(First posted 6/28/2013. Revised and expanded 4/26/2017) The Opel Rekord can be best compared to the traditional 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 mostly 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, thanks to stylistic influence from Detroit, and always at least some genuinely 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 Olympias and Rekords that preceded it.
Although the Rekord name didn’t arrive until 1953, its direct predecessor was the Olympia. And of all the cars in this long line, it was the most progressive, in being the very first mass-produced car built in Germany with an all-steel unitized body (monocoque). That saved some 400lbs (180kg) compared to its predecessor, the Opel 1.3. It also had an independent front suspension. So it was pretty advanced for the times. Its 1.3 L ohv four made some 24 hp, enough to supposedly get it up to 100kmh (61mph).
In 1938, the Olympia (OL38) it got a restyle and a larger 1.5 L version of the four, now making 37hp, enough to scoot it down the new autobahn at 112km/h (70mph). And yes, the similarity of its front end styling to a ’38 Chevy or Pontiac is obvious. These were quite popular cars; some 168k of these two versions were built between 1935 and 1940.
And as a point of comparison, these cars cost some 2,500 – 3,000 Reichsmark compared to the KdF wagen’s (VW) proposed price of 999 RM. No wonder the rest of the German industry was very concerned about the planned VW. And sure enough, within not too many years after the war, it fulfilled its original goal and surpassed Opel to become the #1 automaker in Germany, and soon all of Europe (and now the world).
After the war, the Olympia went back into production in late 1947, in virtually unchanged form.
The Olympia got a face and fender lift for 1950, but clearly it was beginning to show its 1935 roots. It had to soldier along like this until 1953.
Its new replacement was the first to carry the Rekord name, as the 1953 Olympia Rekord. And it’s all too obvious that it proudly showed design influences of Mother GM. For 1953, it was modern and quite desirable, and this was during the time when American cars and their design were still held in high regard in Europe. 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 increasingly popular with the working classes, who as their incomes rose to be able to afford cars, were both attracted to their honest simplicity and pizazz. Like a Chevy…. This one is from the 1956-1957 era; Germany’s “Tri-Fives”.
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 before the war, 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, although the problem has become even more acute in recent years with the rise of the premium brands.
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 and other sources.The P2 was built from 1960-1963, and has a front end first 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 either. 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.
The coupe was especially successful, stylistically, and in the yes of many, represents the high water mark for line. 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.