Vintage R&T Road Test: 1968 Opel Kadett Rallye 1.9 – “Spins A Rear Wheel Almost As Avidly As An American V-8 Getting Off The Line”

The Kadett Rallye 1.9 was the European analog to the Chevelle SS396 or Nova SS. The formula was essentially the same: drop a larger (but in civilized tune) engine into a smaller and lighter car, and melt the pavement with the rear wheels. A lot of fun for very little money ($2475, $20k adjusted). Handling wasn’t exactly improved with the heavier motor up front, but it got the job done. The Kadett Rallye 1.9 was a trend-setter; essentially the first of its kind; a cheap European muscle car.

R&T notes that the Kadett had somewhat improbably become the #2 selling import, thanks (presumably) to its large network of Buick dealers and its rep for being “pretty reliable”. The Rallye 1.1 that had appeared just a year earlier was also fun to drive, but the 1.9 amped things up considerably.

The origins and specs of the Opel Cam-In-Head (CIH) engine family is examined; this engine was mostly designed in Detroit, and was made in both four and six cylinder versions.

It’s also noted that for 1968, the Kadett got a new rear suspension, with coil springs replacing the semi-elliptic leaf springs. It was better located, and supposedly made the Kadett less tippy at the limits. Bob Lutz quickly dispelled the engineers’ assertion that it was tip-proof. But R&T found “no tendency for it to chatter or lift its inside wheel unduly early in the cornering process and would put it in the category of ‘well-located live axles'”.  Bob presumably took it a bit further than that. Actually, he did a J-Test, pulling the handbrake and turning the wheel hard.

Overall, the Rallye’s handling was not exactly brilliant, displaying the front-heaviness and sluggishness of domestic cars. The Kadett’s front suspension geometry with a transverse leaf spring and control arms was a bit less than stellar. Cheap, but it was showing its limitations.

The Rallye got through the 1/4 mile in 18.3 sec. and at 74 mph; not at all bad for a cheap import. And of course it always felt like it was doing about 20 mph faster than it was. The 1900 was deemed to be very noisy. And its 20-23 mpg fuel economy was not exactly anything to brag about.

The brakes (disc front) were deemed up to the performance potential of the Rallye.

It was not yet apparent at the time of this test that the Rallye was an important trend-setter in the US. Turns out that lots of Americans were eager to have small, cheap but zippy cars, and it rather opened a bit of a floodgate in that regard. Within a couple of years, sporty versions of subcompacts and small sporty coupes (think Capri and Celica) were hot numbers. In fact the Capri ousted the Kadett as the #2 selling import just a couple of years later.

If genuine muscle cars like 454 Chevelles and Hemi ‘Cudas were quickly fading from the scene, there were 7/8 scale import versions to be had. Not quite as fast, but they were fun to drive and the image was right. And of course GM sold a lot of Vega GTs too.


One of my best finds ever was this Rallye 1.9 that showed up one day not far from our house. I did a full CC on it here. It didn’t stay here long; a buyer from Germany repatriated it.