In marketing terms the "Kadett KJ38" was intended to fill the niche that Opel had recently vacated with the departure of the Opel P4, but the KJ38, priced at 1,800 Marks, was more expensive than the P4 and its reduced specification left it with the image of a car for poor people (..Image des Arme-Leute-Autos..) at a time when economic growth in Germany was finally fostering a less minimalist approach to car buying. The "Kadett K38 Spezial" fared better in the market place: in 1938 and again in 1939 it was Germany's top selling small car. By May 1941 the company had produced 17,871 "Kadett KJ38"s and 56,335 "Kadett K38 Spezial"s.
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.
There are a slightly unnecessary 11 different trim levels to choose from, with the entry-level Sting model coming equipped with 16-inch alloys, heated windscreen, driver's seat height adjustment, cruise control, a leather clad steering wheel, Bluetooth and USB connectivity as standard. Upgrading to Sting R adds VX-Line interior styling, sports suspension and gloss black exterior trim, while Energy trimmed Corsas include air conditioning, heated front seats and steering wheel, electrically adjustable and heated door mirrors, auto lights and wipers, front foglights, LED day-running lights and Vauxhall's IntelliLink infotainment system complete with DAB radio, 7.0in touchscreen display and smartphone integration.
In 1993, a 125 kW/168 hp 2.5 litre V6 (C25XE or SE4) was introduced. Available with both manual and automatic transmissions, the V6 was not as fast as the Turbo, but was rather more civilised, and proved to be more reliable than the complex four wheel drive model. 1995 saw the introduction of the X20XEV Ecotec engine, a new version of the classic C20XE 16 valve or "red top" engine.
When in 1942 it became clearer that the fighting would go on for a while, car and truck factories were switched to war work in a modest way, Opel taking up the production of aircraft parts and tanks. Only at the Brandenburg plant did truck manufacture roar ahead at full speed. From the end of 1938 onward, the big Opel Blitz trucks had been powered by the same basic 3.6 L engine used in the Opel Admiral. To meet the growing demands of wartime, 3 short tons (2.7 t) trucks of Opel design were built under license by Daimler-Benz at the former Benz factory at Mannheim.
Many Opel models or models based on Opel architectures have been sold in Australia and New Zealand under the Holden marque, such as the Holden Barina (1994-2005), which were rebadged versions of the Opel Corsa, the Holden Astra. a version of the Opel Astra, and the Captiva 5, a version of the Opel Antara. In New Zealand, the Opel Kadett and Ascona were sold as niche models by General Motors New Zealand in the 1980s, while the Opel brand was used on the Opel Vectra until 1994.
Sales in the United Kingdom were strong right up to the end, but by the time the last Nova was built in the beginning of 1993, it was looking very dated in comparison to more modern rivals like the Peugeot 106 and the Renault Clio. Vauxhall dropped the "Nova" name in 1993 when their version of the Opel Corsa B made its debut, and later models were sold as the "Vauxhall Corsa" instead.
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.
In 1957 Opel Product Director Karl Stief was mandated by General Motors headquarters in Detroit to develop "the perfect Anti-Volkswagen" ("einen perfekten Anti-VW"). The development team was headed up by Stief, supported by Hans Mersheimer (car-body) and Werner K. Strobel (engine and running gear), under conditions of such secrecy that even now very little is known of the development history of the 1962 Kadett. It has been alleged that GM was trying to conceal a new technique of platform and design sharing between Opel and its British sister company Vauxhall, which released the strikingly similar Viva HA in 1963, a year after Opel introduced the Kadett. Over the subsequent two decades Opel and Vauxhall's ranges would rapidly converge as Vauxhall's design independence from Opel was eroded to the point where by 1985, Vauxhall's car range entirely consisted of rebadged Opel models.
Competitive pricing led to commercial success, and Kadetts continued to be produced during the early months of the war: by the time production ended in May 1940, following intensification of World War II, 106,608 of these Opel Kadetts had come off the assembly line at Opel's Rüsselsheim plant, which had been the first major car plant in Germany to apply the assembly-line production techniques pioneered by Henry Ford.