German brand Opel celebrates its 150th anniversary this year and has – perhaps understandably considering its difficulties in Europe – not made a major fuss about it (just yet). Established by Adam Opel in Russelsheim, Germany, in 1862, the firm initially produced sewing machines and bicycles before moving into car and motorcycle manufacture. Throughout its history as a car maker it has been an active participant in motorsport (of all forms) and consequently performance is seen as one of the core pillars of its DNA. In celebration of its anniversary, here follows a list of my ten favourite Opels, perhaps not the most influential cars of its past, but simply the ones I like most. Which are yours?
First shown as a styling exercise in 1965, the GT went into production in 1968 and continued until 1973. It was never a particularly fast car in standard form, relying mostly on its beautiful styling to draw buyers. I owned one until a year ago. A styling highlight are the unique rotating headlights. 1,1- and 1,9-litre four-cylinder engines were offered. The design was the work of GM’s Clare MacKichan and the body was built in France by Brissonneau & Lotz.
Opel Kadett “Superboss”
This famous South African special was born to clear the way for a racing programme. The car was a great success on the track and road-going versions now have a cult-following. I grew up during the days of its track battles, so memories of the Superboss are forever etched into my memory and finding an “unmolested” version remains on my to-do list. You can read the full road test here.
Opel Calibra DTM
The German Touring Car championship of the ’90s was something to behold, with the likes of Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Alfa Romeo and Opel fielding teams. The Calibra was particularly memorable for its slippery shape, and also its screaming Cosworth V6 engine which could rev to over 12 000 r/min!
Opel Lotus Omega
This beast was co-developed with Lotus and was so fast it caused waves all the way to the British parliament. The Omega did not adhere to the “Gentlemen’s Agreement” between the likes of Audi, BMW and Mercedes to stick to a top speed of 250 km/h for their luxury cars. Instead the Opel could top out at near 290 km/h! It was powered by a 3,6-litre twin-turbo engine that developed just over 280 kW. 950 units were built (of which 320 carries the Vauxhall badge).
1913 Opel Grand Prix racing car
In the early years of the twentieth century Opel was one of the most successful racing brands. Before the First World War it developed this racing car for the planned Grand Prix de France, a forerunner for today’s F1 races. Extremely lightweight and fast (up to 170 km/h), the car featured a radical (for the time) four-cylinder, 16-valve engine.
The RAK2 makes this list because it is so absurd. Fritz von Opel was obsessed with rocket power and tried with planes, trains and… yes, automobiles. The RAK2 drew a huge crowd in Berlin when it blasted to a top speed of 238 km/h in 1928! The RAK2 was powered by 24 solid rocket boosters, which were mounted in the rear, and included 120 kg of explosives.
Opel Blitz Panorama Bus
A bit of an odd-ball choice I know, but I love the romantic travel feel this 1954 bus creates. With its large glass area and vintage curtains, this bus makes me want to embark on a road trip across Europe. It was powered by a 2,5-litre, six-cylinder engine and only 67 were built!
Opel Manta B400
The result of a collaboration with Irmscher and Cosworth, the Manta 400 was a spectacular rally car, as evidenced by most photographs showing it in a typical sideways pose. It was powered by a 2,4-litre, 16-valve engine developing up to 172 kW. Roadgoing versions that look like this are very rare today.
Opel Speedster Turbo
Again the result of a collaboration with Lotus, the Speedster was based on the Elise and had brilliant handling according to most European test reports. This Turbo version was particularly fleet of foot, powered by a turbocharged 2,0-litre 16-valve engine that develops 147 kW. It weighed only 930 kg.
Opel CD concept
This 1969 concept never made it into production, obviously, but it’s certainly nice to look at. Developed for aerodynamic research purposed, CD stands for Coupe-Diplomat, and it was powered by a 5,4-litre V8 engine.