The mid to late 1970s was a time of growth in the large car sector, not perhaps in terms of sales but in the number of choices open to consumers. In 1978 Opel launched the Senator, based on the Rekord of 1977. Both were rear-drive with essentially the same hardware but the Senator had revised front and rear ends, a remodelled glasshouse, a bit more wheelbase, and a choice of 2.5 litre and 3.0 litre straight six engines. For this article I tested a 1984 Senator “A”.
Every time one has a reason to discuss the large cars from the 70s and 80s, the large cars that aren´t BMW, Mercedes or Audi, one seems obliged to talk about the status and success of these products in comparative terms. It seems incorrect to speak of the Granada, 604 or Senator without mentioning how they fared relative to the BMW 5 et al. I´ll avoid re-treading all that ground again. By now even I admit that you would need to be very determinedly prejudiced to deny that the W-123 Mercedes Benz is the clear winner of that long term battle. The W-123 is the definition of a high quality passenger saloon, the saloon car to end all saloon cars. I´ve seen these machines up close – we all have – and every visible element is made of some class of entropy resistant material, from the dwarf star chrome on to the NASA-class door seals and then to the cloth with an infinite Martindale value. That´s why they are still on the road and that´s why they are still worth money.
So, yes, noted. The W-123 is great and that´s that. Is there any reason to look beyond Stuttgart?
Maybe you don´t want to drive the same classic car as everyone else. And what if you are prepared to trade Mercedes’ bullet-proof/bank-vault/billet-solid [delete cliché after your preference] quality for some other less material benefit? The Mercedes was well built but it was also not so very nice to drive. So what are the alternatives? If you really must have some other medium-large car, the field is broad. For decades this was a very healthy market with lots of entrants. In fact the early 70s was a boom period as various makers went chasing the executive customer. Ford used to shift millions of Granadas. Opel sold 1.4 million Rekord Es. Even Renault sold 700,000 of their 20 and 30 series cars. I say the field is broad but in theory more than reality. The numbers of the also-rans that remain on the road are unimpressive, especially here in Denmark. Of all those cars made, the vast majority are gone. It has taken months of looking to find a worthwhile vehicle to test.
Opel´s entrant in this sector was the Senator, today´s test car. The Ruesselsheim firm offered two series of the Senator, one from 1978 to 1986 (the “A”), and another from 1986 to 1993 (the “B”). The first series took the Rekord E, equivalent to a low-series Ford Granada, as its start point. To make the Rekord into Senator it was made longer (mostly at either end), wheelbase was increased from 2668mm to 2685mm, and had different interior trim, and unique front and rear exterior styling. The glasshouse featured extensive brightwork and a reworked side glass and C-pillar treatment. These modifications were intended to produce a luxurious but good value car that would compete with the top end Granadas, the Rover SD1, the Peugeot 604, the BMW 5-series and, of course, the Mercedes W-123. Conceivably even some Jaguar customers might have been tempted.
The Senator´s layout was once the industry norm. It was a three box saloon with rear wheel drive, a 3-speed automatic and a straight-six cylinder engine with Bosch electronic injection (introduced in 1983). Initially Senators were sold only with six cylinder engines but towards the last half of the car´s career, the smaller engines from the Rekord E were also made available (a move Peugeot could have considered for the 604 but didn´t). The version I tested was a 2.5E with the camshaft-in-head engine. The suspension uses McPherson struts up front and at the rear are trailing links which system was used on the Mercedes W-118, Austin 3-litre and Peugeot 504 as well as the Ford Granada. For the facelifted model of 1982 , the Senator lost its frontal chrome trim and was smoothed off with new bumpers: this also reduced its cD to 0.39. It´s still not an aerodynamic car though. Citroen´s CX had a cD of .034, by comparison.
On a more subjective basis, looking at the car in question, I saw a mildy worn but dirt-free example in pale greeny gold. The car was imported from Germany at the end of the 90s and one owner looked after it for most of the time. They could not stop superficial rust nibbling here and there, mostly around the flanges on the bodywork edges. This is the sort of thing the legendary W-123 resists. The Senator´s hood is a fabulously heavy sheet of steel with no struts to support it. You lift the many kilos up all by yourself and hope no stray fingers are around. The engine bay is superbly free of clutter. There sits in the bay a huge metal loaf dead centre, aligned longitudinally in front of you. That´s the straight-six of 2.5 litre capacity. For anyone who has only seen modern engine bays this looks either refreshingly straightforward or worryingly agricultural. I like it. The set-up looks simple to repair and robust; pleasingly analogue.
After taking a short look at the voluminous boot with its unfashionably high sill, I got into the car and took some moments to get used to the sensory disconnect. The Opel is in one way a large car. It looks big from the outside and looks big when seen in isolation. When you sit inside you feel very close to the door as in a smaller car though. Then there is an openness to the interior created by all the space between fittings and the space from driver to passenger and from the distance from driver to the passenger door. By comparison modern cars are either very snug or over-furnished. Our cars now are simply full of trim. I like the Senator´s ambience and the relaxing quality of the broad, yellow velour seats. There´s no centre armrest for the driver, alas. Back to sensory disconnect, the Senator feels very dense indeed. These days it´s roughly the same size as a Focus sedan but that car feels lighter. The reported weight of the Opel is in the 1,500 kg to 1,600 kg range and most of this weight is metal and glass. The feeling then is of hardness and of things fitting close together.
Describing the sensation of driving a 30 year old car (with roots in the 70s) is not that easy. For a start, my immediate reference was a brand new Fiat 500 I had rented for my trip. Trying to assess red wine after gargling cola is not ideal. What one really needs to do is to compare the car to its peers or try to judge it in isolation. The engine started up with a healthy and very mechanical roar. There is no engine creep when you push the automatic into D. I pressed the floor-hinged pedal a little too enthusiastically and the rear wheels spun. My impressions are that the engine required more poking than I´d have expected. It growls and makes a fine noise but doesn´t react as quickly as I would have expected.
I drove the car over narrow country roads on a wet and windy day. The manners of the car suggest that it is a vehicle to drive carefully at all times. A recirculating ball steering system is used which helps to eliminate kickback from the road but also creates a floppy feeling around the straight-ahead. Car described it as “somewhat lifeless” in 1978. Perhaps with experience I would get used to the Senator´s behaviour; initially it was something I felt required caution. I think the car is one that could easily be made to slide or, worse, it might slide when you don´t want it to. So I braked early and accelerated out of corners. It put me in mind of the 2002 Lancia Thesis I tested some years back. The Senator in automatic form is a servant not an entertainer (not in a dynamic sense). In 1978 Car´s view was the Senator was the most reassuring and rewarding to drive compared to the BMW 730 and Alfa Romeo 6. That makes one wonder about how the other cars were.
Outward visibility is superb all around. The slim C-pillars help in this regard so that when you look over your shoulder at a t-junction, you can see what is coming. It´s a very pleasant characteristic.
Turning to the car´s showroom quality, one can´t help but admire the cheerfulness of the soft velour which covers the seats and doors. Though somewhat faded it has held up well. The chrome fittings and brown plastic are all part of the car´s period charms. Alas, I know that the car I am testing is not the top of the Opel tree. The 3.0 Senator came with wooden door cappings, rear head restraints and an opulent green or blue material which for me would make the car irresistible. I bet it had a centre arm-rest too. On the other hand, the car in question is not one you´d be afraid to use respectfully as it´s not a museum piece to be driven with white cotton gloves on dry summer Sundays only.
It is in the matter of plastics that you can see the W-123´s clearest perceived quality advantages over the Opel. Looking around the car there are areas of incorrectly matched plastics that you don´t find in a W-123; the driver´s ashtray has a squeaky zinc spring and the glove box lid sounds hollow when it shuts. This is trivial stuff and you´d forget it on a day to day basis yet these little details are the ones that generate the long-term impressions.
The smell: engine oil and old plastics. How evocative. The noise: the engine feels very nearby and the sound is loud. While driving you are very aware of more vibration and of machinery working not so far off. I didn´t mind this at all as it reminds you that you are in a machine from a different time. It is not anaesthetic.
I can´t offer any data on things like fuel consumption but reports suggest it likes to have a gallon every 20-25 miles. The boot is nice and large. Can you live with a thirty year old straight six, automatic, rear drive, near-luxury saloon? In isolation, yes. The Opel offers clear advantages over the Granada, for example, in that it seems to be a better made car. And in status terms, the Granada came in a wide range of body styles from 2.0 L ultrabase model to the 3.0 Ghia government minister spec. In contrast engine and interior differences plus nicer styling separate the Rekord E from the Senator. The difference was reduced somewhat when the Senator A lost its chrome trim in 1982. Again, the ultimate Senator is not this 2.5 E phase 2 car, but the full-fat chromed 3.0 “A” series. I don’t mind the rusty edges but I do mind the fact that I know there is an even nicer Senator out there. Perhaps the most surprising thing that makes me think twice about what is a very affordable car that needs no work, ready for immediate use, is this: the rear accommodation.
How did Chancellor Helmut Kohl like this car compared to Granadas, 300Es and Audi 100s? It´s in the back of the Senator that you can see the disadvantage of basing the car on the Rekord. The wheelbase is nearly the same in both cars. The rear leg room is thus not what you´d expect and Car too thought this in 1978. I don´t think anyone would be uncomfortable in the back of the Senator. It´s better than the E12 BMW 5 and the Alfa 6, the equal of the Benz. The seats are very cossetting. Yet I think it´s not a car in which you´d sprawl on a long journey. You should sit upright and try to find a way to deal with the small and oddly positioned ashtry. I really wish it was more spacious because here the Senator´s other enemy, the Peugeot 604, hoves into view. That´s a car for passengers. And it´s steering is on record as being better.
If you can get past the existence of the Mercdes W-123, which you have to if you are going to go and test a Senator, you´ll find a very agreeable car. Some of the qualities are to do with historical accident: the passage of time has killed off straight sixes so the Opel can provide what a modern car can´t. The same goes for the airiness of the car. Almost any old car is airier than a modern one. So what is it about the Senator in particular that appeals, compared to the other possible contenders? I suspect that the Senator´s material and fabrics are among the best after the Mercedes. The straight six engine is a strong and reliable unit that sounds great. Most of the other cars in the class offered V6s and these are never as nice. The gearbox is smooth and the car looks decisively more impressive than Ford´s admittedly very good Granada of the same period. On balance and adding it all up, I think that the Senator 2.5E lacks that extra something though, the particular element that gives absolute appeal, rather than appeal relative to its peers. I´d certainly like to live with a Senator for a while but I am not sure it´s quite good enough (in 2.5E form) to gain the gold medal. As a counterpoint, it’s worth remembering that the car exists in quite good numbers compared to its peers which might give a hint that if you did get into a Senator, you´d not regret it. It´s a survivor.
[This article first appeared at www.driventowrite.com]
The Record sported a solid rear axle, the Senator had independent suspension AFAIK.
You are correct, Senator A / Monza had semi-traling arms rear suspension. Rekord E had a solid axle with 4 links and a Panhard rod.
Maybe that was where the mysterious additional 17mm of wheelbase came from? It looks like the rear wheel arch is elongated compared to the Rekord, so the rear wheel sits a little further back. Too bad the rear seat room wouldn’t change!
That would explain it. There’s certainly no other good explanation.
Thanks Richard, for this comprehensive review. A luxury and comfortable 6-cylinder sedan from the days that there was so much more to choose from than the obligatory German “Big Three” in this segment.
I’ve always been a fan of the Big Opels; the KAD-Opels of yore and the later Senators A and B with their inline-6 engines. And fuel injection, of course.
CC commenter MonzaMannDeutschland (MonzaManGermany) owns an Opel Senator A in an immaculate condition, in a very nice shade of light blue metallic and with a 3.0 liter engine IIRC. Haven’t heard from him for a while, BTW.
Alrighty, I see he’s still with us.
A guy down the street from my grandma has one of those, apparently the only one in the us.
Is that the black one? I may have read about that. How odd you live in his neighbourhood.
Thank you my fellow Dane, for a very nice review.
I drive a 1983 W123 230E, so I get your points.
Always liked the first model better, with chrome bumpers and nicer wheels.
I often wonder about the W-123. Some versions are very desirable: 260s and 300s with the dark green or dark blue velour interiors. It’s plain obstinacy on my part that points my attention to the non-Mercedes competitors. The 604 is my preferred choice out of all of them but none exist in Denmark. Granadas with trim to match this Senator are very rare across Europe and I don’t like the base models much. I own a Citroen so I have no need to sample another.
What’s life like with a W-123? Labour costs here make running my XM a real chore.
Nice, a familiar face as a Vauxhall Royale in the UK.
It turned so that I had a chance to “road test” almost all the cars mentioned in this article but the Peugeot 604. Those of you who have read my comments here before may remember that I am less than enamored with European cars of this vintage, with the exception of the E12 and E23 BMWs, perhaps.
The Senator A, specifically, turned out to be especially disappointing, because back then I perceived this German make as somewhat “Americanized” and expected to see something like a scaled-down Cadillac, much like the Opel Diplomat B of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Instead, it was an up-scaled Rekord with a fake chrome plastic grille. To further worsen the case, these cars didn’t age gracefully, being plagued by rust issues on a scale unforgivable for something made in Germany.
Not wiling to look hypercritical about Opel products, I have to add that the W123 and the European Ford Granada do not induce much good feelings in me as well.
I also always liked the Opel Monza, especially the pre-facelift version – perhaps because 3-door hatchbacks of this size are quite rare to start with.
Let’s see what we had in 1984 in this segment of “Euro-executive cars” (E-segment) besides Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz. Not all of them were sedans, and not all of them were available with a 6-cylinder engine. In alphabetical order:
Alfa Romeo Alfa 6
Lancia Thema (introduced in 1984)
Renault 25 (introduced in 1984)
Saab 9000 (introduced in 1984)
Plenty of choice, I’d say.
Wait, 1984 was the final year for the Austin Ambassador…was it considered to be an “executive car” ?
Thanks. If there had been a talking suit holding a briefcase in the picture, then I would have known right away it was a contemporary executive car.
The Alfa Sei was wonderfully quirky.
And a dud.
I will never understand why Alfa kept selling it all through the 80s.
Its 1987 replacement needs no further introduction.
I beg to differ on that. Exclusively 4 cylinder engines, and sold against the Sierra and Cavalier/Ascona as a comfortable and spacious alternative, and never sold in LHD.
The SD1 was BL’s executive car
I guess I’ll mention it, the closes to the looks and style of this car is the USA are 1983+ Ford LTDs
And the ’87 to ’93 Mustang bears a strong resemblance to the front end.
As soon as I saw that side profile photo, I had the same thought. The six-window roofline and angle of the C-pillar are nearly identical, as is the rear overhang. If it had more front overhang, a less sloping hood, and a little more slope to the tail panel, it’d be a dead ringer.
Is it a similar size as well, or is this one smaller?
Quite an attractive car, but then I’ve also always liked the ’83 LTD. And quite instructive that this shape premiered five years earlier on the Continent.
Maybe this car wasn’t as competitive with other offerings in Europe at the time, but it still looks a cut above most everything else that was being offered in North America back then, too bad we didn’t get this car over here. The interior looks especially pleasing, the seats look really comfy and supportive. First thing I noticed was its resemblance to the Fox-based Ford LTD in terms of exterior styling.
Nice as it is you’d probably find it small, like a 1984 Buick Century, for example.
At some point I’ll have to find a correspondingly specced Granada for comparison. They have not survived like the Senators have.
Did I hear “Opel”?
Two words: “A body”
+1. I owned a 1974 1900 coupe. What a great car!
+2 Me too… back in the ’80’s, a ’74. A drunk driver pulled out in front of me and totaled it.
20 years later I got the “bug”, & in 2000 I found this ’75 on the internet that was a slight basket case. Briefly an experimental propane turbo charged drag car by a GM R&D Executive in California. I shipped it to Connecticut, sight unseen. Pleasantly surprised, it is a rust free car!
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!
Re badged for a short period as the Vauxhall Royle in the late 70s to give the dealers a flagship as well as Opel. few were sold…
British police loved the torque and revving nature of its straight six more than its replacement V6 model ,the Cadillac Caterra in the US.
My uncle had one of these as a company car. I remember being impressed by how refined and relaxed it felt at motorway speeds.
Apart from the grille and headlights, this thing is a dead-ringer for the Fox-body LTD Ford sold in the late-80s, especially the greenhouse.
It was actually the early- to mid-80s (1983 to 1986), and you could argue that it was the other way around: The Fox-body LTD was a dead ringer for this, since the Senator came out in 1978.
And as I posted earlier, the front end of the ’87 to ’93 Mustang also bears a strong resemblance.
Drop a 3.3 litre Holden six in it and you have my old VH Commodore, it seems odd to me that all the extra strengthening engineered into the Australian car actually reduced its weight, being taxed in NSW by kerb weight I know my SLX sedan weighed 1243kg it came up on the inspectors computer screen as he prepared the registration charges, These cars were also available with V8 engines and for a couple of models with a four(continued on NZ models untill the early 90s) no independant rear ends out here or TBI untill 85/6 they were good cars and very entertaining to drive, mine with its gas shocks and struts and four wheel discs loved the twisty Tasmanian roads tail out any time you wanted just kick the throttle and haul on opposite lock.
The Commodore was based on the Rekord body, with the live axle, and Senator front end. Holden later did their own 6-window conversion for the VK model in 1984.
An interesting difference is the Holden had rack & pinion steering instead of the recirculating ball!
I assumed the 6-window VK was simply based on the Senator A in this article?
I will agree the Monza is a very good looking car and as someone with no family to “shuttle” hither and yon, it would be my choice as a “full-sized” Opel.
However, as a near lifelong fan of the Blue Oval, if I were buying a European large sedan from the mid 80s, it would have to be a Granada.
Senator vs Monza, period correct matching clothing.
Very interesting write-up! I always wished this car had been available in the U.S. for one of the American GM divisions. It could have made an excellent Buick, Olds or even a basis for a small Cadillac (better than the J-car).
A Catera? Well, it would have been better than the Cimarron, in any case.
Haha, NEVER! In my alternate universe, Cadillac would have done a revamp on the Senator comparable to the one they did on the X-body to create the original Seville–in other words give it very distinctive Cadillac styling and a high level of standard luxury equipment, thereby masking the “roots” from the volume car.
The Catera was based on 1994 Opel Omega B, after Opel had trimmed the range, and not offered a replacement to the larger Senator.
Might I suggest it would have been a good Pontiac as its handling and ride were more athletic than would be needed at Buick and Cadillac.
You’re right, this would have made a perfect Pontiac! Ah well, we can dream about what might have been…
Can you imagine if Pontiac had been allowed to adapt this car, rather than the “another barely differentiated A-body” 6000? It coulda been a contender, as they say.
You have to wonder what they were smoking over at Car back then to say this car was more roadworthy than a 1st gen 7-series…
Great write up. I really like the straightforward style – totally different from the magazine approach.
And a Peugeot 604 would be a great addition to the CC Archive!
The first 7 series was a long way from being good, as I understand it. They had to revise it extensively to deal with (I think) lift-off oversteer and electrical faults. I have an article where Georg Kacher details all the revisions which tells you how off the car was. That said, the comparison test I have pits the Senator against the Alfa Romeo 6 and BMW 525.
I am glad you liked the article. I try to write so people can understand what I’ve experienced. Too much current reviewing is out of focus, in my view.
In 1978 the Senator even won tests against 7series and W116.
They were smoking stuff that made them say the absolute truth.
The matter of the fact is, that no other car in the 70s and early 80s could match the superb blend of taut handling and superlative ride of the Senator / Monza.
The 7series ride was very unbalanced.
In the many incarnations of this plataform, It was the flagship of the Daewoo line during the 80´s and 90’s. Follows pictures of the Daewoo Imperial and mine Daewoo Brougham.
Nice car, in the middle of 80’s GM tested the Senator A and Corsica to evaluate which would be the best car to replace the old Rekord C based Chevrolet Opala, but due to a big economy instability both projects were aborted. However in 1994 we had an opportunity to ride something based on the Senator, the Daewoo Prince. Brazilians used to be very conservative and suspicious about unknown brands, anyway the Prince shared a big amount of parts as well its motorization with the local cars from GM and Daewoo didn’t think twice to took advantage from that, it was largely spread by dealers, auto magazines and in media, so the Prince quickly caught GM buyers. The lower prices, the same design style of the beloved Brazilian J-Car Monza and the size of the Omega A helped Prince a lot. Anyway Daewoo didn’t suit it to the climate of Brazil and a little units could survive until today.
Very interesting to see these variants!
I really do not thing the wheather is the main reasonof these cars disappearing. We still can see a lot of Esperos in the streets. The most of them are in very poor condition. The main issue with these cars are the finishes. One broken trim, or headlight, it becomes real problem. Mechanicals are not an issue since you can virtually use every engine part from the local GM cars. Princes and Super Salons are not common figures in the streets because thy were sold in very slow volumes. At the launching time in 1994, the Super Salon was supposed to fight the Ford Taurus, and was slightly expensive. Let´s face the facts, at that time, I would never had bought a Daewoo SS, but the Taurus. The Prince was supposed to fight with the Monza, Santana and others. Anyway, I love my SS and it is a huge pleasure to drive it.
The plastic parts of the Super Salon and Prince have poor quality, the sun heat deforms bumpers and destroy the frontal and rear lights. Taking into account that still there are many cars from the same time like Omegas, Corollas, Monzas, etc.. still running in good condition with it’s original plastic parts, I can’t assume other reason but the wrong materials for the climate. These parts doesn’t use to get deformed neither require replacing before 15 years, and every Daewoo stayed in a pitiful condition still in the 2000’s, same for the newer ones Nubira, Leganza and Lanos. Even the painting job wears pretty faster than the average models.
To not mention just Daewoo, 90`s Mondeo, Escort and Fiesta II suffered from the same problem, most of them don’t have even the bumpers anymore due to the bad quality of plastic.
Gustavo, You are correr um many ways. Maybe because my SS is in very good shape I can not recognize such things. All my car’s trim is ok after 22 years. At that time Koreans still used to build crap!
1994 DAEWOO BROUGHAM
1990 DAEWOO IMPERIAL.THE PREVIOUS 1994 IS MINE.
This one looks so much like a Chrysler K-car-based product, it’s odd to realize that it a Daewoo reinterpretation of a GM car.
Wow, you’re right. That looks for all the world like a slightly differently proportioned K-based LeBaron/New Yorker. I think a lot of it lies in the roof treatment, with that quarter vinyl look and the opera window.
Sergio: you made my day. Thanks for showing that. It´s a wonder. While on the one hand should deplore such ostenation, I find it actually very human and very jolly. I used to think the Series 1 Senator was a bit glitzy. That car raises the stakes. Super stuff.
Thank you Richard, I like to share different automotive things. I enjoy that. I´m happy you liked it!
There are Senators and there are Senators. The car in the picture is a replica of the Senator 3.0 with Ferguson AWD and special lighting used by the BRIXMIS intelligence missions in East Germany.
I can highly recommend this website for those who are interested in the Opel Senator models: http://www.senatorman.de/
There’s an immense quantity of info (in German), drawings, pictures and specialties. Like this Senator A2 Caravan (wagon):
That is a very handsome car. The Omega A had something of the same kind of clean look. It is remarkable how little credit Opel get for the high quality of their design. Much as I like Fords, they often have minor details that let down the overall look of the car. For some reason GM hired excellent designers (as Ford probably did) but gave them a lot of freedom to pursue well-resolved themes. But nobody ever says much about their work. I can´t think of many overtly bad Opel designs from the last thirty years. Is that Senator estate actually in any way less serious than a comparable Benz?
Those BRIXMIS Senators sounds absolutely awesome. And the missions sounds like some of the funniest I’ve ever heard of. Overt espionage in uniform, going all over East Germany in heavily armed four wheel drived Senators with giant gastanks and a shitload of spy equipment. Why have I never heard of it before?
I took that Senatorman page and ran it through Google Translate, this is what it said about those cars:
“On September 16, 1946, the High Commissioners of British and Soviet occupation zones agreed the so-called Robertson-Malinin agreement, which provided for the mutual establishment of military missions in order to promote the good cooperation between the respective zones of occupation. The French and American High Commissioners met in the sequence similar agreements with the Soviets. The “Cold War” brought with it, that these military missions ultimately served to espionage. Important were the observation of maneuvers, images of current military equipment and locations of military installations. The Soviet military mission in West Germany (SOXMIS) had at least one way Opel Rekord E1 for their monitoring activities in use ….
From 1979, the British military mission had, inter alia, several specially equipped Opel Senator asked for their explorations in service. Background of the decision for the Opel Senator was the fact that Opel vehicles from the factory supplied with engines, chassis and body reinforcements requested by the British military mission and going through the experience of the past (since the 1950s were vehicles of the type Opel Captain and later Admiral a and B used in the BRIXMIS) with Opel had learned that the vehicles were robust and rapid and inexpensive supply of spare parts has been ensured. In adjustment for off-road use and the often poor road conditions in the GDR many chassis parts and the body were specially reinforced. Nevertheless, the vehicles were subject to the harsh conditions excessive wear. Therefore, the vehicles were taken after a mileage of about 60,000 km from the use and only used by the British military mission until they were retired in the administrative area.
The BRIXMIS senator used from 1979 to circa 1984 reported significantly from the series differing details on. They had a selectable four-wheel drive of Ferguson and armored with steel plates engine compartment and underbody. The conversion to the all-wheel drive and ABS took Ferguson ago in Coventry. The more military grade equipment with respect to the auxiliary tanks, the armor and the interior and special towing devices and the illumination device was made directly by the repair unit of the British Military Mission in Berlin. The resultant by reinforcements, the all-wheel drive and the partial armor More weight is given from different sources with between 500 and 1,000 kg. As already since 1974 in the Opel Admiral also BRIXMIS senator had a mechanical ABS by Mullard. A sliding roof (for monitoring of aircraft and helicopters) was also “standard” exists.
Engine-wise, the Senator had a modified of the Opel racing division 3.0-liter engine, which was coupled with early models with the known from the Admiral B 28H Zenith 35/40 INAT twin carb and a sharper camshaft and a contact-controlled ignition system. Later models (approx 1983) should have probably get known from the 30S motor 4A1-carburetor who drank significantly less fuel at approximately the same power. All cars to 1982 were equipped with the automatic transmission THM 180, and later models received the transmission THM 180C with lockup. With the specially quench sprayed carburetors “BRIXMIS” -Senator should have done about 180 hp at 5,800 r / min. Due to the high vehicle curb weight of nearly 2400 kg accelerated the vehicles from 0 – 100 km / h sec in approx. 13
The decision for the carburetor and the contact-controlled ignition system had three key reasons: first, the vehicles should be impervious to electronic countermeasures by the observed troops of the Warsaw Pact, on the other hand it was estimated a gas plant as less maintenance and significantly less prone to defects a. Third, were on the carburetor attributable vehicle defects in use with standard tools much easier to resolve, so that the “BRIXMIS” -Einsatzteam – whatever – could possible return on their own to the base.
The bombardment of the occupants would have constituted a manifest declaration of war, which would have risked neither the Soviet military (and even fewer people police, NVA or Stasi) as the accredited officers a diplomat similar immunity status possessed by the Staff Regulations, as long as they do not specifically identified and compared to the “BRIXMIS” declared military zones entered. An additional annoyance for the East German authorities also meant the fact that the Staff Regulations of Robertson-Malinin agreement control of “BRIXMIS” vehicles and soldiers were allowed exclusively by Soviet military.
Under the terms of the Robertson-Malinin agreement the retracting with this car in the GDR members of the British military mission were allowed to carry arms with them. An armored glass, for protection against bombardment by conventional infantry hand weapons a significant extra weight (usually about 1,000 kg) and thus an excessive restriction of the cross-country mobility and the performance would have meant was therefore not provided. In addition, (this may be the view of those shown above civilian special protection senator appreciated) had the rear windows can not be opened, which would have resulted in severe distortion when shooting from the vehicle. But they wanted to prevent the car could be set by a targeted shot into the engine out of action in order to make the further pursuit of a military convoy impossible. In addition, a measure of protection for the vehicle occupants against a field of application probably moved a little anti-personnel mines was achieved by this part of armor.
Usually there were three soldiers per vehicle in use. Squad leader was an officer who navigated from the back seat and photographed. A higher Sergeant logged use and any observations on an entrained cassette recorder. The driver was a specially trained enlisted generally.
The rear windows were curtains, so that the person sitting on the backseat persons could not be identified. Seats, headliner, door panels and instrument panel were performed matt black to possible not to reveal the presence of “BRIXMIS” by Sun reflections and impede useful photographs of the vehicle crews.
A 180-liter auxiliary fuel tank was installed in the trunk, the filler for this additional tank was located on the left side of the vehicle in the segment for the side window of the C-pillar, which was replaced for this purpose by a metal plate. With this extra tank, a range of up to 1300 km returned without fuel stop. In other words, the normal, 75-liter tank plus the 180-liter auxiliary tank revealed a total of 255 liters. Does the range specification, then spent the “BRIXMIS” -Senator 19.5 to 20 liters of fuel per 100 km. The additional tank was necessary because the surveillance missions often extended over several days and required quality in the former GDR was partly bad way the availability of premium gasoline.
The rear plate light was switched off, the front infrared headlights were mounted in order to drive even without visible illumination, in addition special 100 watt spotlights were mounted. The entire lighting system of the vehicle could be individually switched by switches on the dashboard to fool in darkness by appropriate circuit to another type of vehicle. The exterior color was matched to the vehicles of the Soviet Army to the, all chrome parts were painted olive green or removed. The head of the British military mission drove contrast traditionally a black-painted Senator.
All vehicles of “BRIXMIS” had these big, bright yellow flag to make these vehicles easily identifiable. The camouflage of this indicator was also prohibited under the statute, as well as the camouflage of the occupant by Soviet or East German uniforms. In addition, the population was required to immediately inform people police or State Security of the appearance of these vehicles.
And it was not healthy to be with this vehicle in the former GDR on the go. One of the “BRIXMIS” senators would have been in 1988 “accidentally” run over by a hair by a Soviet BMP1 IFV ….
When the soldiers of the British Military Mission the large Opel were very popular. In terrain they were apparently even the Russian UAZ military jeep least equal and on the road by clearly less powerful Volga and Volvo sedans Stasi could be suspended easily.
Nevertheless, the time of the end BRIXMIS Senators bowed to the mid-1980s. Successively the use senators were replaced by Mercedes 230 GE and later by 280 GE, who possessed a much better off-road and also by accidents better protection of Response teams promised, after 1985, a soldier of the French military mission in a Mercedes W123 had died in a provoked by an NVA truck accident.
With 2 October 1990 is ended the activities of the foreign military missions, since Germany in the wake of reunification regained full sovereignty and the federal government met with the Soviet forces agreements for full repayment of its troops to Russia. A “BRIXMIS” -Senator is now on display at the National Army Museum in London. Another copy should be in the “Cold War Exhibition” RAF in Cosford.
Usually all other discarded by the British military mission were scrapped “BRIXMIS” Senators after their retirement under their supervision. But there are sources who suspect that at least some vehicles were in private hands. Conceivable seems this only in vehicles that were scrapped after the dissolution of the “BRIXMIS” early / mid-1990s. Before that time, I (my private view) this seems scarcely credible, since it had the British military mission to protect its forces certainly not risking that the technical facilities, opportunities and weaknesses of the vehicle would become known to the Eastern Bloc intelligence agencies in detail what would must be feared when the “BRIXMIS” -Senator would have been sold into private hands.
Since the “BRIXMIS” -Senator possessed with their specific equipment no German ABE, a registration of those vehicles in Germany would have been possible only with a single authorization and an expensive exhaust emission test, which would have been completely uneconomical given the enormous wear. Partly it is believed that the vehicles were to retirement by the “BRIXMIS” in the hands of the army and there continue doing service. This, too, seems questionable, since I can not imagine that the Bundeswehr had actual need for these technically heavily worn special vehicles.”
The Americans weren’t so lucky, according to Fred Crismon in US Military Wheeled Vehicles – they used full sized Fords with big V-8s, but were power-starved due to the low-octane East German gas they were compelled to use. The East Germans could harass them with EMWs (pre-war BMW designs built at that company’s former Eisenach auto plant) whose much less powerful engines were optimized for East German gas.
Great info here on a little known part of the Cold War.
Fascinating. Never knew about these operations or the cars. Thanks for sharing it.
Despite the lack of chrome, I particularly like these facelift examples. The nose styling makes the vehicle look quite contemporary for the mid 80’s. I like the Monza hatchback version even better though!
I lived in the UK for about ten years and LOVED these cars. I would say that I owned about 10 of them. My very First was a Green Senator 3.0. I mean come on, what did we have that even compared to it in the GM stable. Bosch electronic injection, that I never saw fail, 4 wheel independent suspension, 4 wheel disc brakes AND great styling. All I know is , our 1978 Cadillac was so inferior to this car ,THIS car should have been our Cadillac here in America. Now go to 1986 or so when they stopped making these and build a final edition with the 3.9 twin turbo from the soon to be LOTUS CARLTON, with the 6 speed manual and a really nice leather interior ,and it still would have kicked Cadillacs ass. Who got me all worked up on this