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Classic Velocity Blog

Filtering by Tag: Opel

Cuban Cars

Classic Velocity

Friend of the blog Ed Solomon snapped a bunch of great pictures while on a tour of Cuba. A few of the German ones are pictured here along with others. All had great exteriors and interiors, but had surprising engine bays equipped with small transplants, displaying the ingenuity (or is that enginuity) needed to keep these cars on the road...

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Opel GT

Classic Velocity

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A small German car with an international flavor that achieved success in America and beyond. That is a pretty good resume if the years are 1968 to 1973..It was a resume earned by the Opel GT. General Motors saw the popularity of small British and Italian cars in the mid 1960s, and thought that their own Opel division in Europe could do the same. A couple of GM designers headed over to Europe, and the result was a very Corvette-looking body on an Opel Kadett platform. It certainly looked the part. With swoopy lines and popup headlights, and a kamm tail reminiscent of  a period Ferrari.

A prototype (pictured above) appeared at the Frankfurt auto show in 1965, but it took another few years to make it to production. The reasons included getting the new Kadett out, and then finding a manufacturing location given that Opel was operating at full tilt. The eventual solution was to contract with France's Brissonneau and Lotz facility, lending even more international flavor to the vehicle. There were also the inevitable changes to the design which in this case shortened the tail and increased the headroom. The car featured a steel unibody with A arms over leaf springs up front, and a live axle rear.

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The production version weighed barely over 2,000 lbs, and had the front-mounted engine mounted back for improved weight distribution. It was equipped with 1.1 liter (67 hp) and 1.9 liter (100 hp) inline 4 cylinder engines, making the performance merely average for a sports car. Europe got a higher compression 1.9 liter engine making 120 hp. Depite this, sales were strong in Europe and the US. Manufacturing eventually moved to the Bochum plant.

In 1969, a more luxurious version called the Aero GT appeared at Frankfurt. It had a removable roof panel and louvers on the B pillar, making it more of a Targa. By 1971, sales were slowing, and a more spartan, lower-priced version was introduced at the Geneva show. It was called the GT/J. When production ended in 1973, more than 100,000 GTs had been produced.

Opel Kapitan A

Classic Velocity

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Your eyes do not deceive you....This is a popular German sedan from the 1960s. In 1964 Opel introduced a trio of models on a new platform. It was called the KAD platform after the three models being introduced; the Kapitan, the Admiral, and the Diplomat. They featured 2.6 liter and 2.8 liter straight six engines. In 1966 a Chevrolet 4.6 liter V8 from parent company General Motors was added as an option, but it was most often sold along with the Admiral and Diplomat models. The Kapitan name has a history going back to the pre-war period. Several iterations shared the name despite very different appearances.

The model had four doors, a large interior, and would have looked at home in America, and indeed, up to two thirds of production at times left Germany for overseas markets. It was over 16 feet long and over 6 feet wide. It was aimed at executives and .....ahem....captains of industry at a time when the competitors from Mercedes and BMW cost 2000 marks more (about $500 at the time). The Kapitan was the bargain model of the trio introduced, with fewer luxury appointments. Regardless, it was the fastest 6 cylinder 4 door sedan at the time, and helped to generate record sales by the time the KAD platform was retired in 1969.

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Opel Ascona 400

Classic Velocity

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One of the phenomena that continues to amaze, is how good an otherwise plain (or even ugly) car can look in race trim. Few people were impressed by the styling and lines of the Opel Ascona B, but as the Ascona 400 rally car, it was transformed. The 400 came from the fact that 400 needed to be produced for Group 4 homologation. It also performed well, thanks to a problem, but back to that in a minute. The car had its racing debut in 1980, and produced a victory in the hands of Kleint and Wagner. The next victory was in the Brutal Himalayas Rally, also in 1980. This was enough for the factory to consider a full development effort. For 1982, Opel had secured the services of 1980 World Champion Walter Rohrl. He was a proven winner, in a number of different cars, and was looking for a ride fresh on the heels of deals that had fallen through with Mercedes among others. Opel had also entered into a contract with Cosworth to build the top end of the engines. It would be based on the 2 L Opel engines currently powering the 20S and the Manta GT. But there was a problem. The combination of the block and Cosworth head was down on power. In a scramble to get something more usable, they bored the engine and used the crankshaft from their diesel version of the Ascona to produce a 2.4 liter car that produced good power when combined with the Cosworth 16 valve head and pistons. More importantly, it produced a staggering 200 ft lbs of torque !

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The Opels had become renowned for their understeering, but Walter Rohrl managed to conquer the beast. Even Rally champion Ari Vatanen admitted that he never really came to grips with the Ascona and it's understeering. The car was not blazingly fast, and with rear wheel drive it was not the greatest handler (remember, this was during the introduction of the 4 wheel drive revolution ushered in by the Audi Quattro). In the words of Rohrl, "The strongest point of Ascona is certainly its reliability and incredible toughness. In an accident the Ascona is like a tank. The accident in Portugal (in 1982 which broke the steering column) was really a hard thing, but to the interior nothing has come through, absolutely nothing. The engine is also one of the strengths of Ascona." He went on to win the Monte Carlo Rally and the Cote D'Ivoire rally on his way to the championship in the Ascona. Despite his struggles with the car, Ari Vatanen won the Safari Rally in 1983 before the 400 was retired from racing. It spawned high end versions of the Ascona and Manta road cars which remain popular today. 

Globe Trotting

Classic Velocity

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For many of us who are into vintage iron, there is a deep interest in brands and machines that we have no interest in owning. If we like one particular marque, then there is usually an interest in one or two others that we may never have owned or have any desire to in the future. For some strange reason though, we have accumulated a level of knowledge about these other brands or vehicles. For me it is French cars. Perhaps it is because I have never owned one that there is such interest as I have owned vehicles from many countries ear to France. Countries such as England, Italy, Germany of course, and Sweden, but nothing from the country which founded motor racing.

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This makes Carlisle's annual import show an anticipated event, as you can see all of these nationalities and more in one place. It is also one Of a few events of the year where Saab may outnumber BMWs, or where Opels may outnumber MGBs. By the way, what is the plural of Saab? It seems like one of those words where the plural should be the same as the singular ie: I have 9 Saab. But I digress.....the French section is a mixture of Citroen, Peugeot, and Renault. Perhaps because of the multiple Citroen DS present, it feels like there is an air of sophistication surrounding the ownership of French cars. Not in a snobbish way, it's just that there are no ratty unfinished French cars at any event where I have seen them present. Even the common man's 2CV is usually well preserved or restored. They seem much more like Jaguar or Mercedes.

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Speaking of Jaguar and Mercedes, both were well represented on the showfield. Mercedes W109 models and Jaguar E-Type were particularly plentiful. The aforementioned Opel is another reason that this show is a delight. While the Opel GT is most abundant, this is the place to see multiple generations of Rekord, many Mantas (Manti?), Asconas, and more. This is another favorite section of the showfield. Favorite section #3 is the for sale corral. Just for variety it cannot be beat. A fully surface-rusted beetle, a Triumph TR4, a BMW 2002, a Cobra kit car, a Jaguar E-Type, a Mercedes SL, a Subaru Microcar, a Porsche 356 Replica, a Volvo PV44, etc. the prices were just as varied as the machines from the ridiculous to the great deal.

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I have not even touched on the growing Datsun/Nissan presence, the Rovers, or the Volvo wagon brigade. This is the beauty of the event, you can walk across the globe and sample vintage vehicles. But be warned, globe trotting can be very time-consuming, and does not lend itself to a rigid schedule. You could get stuck in Sweden drinking vodka with the natives as the sky grows dark.....

Opel Manta A

Classic Velocity

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In the late 1960s, General Motors was looking for a way to compete with the newly introduced German-based Ford Capri in Europe. The Capri was a good package with a sporty engine, a sporty body, and a sporty 2+2 cabin. GM responded via its' German Opel subsidiary, with the Manta. The history of Opel has been previously covered (see Opel Kadett), but in the late 1960s they had developed a new platform for their small cars code named project 1450. It was to be the basis for the new Rekord and Kadett. Opel quickly had designer Charles Jordan, fresh off designing the new Rekord, develop a much more sporty package for the 1450 platform. Ironically it became the first version of the new platform to be introduced in September 1970 at the Paris show.

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The Manta answered the challenge of the Capri. It was a sporty design, with an attractive silhouette, and 2 door coupe styling. It had sporty wheels, a long nose, and a short rear. It was a more roomy 2+2 than the Capri. If you think it looks a like a 2/3 size muscle car, you are more right than you think. Opel was infused at the time with US management, including general manager, design chief, and sales boss Bob Lutz !! It was also a true sporting coupe. It had handling that was widely praised by the press given the coil springs and sway bar up front. The Manta only weighed 2140 lbs on a 95.75" wheelbase. It had a 1.9 liter engine (in Europe, there was also a 1.5 and a 1.1), but it was somewhat detuned so outright speed was not it's forte. It did have a 5 bearing crank, and chain-driven overhead camshaft, so it was reliable and had the potential to be hotted up. The package overall was a good one. As this German commercial from 1970 points out, it was good looking, performed well, and was practical as well. 

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The Rallye model introduced in 1971 was mostly an appearance package with its' black hood, wheels, and graphics, but it looked like a miniature muscle car, and matched the "Baby Mustang" image of the Capri. A Luxus version was introduced in 1973 which had options introduced by many German manufacturers such as corduroy upholstery (I have this in my 72 Tii) and faux wood paneling. In 1975, all Mantas gained Bosch L-Jetronic fuel injection. Europe also saw the GT/E model which was more of a true high performance variant. Tuning specials and race cars followed of course, with the Ascona sedan version doing well, and second generation of the Manta having great success.

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However, the first generation Manta was not very successful in the US. It was the victim of a confusing marketing and distribution scheme for Opel that limited exposure and strangled sales. It was initially sold through Buick dealers and marketed lightly. The Capri only had modest success in the US as well. This seems particularly ironic, as the birth of both of these cars stem from the battle of two US giants in Europe. The Manta did do very well overall though with 498,553 units sold from 1970 to 1975. More importantly, it set the stage for the very successful Manta B to follow.

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.