The Opel Rekord can be best compared to a full-sized Chevrolet, in terms of the role they both played in their respective continents. Yes, there were bigger Opels, but they’re more like an Oldsmobile, Buick or Cadillac. The Rekord was always a conservative car, which evolved steadily though its nine generations, but never forgot what its purpose was: to provide decent and reliable transportation, at a favorable price point. It often had a bit of flair, and at times some rather genuine good qualities. But it was rarely exceptional, and that may well explain why this generation (E1&E2) was the last to carry that storied name. Let’s do a quick mini-history of all those that preceded it.
The first to carry the name was the 1953 Olympia Rekord, and it’s all too obvious that it proudly showed design influences of Mother GM. As all Opels, they were highly conventional (but unibodies), although for 1953, actually very modern and quite desirable. From the beginning to the end, Opels appealed to those who both had a soft spot for “Ami” styling, as well as an appreciation for a more conservative approach to car building.
Germany as well as the rest of Europe (especially France) was a hot bed of radical new approaches to car building right after the war, part of the whole immediate post war energy to build a truly new world, one assumes. Front wheel drive, two strokes, ultra-light and highly aerodynamic bodies; these creative energies gave birth to a raft of exciting new approaches to building small and larger cars. One classic example of that is the Panhard (full history here), which grew out of a radical engineering exercise utilizing a cast aluminum chassis/frame. Others were even more exotic.
Compared to all of this, as well as the massively popular VW, Opels represented almost an oasis of traditional thought, but always wrapped in up-to-date clothes. Not surprisingly, Opel’s approach tended to make them disproportionally popular with the working classes, who were both attracted to their honest simplicity and pizazz. Like a Chevy….
Of course, many working folks couldn’t yet afford a new Rekord, which was a class (or two) more expensive than the VW Beetle. That was actually a huge failing on Opel’s part, to completely ignore the smaller car market (until the 1962 Kadett), which exploded on the back of the Volkswagen. It’s instructive to remember that Opel was once Germany’s biggest auto maker, and either the biggest or second-biggest in all of Europe. But VW pushed Opel into the number two spot, and Opel became sandwiched between VW and Mercedes, which essentially is somewhat the problem still facing Opel today.
The Rekord P1 (1957-1960) pictured above was also a very successful import to the US, sold at Buick dealers and made Opel one of the biggest import brands during the fifties European invasion.
I didn’t start this with the intent to become a history of all the Rekords, but since we’re almost half way there, let’s show the succession of styles, thanks to images from wikipedia. The P2 was built from 1960-1963, and has a front end also seen on the 1958 Cadillac Skylight by Pininfarina. The point being that Opel didn’t just only shrink Chevys for design inspiration. Engine sizes were either a 1.5 or 1.7L four with 50-60 hp.
The Rekord A appeared in 1963, with a decided hint of Chevy II to it.
The Rekord B was an evolution of the A, and its rear end doesn’t belie its Chevyness. An Opel Bel Air with a hint of gen2 Corvair.
The Rekord C from 1966-1972 brought a major restyle, as well as the new CIH (cam in head) engines, with the 1900 version (up to 106 hp) providing quite decent performance for the times. Starting with this generation, a six cylinder version of the same basic car became available as the Commodore. The Pontiac of Opels.
The 1971 Rekord D was designed by Chuck Jordan, and showed a definite design language that was/would be seen on other GM cars, including the smaller Ascona, as well as others. it goes without saying that the Rekord C and D also were the basis for other GM International cars, including Holdens.
That brings us to our featured car, shot and posted at the Cohort by r0b0tr10t. Anyone who visited or lived in Germany during the eighties will know what a familiar sight these were, especially as taxis. Opel was a pioneer in following Mercedes with diesel engines in 1972, well before VW. This made diesel Rekords very popular in the taxi trade.
The Rekord E arrived in 1977, and was an evolution of the D. A substantially face-lifted version is called the E2 (above), and arrived in 1982, and was built until 1986, when the name was finally buried in favor of the Omega, which also received a new independent rear suspension to replace the well-located solid rear axle on these cars. All of the later Rekords were pretty consistently praised for their competent handling, and all-round well-balanced manners. Sophisticated, brilliant, advanced and very refined they mostly weren’t ever, but that was true to the brand and consistent with all the cars that carried the name; an unbroken Rekord.