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.
Strangely, the joint-venture was announced several years ago. Then, just as the Crossland X and C3 Aircross hit showrooms, PSA decided to buy GM Europe – the company that owns Vauxhall. So this pair are a preview of a future strategy in which all Vauxhalls, Peugeots, Citroens and DSs will draw from shared engineering, like the VW Group’s brands have done for years.
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.
As the war progressed, military authorities placed greater stress on the development of air-cooled engines, which they felt had more immunity to damage from weather, shellfire, and misuse. To meet this demand, Opel engineers developed an unusual variation on normal cooling for the 3.6 L truck engine. It was called "air-oil cooling", and used engine oil to take heat away from the jackets around the cylinder barrels. The heads were directly cooled by air, there being three separate aluminium finned heads, each serving two cylinders. Of this interesting engine, which developed 72 hp (54 kW; 73 PS) at 3,000 rpm on 74-octane fuel, only three examples were built.
There were two distinct generations of the Kadett B: 1966-1967, and the 1968-1973. Bob Lutz had a hand in the key feature that distinguished the two. The torque-tube/leaf-spring rear suspension was replaced for 1968 by a coil-spring and control-arm set-up, designed to both improve ride and handling, especially in reducing the Kadett’s tendency to tippiness. Bob had recently arrived at Opel, where he mentioned that the Kadett had a bit of a rep in the US for being a bit tippy, especially in a J-turn maneuver. The engineers told him that the new rear suspension (seen here in this picture) would eliminate that, and invited him to see for himself. The result is self-evident (full story here).
For 1937 the Kadett was offered as a small and unpretentious two door "Limousine" (sedan/saloon) or, at the same list price of 2,100 Marks, as a soft top "Cabrio-Limousine". The body resembled that of the existing larger Opel Olympia and its silhouette reflected the "streamlining" tendencies of the time. The 1,074cc side-valve engine came from the 1935 Opel P4 and came with the same listed maximum power output of 23 PS (17 kW; 23 hp) at 3,400 rpm.
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 instrument panel and center stack are clearly structured and horizontally aligned to the driver. The cluster and air vents feature subtle chrome finishes, conveying a message of high quality, while the available 8-inch color touchscreen is seamless integrated into the centerstack and features modern IntelliLink infotainment system, including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility.
Still, a number of Kadetts has been captured as trophies by the Red Army and available for study and reverse-engineering. This project was conducted by design bureaus formed as Soviet-German joint ventures under the Soviet Military Administration in Germany (SMAD). There were 11 of them in total. One in Berlin (reverse-engineered the engine and transmission. Another in Schwarzenberg worked on the steel body. The wooden-bodied station wagon was developed in Chemnitz. The vast majority of the personnel of these design bureaus were German specialists and craftsmen hired by the Military Administration. These design bureaus not only prepared the necessary blueprints and documentation, but also provided the wooden master model for the body. They even developed the new trim pieces which distinguished the Moskvitch from its Opel prototype, including hood emblems and hubcaps with a large "M" (for "Moskvitch"). However, the stamping dies and most of the tooling had to be produced in the USSR.
On August 26, 1945, the State Defense Committee published Order № 9905, which prescribed the start of production of the 4-door Kadett on the Moscow small car plant "without any changes to the design". But implementation of the plan was far from smooth. The Rüsselsheim plant had been deeply involved in the Nazi war effort, producing aircraft engines for the Luftwaffe, and consequently has been heavily damaged by the Allied air raids. Very little was left to be salvaged – mostly incoherent drawings and plans, with several stamping dies for the 2-door version of the Kadett to add.
^ 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).