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Classic Velocity Blog

Opel Kadett B

Classic Velocity

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Although Adam Opel started by manufacturing sewing machines in the latter half of the 19th century, like many others the firm was dabbling in automobiles by the turn of the century. Adam died in 1895, and when a fire destroyed the sewing machine factory in 1911, his surviving wife and sons decided to jump more formally into the lucrative bicycle and automobile business.  In an amazing business story, Opel was Germany's largest producer of automobiles in 1914, and it continued to impress through the 1920s. General Motors was impressed enough to purchase 80% of the company in 1929, and the remaining 20% in 1931. As a subsidiary of GM, Opel became the largest producer in Europe by 1937 and introduced the Kadett model which did well until 1940 when the war halted production. Post WW2, GM resumed control after briefly considering bailing out due to the poor state of the German economy. It was a wise decision as Opel rebounded with strength in the late 1940s and early 1950s based around the Kapitan model.

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In the late 1950s Opel was instructed by GM to create something to compete with the dominant VW Beetle. The answer was the 1962 Opel Kadett A. It was a one liter sedan with more room and better performance than the Beetle, and about 650,000 units were sold. In 1966, Opel opened its' new plant at Bochum, and the replacement Opel Kadett B was introduced. It was not the most stylish looking vehicle, but then again it was created to compete with the utilitarian VW. The variants included a Coupe, a fastback model, and an Estate (station wagon). A sporting version was introduced called the Kadett Rallye and sported a 1.9 liter engine producing 90 hp. As the name implied, Opel took the Rallye version racing with only limited success (Walter Rohl won the Group B Rally championship in a later generation in 1981).

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A luxury version of the Kadett B was named the Olympia A, perhaps just to confuse things. Beginning in 1967, the Kadett B was sold in the US simply as the Opel, and was distributed through Buick dealers. The basic car had decent sales, but the press was not impressed. Car and Driver penned an unflattering article in 1968 picturing the Kadett in a junkyard to highlight poor corrosion protection among other things. GM pulled all ads from C&D for a while in protest. Despite this, the Kadett B went on to become the 2nd highest US import in 1969, and took part in the Trans-Am racing series. The Kadett B was also the basis for the more popular Opel GT. In all, Opel produced almost 2.7 million Kadett Bs, making it a record setting car for the company, and setting the stage for the Kadett C to follow.