(first posted 2/26/2014) In a parallel universe, where GM made only rational decisions, this car would have a bowtie on the front grille instead of the Opel Blitz. Rather than pissing away billions (in today’s money) on the development of the Vega (CC here), and then losing billions of future sales and goodwill because of it, GM could have just done what it does now: go to Opel. How utterly obvious. So instead of being saddled with one of the all-time lemons of the century, Chevy could have been peddling a truly world-class small car in 1971. Live and learn. Or rather, die and learn.
The Opel Ascona was in development concurrently with the Vega, but they share absolutely nothing, except of course for certain styling cues. Chuck Jordan, future head of GM Design, was in charge of Opel design at the time, so that’s not surprising. Many of its lines are also to be found in GM’s Australian cars. At least the designers were cross-fertilizing. And the Vega was certainly cute enough; no problem there.
Bob Lutz was also at Opel during this time, which may well explain why the Ascona/1900/Manta have been universally praised for their fine handling. After Bob tossed the narrow-tracked Kadett on its head in 1966, the Ascona was lavished with an unflappable suspension. Nothing particularly radical; in fact fairly conventional, with rwd and a live rear axle. But the rear axle was particularly well controlled, and it all worked like a charm. The Ascona/1900 has often been called a poor-man’s BMW 2002; some feel that it handles every bit as well, if not better; the 2002’s semi-trailing arm rear suspension oversteer tendencies could be a handful. For the most part, the Vega was also a pretty decent handling car. But that’s where the two diverge.
Starting with their basic packaging. For some inexplicable reason, GM decided that the Camaro’s proportions – and resultant space utilization – would be the appropriate template for the Vega.
Well, actually, let’s make it even a bit lower than the Camaro, just for good measure; Americans want low, sporty small cars!
Which explains why VW was selling almost a half million Beetles a year, right? So the 1971 Camaro was 50.5″ tall, the Vega 50.0″. Brilliant! Ever try climbing into the back seat of one? They’ve named a yoga position after that maneuver.
And no stinking four doors! Americans don’t really want small cars, and we’re going to make damn sure of it.
The Ascona stood about a half foot taller than the Vega, which also meant that the Ascona/1900 could give up an inch in wheelbase, and five inches in length, and still feel roomier inside.
But we know better what Americans want. That’s why we make such fat salaries!
And we know better what Americans want in small car engines. A high-tech tractor engine with an aluminum block and iron head!
Yes, the Vega engine’s maladies have been all-too well documented. And even when it ran, it sounded and felt agricultural, thanks to a long stroke and large displacement (2.3 L) that really would have needed balance shafts to be acceptably smooth. The Opel 1.9 L CIH (Cam In Head) four (above) may not have been quite up to the BMW’s standards, but it was a well-proven, smooth and willing power plant, and one that responded very favorably to a bit of tweaking.
Both versions were rated the same 90 (gross) hp in 1971. In its final year (1975) the Opel was even graced with Bosch fuel injection, as seen here.
Fuel injection? We tried and gave that up years ago. Useless, expensive, complicated crap…
The Opel 1900 had a successful career on the tracks, especially in the SCCA Showroom Stock class. And in Europe, it put on a good show on the rally circuit.
The Opel’s interior (this is a base model) was clean and straightforward, and had genuine upholstered doors and a nicely padded dash, instead of hard plastic. For the times, a very decent and competitive effort. And one didn’t have to slide into it. Never mind the superb visibility these cars had. And is that a three-speed automatic?
Heresy! Americans love the two-speed Powerglide, and we shall give it to them, even if it is now the seventies. And to further increase its appeal, we’ll make the Vega’s standard transmission a two-speed manual with overdrive. This is why we have the world’s biggest R&D budget and the finest automotive Tech Center in the Universe!
I’m not trying to place the Opel on a pedestal, and undoubtedly it had some weaknesses and faults like most cars of the time. But its fundamental balance and responsiveness to all inputs assure that almost anyone who ever drove one was left with happy memories. That includes its nicely-shifting standard four speed stick. Ooops; that same Opel transmission was optional in the Vega. I was wrong earlier; the two really did share something.
The Opel just went about its business in a competent, precise and fun-loving way. And it was pretty much an insider’s car in the US. Car and Driver raved about theirs, which they took racing. The numbers sold just didn’t amount to much, probably because GM didn’t care about importing Opels anymore, as if they ever really had. Back in 1967, the Kadett was the number two import in the US, despite Buick dealers being clueless. When the dollar’s value tanked against the German Mark in 1973, the jig was up. GM was losing money on every Opel imported. So starting in 1976, they looked the other way, to Japan, and started importing Isuzu Geminis/I-Marks, which were Kadetts built to Isuzu’s higher standards.
Buick Opel by Isuzu. We truly are the masters of the universe! And before long, we’ll import Opels from Korea: Pontiac LeMans by Daewoo.
The Isuzus were tough little cars; the diesel ones down-right legendary. But not really the thing to inspire fun, or even racing, unless it was a round-the-world-endurance-rally.
Speaking of endurance, it took awhile to start finding Opels in Eugene. I found the blue wagon out in the boonies first, but my friends (who live next door) suggested not getting too close, as the owner of the property had recently been arrested for shooting at the neighbor in the other direction neighbor. Rural life is so colorful. But I was willing to risk it for a blue Opel Sportswagon.
But here it was, a fine 1900 just outside of town; it just took a bicycle ride to make me go that particular way. Good thing it was yellow, or I might well have missed it. Thanks to a comment on this post, I even tracked down that Opel Manta I saw going down Willamette Street a few months ago (CC here). But my ultimate Opel dream was to find a Kadett. And since this post first ran, that dream was fulfilled, beyond my expectations: a Kadett Rallye 1900.
Back to the story line: re-writing history is easy. GM’s mistake was all-too obvious, but then we wouldn’t have had nearly as much fun if there hadn’t been a Vega. And then we can only imagine what GM would have done to Americanize the Opel:
We’ll give it Power steering, Powerglide, Power windows, Power seats, Power-less engines and Jet-Smooth ride. We know how to make it powerfully suitable for Americans…
Never mind; better we have unmolested memories of the real Opel 1900.
Well outside of my normal area of interest, this is a very attractive little car. That red/orange sedan has a greenhouse that predicts the final restyle of the Nova sedans.
My favorite is the blue wagon. The owner must be a very unusual person – is there anyone else in the whole world who owns both an Opel 1900 and a 60s Dodge Power Wagon?
it is an attractive car. but i think the 71-73 vega were more attractive. almost like a 7/8 camaro. the engine is what did the vega in. interesting is that there was a vega cosworth available. totally different engine. but these were in the later years when ugly bumpers came about. still attractive though with nice paint and interior and rims.
Great and handsome cars, those Asconas, but don’t forget that instead of modeling its cars after the successful Opels, GM forced its American design onto Opel later on by way of the J-car, or the third (and last) Ascona. No wonder the Europe-designed Vectra of 1988 was so much superior to its predecessor.
Having owned both cars, I can tell you the Opel was vastly superior in all respects. However, GM corporate headquarters always seemed to look down op Opel’s products viewing them simply as vehicles for the proles in Europe. Full of hubris and arrogance the GM suits were sure they knew what American wanted. For a fraction of what they spent on developing the Vega, they could have had a far superior vehicle. Sad, but that’s the history of GM.
currently most of GM (& Saab as well) vehicles are based on Opel developed platforms. The most blatant, Buick Regal… check this photo from Opel’s German site: opel.de
I have always wondered why didn’t GM just import the Opels? Save the money and laugh all the way to the bank, just re-skin them for a more “American” style. Call it done.
That is what is being done today. Reskinned (sorta, mainly just re-badged and a few details) imported cars. Another reason I will not buy a new car.
And just what is wrong with that? The cars being sold in America by US based manufacturers is now far better than the junk they peddled in the past. See Paul’s references to the truly craptastic Vega. Selling this junk led to the bankruptcy of two of the Big Three and the near bust of the other. It makes no sense to engineer more than one product for the world when it can be adapted to serve other markets. The reason Ford didn’t go broke is it realised this sooner than the others when their non-car guy president, who used to run Boeing the same way, stopped model duplication.
If you really need a new small car and an example of fine engineering, your local Dodge dealer probably has a zillion Calibers around. Or you can get a crappy, German engineered, Focus.
Recently, GM did just that: took an Opel and called it a Saturn… and very few of them were sold… now, GM wants to sell Opel, since it is losing money… LOTS of money… I do remember that Opels, especially the Opel GT, had numerous reliability problems (our neighbor bought one, new, for their high school age daughter) and parts were impossible to find… which explains why so few Opels still exist in the US!
While true, I would venture to guess that there are far more Opels still in operation than Vegas of similar vintage (which is really saying something when one takes into account how many more Vegas than Opels were sold). Hell, the ‘CC-effect’ took place as I just saw an Opel GT in a parking lot!
Because the dollar was worth four German marks in 1970 and two marks in 1980. It didn’t just tank slightly, it tanked dramatically. Affordable BMW 2002’s evolved into expensive-for-their-class 320i’s.
Same thing happened to Ford with the Capri. By 1978, they just couldn’t import it at an appropriate price point. So they stuck the name on a Fox body.
Man, I want that feisty red four-door.
You could work in yet another Deadly Sin with mention of the Saturnopels.
I am a veteran of the Saturnopel wars and hope you don’t go there again. Right now I own a Chevy small truck (S10) and am trying to get it past the smog inspection. I start to get a strange feeling in the pit of my stomach when I think of GM and their adventures of the 1960-1970 decades.
I owned the little sibling of this car. It was in Panama and I suppose it was a Kadett but it didn’t say so. As the youngsters say: Massive Fail. There should be a war crimes tribunal to try GM for crimes against the public. Of course, since they were coengineered by congress there would be too many suspects.
There seems to be two kinds of cars. Those made prior to 1968 and those that are new enough that they haven’t failed yet.
We had a 1967 Opel Kadett in the family for a few years; it was a replacement for a 1969 VW Squareback with Bosch D injection (BOOOOOOO). It was a single-carb 1100 & got ~40 mpg on the highway, but was pretty maxed out on freeways.
Replaced it after a few years with 1966 Toyota Corona that was in the family for ~20 years.
Sold the Opel to someone for twice what we paid for it to someone out to replace his FIAT 850; he was really happy with it.
The Isuzu Opels had a body quality approaching FIAT standards.
“Not Invented Here” Syndrome was strong in the late 60’s. No way was GM USA going to bring in ‘ferrin cars’. But also, the Vega ‘looked American’ and no 4 door small cars since “2 doors are sporty”.
But also, even if we got the 1900 design, it would have been watered down, cheapened, and still built at Lordstown. And maybe still forced to have the ‘Amercian’ 2300 Vega motor. There was still resentment to ‘small sh!tboxes’ with some workers at GM, and they’d most likely still have problems.
I owned a pre-bouncy bumper 1900 wagon. A nice little car all and all, although the paint was past its prime and the driver’s-side front strut once broke off (fortunately when the car was idling at an intersection).
And of course the Ascona turned around Vauxhall in the UK when it was imported from Belgium and rebranded as the Cavalier. (Nothing at all to do with the Chevy Cav.) Ford was on to the Mark IV Cortina, and the Ascona/Cavalier finally gave it some serious competition, with the Mark II Cav whomping the Sierra in the early 80s. (I had one, black with a white chassis, but that’s for another day.)
That would be the Ascona B, bigger than the A (in fact, without the larger US bumpers, the Ascona A was almost the same size as the Viva HB). Both divisions were looking to move their next models upwards to more ably to compete with the Ford Cortina/Taunus and given Vauxhall’s financial position at the time it made a great deal of sense to combine the two forward programmes. The HC had been stretched from the HB anyway, so a new platform was really needed to fully move up a class.
Not just the styling cues made it down under the whole car went and morphed into the Holden Torana a huge success especially on the race track fitted with a 308 V8 the SL/R 5000 model was very cool and fast. Chevy knew better than Holden though didnt they even the English Vauxhall Victor was vastly superior to the Vega.
I had a new 1971 Opel 1900 Sport Coupe – the car that was renamed Manta in 1973 – and thought of it as a German Vega. I will admit that it had great handling, especially after I replaced the bias-ply OEM tires with Michelins, but I hated most everything else about it, and traded it on a 1972 Celica, which outshone the Opel in every way except for the handling.
I drove a 74 or 75 Manta in Germany back in 87 that a friend owned. After a night on the town I was handed the keys. I thought it had a great deal of power for what it was and the handling was real good. My Ford Granada with the V6 would take it at a red light but the interior was sportier.
I had a 1974 Manta Luxus… not fuel injected sadly, but it responded well to a replacement Weber carburetor in place of the not so nice Solex…
Vega had a lot ‘in common’ with Ascona A, the engineers at Chevy just toss in cheaper parts and other ‘Americanizations’ to nearly totally lose anything that was good about the original! I am not sure how ‘bad’ the German variety of Opels are, (Insignia did win European ‘Car Of The Year’ in 2008) it maybe the American sourced parts or the design changes of the parent company that spoiled Vega… (other than the obvious bad engine).
I loved my Manta. It’s was called Manta Kinte (“Not ‘Buick Opel’, me Manta Kinte!!!” in honor of Alex Haley’s Roots),
Opels should have went to any GM dealer that wanted to sell them, not just Buick.
The last Kadett I saw was roughly 15 years ago. There were 2 Kadett Ralleyes at a hunting lodge we used to go to in Michigan just outside of the Manistee National Forest. The poor cars were slowly sinking into the ground along with a bunch of other classics.
Compact cars were always a novelty to U.S. automakers. They made Vega look like a heroic effort in design and engineering but in the end it was still a penny pinched compromisemoble.
They could have “borrowed” compacts from Opel.
They could have phoned up Bosch and got plug and play Fuel Injection.
They could have used the “Iron Duke” instead of plowing through bags of money on the aluminum/iron boat anchor.
The problem was that they didn’t give a crap. They were still selling cars, junk or not so they had no incentive to take things seriously.
They didn’t do it right; but I don’t know I agree with your conclusions.
Yes, they could have badge-engineered stuff from Opel. Probably a better result, as is posited here.
Fuel injection was a novelty that was rejected in the late 1950s. It wasn’t brought out again until emissions standards required precision fixes, no matter how expensive.
An iron-block engine, given the times, would have been a smarter move. But not the Iron Duke, the limp-wristed earl of the GM Engine Department. Pontiac’s OHC six, cut down two cylinders, would have been a better choice.
You’re probably right, also, about the indifference. To this day, even, I don’t believe Detroit takes small cars seriously. If they did..we’d have a home-grown Opel-type.
I just thought those could have been better options than the dog and pony show that they put on with the Vega.
My mistake on the Iron Duke, I confuse the Chevy 153 with the Pontiac 151.The 153 may not have been an awesome mill but it was relatively indestructible and it was already there. Instead GM tried reinventing the wheel, realized that it costs a lot of money to do so and cheaped out in the end.
The revival of some form the OHC 6 would have been an excellent idea, there was a lot of wasted money and R&D there.
The main reasons the domestic brands avoided fuel injection was Not Invented Here (NIH) Syndrome and pure cheapness; it simply cost less to put carbs on cars than to properly develop a good FI system. When more stringent emission regs and more powerful FI equipped import competition came along, the Big Three finally spend the money they needed to. Low and behold, because of the mandatory 10 year EPA mandated emissions warranty, these systems were actually quite reliable, proving they could make good stuff if the will was there. For small cars with small profit margins, backed by a still (mostly) loyal customer base, junk like the Iron Duke Citation and the two cylinders sawed off Ford Tempo were sold because there was still good profit in them. Problem was once the owners saw how bad the cars were, they didn’t but said brands again.
Ford has recovered. GM hasn’t. Chrysler is a zombie, the undead.
So does “NIH” explain all the Japanese vehicles that had carbs well into the late 80s?
“Not Invented Here” had nothing to do with it. GM was one of the early pioneers of fuel injection dating back to the 50’s and offered the EFI Cosworth Vega in 1975. AMC and Chrysler were the first to offer EFI. Motorola invented the EFI integrated engine control unit in 1980 and Ford was the first to offer it.
No, it had everything to do with profit margins and development cycles, and every manufacturer was guilty of it to some extent.
I’ve always wondered if the proliferation of fuel injection had more to do with the availability of injectors than anything else.
Bosch supplied most of them, and I wonder if a sudden increase in production and therefore reduced cost made more available to the point that carburetors all but disappeared within a three-year period in the 1980’s.
The Vega was really a PR stunt to show ‘the world’ [the critics of the day] that GM ‘could design and build a small car’. Robert Cole force fed Chevrolet the XP-whatever car and the rest is well known.
Paul’s commentary on it is spot on. It wasn’t the small car America told GM it needed, it was the small car GM told America it needed. We will build it, we will do it our way and you will like it.
And people did buy them. GM still had tremendous brand loyalty to draw on in those days and they milked it right up until disasters like the the first generation Lumina. After that, most of their customers took their last ride in a GM hearse.
I’d disagree that the Lumina was a bad car. I had a 91 with the 3.1 that was so good I owned it twice, the only issues I ever had with it were a bad fuel pressure regulator and EGR and that was with well past 150k on the clock. The 93 Z34 I had was a decent car too except for the cushiest “sport” suspension I’ve ever seen.
If anyone thinks a Lumina is a great car, they haven’t driven the competition. In 1993, it was impossible to get an Accord at sticker.
Or maybe they did drive them and found the Lumina’s smoother ride, powerful V6s, larger interior and lower price more to their liking. To the tune of some 200K people per year.
Oh wait, that’s right, this is another GM hate fest, where it is taboo to give them any credit for anything.
That reminds me of an article of Collectible Automobile about the 1968-72 Nova. It showed a clay model of a Nova based subcompact. Sure it was on the cheap but it would had avoided some troubles for GM.
Then what if “Bunkie” Knudsen was at the head of GM instead of Robert Cole? We could wonder if things could had been different?
Come to think of it, we could wonder the same thing about what if Ford had decided to go with an adaptation of the European Escort for the US (and built in the US or Canada) instead of developing the Pinto?
Where can I see the entire magazine?
I have to wonder, after seeing the wreckage of badge-engineering, duplicate efforts that develop the same package, only not as good; and the repeated whines of the various GM line dealers demanding “Make one for US!!”…
…maybe GM didn’t have a brand problem so much as a dealer-management problem.
Example: Chevrolet. Small cars were coming into fashion, more or less. Chevy didn’t have one. They could make their own; and did…and it was a train wreck.
They could badge-borrow one from Opel or Vauxhall…and later they did, and it opened them to ridicule.
Now…why didn’t they allow some cross-trafficking in brands? Opel was Buick’s property; and few would know less how to sell an expensive, well-engineered small car than a Buick dealer. Why not give Chevy dibs on an Opel franchise, too?
Chevrolet and GMC trucks are clones. Instead of letting, today, Buick dealers hold that…again, who’s gonna know less about how to move a one-ton stake truck than a luxury-car salesman…why not let ANY GM brand dealer handle GMC trucks? And end the Chevrolet Truck thingy.
Done that way, instead of wasting money in barge-loads on the Vega and Chevette, and then spending more marketing dollars on Pontiac clones for both…both Chevy and Pontiac stores could have gotten an Opel sign to hang out. They both have little cars to sell; and the traditional big-car brands are not cheapened. Focus is not lost.
And Opel could have used that as a more-permanent anchor in the States; and we could have avoided that “Opel By Isuzu” embarrassment.
I always thought the Buick Opel by Isuzu was the funniest joke GM ever told. Not that it wasn’t a good car, even it’s variants were decent cars.
But that name! WTF?!
By 1977 they were just called “Buick Opel”, with Buick tri-shield badges. Harley Earl would be rolling in grave.
GM paid for a road test with other small cars, and the Opel came in 2nd to the VW Rabbit. Said “We were a close 2nd”. VW used this to sell Rabbits, guy in ad said “Hmm, #1 car in GM’s test is Rabbit, thank you GM for telling me the best car to buy!”
Actually, the irony here is the Chevette was in fact an Opel Kadette, sold well and made loads of money for GM. They just kept it around waaaaay to long but it cost almost nothing for GM to develop and market in North America. There used to loads of them in Canuckisatan because they were cheap, relatively rugged and utterly disposable.
GM made the same mistake here trying to slot Opels into its Holden line, it would have been better to have sold them as Opels and as a up market European alternative to the Aussie cars as was done with the Caddy CTS NZ got
Ironically, Opel tried exactly that. With zero brand recognition here, the effort was fruitless. Opel was gone again within a year.
Yes but. In reality, so many times when GM has brought an Opel into the US market, something has gone wrong, or at best the results have been fair to middling. Catera. Saturn L series. Chevette. The aforementioned “Buick Opel by Isuzu.”
The Catera had already been reengineered by Holden and used a Buick motor in that market why noone realised that is beyond me
Interesting that the Chevette wasn’t a success for you guys. The Australian T-car (Holden Gemini) was a great success. Much loved both then and now.
The Chevette was a huge success, selling nearly three million in ten model years. Problem was, it was supposed to be replaced with the front-drive Kadett D/Astra but because it was selling so well, it kept on going for another model cycle. By the time it was retired in 1987, Daewoo was building the Kadett E and it was imported as the Pontiac LeMans.
Chevrolet Chevette Production Figures
3 door 5 door Yearly Total
1976 187,817 – 187,817
1977 133,469 – 133,469
1978 131,204 180,598 311,802
1979 160,244 208,865 369,109
1980 187,684 261,477 449,161
1981 169,832 250,616 420,448
1982 87,586 145,222 232,808
1983 71,464 98,101 169,565
1984 115,973 127,927 243,900
1985 57,909 65,590 123,499
1986 48,880 54,364 103,244
1987 26,135 20,073 46,208
Total 1,378,197 1,412,833 2,791,030
To answer the question:
The last time I saw an Opel Kadett was in the early ’70s. We moved from suburban New Orleans to a small town about twenty miles upriver, and our new neighbor across the street had a ’67 Kadett. The hinterlands of SE Louisiana were no place to own a car like that–local mechanics threw their hands up, and the car was a driveway anchor most of the time. It finally vanished in favor of a ’71 Custom 500 ex-company car that the local Dupont plant cast off. (My father worked there at the time, and he engineered the deal.) At least the local wrenches could keep that one going.
Incidentally, does anyone else think that the Kadett’s grille (like the one Bob Lutz has his foot on) bears a striking resemblance to the ’67-’69 Ford F-100? Talk about being separated at birth….
Opels were indeed a rare sight in New Orleans. Only knew of one in my neighborhood. Given that NOLA is actually a reasonably cosmopolitan, quirky city, an import like that should have had better market penetration. However, the local Buick dealers likely had zero interest in selling Opels, as there was undoubtedly much more money in selling LeSabres et al. And import-oriented buyers would never dream of going to a Buick dealer for a car. So that was strike #1 and #2. As you point out, servicing was a nightmare, with different tools, parts, etc. Bad enough in a city, but a killer in almost any rural area. Strike #3, you’re out. No matter how good the car fundamentally was.
I thought that this-
Looked a lot like this-
Interesting to see the cop equipment on the Opel; I wonder what it could catch.
“The Ascona/1900 has often been called a poor-man’s BMW 2002; some feel that within certain parameters, it handles every bit as well. ” Quote
Some feel the Ascona handled a lot better that the BMW , which could be somewhat challenging thanks to the semi-trailing arm rear suspension. My wifes’ family had one of these asconas when we met, and I drove it sometimes. A bit sparse inside but a really nice car. This was, of course, a mid-sized car in Europe.
As I recall, the Opel 1900 and subsequent Manta were highly favored by Car & Driver as the best of the available cars for Showroom Stock racing.
My earliest “road trip” was a couple months after getting my license, starting out as early in the morning as was legal and driving with a friend in my parents’ ’72 Dart to Lime Rock, Connecticut (from Wayland, Mass.) for the annual readers’ challenge. Showroom stock was funny to watch because mostyly you heard tire squeal as the pack entered each curve. Pat Bedard won the race in an Opel 1900.
As you might also recall, a metallic green Opel 1900 rolled in the esses (maybe with some assistance) during this race. It didn’t look too great after this contetemps.
I know a guy who owns a ’72 Opel Kadett, I think it’s one of about four left in the whole of the UK.
Maybe some survive in Germany? – at one point, sometime around about 1970 when the Beetle was in serious sales decline, the Kadett was #1 in the German market.
The 61-66 & 67-72 Kadetts were the narrow ones (as that one that Bob Lutz managed to overturn), the new design for 73 one was a much better car. This 73 Kadett was the basis for the ‘world’ car that you got as the Chevy Chevette. It also was successfully rallied in Europe as both a Kadett and a Vauxhall Chevette. The hottest UK market Chevette, the HS and HSR, had a Lotus modified 2.3 litre engine and was a very successful rally car.
For years (’67- to about ’82) it the UK you could buy either an Opel or a Vauxhall, even though by the late 70s all the newer Vauxhalls were Opels anyway.
This silliness ended in the early 1980s, all were renamed Vauxhalls apart from the Manta and the Senator (a big luxury car, similar to the contemporary Holden Commodore, where it was thought a ‘German’ name would help sales)
The European J car (Ascona/Cavalier) was a very different car to the US one, and South America/Asia/Australia chose to go with the Opel version. It was a much better car, for many reasons – Brock Yates devotes a chapter to why in his 1980s book ‘The decline and fall of the American Car Industry’.
My father bought a new 1972 Opel 1900 4-door. I have never fit into a car (ergonomically) better than I did in this car. It was the first car that I drove with a meaty steering wheel which I really liked. On a trip from Connecticut to Columbus, OH, I attempted passing a coeval Chevy Monte Carlo early one morning. The driver of the Chevy didn’t want to be passed but I ultimately walked away from him. Indicated top speed on the Opel was 104-105 mph.
The car wasn’t perfect. Occasionally the valve train made weird rattling noises. Plus the shifting was pure Germania-clunky and slow, no speed shifting here. I believe that the Germans called it “baulk synchros”.
Why GM couldn’t see that this was a world-beater and far superior to the excressence they called the Vega, I just don’t know.
The Opel 1900 was a nice drive and far superior to my friend’s BMW 1600. That thing was a crappy taxi.
I had a 1972 Opel 1900 sedan, kept it 10 years and wish I had never gotten rid of it. It had a few carb problems and occasional “vapor lock” in hot weather but when it was out on the open road….wow, and believe me, the roads in New Jersey suburbs of nyc were pretty brutal with potholes and just the heavy heavy use of the most densely populated state in the nation… but that Opel 1900 had plenty of power due to it’s weight, good mpg, blew past most of the other small cars of the day unless you happened to pull up next to a 240 Z, and the Opel rode like a luxury car compared to the rattle trap 1200 inexpensive boxes that Nissan 1200 and Corollas and Ford Cortinas. With new tires it handled like a race car. wonderful car.
My parents bought me a nice new shiny red 1967 Opel Kadett when they came out in 1966. A happy college junior. A very sharp looking car and interior comfortable enough. It was the WORST car possible. Ate mufflers, valve jobs, leaks, would not start, electrical problems, everything went wrong. Look at circa 1972 Consumer Reports Annual Report where they rate used cars based on reports by consumers. The OPEL gets solid dots [horrible] in almost every category. By far the WORST report you can find. I myself experienced every black dot. Repairs on the car cost me a lot.
My parents (silly them, but kind, they knew the Buick dealer) bought the newer version Opel for my youngest sister along about 1973. A much better car. But the 1967 Kadett was the WORST and I maintained it to the letter plus what it stole from me.
I owned two different 1900 sport wagons. They handled quite well for their time and were were fun to drive. Their reliability was sometimes suspect, but then again I was a young buck who drove very spiritedly. This is one car from my past I wish I could have again.
Is it just me or do I see some Disco Nova in that 1900 4 door’s profile???
Easy to look back knowing what we know now, but back in those days, tell me this: You are the worlds biggest corporation. You have the brightest engineering minds at your disposal. Your business is multi-tentacled. From Refrigerators to Aerospace to Trucks to Cars to the best railroad locomotives on the planet. You build a car for every financial level; from cradle to grave. The best stylists, the best engineers, the best everything. Your competition comes to steal from you; from automotive designs to human designers and engineers. When you speak, Washington listens. You are the greatest company ever. assembled by mankind.
So, living in that time period, why in the world would you idle the best designers and engineers just so you could import a German automobile that you would call your own by slapping a bow tie on it? In the same era that Germany was still in recovery mode from WW2 we were stepping on the surface of the moon. There is no way that the generation that freed the world; now sitting in boardrooms, design and engineering studios would ever let that happen.
Hindsight says if the GM engineers had sleeved that Vega block and not cheaped out in other areas, the Vega story would have ended differently. It played out the way it did because they became arrogant over their great successes and thought nothing could stop them. The Japanese proved otherwise. It’s always the hubris and arrogance that gets ya…..
I own an Opel GT. It’s a well built, solid, little sports car. But you can see the compromises in it’s design, from the Kadett front transverse leaf spring to the solid, dependable but non-sporting 1.9 CIH engine. A great find by Paul, who like me, has a soft spot for these cars that got the short shrift here in the US.
You could think to save resources by building the same basic car over here. You could put your engineers to work doing other things, or just have fewer engineers. No matter how wealthy a company is, saving money is always attractive.
It’s something other than arrogance which leads to decisions like this; only with the latest crop of GM small cars and Fords that management has recognized the advantages of simply importing a design almost completely.
But what is that “something other than arrogance”? Stupidity? Hubris? Cluelessness? Laziness? Is there a difference? All of them speak to a company that was satisfied to put out a product they merely felt like putting out, not a product that was a carefully considered response to the needs of the market.
The ironic thing, however, is that enough Americans suffered from the same brand of arrogance/cluelessness/laziness to make the proposition work. People bought Vegas and Pintos and Gremlins not because they truly thought they were the best products for them. They bought them because they were satisfied with making the same kind of lazy decisions Detroit was making.
The Vega was also the product of an unusual development history. The digest version is that instead of coming up through Chevrolet engineering (and up to that point, pretty much every car had came up through the engineering operation of one of the car divisions) this one was largely developed by GM’s central engineering staff under the impetus of GM President Ed Cole. GM Engineering (as I understand it) was more research-oriented and did not have as much practical experience (that involved having to deal with service issues once the cars were out in the public). Chevrolet engineering resented the hell out of the car and gave it the cold shoulder during much of the development period, until John DeLorean had a sit down with them and made it clear that since the thing was coming out with a Chevy badge, they had better do the best they could with it. His book On A Clear Day You Can See General Motors goes into the problems with the Vega’s gestation extensively. GM was becoming a very dysfunctional company in this time period that was starting to be run very differently than it had been run previous to 1970.
I have to get the DeLorean book to get an in-person’s perspective of what was going on behind closed doors in the upper floors of GM. It was right at the time of the Vega that it all started to come crashing down on GM; and, Detroit as a whole. I will always root for the Big Three to come back to world dominance, but my how times have changed.
The story of the Opel GT design and in particular, the Aero GT concept, bears a look into a parent company that didn’t want it’s backwater cousin from upstaging it when that shiny new 68 Corvette with the targa roof top was ready for debut. The Aero GT’s designer, Erhard Schnell, was told to stop all design work on his Aero by his boss. No doubt in my mind the word from Detroit probably came from Bill Mitchell himself. This info on Schnell and the Aero GT design can be found on the DVD “Opel GT: Driving The Dream”
If you’re an Opel GT fan, it’s a must have!
Regarding the Ascona that Paul found: what a nice example of a survivor. And I always kind of liked that mustard yellow that Opel was using in those days. I believe I’ve seen it on GT’s, too.
Actually, this seems like fairly typical “big corporation” behavior. Initiatives begin with the attitude of “we’re the biggest (therefore we must be the best), so what big thing can we do next?” The urge to save money doesn’t come at the strategic level, as in “how do we share components and manage our brands in a way to satisfy customers, maximize profit and avoid brand overlap/cannibalization?” Rather it comes after enormous resources have been sunk already, and then “cost down” measures are instituted to “control costs.” As so many companies in so many industries have proven time and time again (albeit with GM as a poster child) the resulting product offering is severely compromised while only minimal cost savings are realized late in the development cycle. An no one ever accounts for the enormous costs down the road in terms of ruined brand equity, squandered brand loyalty and diminished pricing power.
Oh, I wonder how horrible that Vega should have been, if an Opel is described as a desirable alternative, with it’s reputation of being only marginally better than the French crap and not truly a German car in terms of quality (shared, to a lesser extent, with the Euro-Ford).
Personally, I’ve never seen any Opels from this era (no wonder – its no better than a Lada, so why bother bringing it here ?), but later cars from the 1980s used to be common about a decade ago. Now only a few are with us, and mostly in a ve-e-ery sad shape. On the other hand, BMW’s, Mercedes-Benz’s and Audi’s from the same era are still pretty common. That tells much of their quality relative to each other, I mean. The only relatively nice Opel from this time frame I can thick of is the Rekord.
Even 1990s Opels are a rare sight where I live, mostly because of their serious issues with rust – but also because Opel engines experienced some kind of premature wear (still true for some of GM Korea-built Opel engine clones, like the one used in “Chevy” (bha!) Lacetti – not famous for quality and/or durability either). Opel even made a feat of designing the fuel injection system for Lada. Guess what it is compared to the mainstream Bosch EFI ? – Junk !
…I sound pretty much like an old pesky Opel hater…
Stanislav, the Opels here in the US had a pretty good reputation of reliability and stoutness, of quality materials and workmanship. Many survive today and can be found at the Carlisle PA Import Car Show every year en masse. A website, OpelGt.Com is devoted to the German Opels and has an active bunch posting. 2 US vendors do a pretty good business in parts for these cars and there are a few European vendors that are releasing new runs of hard to get parts on a monthly basis.
It’s a foreign car hobby that nearly anyone can get into because the cars aren’t priced out of the reach of Mr Everyday Man like the Jaguars, Ferraris and Mercedes cars can be, amongst others. Anyone with some mechanical aptitude can work on them. The 1.9 CIH engine is stout and trouble free, for the most part. And the Opels, with that Clare MacKichan or Chuck Jordan styling is pleasing to look at with it’s Detroit GM overtones.
You ARE an old pesky Opel hater. But why? Sounds like you have neither driven, nor have you even seen one. I assure you, the car was no Lada. As a young man in the 1980’s, I owned three very used Opels of this period. All were reliable and rust free. Parts were easy to find and gas mileage was good.
Yep GM going to Opel really helped me when they built my POS Cobalt!
And that was Opel’s fault?
The Cobalt was loosely based on the Astra, but massively re-designed for American production. I’m surprised they didn’t give it a Powerglide too 🙂
Your Cobalt was built at Lordstown. It was built on the Delta 1 platform, which was already long in the tooth when the introduced the Cobalt in 2005. Now it’s REALLY long in the tooth on the Cruze.
Want a long lasting small car? Well, do your research. You won’t end up in a GM store.
Personally, I wouldn’t buy a car built at Lordstown.
Hey, come on! I drove past Lordstown a couple of times last year and they had this big decal on the outside of the building proclaiming it to be the birthplace of the Cruze. I was so impressed I bought another Subaru.
Hah! A green Forester, by chance?
Before this little GTXcellent came along, my folks traded in mom’s ’67 Chevelle SS on a brand new, 1971 Manta Rallye – they both still fondly recall this being the best car they ever had.
Four years later, here I come and suddenly safety is the big priority, so they traded the little Opel in for a Volvo 242. (3 years later my brother appears, and 2 decades of large GM sedan’s follow).
I tried in vain to find a decent Opel in the late seventies in VA. The Manta Rallye had been in a flood. It was gorgeous in navy blue w/ vinyl top and seats with worn out navy corduroy inserts. The 1900 wagon was the in the blue as pictured above and the rust had been repaired w/ lots of bondo. Isuzu/Opel is horrible! I gave and bought a Monte Carlo and loved it!
That thing sure looks like a mini Nova to me.
Despite all of its flaws, the Vega was a heck of a lot better looking. I don’t know if a car that looked like the Opel would have sold as well.
This is a clean design and the front clip with a bow tie would have fit right in at a Chevy showroom.
GM needed a U.S. domestically produced sub-compact: To avoid exchange rate issues, to build the domestic reputation of GM as a competent producer of small cars, and likely to avoid the shipping cost involved on a low margin product.
In hindsight, a duplication of the Opel with some styling tweaks would have worked better. But, it would have sped up / furthered the blurring of the divisions that was so heavily criticized during the Roger Smith years.
Same story today. Chevrolet builds a really nice FWD unibody pickup in Mexico, Brazil, and South Africa. If they imported it and filled the engine bay with the Cruze Diesel powertrain, they could bring their truck CAFE numbers through the roof.
But they won’t, because not-invented-here.
No, it’s not the same story today. GM has brought many global vehicles to the US over the past 20 years.
They won’t bring that truck over because there’s little market for a front wheel drive truck here. Just ask Honda, VW, and Dodge.
How about a RWD sport ute from Australia?
Whoops, too late now!
It might not pass US safety standards.
I read in a book that Oregon is the 40th most densely populated state in the Union so there is a lot of rural out there beyond the city limits that I look forward to exploring more of one of these days. General Motors sure did screw the pooch over and over and even some of their well built vehicles were deadly sins in the big picture.
Bit of an Opel skeptic here, the Opel V-car from the mid 1970s was developed into the Holden Commodore for the Au market.
It was a disaster.
The final product was reasonable enough, albeit with dated, underperforming engines, and somewhat iffy build quality, but the development was so painful it almost put Holden out of business.
The body engineering issues are legendary, Holden notoriously broke a engineering mule in two near Townsville while testing.
The bodies had to be redesigned so massively that the Commodore effectively was a new car, that just looked like an Opel.
This blew the development budget so badly that there was no money left for needed engine updates, and proved the final nail in the coffin for the troubled WA/WB series which would have been a renewed and updated Kingswood large car.
This with the Opel derived Camira, a POS if there ever was one, lead to Holden having to be bailed out in the mid 80s by GM head office.
The Opel-Holden’s were not the only factor in Holden’s near death experience, but they were probably the most important.
it would be interesting to counterpoint this car with the equivalent Vauxhall: the HC Viva/Magnum/Firenza
Having owned both a 1972 Vega GT and a 1975 Opel Sportwagon I can attest the opel was a superior car. The Vega’s handling (after I replaced the shocks with Gabriel Striders) was extremely good, the driving position and front seats were good, but that wasn’t enough to offset the POS engine that turned into an oil burner after only 20,000 miles.
I was initially very pleased with the Opel, but the fuel injection gave me no end of problems; I lost count of the number of times I had to have the injectors cleaned or replaced. When everything was working properly it was a great car-but when it wasn’t-about half the time-it was stumbling, wheezing and coughing along. I believe the last set of injectors installed set me back $250-in 1979-Ouch. I finally traded it on a 1980 Buick Skylark-talk about jumping from the frying pan into the fire! I think the real culprit was the currency exchange rate between the American dollar and the German Mark. I don’t think the fuel injection was properly tested-I credit that to the GM bean counters-they wrecked General Motors.
Organization theory asks, “For whose benefit is an organization run?” The answer isn’t the customers–their leverage is too indirect and delayed. It’s the insider constituencies: executives, R&D, labor. Dealers and suppliers can be added too, though they’re technically outsiders. Importing an Opel, even if modifications were done in Detroit, posed a threat to the self-interests (economic and psychological) of the most important constituencies.
Somewhere around 1971 my wife and I went to a major Buick dealer to test-drive a new Opel. A very obese salesman recalled they had a half-dozen over on the overflow lot. We walked over there. The Opels were heavily coated in dust. The salesman squirmed himself into a car and tried to start it. No go; dead battery. Tried a second car. Same result. And so it went–not one of the Opels would start!
We wound up buying a four-cylinder Mazda, which served us faithfully for ten years.
A publicly traded organization is run to benefit its stockholders. Period. Everybody wants to claim that is a bad thing, but even if you are not an investor chances are good that your retirement plan depends on that fact.
Now there are good long term plans and good short term plans to achieve that. GM has had a history of choosing the short term plan to the detriment of the long term. After all, you still need to keep customers happy to maintain long term success. They lost sight of that while chasing immediate profits.
And that’s the reason for the Vega. Keep in mind it initially sold pretty well and was even MotorTrend’s car of the year and won numerous other awards and accolades. Hindsight tends to cloud judgement, but It was a desireable car until all the problems surfaced. Would the rather bland and homely looking Opel have been as appealing to American consumers? Personally, I doubt it. Long term, it obviously would have been a better move. But I don’t think it’s too difficult to understand why GM tried the Vega instead. It was simply more in line with American tastes at the time.
I owned a 1972 Opel 1900, bought it new and loved that car for ten years. The power of the engine for such a small car was awesome (I got over 100 mph on a deserted stretch of the interstate one night with no trouble, ran almost an our at that speed); the manual transmission was out of this world.
This was just an excellent vehicle all around, very comfortable and fun to drive, if not sexy looking; and big enough and with enough trunk space to be a true (if small) sedan. I shall have to dig through my old photos to see if I have any…
It replaced a used Ralley, I think a 1965, which was nice piece of engineering but it was very under-powered…
Bought a yellow 1975 1900 Sport Wagon in 1979 from a used car dealer in Cleveland. Car looked great and ran fine until I realized it was fouling #3 spark plug. Found Opel specialist “Mantaparts” in Youngstown. They replaced poorly-sealing #3 cylinder piston rings with the engine in place for reasonable $. Car ran like a charm for many years thereafter. Second all comments above about great handling and responsive engine. Simple, but excellent seats with swiveling headrests. Long-throw but solid feeling 4 speed. One year only in North America (1975) Bosch fuel injection worked perfectly. Started and ran smoothly in cold Wisconsin winters, without being plugged in. Wisconsin mechanic removed small part of smog control equipment. This became a problem after moving to California… My sister finally sold car to Mexican gardeners for $1, so it may still be running in Mexico!
I have owned several Opels over the years. The first one a 1953 Olympia, while stationed in Germany in 1958. That car convinced me to own many others since then, I now own a 1968 Opel Kadett Rally, with only 42000 miles on it. I have been offered $10,000.00 for it and will not sell it. I will try to attach several pictures of it with this post as attachments.
At Arthur Green: $10,000?
Wow, I’ve seen early ’70’s Manta’s in rusted condition fetch $5-$6k on Ebay.
Nice specimen you have there.
My ’75 heavily modded Ascona (114k mi.) should fetch a minimum of $6k? I don’t want to sell either, though.
Wow, comparing my ’75 Ascona (1900) to the Chevy Vega is an insult.
Mine was briefly an experimental propane turbo charged drag car by a GM R&D Executive in California.
It is now back to a naturally aspired 32/36 Weber carb,, Euro 2.0L, 5-speed Getrag, Recaro seats, Fitipaldi steering wheel & more.
I love it!
While I liked the story, I must say that I disagree with the title. It shouldn’t say “what the Vega could’ve been.” It should’ve said “what the Vega should’ve been. “
In 1977, I bought a ’68 Kadett ‘base’ 2-door sedan at a garage-sale, for $150.
It was a project-car, with rubber-covered floors, tiny pushrod engine, long whippy stick-shift and a pile of Handy-Andy ‘repairs’ that desperately needed correcting. Getting parts from the local salvage-yard was more pleasent than paying high prices and dealing with with the surly parts-guy at the local Buick dealer. In any case, I managed to turn it into a fun little econobox. Drove that car over a year, then a friend of my Dad’s bought it for his daughter, who dumped it after another year for a used Datsun 210 that turned out to be a lemon. Her father used needle her by saying “you should’ve kept the Opel!”
Meanwhile, I replaced that Kadett with a ’71 Audi that was one of the nicest driving, but most trouble-prove cars I’ve ever owned.
Maybe, I should’ve kept the Opel!
Happy Motoring, Mark
My first three cars were Opels (all used and with manual transmission)… First was a 1973 Manta Luxus, which turned out to have prior undetected collision damage and I only kept it for six months. Second and best was a green 1974 Sportwagon, bought at 24,000 miles and run to over 160,000. Finally, a 1975 Sportwagon bought for next to nothing due to a failing transmission. Swapped the tranny from the ’74 into it and ran it for a couple of years before it also died. These cars were acceptably powered for the day and had excellent steering/handling. I test drove a 318i when they came out and felt it wasn’t much of an upgrade over the 1900. I still love the sporty/practical wagon concept. Closest I can get these days is my GTI, which is pretty fine.
I had a ’74 Opel Manta Rallye – bright orange with the matte black hood/bonnet. Drove the pants off it for four years until it became a major monthly expense to keep it running. Everything good that’s been said about the Manta I agree with. It handled nearly as well as a friend’s Alfa coupe; got excellent mileage was a hoot to drive. It wasn’t real fast off the line but it would cruise for hours at 75 (as I found out much to my dismay on I-80 in PA one time; major ticket action). I still get nostalgic about it.
My 1971 Opel 1900 2Dr Sedan 4 speed manual was my first new car. I loved the handling, even on its stock bias ply tires. (Things only improved on the early Firestone radials that replaced them.) I always felt its performance was close on the heels of my brother’s BMW 2002 – without the panache. Traded it for a 74 RX4 wagon…….should have stuck with the Opel!
My understanding is that GM (and Ford) didn’t bring over European cars as their volume leaders because the build tolerances were unworkable in the American factories.
The vehicles and their drivetrains could not have been built to the required specifications.
I think I read somewhere that an Opel was once being looked at for a mainstream GM midsized car, but the management saw the fault tolerances as unworkable in the US factories.
That’s strictly in relation to the idea of having the Seville be based on the Opel Diplomat. Realistically, that’s a bit questionable of how true or relevant it was. In any case, it didn’t apply to these lesser Opels and if they had been built here in volumes, the tooling would have been new and had US-style tolerances.
I actually think that it might be true, but not for the reason everyone wants to imply. They’re trying to say that the Opel is so much better built that the US factories couldn’t build them. The real problem is in converting standards from metric to SAE standard. Any conversion will have rounding errors, and stacking tolerances could lead to it not fitting well after conversion. It was widely reported with the debut of the Chevette that it was the first vehicle built in the US by metric standards. It was also a world car. They didn’t want to convert a plant to metric just to build Sevilles.
Paul, I’m with you. And I think an International Size Cadillac should have taken the place of the senior Opels/Vauxhalls/Holdens when Cadillac was at the top of its game. That would have benefited both GM’s US and international operations. The non-US badges could easily stretch as high as Buick/Oldsmobile and Cadillac — remembering it was “The Standard of the World” — could cover the top of the market leaving it overall better prepared for what was to come. Without a doubt, Opels should have been built here wearing bow ties (and Pontiac shields, appropriately differentiated).
What a great mix of vehicles in that picture. The Opel, the RX7, the Accord and the (Rodeo?).
I’ve never been in a Vega. Or an Opel.
Probably never will be, so I live vicariously through you guys.
Did the Vega really come with a Powerglide? Blah.
Minor correction here: the standard transmission initially was a 3-speed manual. Perhaps you are confused with the Torque-Drive 2-speed, which was a Powerglide that required manual shifting. This type of tranny used to be known as a “Semi-Automatic”.Great article! I love the tongue-in-cheek attitude!
Technically it was a three speed manual. But the final drive ratio was so tall (low numerically) that it essentially functioned like a two speed with overdrive. (and that was of course written with a bit of tongue in cheek)
Yes, I’m also familiar with the Torque Drive, having written it up here:
No overdrive with that!
I knew what you meant. I like to read the period road tests where they talk about having to downshift to second for grades in cars with top speeds that barely touched 80 mph.
Hello. Well, I was going by the actual brochure description (from http://www.oldcarbrochures.com) , and my Partner who is an Auto Mechanic and repaired these cars when new at Dealerships. Yes, even Wikipedia can be inaccurate in some details! Thank you for your response. – By the way – I would LOVE a Vega “Cabrio” coupe model – the mini-Broughamtastic for 1976! Here’s a lovely one. Opel did not make these now, did they!
Technically speaking you are right. The 3-speed manual in the Vega was a wide-ratio transmission with direct 1:1 drive in top gear. I have my November 1970 Road & Track handy with a test of both a basic and a fancy Vega. The 3-speed, 1 barrel sedan had a final drive ratio of 2.53:1. That’s intergalactic. An automatic BMW 2002 in the November 1969 issue had a 3.64:1 ratio paired with its direct-drive top gear. The result was that the Vega could only pull 3,400 rpm in top, good for 88 mph. My current two liter sedan has more than twice the power of the 1970 Vega combined with a 6-speed manual with two over-drive gears. The final drive ratio is still so much lower than 6th gear isn’t as tall as 3rd gear was in the poor Vega.
It is a shame our auto industry was in Detroit. What kind of cars did we expect to emerge from a place without mountains, curves, road racing(not street racing) or culture?
Until currency movement made German Opels into loss-leaders, a poor man’s BMW was just a BMW. The 1600-2 was neither expensive nor fancy. In 1970, you could still pick up a 2002 for the price of a Valiant with a décor package and A/C. I will say that the interior photos of this Opel are much more inviting looking than interior photos of low-option Vegas, Pinto, or Crickets.
I truly enjoyed the several Opels that I had owned as a young driver. My Uncle and dad had them, modified, so I soon had a snarling 7,000 rpm beast with large dual Weber DCOEs. It was great fun to embarrass the new Camaros that were around. First was a Manta, then moved to a 1900, repainted in bright GM white, and a black interior complete with the extra optional VDO gauges added.
I suppose GM could have done a better job by not sharing the showroom with Buick. That was like getting an order of kimchi at Denny’s.
The dream would be to have an Ascona 400, look that up if you’re unfamiliar with these cars.
Years ago, when my younger brother went to college my father went out and found him a 1975 Opel 1900 Coupe. Little brother is more than useless when it comes to working on cars-he’s burned the motors up in several cars since because he’s too cheap and lazy to keep one up. Brother ran in for 2 years without any regular maintenance. He once had a carload of frat brothers with him and whilst off-roading he pinched the tailpipe so tight the engine wouldn’t run. They all had to hike down the mountain and walk back to school. The car once sat for 7 months because the clutch cable stretched enough that he couldn’t shift it. Fast forward a couple years and I gave him $200 for it and dragged it home. Put a clutch, clutch cable, pressure plate, throw out bearing, plugs and air filter in it and drove it the absolute snot out of it for almost 3 years. Fun as hell in the mountains-especially in a 4-wheel drift! Best damn car I’ve ever owned! Wish I had 2 or 3 more of them. One afternoon it hydroplaned in a curve and it was totaled in a head-on crash with a MB 450SL. Thankfully, we all walked away. I still miss that car…
My very first car in 1985 was an Opel Ascona 16S from 1975. It was for sale at the workshop where we parked the company vehicles at night. Bought it for about $450 and drove it for about 5 years. It was one of the last production models as it already had some parts (like brakes) from the Ascona B. It was a 2 door without the ridiculous american bumpers.
Somewhere early 90s switched to a Manta 1.8GT (B model). That one only left me standing beside the road when the camshaft broke. But luckily no engine damage.
My last private vehicle was a Vectra 1.8 (A-model).
My fondest memories go out to the Ascona and the Manta.
The simplicity and the ease (and room under the hood) to do maintenance.. No modern car can reach that level anymore.
A bit late to the party, but I was a huge Manta / Ascona fan. 1 Manta Rallye 2 wagons. The first wagon was purchased with a damaged front end and I put a Manta front on it (cut half way across the wheel well and up the “frame rail”.
KYB shocks, Monza exhaust, Michelin XZXs.
I miss that car still.
@Jim P. Better late, than never… I still have my ’75 Ascona. (photo above).
In regards to your ”Manta Wagon”… my dream car is a Mancona like this photo I found on the internet…