Opel has its origins in the sewing machine business, where in 1886, and encouraged by his five sons, Adam Opel diversified into cycle production. Adam Opel died in 1895, at a time when the cycle car industry was already suffering a downturn, so his widow Sophie and elder sons Carl and Wilhelm looked around for something else to manufacture. Motor vehicles were the obvious answer, and the Opels purchased the rights to the Lutzmann car, a small 4 hp 2.98 kW single cylinder machine. The Lutzmann was hardly a success, and the venture was abandoned after only a few had been sold. The Opels then turned to Darracq, and secured the sole agents rights for Germany, Austria and Hungary.
The new venture required Opel to manufacture the Darracqs under licence, and by 1902 the company launched its own 10/12 115ci 1.9 litre model. Twin cylinder "doctors cars" in 6/12 or 8/14 form followed, as well as a large 421.1ci 6.9 litre 35/40. Over the next 8 years Opel established itself as a well-established vehicle manufacturer. But just as things were looking great, a serious fire at their factory destroyed their entire plant and equipment. Carl and Wilhelm made the brave decision to do away with sewing machine manufacture, and instead re-build to concentrate exclusively on motor car manufacture. The first iterations were small twin cylinder cars (now 5/12 and 6/16) and the flagship 40/100, now with a 622.4ci 10.2 litre engine.
The company struggled after World War 1, and with raw materials being hard to obtain and the Russelsheim factory being in French occupied territory the outlook was bleak. Post war demand for cars in Germany was nearly non-existant, however miraculously the company survived, at first manufacturing pre-war designs, then in 1924 manufacturing the 4/12 Laubfrosh (tree frog) which was a copy of the Citroen 5CV. It was this car that went a long way to helping Opel not only survive, but thrive, so much so that it drew the attention of US heavy weight GM.
In 1929 GM purchased 80% of the company, and two years later they purchased the remainder. Under GM's direction, the company then concentrated on the manufacture of smaller cars, such as the unitary-construction 78.05 ci 1.3 litre Olympia of 1935, and the 65.54ci 1.07 litre Kadett of 1937. The company did have larger cars on offer to, such as the six cylinder Admiral built between 1937 and 1939. Opel was nationalized by the Nazi regime in 1940, and manufactured trucks and engines during World War 2. The company re-started vehicle manufacture in 1947 with the pre-war Olympia design. GM again resumed control in 1948, but it would not be until the early 1950's that genuinely new cars rolled off the production line. The first of note was the Rekord in 1953, and a new 61.02ci 1-litre Kadett in 1962.
Opel's reputation grew over subsequent years, as their cars were both well made and offered above average handling. Best of these were the Ascona and Manta, and these were both given front wheel drive in the 1980's, as was the Kadett and Corsa. From the 1980's onward Opel increasingly shared parts and styling with the British GM subsidiary Vauxhall.
1970 - 1975
Released in September 1970, the Manta A may have beaten the Opel Ascona to the showrooms by 2 months, but it was always a rearguard action by GM to try and break the dominance of the Ford Capri. And in the Capri mould, the Manta was a two-door "three-box" coupe. In the UK market the first Manta was sold only as an Opel: there was no Vauxhall-branded Manta (or Ascona) until after the launch, in 1975, of the Manta B1 and Ascona B. More>>
1973 - 1979
The General Motors 'T-CAR' had been put into production, in one form or another, in countries as far apart as North America and Japan, South America and Australia, in addition to Great Britain and Germany. In terms of total numbers built between 1973 and 1979, it was unarguably one of the most successful designs of all time. More>>
1973 - 1979
The Kadett C appeared in 1973, and was Opel's version of GM's 'T-Car', it being built in Japan by Isuzu and re-badged for the European market as the Kadett, and in Australia as the Holden Gemini. More>>
As good as the Opel Kadett was, unfortunately the City version was rather forgettable. It tried to be all things to all people, and in doing so was over-compromised. Too cramped to be a serious four-seater, too rakish to carry practical loads and too sluggish to be truly sporting, the best the City could ever hope for was to corner the youth market seeking a stylish hatchback runabout with good economy. More>>
1975 - 1988
With the relase of the 2nd generation Manta there were three models, the De Luxe 1600, the Berlinetta 1900 and the 1.9 SR. The SR fell in the middle of the range in most export markets, and had several fittings over and above the standard equipment of the De Luxe, such as extra instruments, opening rear quarter windows and halogen lights. More>>
1978 - 1994
The Senator first appeared at the 1977 Frankfurt Motor Show, but it did not become available until May of 1978. With it Opel moved into the luxury car market with a vengeance providing very stiff opposition to the rival BMWs and Mercedes. A revised and more powerful version of Opel's in-line six-cylinder engine was chosen for the new car, and it was available in 2.8-litre or 3-litre forms. More>>
1978 - 1994
Opel's Monza coupe utilised the mechanical components of the Opel Senator along with which it was introduced in 1978, and thus it was a fairly conventional mixture of a straight-six, overhead-cam engine driving the rear wheels, with semi-trailing-arm rear suspension and MacPherson strut front. More>>
1982 - 1992
The third phase of Opel's move towards front-wheel drive, following the Kadett in 1979 and the Ascona in 1980, the Corsa enables General Motors to attack a segment of the market which was previously closed to them, that of the supermini. More>>