(First Posted November 8, 2013) This Opel Kadett C hatchback was an unexpected find. I’d seen an online ad for it a few months back; it was located a couple hundred kilometers away. I was certainly intrigued, and I’m always on the look out for an unusual but mechanically straight forward car. The Opel would have been right up my alley, but a lack of garage space and budget had dissuaded me from even checking it out. However that worked out for the little Opel (and CC) as it has landed in good local hands.
The Kadett could be Opel’s most storied name. Certainly it is one of the most long lived with it origins dating back to 1937. A break followed World War II until the name was resurrected to live again from 1962 until 1991. Always a small, economical car the first Kadett is perhaps most memorable for its second life as a Moskvitch. As part of the war reparations to the Soviet Union the Kadett design and in fact the whole production plant was carted off to the outskirts of Moscow.
The Kadett story picks up again in 1962 with the Kadett A. Envisioned as a Volkswagen Beetle competitor but in a rather more conventional mold, its design was also adopted largely for the Vauxhall Viva HA, with some changes and updates. The Kadett A is most known to auto enthusiasts for its role as Richard Hammond’s ride in the Top Gear Botswana adventure. His bleats of “Oliver!” as the little car sunk into the muddy river have to be one of the more memorable Top Gear moments. So struck by the car’s character he had actually had it restored to its former glory at his own expense.
The Kadett B succeeded the basic A by late 1965 and was a larger, more substantial evolution of the “A”. During its lifetime the B offered a full line up of body styles including two and four door sedans (limousine in Opel speak), two and four door fastback, two and four door wagon, as well as a coupe. This generation of Kadett reached the American (but not the Canadian) market with the front end and trim of the Olympia (starting in MY 1968).
Launched in 1973, the Kadett C was Opel’s variant on GM’s T-car platform and was widely admired at the time for its clean and attractive styling. As GM’s first world car, the plan was to sell versions around the world with the same body structure but different engines and styling. The Kadett was first sold in Brazil as the Chevrolet Chevette, appearing there even before the European release. Other variants include the Vauxhall Chevette, Chevrolet Marajo, Isuzu Gemini, Holden Gemini, Saehan Motor, Daewoo Motor, Daewoo Maepsy, Maepsy-Na, Buick-Opel, Pontiac Acadian, Pontiac T-1000, and Isuzu I-Mark. The North American specification Chevrolet Chevette is probably the most familiar to American readers.
Available body styles were two and four door sedans, three door hatchback, coupe and a rare cabriolet variant. A three door hatchback with a truncated length like our example was launched starting in 1975 and was known as the City to differentiate it from the station wagon like “Caravan” hatchback.
The City was billed as a Volkswagen Golf competitor but suffered when compared to the more modern Golf with its front wheel drive and fully independent suspension. The Kadett’s drive train was traditional rear wheel drive with a live axle located by a two bar/Panhard rod system. The front suspension was independent with double a-arms, coil springs and anti-roll bar. Four wheel drum brakes were even available on some early and smaller engine Kadett Cs but soon all variations were standardized on a front disc, rear drum configuration.
Engine options ranged from a tiny carburetor equipped 1.0L four cylinder to fuel injected 1.9L / 2.0L cam in head four cylinder engines in the Rallye. A smaller 1.6L cam in block motor with carburetors could be had in the more basic Kadett as well making 74hp. Our featured car has this engine, but the most common motor fitted was a smaller 1.2L pushrod four cylinder. Transmission wise, a floor mounted four speed manual was standard, with a five speed available on the GT/E models. The 1.2L and 1.6L cars could also be had with the GM TH180 three speed automatic as well.
This particular Kadett is from 1978, which means it benefits from the facelift of 1977 (Kadett)/1978(City) with composite headlights and relocated signal lights. It also has the upscale Berlina trim with more exterior chrome and interior equipment. That said it is still pretty bare bones inside. The larger 1.6L S engine was also fitted as part of the Berlina package, which no doubt helps cope with the automatic transmission.
The current owner recently acquired the car from a retired military serviceman who’d brought this Kadett back with him from Germany. He was tackling some brake work when I passed b,y but plans to get the Opel roadworthy soon. The body and interior looked to be in quite good shape. Sourcing mechanical parts shouldn’t be as much of a problem as one might suspect, since the Kadett C was sold in the US (but not Canada) as the Buick-Opel and many of the suspension bits are similar to the much more common Chevrolet Chevette.