You may remember the beloved Opel Kadett A named “Oliver” that Richard Hammond of Top Gear fame slogged through the Makgadikgadi Salt Pan of Botswana. He became so attached to the little car that he had it restored and owns it to this day. Hammond’s love of this classic comes with good cause as it was a secret weapon of Opel developed specifically to invade the dominance of Volkswagen during the 1960s. Even though it delivered similar levels of horsepower (around 40 hp) it did offer better heating as well as more interior and luggage space. The Kadett’s popularity and engine reliability provided a resurgence for Opel and the car was exported to many countries including the United States. Whether you punish yours in the muck and mud or reserve your driving strictly to the road is entirely up to you.
Unlike the previous model, there was no saloon version for the European market, but one was designed in Brazil for the Latin American market, as saloons were much preferred to hatchbacks there. This was also introduced in South Africa and India. An estate car, panel van and pickup truck were also introduced, and a convertible version was produced for the Australian market, called the Holden Barina Cabrio.
Just a year later, a new Soviet car, the Moskvitch 400, rolled off a Moscow assembly line. It seemed to be the Opel Kadett in every detail, with only the name changed (various sources provide contradictory information; see the respective article). By late 1950, the Russians were exporting these Kremlin Kadetts to Belgium, stressing in their promotion that spare parts could easily be obtained from Germany. A Moskvitch model that bore no trace of Opel engineering was not introduced until 1959, and by that time, Opel was just about ready to introduce a new Kadett of its own.
The next step for Opel was the resumption of passenger car production. It might have seemed easiest to bring back the Kapitän first since its engine was already in production for the truck, but occupation regulations restricted German civilians to cars of 1.5 L or less, which made the Olympia the obvious candidate. Under Dr Ing e.h. Karl Stief, who had been chief engineer at Opel since 1934, useful changes were made to this tough little car. The Dubonnet front suspension was replaced by a conventional coil-and-wishbone layout and the steering was correspondingly rearranged.
The Corsa C arrived in the 2002 model year as a five door hatchback, and was imported from Europe; but for the model year of 2003, the Corsa sold in Mexico began coming from Brazil and a saloon version was added. In 2005, the saloon version introduced a semi-automatic transmission called easytronic because it was only offered in a five speed manual transmission, however, the easytronic transmission was rapidly discontinued after the model year of 2007, because of poor sales and technical flaws.
The Insignia flagship followed exactly the same initiative as the Astra. Once again the Opel engineers’ main objective was efficiency. Thanks to optimized packaging and lightweight materials they could save up to 175kg on the Insignia Grand Sport compared with its predecessor – much to the benefit of dynamics and fuel consumption. Depending on powertrain and equipment, the current Insignia Sports Tourer even weighs up to 200kg less than the similar model variant from the first generation.
Joseph DeBattista and his son, Joey, acquired this Lapis Blue wonder after trading a Volkswagen. Owing to its rarity, they had to be creative with the restoration. While Joey was hunting for parts on eBay, his father bent metal to perfection, slowly completing a car that will always remain an underdog, a nice conversation starter, and a fail-proof daily driver. Just ask Richard Hammond, if you need more proof.
^ General Motors Austria Gesellschaft m.b.H. (GMA, founded 1963 as sales organisation; from 1979: Administration, Non-productive Departments an Sales) and General Motors Austria Werke Gesellschaft m.b.H. (GMAW founded 1979; Production). In November 1987 GMAW (Austrian Handelsregister, HRB 24.436) were merged into GMA (HRB 20.133b, actual Firmenbuch FN 110500a).