Opel Kadett C

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Opel Kadett C

1973 - 1979
993/1196 cc
40-60 bhp
4 spd man / 3 spd auto
Top Speed:
80 mph / 128 km/h
Number Built:
2 star
Opel Kadett C
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 2


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.

Opel not only took the credit for their own Kadett success, but for the fact that it was their basic design in the first place, from which all other versions were subsequently developed. In the UK Kadetts not only had to sell against the very similar Vauxhall Chevettes (from which they only really differed in terms of frontal styling, and in engine/gearbox choice), but against the mass of conventional front engine / rear drive models like the Chrysler-Sunbeam Avenger, Ford Escort, and Morris Marina, not forgetting other imported cars like the Colt Lancers, Datsun Sunnys, Ladas, Mazdas, Toyota Corollas and Polski Fiats.

But despite the competition, Kadetts remained in short supply in the UK, which clearly shows just how popular the little cars were in West Germany and throughout Europe. Although all Kadetts were based on the same basic underpan, chassis components and suspensions, they were built with two ranges of engines. The great mass of models, which took the lion's share of sales, had one or other version of the small 993cc/1,196cc engine. On the other hand there was a limited range of high-performance coupes with the larger 1,897cc/1,979cc engine and Bosch fuel injection.

The 2-litre cars, built with motor sport and particularly rallying in mind, were broadly the equivalent of the Ford Escort RS2000s. Much more expensive, these versions included a completely different engine, transmission and braking details. The original Kadett range was announced in Germany in the autumn of 1973, and was based on a conventional pressed steel floor pan, and on a 7ft 1 0.3in. wheelbase. All cars had the same front end styling (of which there were minor variations over the years), screen and front doors; there were four basically different types of passenger cabin / loading arrangements - 2 door / 4-door saloons, 3-door hatchback, 2-door fastback coupe, and 3-door estate.

The hatchback, dubbed the "City", had the rear of its floor pan cropped, and was eight inches shorter than other models. At 13ft 6 .4in. the other Kadetts were really rather large small Cars. The small four-cylinder engine range had been in production, in one form or another, since 1962, as had the transmission linked to it. The General Motors automatic transmission (built in Strasbourg) was offered on all but the cheapest versions.

All Kadetts had coil spring independent front suspension, live rear axles located by radius arms and torque tubes, and suspended in coil springs, and
rack and pinion steering. All except early Economy models had front wheel disc brakes and rear drums; most models had vacuum servo assistance. From its launch in 1973 several levels of trim and equipment were offered, in a typically 'product planned' line-up. In ascending order of luxury and fittings these were the 'base' model, Special, E, J, DL or Luxus, not forgetting the limited run of SR models built on City and Coupe bodies during 1977.

The whole process was complicated by the number of extra options, and the choice of engines and transmissions which could also be bought over the years. The basic engine was a very well-proven unit which had been in production for 17 years. It had similar ancestry to that used in the Vauxhall Chevette/Viva models, but was entirely different in detail. It was new for the first of the more modern Kadetts, launched in 1962, and had been made available in three different sizes. These changes were achieved merely by altering the cylinder bore. The Kadett C's were offered with the 993c.c. verion (bore and stroke 72 x 61 mm), and with the 1,196c.c. version (79 x 61 mm), each being built in two different guises. There was, therefore, a spread of power between 40 bhp and 60 bhp from the same basic unit.

Opel Kadett

Most export market Kadetts were fitted with the 1,196c.c. engine is installed. This, in 'normal' form, had a 7.8-to-1 compression ratio, and was good for 55 bhp at 5,400rpm. The alternative 'S' type engine, standard in Coupe and cars with automatic transmission, and optional on other cars, has a 9.0 to 1 compression ratio and 60 bhp. It was a completely conventional design, with overhead valves in line, a side-mounted camshaft in the cast-iron cyclinder block, driven by chain, and with a three main bearing crankshaft. All versions used a single down-draught Solex carburettor.

Kadett Transmissions

Although an automatic transmission was optional on most models, the vast majority of all Kadetts sold were fitted with the sturdy, well-proven and conventional four-speed all-synchromesh gearbox that had been used on this type ofsmall Opel since 1962. There had never been any other 'manual' alternative (such as overdrive, or a three-speed box), but most models could be had with GM three-speed automatic gearbox, which was always supplied with the 60 bhp 1.2-litre 'S' engine, and never with the lower-powered'versions. Obviously the auto trans took the edge off performance and economy compared with a manual Kadett, and in terms purely of running costs it was not a desirable combination.

Kadett Body Variants

If you only considered the Kadett from the aspect of the driving position, there was no difference in instrumentation, in the layout of the controls, or in the view out over the bonnet, between any of the model variants. All the differences were behind the line of the front seats and doors. In the case of the 2-door and 4-door conventional saloons, the 4-door sedan obviously offered an extra level of convenience, however there was absolutely no difference in the size of the passenger compartments. The choice between the City hatchback and the estate car (both of which only had two passenger doors) depended purely on the customer's sense of style, and their need for stowage space. The hatchback looked the goods, and was more compact than the estate, and lacked only a little in terms of absolute stowage space. The sill below the loading door on the City, however, was somewhat higher than that of the estate car.

On both versions the rear seat back rest could be folded down to increase the stowage space. On the estate car, the loading door did not slope forward so rakishly as on the City, which meant that bulkier objects could be stowed. The coupe, of course, was a conventional 2-door fastback style, which in 1.2-litre form was almost a sheep in wolf's clothing. Although a substantial number of Opel Kadett coupes were sold, many of them were the Rallye E or GT / E models, with the 1.9-litre or (on later 1978/79 models) the 2.0-litre engines, and appropriate drive lines.

Opel Kadett

The Kadett D - A Change For The Worse

A brand-new engine was exhibited by Opel at the 1979 Geneva motor show, and a rumour quickly spread that the new engine would be used to power a front wheel drive iteration. Thankfully for Aussie Gemini fans (of which there were many) GM Holden resisted the urge to change their T-Car to front wheel drive until the release of the RB model in 1985.

Alas, in Europe the Kadett D was introduced in November 1979 as three or five-door hatchbacks and estates or station wagons. There were also two and four-door sedans, which used the same bodyshells as the hatchbacks, but these were soon dropped. Also dropped, in comparison to the C Modell was the Coupé.

Technologically, the Kadett D was a major departure, as it was Opel and Vauxhall's first front wheel drive car. It also introduced the Family II engine design with an single overhead camshaft, aluminium alloy cylinder head, hydraulic valve lifters, with capacities of 1300 and 1600 cc, and had a unique transaxle design which allowed the clutch to be replaced without removing the transmission unit.

Later, an 1800 cc version was introduced for the Kadett/Astra GTE model. This range of engines was also used for later models of the Corsa/Nova, and the mid-sized Cavalier/Ascona. The Kadett D was also equipped with a 1600 cc diesel engine that was possible to drive as cheap as 5.0 L/100 km, and a carry-over 1196cc OHV engine. It was also produced as IDA Kadett in Kikinda, Yugoslavia. But was it any good? We will let owners tell us their opinions in the comments area below.

    • Nov 1973: New Kadett range introduced - Five variants as follows:
      • Saloon 2-door 31 8067295
      • Saloon 2-door DL 38 8089310
      • Saloon 4-door DL 37 8124544
      • Coupe 2-door 32 8042357
      • Estate 3-door DL 39 8117818
    • July 1974: Economy version of 2-door saloon introduced:
      • Saloon 2-door Economy 31C 18222113
    • April 1975: Revision of available range. Series 31 C model dropped, all others revised. New line-up as:
      • Saloon 2-door Economy 31E 55086427
      • Saloon 4-door Economy 36E 55105044
      • Saloon 2-door Special 31 55088954
      • Saloon 4-door Special 36 55104246
      • Estate 3-door Special 34 5.5101849
      • Saloon 2-door·Luxus 38 55113902
      • Saloon 4-door Luxus 37 55087912
      • Estate 3-door Luxus 39 55088798
      • Coupe 2-door 32 55020092
    • Feb. 1976: City Hatchback model (body similar to Vauxhall Chevette) introduced:
      • City Hatchback Special 3-door 33 65054859
      • City Hatchback Luxus 3-door 35 65059838
    • September 1976: Introduction of slightly changed 1977 models. New chassis number sequence:
      • All 75000 including new "J" versions ot City and Saloon:
      • City J 3-door 33J
      • Saloon J 2-door 31J
    • June 1977: Entire range replaced in favour of latest 90 series models, mechanically the same, but with minor style changes including wrap-around side/flashers, grille, other details. New models as follows:
      • Saloon 2-door DL 31 72500001
      • City Hatchback 3-door DL 33 72500006
      • Saloon 2-door Special 91 72718445
      • Saloon 4-door Special 96 72732815
      • City Hatchback 3-door Special 93 72716747
      • Estate 3-door Special 94 72716733
      • Coupe 2-door Special 92 72721978 Saloon E 2-door 31E
  • Opel Kadett

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    Also see:

    Opel Kadett C 1200
    Opel Kadett City
    The History of Opel
    Holden Gemini
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