Marques of Distinction - Opel

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Opel was one of many European bicycle and machinery manufacturers that recognised the potential of motorised transport

From Unique Cars #289, Aug/Sep 2008

Opel's first cars were built in 1898 and based on various chassis including the French-designed Darracq.

By 1910 the company had a comprehensive range including a 7.3-litre competition car capable of 135km/h. The following year its factory was damaged by fire, wiping out the sewing machine division that had existed since 1862 and hastening adoption of more efficient car-making techniques.

In 1929 and just months before vehicle sales would be devastated by the Great Depression, General Motors bought an 80 percent share in Opel and began to heavily influence the company’s direction and product range.

Opel’s sporadic dabbling in motorsport was brought to a close and production during the 1930s closely mirrored that of Britain’s Vauxhall; drab, dependable four and six-cylinder sedans plus a handful of 3.6-litre Admiral saloons and cabriolets.

While GM insisted it had no control over Opel during the period when its factories produced vehicles and aircraft for the Nazi war effort, a Washington Post article in 1998 reported that GM was paid $32 million in compensation by the US government for bombing damage and other losses.

Post-war reconstruction was slow and not until the 1960s did Opel demonstrate its flair for advanced vehicle design. The company’s new products included a two-door Commodore that predated Holden’s Monaro by more than a year, with styling nuances that were reflected in the Australian car.

Opel -logo

Opel’s 1970s range included a sporty GT coupe that enjoyed significant success in the US. With a 175km/h top speed and optional auto, more than 100,000 of the 1.9-litre GTs were sold.

Millions of Aussies have owned or ridden in an Opel. The Holden Commodore released here in 1978 was a mirror-image of the car launched in Europe a year earlier as the Opel Rekord.

Following Germany’s reunification in 1989, Opel took over the ex-Wartburg factory in Eisenach and brought car-starved East Germans their first decent vehicles since the 1930s.

In 2002 the company displayed a diesel-fuelled sports/racing car designated the Ecotech CDTI. With a five-speed automatic transmission, the CDTI would reach 250km/h and also set a 24 Hour fuel economy record of 2.5l/100km (113mpg).

The company took eco-friendship a step further, displaying at the 2007 Frankfurt Motor Show a diesel hybrid car that uses 3.75 l/100km and employs braking energy to recharge its storage batteries.

 

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