(first posted 3/9/2012) For those under a certain age, the name Opel Kadett may be as familiar as Richard Speck, The Troggs, or Valley of the Dolls. Yes, 1966 was a long time ago, but that’s when the second generation of Opel’s VW fighter appeared and knocked down the long-time king of the small car hill. VW should thank Opel for that thumping; it really needed the wake up call that resulted in a new world order, spelled: G-O-L-F.
The Kadett’s role in facilitating that is a major piece of automotive history I’ve been wanting to tell for years, but finding a Kadett in this country has been impossible, despite Opel having dumped almost half a million on our shores. It took my son’s recent trip to the old country to find one, sitting on the street in Innsbruck, no less. Maybe folks back there have a greater appreciation for Kadetts and the role they played; Americans’ fling with the Kadett was a very fleeting one, and perhaps many would just as soon forget it. Not me.
The Kadett story begins in 1957, when Opel began its long journey to create a Käfer-fighter, having watched VW dominate the huge and lucrative lower-middle class segment (C class) of the market, having once been Europe’s largest automaker before the war. Now that was quickly being gobbled up by the insatiable Beetle.
The Kadett A (above) finally appeared in 1962, and was a classic GM/Opel effort: highly pragmatic, conventional in every respect, reasonably stylish for its time, and designed to deliver a good bang for the buck. In just about every way possible, it was the antithesis of the VW: front-engine rwd, a rather tinny but roomy body, highly tossable but with a primitive suspension and ride, a very roomy trunk, and excellent visibility as well as economy. Oh, and a proper heater even! Its little 987 cc OHV four made 40 net/46 gross hp, six more than the VW 1200. Its trim fighting weight of 1475 lbs (670 kg), some two hundred pounds less than the VW, showed in both its acceleration and body integrity.
My father, who could well be this man (except for the Germanic house behind it), bought a new sickly-green Kadett A just like this in 1965, at the local Buick dealer in Towson. So, yes; I can speak for the Kadett’s ability to trounce all VWs in street-light races, thanks to my older brother’s repeated VW-baiting. And at seventy or so, the turbulence from the boxy body caused the tops of the thin little doors to actually move away from the body enough to see daylight between them. Lightweight construction indeed. Hopefully, someday I’ll miraculously find a Kadett A and do the full story of its colorful place in history, both the automotive world’s as well as the Niedermeyer’s. But this CC is about its successor.
One last thing about the “A”: It sold quite well in Germany (and Europe), although I don’t have ready statistics. But in the early-mid sixties, the German ardor for the VW hadn’t yet quite cooled, and the Kadett A wasn’t a fully successful interloper; yet.
In the US, some 500 Buick dealers started carrying the Kadett in 1964, after their previous sole product, the larger Rekord, was knocked out of the ring by GM’s own 1960/1961 compacts. I strongly suspect the Buick dealers (and their ad agency) who hadn’t yet taken down their Opel signs were not really very committed or motivated, and all of 17k ’64s and 14k ’65 Kadett A were sold. Meanwhile, VW was moving some 400k Beetles in America.
But that all began to change quickly in the fall of 1965, when the new Kadett B appeared on both sides of the Atlantic. This ad trumpets the Kadett’s doubling of sales in 1966, and taking the number two import spot. That still left a pretty big gap behind VW, but in the next three or four years, the Kadett did enjoy a very profound explosion in the US. There were two main factors: the B was a bit bigger in every dimension, making it a somewhat more palatable for Americans, although it still used the A’s rather archaic transverse leaf-spring front suspension and a torque tube in the back with leaf springs.
The other reason for the B’s success had to do with GM: once again, after having failed to slow down the VW’s ascent with their 1960-1961 compacts, they were forced to take the small car market seriously. That led eventually to the Vega in 1971, but in the shorter term, it meant marketing the Opel as something other than with which to remodel the garage. Now the Kadett family, which included a new fastback coupe, sedans and wagon, was seen in front of the typical American garage: two Opels for the price of one Buick.
Doesn’t get more American than this. The Kadett’s styling and conventional configuration made it a relatively palatable alternative to those who found the Beetle a bit too buggy.
Of course, it was now 1967, so it made sense to not make all the ads too starchy.
Obviously, the marketing and advertisement was quite different in Germany, and the “Das Auto” campaign was quite successful indeed. Unfortunately, I don’t have ready access to the statistics, but at some point in the Kadett B’s lengthy run from 1966 – 1973, it did unseat the Beetle as Germany’s best selling car. By the late sixties, the Germans were ready to move on, and it was straight into the Kadett’s open doors, as well as Ford’s new Escort, a Kadett-fighter through and through. In all, some 2.7 million Kadett Bs were produced, probably the high point of its life as both the Kadett and successor Astra.
Not only was the body a bit bigger, but the Kadett B also had a slightly enlarged 1100 cc engine. This was externally a very compact motor indeed, and looked rather lost in the Kadett’s Kavernous engine bay. Power output increased correspondingly; there were 45 and 55 DIN hp (high compression) versions for Europe; the weaker on was sent stateside with a 54 (gross) hp rating.
But the hot news of the new Kadett B line was the mid-year 1966 introduction of the Rally. Sporting both fog and driving lights, as well as the obligatory racing stripes, the Rally was something altogether new in the small-car market: the first really overt attempt to sell sportiness in the lowest end of the small-car market, at least in the USA. The Ford Cortina GT had been doing it for a few years, but was one class bigger and a fair bit more expensive. The Opel Rally set the template for all the little pocket rockets to come; just like with the big American muscle cars, blatant economy was out, and performance, or at least the impersonation of it, were in.
The Rally’s 1100 cc SR engine was hardly a drag-strip terror: the little 1100cc buzz-bomb got higher compression and a second carburetor, as well as possibly some other changes. The result was 67 gross/60 DIN-net hp. And what little torque there was, now moved even higher into the rpm range. I can hear their raspy and nervous exhaust in my ears still, as common as they were now in the Towson area. Undoubtedly, they improved on the regular Kadett’s 21 second 0-60 dash by maybe a couple of seconds. But they looked good doing it, as well as sounding good.
There were two distinct generations of the Kadett B: 1966-1967, and the 1968-1973. Bob Lutz had a hand in the key feature that distinguished the two. The torque-tube/leaf-spring rear suspension was replaced for 1968 by a coil-spring and control-arm set-up, designed to both improve ride and handling, especially in reducing the Kadett’s tendency to tippiness. Bob had recently arrived at Opel, where he mentioned that the Kadett had a bit of a rep in the US for being a bit tippy, especially in a J-turn maneuver. The engineers told him that the new rear suspension (seen here in this picture) would eliminate that, and invited him to see for himself. The result is self-evident (full story here).
There were other considerable changes for the 1968 Kadetts. In Europe, a new line of up-scale Kadetts were given the Olympia name, along with new fastback rooflines. A baby ’68 Nova coupe indeed.
The Olympia also featured a new wrap-around grille as well as shorter skirts.
In the US, the 1968 Kadett took on the Olympia’s grille and there were other changes too. The Olympia and the US Kadett now were available with the bigger “high-cam” four, in 1.5, 1.7 and 1.9 liter versions (no 1.7 for the US). This changed the performance equation considerably, especially in the new Rally 1900, which had a new fastback to go along with its big jump in power. The 1.9 was rated at 102 (gross) and 90 (DIN-net) hp, and there was nothing that could touch it in its class. This was the equivalent of dropping the big block V8s in the GM midsize cars, the German Chevelle SS 396.
The suspension and brakes got some serious attention too, and the Rally 1900 was quite the sensation in its brief heyday, and garnered a very positive review by Car and Driver. (see related story on C/D’s Opel Kadett assassination story). Until the Ascona/Opel 1900 (CC here) came along in about 1971, the Rally carried a bright flame for Opel. The Ascona had been planned as a replacement for the Kadett, but when Ford launched their very bare-bones Escort, Opel kept the Kadett on, although at least in the US, it reverted to a very basic trim level and only with the 1100 cc motor, and sales swooned, due to rising prices as a result of the falling dollar.
By 1970, the Kadett’s brief stay in the US import car rank number two was over, having been muscled aside by Toyota’s hot new redesigned Corolla (CC here). The Corolla was very much a car in the Kadett’s formula: traditional rwd and conventional in every respect. But the combination of a high D-Mark, and Toyota’s hot momentum changed the tide forever. In the US, the Corolla would soon enough depose VW out of the top slot. In Germany, the Beetles rapid crash and the Kadett’s success forced VW’s hand with the very advanced Golf, recouping the gold. The Kadett/Astra were the perennial number two in germany, but some years ago, it dropped further down the the top seller list, as smaller cars, including Opel’s Corsa have become more popular. But the Golf still sits on the throne.
My brother’s best friend’s family traded in the “kids’ car”, a much abused ’55 Chevy six two door on a new ’67 Kadett B, like this one, and every bit a stripper like the Chevy 150 had been. Geoffrey was a capable driver, and some of my more memorable mind-expanding experiences in the year 1967 – 1969 came about thanks to their willingness to let younger brother tag along. That often involved sitting in the back seat of the Kadett, hanging on for dear life as every effort to catch air on the winding back roads was exploited. Perpetual caning was SOP, and I have doubts whether their Kadett lasted as long as the old ’55 Chevy six. My father’s Kadett A needed a valve job at 40k, probably precipitated by my brother’s similar abuse. He traded it in on a ’68 Dart; that tells you all you need to know.
I can’t remember the last time I saw a Kadett, but here it is, sitting on a street in Innsbruck. I wonder about this particular Kadett wagon, whether it might have been a former Postal service vehicle, as that color looks like all of Austria’s mail trucks and cars. Can one do a license plate check in Austria to find out?
Edward shot it just as that red Citroen wagon pulled in to park, which gives a nice frame of reference. The Kadett was fairly big for its time, but that has long gone. But before the name Kadett is lost forever, at least in Americans’ memories, here’s a final toast to Opel’s Chevy II: thanks for the memories; good and middling. Bad? There must be a reason why there’s none to be found anywhere.
(Update: I did find one in Eugene eventually, a Rallye 1900 no less. Here’s its story:1968 Opel Kadett Rallye 1900: The European GTO
And here’s my take on Car and Driver’s infamous Kadett Asassination
Related reading: The Story of My Father, a GM Executive Part3: Vauxhall Viva
the firt kadets remind me of the first vauxhall viva,s both cars have the same historys and both become the opel astra.cc should do a piece on the viva,s esp the hot ones of the 70s like the 2.2 magnum,the dropsnoot v8 coupes and the sports wagon.
Several of those cars exist here and there is a British/European car display on tomorow Though only SouthAfrica built the Chev V8 HC Viva coupe as a production car.
The Rally version looks sweet! Kind of like an early version of the Ford Escort Cosworth, though far less ambitious.
I know it’s been asked and discussed before…but why, oh why, did GMNA pass on improving this design, and instead give us…the VEGA???
No, worse. They even used its successor’s basis and managed to screw that up completely.
Typically, although a far better car, like the Chevette all Kadett models have been the butt of jokes in Europe, particularly for being very common (the quintessential middle-class car in Germany and the Netherlands), very prone to rust and very easy to steal. While essentially good cars, and always praised as such by contemporary press, these gave Opel its commoner reputation it is still struggling to shake off.
Aaron Severson spells it out here.
This is a must read…along with Paul’s accounts which include contemporary road tests.
Vega appears to have been the first GM vehicle designed by committee – the corporate engineering staff – and imposed upon one of its divisions like a turd to be polished. Chevrolet engineering had in fact developed its own subcompact but when presented to corporate it was rejected “out of hand” by Ed Cole, who told them to develop Vega instead, then code-named “XP-887”.
Although they tried to make Vega work – as an upscale small car, they were overruled by the bean counters who demanded it meet a low price point.
Even the cast-iron head was a result of cost-cutting.
I was 13 and a total Chevy geek when Vega hit the market, so I remember the hype and the expectations quite well. At 18 I owned a black ’72 Kammback with the 110-HP engine and a 4-speed. A ball to drive, when I wasn’t working on it. Which was most of the time.
Paul, I actually saw a Kadett recently.
It was at the Pittsburgh World of Wheels show in January…a red, 4-speed ’68 wagon, beautifully restored right down to the window sticker. And I wondered how it might have gone had the Kadett become the Vega. Or if Vega had been allowed to be built as well as a Kadett.
I can hear the ‘Archie Bunker’ types at GM in Detroit back then. “We ain’t going to work on no ferrin cars!” and the infamous “It’s not ours/not invented here”.
Also, forcing Buick dealers to sell them. Potential buyers would hear “You should get a Skylark or LeSabre, more room, comfy…”. And take an Opel to Buick dealer’s service and hear ‘You shoulda bought a real V8 car!’.
I loved these cars, and my next-door neighbors when I was a kid had a B wagon, followed by two different Ascona wagons. Plus I must admit that the theme music for GM’s “mini-brute” ad campaign was burnt into my brain quite accurately, as this page proved …
Two weeks before I enetered the service in Sept. 1969, one of my friends bought a brand new Opel Kadett – the two-door notchback. Silver with charcoal interior. He got an AM radio as the only option. Of course it was a stick.
He dropped by my house early one Friday evening the day he bought it at Ackerman Buick in Ferguson, MO, picked me up, drove to a buddy’s, picked him up and we took off over the bridge into Illinois to ride all the levee roads and every other back road we could find. We had to drop off our buddy around 9 o’clock, put $1.80 in the tank and went back to Illinois! We finally returned home after midnight and somehow put over 250 miles on the car in that time!
Kind of repeated the process the following day! Good times, nice little car!
Believe it or not, I don’t make this stuff up, either…
Basicly the same as the HA/HB Vauxhall Vivas we had here which were good little cars.
I like how VW is now using the “Das Auto” tagline here in the US now.
I wonder if there any Buick dealers still left with any Opel signage like the one in the article.
Opel responded, today their slogan is “Wir leben Autos”. Why o why would that be?
The late great Ackerman Buick that Zackman mentioned earlier still had a giant white elephant statue from the Opel jungle/elephant-themed “Mini Brute” ad campaign right up until they closed in the mid-2000s.
That’s Alan Hale, Jr. in the first commercial…yes, it’s the Skipper! He also appeared in a commercial for Ensign Chrysler in the early 80’s. A Coast Guard veteran from WW2. Looked alot like my dad.
What about Buick/Opel Signage without a dealership? Found this one in the small town of Oxford, NC, decorating an empty lot. No sign of the dealership it once stood at, but the “Opel Kadett” sign remains.
Have to play the devils’ advocate here and say 60s Opels are best forgotten. The B-Type Kadett was possibly better than a Beetle , but that isn’t saying much.
Somehow in the early 70s Opel suddenly started making sharp looking cars with fine handling, and for ten years they were on a roll, but by the end of the 80s Peugeot were the kings of chassis design in Europe and Opels were stodgy also-rans.
I join in the question: “Where did they all go?” These were pretty common in the upper midwest (as imports went) in the late 60s-mid 70s. I knew a Lutheran minister who owned one (maybe a 69 or so?) in the mid 70s, and got to ride in it once. He seemed pretty proud of the fact that he had put about 80K on it and it seemed to be running strongly. Although it was starting to look a little worn, it seemed to hold up a lot better than my Scoutmaster’s 69 Cortina.
Then, one day, every Opel ever made seems to have disappeared. The really old Japanese cars of that period surface every once in awhile, but never these. Too bad, because I kind of liked them. And then we got the “Opel Isuzu, which never tempted me at all.”
As a German living in Germany, I join in the question “Where did they all go?”. Even in Germany you won`t find many Opel Kadetts “A-D”, the D-Kadett was built until 1984, being regularly driven anymore. Even at classic car shows that my wife and me attend with our cars you are sure to see at least about 30 vintage Porsche 911 or Mercedes SL for every Opel Kadett oder rear-wheel-drive (built until 1980) Ford Escort.
Those cars were regarded as disposable and are rarely rebuilt.
The orange-colored station wagon featured was called “carAvan” in Germany.
It was not a special color for a mail-truck in Austria, it was a very popular standard production color for the Kadett B and also for its successor, the Kadett C (1973-79).
As a kid my neighbor used to have a Kadett C in that very orange color, I remember being taken to school in that car many times.
That picture is quite a Kodak moment. Anyone remember the Kodak yellow?
Where did they go? I think many went to the tuners,in particular the Kadett C. Everyone wants to be a Walter Rohrl once in a while. I find them in every Youtube under “Bergrennen”.
Last time I was in Kosovo, I thought I saw a chevy monza. Turned out it was an Opel. That and I will say, 2 door asconas are decent looking cars. GM really bit itself in the ass from the lae 70’s on up. Opel made many good looking decent powered and fine handling cars that should have been imported here. Never happened. Too bad, ord did it for the mondeo and the focus.
Also, GM could have really done well with GTO. What in gods name were they thinking??
My first grade teacher had a soft yellow Kadett B. I think hers was the 2 door sedan and a lady we befriended from my Dad’s days in the Air Force has one for a while too and hers was yellow too.
I rode in my teacher’s little Kadett once to Northwest Trek for a class outing and this WAS in 1971 and her car was new or nearly new.
These weren’t bad looking cars at all and dear family friends had a ’74-’75 Opal Mantra in that bright blue for a good while, along with a white 75 VW Rabbit with the plaid interior. If anything, the later 1900/Mantra cars were better looking all around, especially the fastbacks with the round taillights.
the Chevy Chevette, while a MUCH better car than the Vega was at the time, and even now, that’s not saying a whole lot, other than it WAS infinitely more durable and longer lasting and reliable than the Vega, though by ’76, the Vega was decent enough, but the damage was done. I know as my Mom drove a ’76 Vega from roughly 78-83 with the only major thing being the carb being rebuilt around 1980. The Chevette was basically a redesigned Kadett/Vauxhaul Chevette.
I have always liked the Chevette’s basic styling despite it’s humble, somewhat crude origins.
I always wanted a mid-seventies Opel wagon in my early twenties but could never find one that didn’t burn oil.
I just found a 69 ,2 door opel wagon with about 45,000 miles,one owner,solid rust free body,automatic needs restoring. what is it worth?
I have a 1970 “Buick” Opel Kadett (1.9 litre, 1900) Wagon. It runs strong but definitely needs work. The hardest part is finding parts for it although I live near a great European auto place that is good at matching parts from other Euro models.
A good place to find Kadett parts: http://www.opelgtsource.com/
If you want to see what the Kadett could really do, watch the Top Gear Botswana special. It vastly outperforms the other cars in some of the worlds toughest conditions. Richard Hammond drove the 63 Opel Kadett with no modifications 1,000 miles across Botswana.
But they did modify it on the go. They added drain holes to the floor board with a shotgun.
And the contestants were shadowed by a mysterious VW Beetle.
I agree with Greg. One of the challenges for Opel to beat the beetle, was to come up with extremely rugged technique. The VW had the ultimate test track of WWII, especially the Barbarossa campaign into Russia. No wonder the VW was known as indestructable.
The look of the small Opel cast iron 4-cilinder block is not impressive at all, but it never lets you down. You can easily drive it for a while without water or oil I give you an example.
When I was 16 or 17, some friens and I used to buy old cars from the junkyard to drive it to pieces in the woods. Most cars did not last very long, as we tortured them with smashing them trough rough terrain, rolling over many times and held races through soft sands. Until we got an Opel Kadett. It gave us rally pleasure for weeks and weeks. Until one day, the orange oil pressure light went on.
Indeed. A short inspection on the dipstick showed that all engine oil had been gone. Probably during one of our attempts to roll the car upside down.
Well, one of the boys went away to get some oil from his father’s house. When he returned, he had a 5 liter tin of Castrol with him. We opened it, felt the oil inside ( “Yes! Its oil!”) and poured 3,5 liter into the Kadett engine. Then, it appeared to be white paint. With a layer of oil upon it, off course. Damn father! Typical father! Who puts paint into oil cans!
However. We started the Kadett and drove. With paint instead of engine oil. For weeks. It was a bit smelly and smoky, but it did not fail.
That explains. Here in The Netherlands, the Kadett was indeed “The Car”. Parked in every street. The laughing stock of every car lover. But it was so extremely simple, humble, reliable, roomy and exonomical, you could hardly find a bad one even after 10 years of age. Rust was the only critical thing.
Well, my first car was a 1969 Kadett. I bought it in 1980. It was stopped by a traffic collapse in 1985. It never let me down.
That was a really funny story. I assume it was oil based paint.
I bought a used Opel Wagon in 1971. It came to the US from Brazil where my college roommate’s father worked for an American firm. It was a 1968 model, had impressive handling and was fun to drive. While the car was excellent in all respects, and I owned it from ’71 through ’74, I took a lot of grief about it. Gas station people made comments like “Is this your car? It’s not paying your taxes.” and “Does this thing come with a motor?” and “This thing is made for insects.” But, worse, were the insults from the Queens County (NYC) Buick dealer parts department who consistently said really nasty things to folks buying replacement parts: “Ya look like the kinda’ guy who’d buy this ting”. After completing my Industrial Design degree, and I went on to design vehicles here and abroad, I never bought a GM car.
How GM (and Ford and MOPAR) to insult a paying customer…
My Familys first car in the US was a used 1959 Opel Rekord – I dont remember that one much but when I was 4 we got a powder blue Kadett Wagon – My mother a Berliner loved Opels – 1978-79 my Sister inherited the car as her first car and then I got it as a hand me down again in 1981 – when I first got it it had never been driven over 50 MPH so I was a bit of a shock to the poor car – but even back then it got amazing gas mileage. That is until we took it to a mechanic for a tune up and he had apparently wasn’t good with european makes – he went to adjust the carburetor and some spring loaded valve shot out and we couldnt find parts anywhere by that time. gas mileage dropped massively and running poorly the car died while crossing on the side of a field on a farm. The family there adopted it as a bit of a fort – clubhouse for a few years as we chose to buy another car when I graduated – I miss the simplicity of the car – of course I remember it fondly by I’m betting the reality of it would be a shock!
Thanks for your story. I hope you don’t mind if I use it in a post, it’s just such a great contrast between the little Kadett and the big Pontiac.
The remains of Ackerman Buick in beautiful Ferguson MO were finally bulldozed recently…I think they sold Hyundai or Kia out of that building most recently. I can’t say that I’ve seen an Opel of any description, in the flesh, in several decades, with the exception of an occasional Opel GT. I was a car freak as a kid, and I’m not convinced that I’ve ever seen any of the ones featured in this post…
They sold the Buick franchise to Behlmann in Hazelwood, who I think has since sold the Hazelwood store to someone else and moved out to Troy, MO.
Right to the end, Ackerman’s showroom remained pretty much unchanged from when it was built in the mid ’60s…..
Ackerman had a Toyota store on S. Kingshighway near Chippewa (by the old Southtown Famous-Barr). I wonder if it’s still there.
Behlmann has sure fallen from grace…they had those Carnection stores that tried to emulate Carmax, and must have lost their collective asses. Ken’s old estate on Hwy 67 was razed and replaced with a subdivision, and they are down to one little store in Troy, the old Marquitz Motors.
Yep, the Toyota store is still there and still Ackerman-owned.
The Carnection thing was only part of Behlmann’s problems. The fact that no one was buying full-size conversion vans anymore surely couldn’t have helped. Behlmann was by far the biggest dealer in the country for those things. The ’90s SUV craze was a little slower to take hold in STL because Behlmann’s volume allowed them to sell big conversion vans for not much more than a loaded up SUV. Those vans were EVERYWHERE!
I remember that well…Behlmann had hundreds, if not thousands of those crazy conversion vans on hand. I looked at one in the early 90s and they had it retailed over $50K…I about fell over. I could have gotten a Chevy Suburban LT at that time for $32K at Johnny Londoff…
Wow…love that folded-plane roof. Shame it’s gone. Modernist commercial architecture is becoming an endangered species!
I first remember Opels in the late 1960’s because of
their ‘elephant tug-of-war’ commercials. I believe their demise
was almost completely due to the un-favorable exchange rate
which occurred in the middle 70’s. Otherwise why in the world
Would GM replace it with a car like the Vega?
I had a 1975 1900 2-dr sedan (Ascona?) which was a beautiful
handling car, great ride, sporty performance (4 speed with fuel injection).
If I remember correctly, it was a Bosch K-Jetronic fuel injection system.
It was better handling and riding car than the 1984 VW Rabbit which replaced it.
+1 on the Dollar to German Mark exchange rate. The drop of the dollar was so hard that the GI’s stationed in Germany had to take courses in budgeting.
It also motivated VW to build Rabbits in Pennsylvania.
“GM replace it with a car like the Vega? ”
Umm, no, Chevy dealers didn’t sell Opels, Buick did, and kept them around at same time as Vega. It didn’t “replace” any GM car.
Just that GM didn’t use proven Opel parts for XP…
My mother’s best friend had a 1970 stripper 2 door, which was cute, but amazingly fragile, and unreliable. She traded on a rock-solid Nova. I would have sold my teenage soul for an Opel GT, and was devastated when they discontinued it. Instead of Saturn, GM should have re-introduced Opel to the U.S.
Instead of Saturn, GM should have re-introduced Opel to the U.S.
In its later years that’s kinda sorta what Saturn was.
Buick Regal = Opel Insignia.
This is Opel’s current top dog, the Insignia OPC with a 325 hp V6.
While in Guantanamo I had a 65 (or so) box looking Opel Kadet. My memories are of it being very economical when it ran and it frequently did not run. Sold it and took the bus.
Nice piece Paul!
When I was 8 and we lived in Greece in the early 70s, our landlord had a Kadett sedan.
Interestingly, we had 68 Beetle.
The Golf may have saved VW in Europe, but VW never recovered from the Corollas and B-210s, followed by Civics and Accords in the US.
And not only in terms of market share–I think it’s possible that VW sold more cars and buses in 1970 than they will sell cars and SUVs this year.
A what ?
Nickname around here for an Opel in the beater class. (slopen = to demolish, to dismantle)
Lots of shouda, woulda, coulda. But GM should have sold Opels through any B-O-P dealer that wanted small cars to sell, instead of forcing them on just Buick. The post about the Queens NY dealer says it all “You look like the type who buys these things”. They were making hay with huge cars, and couldn’t care less about Opels.
Even better would have been having Pontiac sell them, with DeLorean’s with marketing ideas.
I remember seeing these Kadetts when I was a boy. I’ve heard of the Opel car at the time, but I didn’t know what the Kadett was. The only other Opel I’ve seen was the GT coupe. A neighbour of my dad’s had one when I was growing up.
never saw the A model before. love it! looks like a tiny early Nova. wonder if a small block fits?
Then GM threw away the Opel for —— Vega. All for pride?
My thought about the Cortina & Pinto as well. I know, a 3-box small car wasn’t “sporty” or “sexy” enough. At least Ford had a little more sense & kept the Kent engine, at first.
Pride, sure. Americans preferred something that looked more American, even if it was a $#ittier car. Stupid pride.
Didn’t “throw Opel away”, could still get them at Buick dealers in the 70’s. But the exchange rate had prices soar. And then replaced by the 1976 “Opel by Isuzu”.
Also, the Chevette T body was a Kadette.
What is it about that photo of Lutz that reminds me of the “Waldorf Salad” episode of Fawlty Towers?
If you mean the poor beaten 1100, it was the “Gourmet Night” episode. Nonetheless, “Waldorf Salad,” with the American Tourist from Hell, is one of the greatest — it captures everything Brits hate or fear about Americans so well, I want to punch him myself!
A 1974 wagon for sale in the Bay Area. So there is one.
That’s an Opel 1900 (Ascona). https://www.curbsideclassic.com/curbside-classics-american/curbside-classic-1975-opel-1900-ascona-what-the-vega-could-have-been/
’75 must be about the last year for Opel in the US, no?
Lummox: Sadly, Yes.
The rising Deutschmark/Dollar exchange rate made these wonderful “Driver’s Cars” prohibitively expensive for most American buyers.
I can recall, with great disappointment, how the quoted advertised price of the Opel Manta Luxus kept rising in their advertisements during 1973/1974.
I continue to be gratified & flattered by how much Paul and I agree on oh-so-many cars.
I note, with complete approval, that Paul ended this entry with the 1970 models.
The 1971 thru 1975 (in the USA) Opel 1900/Ascona/Manta was a completely different, MUCH better and much improved on car than the preceding Kadette was.
As Paul said: “What the Vega could had been.”
The Kadett did seem to be all over in the late 60’s early 70’s time frame, but rapidly dissappeared from the scene by the end of the 70’s. Bay Buick-GMC in Torrance CA. had an Opel sign for many years, at least until the mid-90’s. Maybe they thought Opel was coming back. Back in the early 70’s I remember a family that had a light metallic green Kadett wagon. I though it was cool for no other reason than it was a 2 door wagon.
Quite a few of these were sold in Canada in the 1960’s as they were cheap, along with other associated dreck like the Viva. They were famously for skinflints, the kinds of dads who boasted how cheap he got everything. The problem in places like Ottawa was the cars couldn’t handle the frigid winters and moonscape roads. They were very light and Canadian winters pounded them to dust in a few years.
I often wonder why GM and Ford bothered with European imports, other than maintaining market presence. They can’t have made any money on it.
I remember these from family trips to Italy in the 70s. Opels were quite numerous. The Kadett looks just a bit too tall, the same as the Viva/Torana. Nice condition though. I like that orange, but the coat looks a bit fresh.
Holland in the seventies, everybody had an Opel Kadett of some sort.
We were hard working no-nonsense people, hence the Kadett, a lot of tin for the money.
Reliable hard working car, no show, just did its job.
I was nearly hung when I bought an Autobianchi as a kid.
Everybody had money; savings in the bank.
Everybody had a Philips color TV set
And we’d save money to buy one of those great Miele washing machines.
We went on holiday, with the Kadett.
We all had money.
Then the man from the bank came and told us we could do much better and buy much more if we’d loan money from them
So we started to buy expensive Audi’s and BMW’s.
And we’d go on holiday 3 – 4 times a year.
We’d start to drink fancy beers.
And that, was the beginning of the end.
You remember all that orange Brabantia stuff we had in the kitchen back then ? Orange, lots of orange. And brown, lots of brown. Orange-Brown, Brown-Orange. The whole shebang in your house.
Johannes weren’t we maybe more happy with what we had?
Less greed, more down to earth happyness…
I’ve got a damn good memory. I clearly remember that in my youth, the seventies and early eighties, nobody was judged by the cars they drove, the house they lived in or the clothes they wore. People with money bought a big Opel or a Mercedes W115 diesel. Paid in cash. Loans ? Leasing ? What the hell is that ? You FIRST saved money and THEN you bought a car (or whatever). And a Mercedes W116 was for crooks and pimps, the scum of the earth. WAY over the top !
I must admit I still live that way. Since last year my house is “mortgage free”, paid them bank-vultures their money back in the past 10 years. I’ve got zero debts and a decent sum of savings. I only buy stuff with money I actually have. The freedom and inner peace you get in return, just priceless !
Never borrowed to buy a car in my life.
Your take is one of the reasons I have a W116. Hehehe
They’re called “classics” now, aren’t they ? 🙂
Lots of photos of this one here:
Replacing the orange for radiant tones of red and teal blue everywhere, it was the same in Brazil. I miss those days… at least when the loans got popularity we still could buy funny and long lasting products (Philips included) however today… I’m not surprised the 70’s and 80’s music are still popular as the cars of that time, everything today is carefully made to make us bored.
Very much a postwar European mindset – my Polish friend’s family were just the same. Live with just the necessities. Rent for years, save, then pay cash for a small house, too small for most Aussies but just big enough for them. Walk or use public transport for years, then pay cash for their first car (in 1974).
I have been trying to teach my kids to pay-as-they-go and avoid owing money. They don’t seem to get it…yet.
One of my step-daughters works at a Michael Kors retail store, and she keeps coming home with overpriced clothing and jewelry that she gets at an alleged discount, but she just can’t seem to understand that an “MK” logo on a watch doesn’t make it a nice watch, it makes it a cheap Asian watch with a fancy logo on it. She doesn’t understand the concept of value, she is something of a “brand whore” like her father.
I have a nice 1100cc 1969 Opel Kadett engine, see it run here;
and the complete CL ad;
You’ll notice it is attached to a transmission tester….
If memory serves, I remember the gas tank was mounted inside the trunk against the inner body side panel-forgot what side it was. A friend -not the greatest driver had a `72 or `73 Opel Manta. I was always afraid to ride with her for obvious reasons!
My first car was a grass green Kadett B 1100 cc from 1971. It might not be very uncommon if not for that I bought it 2 years ago.
I’ve completely fallen in love with that car, it’s got that feeling that makes you all fuzzy inside when you drive it. The sense of going really fast while only doing 100 km/h, the way it leans like a boat in sharp turns (I can quote one of my friends “I’ve never felt so mortal in a car before”) and how it’s actually pretty practical.
Now for the winter I’ve had to put it in a garage to prevent it from rusting away completely but I do use it as an everyday car during the summer, which might be a shame as it’s only done 17’000 km (10’500 miles) in 43 years.
My dad bought a Kadett when we became a two-car family in the 60’s (Mom got the Rambler Rebel, and then a 72 Impala). It lasted until ’77, when we used the Impala to help push it down the highway and into the Olds dealership where they were having a “We’ll give you $1000 for whatever you can drive onto the lot” trade in sale. (Sadly, we got an awful 77 Cutlas Supreme). I got some of my early driving lessons (in the neighborhood) in that Opel – shifting gears from the passenger seat, or sometimes riding on my Dads lap and steering.
Here’s one that cropped up on an eBay listing in March 2015. Interesting because I don’t recall many getting the fake wood …
Our family car when I turned 16 was the exact same “sickly green” 1965 Kadett A model your father had. My brother and I lived with our divorced mom and she bought it in 1969 from a friend who was leaving the Berkeley, California area where we lived. My mom got a driver’s license with a borrowed car with automatic transmission, but we had no car. So she bought it and figured she would learn to drive a stick, which she never did.
I drove it to high school and it was shorter enough than the ubiquitous VW Beetles driven by my fellow students that I could parallel park it into spaces too small for the Beetles. Sadly, I could not drive it up some of the city’s steepest streets with three passengers.
It had some crazy mechanical issues. At one point it stumbled and stalled because the carburetor had come loose from the intake manifold and I had to tighten it back down! Another time, my brother was driving it and the brakes failed. Somehow the end of the brake shoe that meets the brake cylinder piston had become worn on one side, causing the piston to slip off the end of the shoe when the brakes were applied, losing braking and squirting fluid all over.
I was too broke for a proper fix so a friend welded a glob of metal to the worn end of the shoe and we ground it flat to make a bigger surface for the brake cylinder piston to hit, then soaked the brake shoe in gas and lit it to burn off the brake fluid! Insane when I think back on it, but probably not the dumbest thing I did in my teenage years, and those brakes lasted several more years!
I still fondly remember the sticky black plastic seats in the summer, the sound reminiscent of a sewing machine coming from the engine compartment, and the plaintive “meep” of the horn over 40 years later. It also got ridiculously high gas mileage back when gas was around $0.25 a gallon and it was a challenge to put 2 bucks worth in.
Eventually I bought a new car in the early 70s and gave the Opel to my brother. The head gasket blew while he had it and it went to the wrecking yard. if I ever win the lottery, one of my indulgences will be to find one of these and restore it to the condition I remember. Thanks for bringing back these fond memories.
My parents got a ’66 Wagon in December, 1965, just after the ’57 Beetle they had owned ground its engine to bits on the way to my grandmother’s house in ‘DC. I still remember the chemical smell of the upholstery, those black rocker switches on the left side of the dash with little diagrams in lieu of English, and the twin plastic bulges in the “way back” for the fuel tank and spare tire. The clutch pedal fell apart the first year, and I remember it being an ongoing battle getting it to start in wet weather; GM sold (thanks for nothing!) some kit that was supposed to fix the problem, but it never really went away. The rest of the clutch also eventually fell apart, though I’m not sure if that was Opel’s fault or that of the last person to service it. My father got $50 for it just before he took delivery of a fuel-injected VW Type 3 “Squareback” in 1969; a much better car for only a little more money. There seem to be plenty of references to Kadettes loosing parts in these comments, so I can’t help but assume that they weren’t screwed together all that well. But I also suspect that with more diligent customer support from GM and Buick, these problems would have stayed fixed longer, some of the chronic problems of this car (like starting in North-American weather) would have been worked out and they would have stayed on the road longer. Such support was probably more than what anyone could expect from a Buick dealer used to selling twice the car at twice the price.
I bought a 1971 Opel station wagon (new). I drove this car for over 20 years – to work and fishing and hunting trips. I loved it. The odometer was showing right at 250,000 miles when she finally gave up the ghost. Got a 3 inch piece of the rear axle on my computer desk right now…not just for a paper weight, but as a connection to the past, before my hair turned gray.
My parents bought a brand new ’67 Opel Kadett Rallye, was red/white from our local Buick dealer. I believe the price was under $2K back then. Pretty unusual around the neighborhood, as most back then drove Caddy’s, big Chryslers and V-8 Station Wagons. It had a manual stick and a am radio and bucket seats. Got pretty good mileage and our dog liked to ride around in the back window. Learned to drive in it and after awhile was quite comfortable to drive around..wished now I had it..pretty rare now..even back then.
A family friend also had a Rallye. It wasn’t fast enough so he traded it in for a ’68 or ’69 GTO. He got drunk one night, got into a fight with his wife, took off in the GTO, flipped it over a bridge and landed on its roof, killing him. Maybe it wouldn’t have happened if he’d stuck with the Opel.
My little 70 Kadett Rallye 1.9L still lives on after 250,000 miles on the frame. Restored it and still drive it to local car shows such Reno’s Hot August Nights.
My very first car was a red 1977 Opel Kadett 2-door, that my sister GAVE me in 1980. At the time I had no idea what I had or I would have treasured it over the ensuing years. I don’t remember what I did with it, if I sold it, traded it, or abandoned it, but I so wish I had it back today. I was young and dumb.
I’ve been looking for one to buy for years, but nothing out here in Colorado. I’ll keep looking just in case one turns up.
David E. Davis’s “Opel Assassination”.
I do recall this article in “Car & Driver” magazine, sniggering and guffawing over it.
One of the many reasons C&D was my “Go To” car magazine for over 30 years!
Today, not so much.
The “Corporate C&D” leaves me cold.
It was a well-written piece, worthy of inclusion in Esquire magazine. The content of the article, itself, wasn’t that bad, essentially saying that the car was just slow and boring in an erudite and florid way.
Unfortunately, those photos of the Opel wagon in a junkyard is what raised the ire of GM. It implied that a new Kadette was inclined to soon to be a resident of a junkyard, which really wasn’t accurate.
But the hit piece did succeed in its intent, elevating Car & Driver as the ‘gonzo’ automotive publication of choice.
Opel should have been available to any BOP dealer, and not forced on all Buick stores. Most couldn’t care less, and used them as bait/switch. Or, parked them in back.
But, there were some dealers that had Opel signs lingering long past the last “Opel by Isuzu” being sold. A local one, Loren Buick in Glenview IL, still had a Buick/Opel sign in 2008! Now, H
SO very true, Chicagoland!
As late as 1976 the local Buick dealer had 2 rows of the last of the fuel injected German Opels (NOT that “Japel”, the badge engineered Isuzu) sitting on their back lot.
The Buick dealer was much more interested in pushing Regals and LeSabres out the door. Those “Orphan Opels” could had been had quite reasonably, I am guessing.
IDK why I didn’t go by one of two of these zero mileage leftovers.
Oh yeh, I was still a broke college attendee.
Another issue was dealer service. Take an Opel to Buick shop and they were like “we don’t like these shrimpy cars…”
Happened to my mom taking her Skyhawk in for a recall.
The name Opel Kadette always makes me think of tires. I shall explain.
My mother (who was born in 1950) had one for her first car. One of her older sisters had gotten a Pontiac GTO, which their father quickly regretted when the rear tires were soon worn to the cords doing burnouts up and down Front Beach Drive. When it came time to equip my mom to go away for college, they got her an Opel Kadette.
After driving it for however long, she started to have problems braking. The car would tend to slide instead of stop. Eventually she drove home one weekend and asked her father what he thought was wrong. They went out to the driveway to look and…the tires were worn down to the cords.
This time it was from simply wearing them out, but my 18 year old mother had no idea that tires were something you had to replace. “You don’t have to replace the doors or the wheels or the windshield, why would you have to replace the tires, it’s just part of the car,” she had reasoned. She’s a whip-smart lady but somehow had missed that one. Her father had hilariously taught her how to change a tire (by making her figure it out on the street downtown while everyone they knew drove by and offered to help, as he turned them away one by one while the 5’2″, 90 lb teenager did it herself) but I guess kids think they know everything.
And no, even in the Deep South I am pretty sure I have never seen one on the road.
Don’t recall ever seeing one of these, but someone around here has an orange ascona wagon.
The plucky Kadett B. I am still daily driving a 1100 sedan here in southern CA. Simple basic trouble free comfortable transportation. It does its job without fuss or pretentiousness. I am amazed at how well the engineers made a cheap car so useable without feeling as if you were in a penalty box. They just have a certain feel that I find appealing. *
* I know Paul, I still owe you a writeup on this
Sounds like a true Car of A Lifetime. I’d love to hear the story and see some pictures, my mom would probably enjoy it too. Those cars just aren’t around here anymore.