of Donald J. Kutyna, a retired four-star U.S. Air Force general and an American legend. Kutyna studied aerospace technology and received numerous awards, and he flew 120 missions as a pilot during the Vietnam War. His F-105 fighter bomber, which he called the ‘Polish Glider’ in reference to his origins and which officially bears the suffix ‘Thunderchief’, today adorns the Aviation Museum in Krakow, Poland. He then became a military commander who rose to the position of Commander-in-Chief of the North American Air and Space Defense Command (NORAD) and the U.S. Space Command prior to his retirement.


Departure: One ride per day in the GT was an integral part of Jens Cooper’s stay with Donald J. Kutyna.


General Kutyna shook hands with many American presidents: This photo shows Ronald Reagan thanking him for a job well done.

Kutyna was also a successful swimmer and skier. Some say the scriptwriters of the eighties blockbuster ‘Top Gun’ may have modeled the main character played by Tom Cruise after him. In the 2013 film ‘The Challenger,’ actor Bruce Greenwood undoubtedly impersonated the general: Kutyna was also a member of the investigating commission that discovered the cause of the Challenger catastrophe. The U.S. space shuttle exploded shortly after its launch in 1986, leaving seven astronauts dead. The film recounts the events.


A Career Ready For The Big Screen


Cooper was particularly interested in one detail of this story: A general’s Opel GT was supposed to have provided a decisive clue to solving the mystery surrounding the accident. Could this be true?

Cooper set to investigating this rumor, so he wrote an e-mail to the retired four-star general, unsure of whether he would get any response at all. But his answer arrived promptly. The 84-year-old retired general was very sympathetic toward the researcher from Germany from the start. Only three e-mails and one phone call later, a stunned Jens Cooper was invited to Donald J. Kutyna’s home in Colorado Springs.


Reminiscent of Tom Cruise in Top Gun: Young Donald J. Kutyna in front of a legendary F 104.

Taking a peek into the family album: Donald and Lucy Kutyna at a young age with their two sons.


Lucy and Donald J. Kutyna in the ‘80s.

 

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I’ve met a lot of great people with the GT, including beautiful women.

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Of course, the keeper of Opel’s heritage accepted the invitation. Not least because he himself is the son of an Air Force pilot. As chance would have it, Kutyna was his father’s superior for some time. Soon after the invitation, a nervous Jens Cooper knocked on the general’s door. He ended up experiencing an unforgettable week,

which consisted of daily GT excursions through national parks, including the ‘Garden of God’ in the Shawnee National Forest. During many long conversations, he got to know a fascinating person, learned about his host’s extraordinary career, and also talked a lot about cars. The general turned out to be a passionate mechanic who had spent a lot of time at scrap yards.


A GT For The First General Star


But why did he become an Opel GT fan? “I got my first GT as a reward for my first general star,” Kutyna told his guest. “There may have been faster sports cars, but I wasn’t interested in them. I was thrilled by the shape of the GT.” The general acquired a total of three models over the years. “I met many great people with it, including beautiful women,” he revealed with a wink towards his wife Lucy, to whom he has been married for over 60 years. “I knew she was going to be my wife when I was 20, and she was only 15.”

 


Welcome to Colorado: Donald J. Kutyna with his GT-dominated vehicle fleet in front of a magnificent natural backdrop.


Studies: Donald J. Kutyna with a model of the crashed Challenger space shuttle.

And nobody can better understand the legendary GT advertising slogan ‘Only flying is more exciting’ than Donald Kutyna, who in his life completed around 4,500 flying hours in 25 different types of combat aircraft. One of his missions even propelled him into Earth’s orbit. But that’s another story.


Investigation of The Challenger Disaster


The initial reason for Jens Cooper’s visit was to answer the question: Did the GT have anything to do with solving the Challenger accident? “Indeed,” confirmed the U.S. general. “I was working on my GT in the garage when Physics Nobel Prize winner Richard Feynman stopped by. He was a fellow member of our investigative commission. The carburetor I was dismantling just then had similar O-shaped rubber rings to those that sealed the Challenger’s fuel chamber. So we got to thinking about how different temperatures might affect the elasticity of the rubber.”

Feynman then performed various experiments based on these assumptions and found out that on the day of the accident it was so cold that some sealing rings had contracted and thus did not seal properly. This caused fuel to escape and ignite, which culminated in the tragic explosion.


Next, please: It’s not like Donald Kutyna and Jens Cooper had to use the same GT for all their daily outings. The general owns three of these design icons.


Resplendent in white: Jens Cooper took these two GTs back home to Germany.

At the end of his visit, the General had a big surprise in store for the German guest: He offered his new friend two of his three GTs for sale – including the one that had delivered the decisive hint, which the General calls the ‘GT with International Fame.’ Jens Cooper didn’t hesitate for a second.


Treasure For The Opel Classic


The ‘GT with International Fame’ is now on permanent loan in the Opel Classic. This adds one more attraction to the collection and serves Jens Cooper as a daily reminder of an unforgettable week.


December 2018

Text: Eric Scherer, Photos: private