Historic Car Brands
Opel is a global brand, with one of the richest traditions in the world. In 2019 Opel celebrated 120 years of automobiles and this company that started in a garage in Rüsselsheim am Main had produced more than 70 million vehicles by that anniversary date.
1899 Opel Patent-Motorwagen ‘System Lutzmann’
Adam Opel became fascinated by the sewing machine during his years of travel in France and founded his own manufacturing company in 1863. Then the company built bicycles and while his sons wanted to move into motor cars, Adam took a dim view of motorised vehicles, calling them ‘stink carriages for the rich’.
Adam Opel died in 1895 and after listening to the advice of her sons Carl, Wilhelm and Friedrich, his widow, Sophie Opel, decided to start producing cars in 1899.
1903 Opel-Darraq 9hp
Opel joined the ranks of the automotive pioneers of the late 19th century that included Daimler, Benz and Peugeot, by buying Friedrich Lutzmann’s motor car factory. In the spring of 1899, the first of 11 Opel Patent-Motorwagen ‘System Lutzmann’ cars were built in Rüsselsheim.
A converted Lutzmann later won the Heidelberg-Königstuhl Mountain Race and beat 16 other vehicles made by well-known German carmakers.
The almost inevitable falling out happened in 1900 and car production of Luztmann’s painted vehicles ceased. To fill the gap, the Opel family signed a deal with French maker Darracq to import these cars and, later, build them under licence.
The System Darracq vehicles provided car manufacturing volume in Rüsselsheim, while the Opel boys developed their own car models.
1906 Opel 10/12hp
The first true Opel was a 10/12hp, 1.9-litre, twin-cylinder car, followed by the enlarged, 2.4-litre 12/14.
A four-cylinder, side-valve 20/24hp appeared in 1903, followed by a 6.9-litre 35/40hp in 1905.
While these first models were direct descendants of horse-drawn carriages, Opel launched a ‘real’ car for an extremely competitive price in 1909. The 4/8hp Opel Doktorwagen was powered by an Opel-built, four-cylinder, in-line engine.
1909 Opel Doktorwagen 4/8hp
In the adverts, Opel promised that it was ideal for ‘doctors, veterinarians and lawyers’ and the Doktorwagen was available for prices between 4000 and 5000 Marks, while many other cars made during this period cost 20,000 Marks. It transformed the motor car from a prestigious toy for the rich and the famous into an affordable mobility solution for the public.
Alongside the low-cost model Opel produced a wide range of four-cylinder models, with capacities from 1.4 litres up to a 100hp, 10.2-litre model.
1914 Opel 5/14hp ‘Puppchen’
During Word War I, Opel worked on a prototype six-cylinder engine and that powered the post-War 21/60 and 30/75 cars, but in the post-War slump in Germany, the most popular Opel was a four-cylinder, two-litre 8/25 model.
A 14/38 model, with 3.4-litre, four-cylinder power was the basis of a sports model that had the 14/38 engine in an 8/25 chassis.
1926 – Asembly line of the Opel 4/16hp
The relative market gloom of the 1920s forced a rethink at Opel and the decision was made to mass-produce a low-cost car.
Friedrich, who had been promoted to chief engineer and his brother Wilhelm introduced assembly-line production at Opel in 1924. Oldsmobile and Ford were the first companies to introduce this cost-cutting method in America. That production process allowed high volumes that lowered price.
1924 Opel 4/12hp ‘Laubfrosch’
The first cars to roll off the new production line were unashamed copies of the Citroen Trefle, to the point that the French company sued Opel for copying its design. The 1924 Opel 4/12hp was soon nicknamed ‘Laubfrosch’ (Tree frog), because initial production cars were pained green.
This two-seater with a top speed of 60km/h was initially available for 3900 Marks and later, this ‘car for everyone’ was available for 1930 Marks. In the following years, an entire vehicle family was created around Laubfrosch technology and 119,484 Opel 4hp models had been made by 1931.
1925 Opel 8/25hp
In 1925, Opel supplemented its bread-and-butter model with the Type 80, 2.6-litre, 10/40hp model, followed in 1927 by introduction of American-style sixes that grew to 4.2 litres. That ‘Americanisation’ continued with the introduction of the Packard-influenced straight-eight Regent model in 1928.
Fritz von Opel, the founder’s grandson, was an accomplished motorcycle and car racer by 1928. He drove rocket-powered Opel RAK 1 and RAK 2 cars in public demonstrations and achieved a speed of 233km/h on the Avus track.
Opel’s market success attracted the interest of General Motors, which bought out the Opel family in 1929.
1936 Opel Kadett
The early 1930s’ Opels were principally the Olympia and Kadett. The Olympia gained a new overhead-valve, 1.5-litre four in 1937 and that engine continued until 1960.
The Kadett replaced the successful Opel P4 and debuted with a self-supporting steel body and hydraulic drum brakes. The prices were well below those of Opel’s direct competitors. In 1938, the Opel Kadett limousine was available for an affordable 1795 Marks.
1939 Opel Kapitan Charles 01 – Owner Arild Nilssen
Opel six-cylinder models of the late-1930s were the 2.5-litre Super Six, the Kapitan and the 3.6-litre Admiral.
During Word War II, Opel produced military equipment, including Admiral-engine-powered ‘Blitz’ trucks and the 1.5-litre Olympia engine to power NSU’s half-track, Kettenrad motorcycle.
The Russians took all the Opel production machinery as part of War reparation, so the factory couldn’t resume production until 1946. The first products were trucks, to help with the rebuilding of Germany, followed by pe-War Opel car models.
1953 Opel Rekord Olympia Caravan
The first all-new Opel car after the War was the Olympia Rekord and it began a new era with its pontoon-style body and chrome-plated shark mouth. The design took cues from large American limousines.
While many competitors still relied on two-stroke or air-cooled rear-mounted engines, the reborn Olympia had a water-cooled, four-cylinder engine, former four-speed transmission replaced by a three-on-the-tree, column-shift gearbox and body styles ranging from coupé to Caravan (station wagon).
A 1.2-litre version appeared in 1959 and continued in production until 1962.
1955 Opel Olympia Rekord – Lothar Spurzem
An all-new Opel Kapitän arrived in 1954, also with American styling; the Opel Rekord P2 in 1960 and the Rekord A followed in 1963, with disc brakes and soon afterwards with a 2.6-litre, six cylinder option. The Rekord fours became OHC 1.9-litre models in 1965.
The mid-size Rekord variants were popular with the new middle class in the young Federal Republic of Germany and Opel had produced 882,433 Rekord A models by 1965.
1962 Opel Kadett
The Kadett was also restyled in 1962, getting a new one-litre engine.
In 1964, Opel released the ‘KAD’ trio of Kapitän, Admiral and Diplomat in the luxury class. The Kapitan and Admiral had six-cylinder engines and the Diplomat scored a 4.6-litre Chev V8. The second generation of these KAD models boasted independent de Dion rear axles and the V8 option widened.
1962 Opel Kapitan P2
Opel introduced the safety steering column in all passenger car models in 1968.
Opel’s concept car, the Experimental GT, made its debut at the 1965 Frankfurt Motor Show. Three years later, the affordable series production Opel GT was available from Opel dealers.
1968 Opel GT
In 1966 Opel updated the Rekord range and a 2.2-litre six was optional.
In 1967 came the Commodore, powered by a 2.5-litre six and a high-performance GS model arrived in 1968.
The Manta shared its technology with the Ascona when both were launched in 1970. Both cars had a 1.6-litre OHC engine and the Manta’s was tuned. A Rally version had a 1.9-litre engine.
1971 Opel Manta
Throughout the 1970s the Opel range consisted of Kadett, Ascona, Manta, Rekord, Commodore and Senator/Monza models, with engines ranging in size from 1.2 litres up to three litres.
By the 1970s, Opel had emerged as the stronger of GM’s two European brands. Vauxhall was the third-best selling brand in Great Britain, but had almost no impact elsewhere. Opel and Vauxhall had loosely collaborated before, but through the 1970s Vauxhall’s complete product line was replaced by vehicles built on Opel-based platforms. By the turn of the 1980s, the two brands were in effect, one and the same.
Opel Admiral A (1964-1968) Opel Diplomat B (1969-1977)
In 1982, Opel made a big splash with a small car. The Corsa A rounded off the company’s offering, sitting under the Kadett. The Corsa was an impressive display of getting the most out of a small space without compromising on driving pleasure or cost effectiveness. To date, almost 14 million Corsa have been registered.
Opel Calibra – Rudolf Stricker
The Vectra was introduced in October 1988 as a replacement to the Opel Ascona and the Calibra borrowed the Vectra’s technology from 1989. The top-of-the-range Calibra Turbo delivered 204hp, offering the driving performance of sports cars twice its price.
Opel Down Under
Opel Senator CD – Tvabutzku 1234
Many Opel models or models based on Opel architectures have been sold in Australia and New Zealand under the Holden marque: Holden Commodore (1978-2018) – a rebadged and repowered Commodore; Holden Barina (1994-2005) – a rebadged Opel Corsa; Holden Astra – a version of the Opel Astra and the Captiva 5, a version of the Opel Antara.
In New Zealand, the Opel Kadett and Ascona were sold as niche models by General Motors New Zealand in the 1980s and the Opel brand was used on the Opel Vectra until 1994.
In what most industry observers thought was one of the stupidest GM decisions ever made, the Opel brand was introduced to Australia in September 2012, featuring the Corsa, Astra, Astra GTC, and Insignia models.
Less than a year later, Opel announced it was ending exports to Australia, due to poor sales, with only 1530 vehicles sold in the first ten months.
After the closure of Opel Australia, Holden imported newer Opel models: Astra GTC; Astra VXR (Astra OPC), Cascada and Insignia VXR, under the Holden badge.
The 2018 fifth-generation Holden Commodore ZB was a badge-engineered, front wheel drive Opel Insignia, replacing the Australian-made, rear-wheel drive Commodore.
We all know how well that worked out.
Five Generations of Opel Corsa.