Throughout the course of history, with seemingly little regard to social, climatic, and economic events, General Motors has always been an automaker heavily focused on big vehicles. Simply put, heftier cars generally have heftier profits. As a result, GM’s small car efforts, particularly in North America, have usually been rather half-hearted. Yet at a time when GM was far more heavily invested in global markets where small cars were crucial, many of its non-North American small cars were in fact rather competitive for their time. One of those such being the Opel Kadett E.
Introduced in late 1984 as a 1985 model, the fifth generation Opel Kadett (appropriately referred to as the Kadett “E”), debuted to critical acclaim and praise, including the honor of 1985 European Car of the Year. Occupying a fierce market that included the Volkswagen Golf, Ford Escort, and Honda Civic, the Kadett E was set apart by its dramatic wedge shape, aerodynamic sheetmetal, and thoroughly modern interior. Like its primary competitors, the Kadett E was front-wheel drive, a layout pioneered by its Kadett D predecessor, which it shared GM T platform with.
Aimed at mass market appeal, the Kadett E was available in a total of six bodystyles, consisting of the mainstay 3- and 5-door hatchbacks, plus 3- and 5-door wagons, a 4-door sedan, and even a 2-door convertible in some markets. Engines ranged from the base and rather ancient 1.2-liter OHV to six displacements of the Family 1 and Family II engines spanning 1.3-liters to 2.0, plus three available diesel engines.
This featured 1987 Kadett, which I came across last fall between Terminals 1 and 2 of the Franz Josef Strauss Airport in Munich of all places, happens to be a special edition “Jubilee” model. Commemorating both the 125th anniversary of Opel and the 25th anniversary of the Kadett, the Jubilee added additional comfort/convenience features like height adjustable drivers seat, plaid sport cloth upholstery, and lighted glovebox/cargo area, plus styling features including silver highlight bumper trim and upgraded wheel design. Sold as under the Vauxhall brand as the Astra in Britain, a similar Vauxhall Astra Jubilee was offered the same year to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Vauxhall production at Ellesmere Port.
In its primary European market, the Kadett E was well-received and sold exceptionally well throughout its relatively long seven-year run (1985-1991 model years). Its “F” generation successor adopted the “Astra” name that had been used by its Vauxhall sibling since the car’s “D” generation beginning in 1979, but the Kadett E did not entirely go away in other markets.
The Kadett E was sold in South Africa concurrently to its European run, though hatchback models were badged as the Monza, and “F” generation vehicles eschewed the Astra name in favor of Kadett. The badge-engineered Daewoo LeMans first debuted in South Korea in 1986, followed in 1988 by the further badge-engineered Pontiac LeMans in the U.S. and New Zealand, and the Passport Optima/Asüna SE and GT in Canada.
Australia very belatedly received its version in 1994, badged as the Daewoo 1.5i, though this now archaic model lasted only two model years. Several markets in Central and South America sold the related versions of the Kadett, badged as Chevrolets, with nameplates that included the Kadett and Ipanema.
Due to its econobox status and size in a time when gas was cheap, plus quality woes that soon diminished its reputation, the T-body Pontiac LeMans was never a hit here in the U.S. the way the Kadett was in Europe. Disappearing rather quickly from the roads, the last one I distinctly remember seeing was a silver 3-door hatchback driven by one of the construction workers at my town’s new middle school, which was still being finished when I was in the sixth grade back in 2004.
Personally, up until stumbling upon this Kadett en route to Lufthansa for my international flight, my only my only other encounters with the T-body have been with the very few T-body Pontiac LeMans I’ve seen in my lifetime. While hardly the most exciting curbside classic, this Opel Kadett was by far the most unexpectedly interesting CC I came across in Germany on this most recent trip.
Photographed at Flughafen München (Franz Josef Strauss Airport), Munich, Germany – November 2018