- Opel Kadett launched as innovative small car with an integral body and frame
- Over 24 million Opel Kadett and Astra have been sold to date
- Current generation Opel Astra continuing the success story of its ancestors
Opel led the way in the 1930s, especially with the innovative and revolutionary all-steel unitary body construction.
With its good value for money and progressive features, the first Kadett laid the corner stone for Opel’s success in the compact class. To date, eleven generations of Kadett and Astra have been successful in their segment: Over 24 million Opel Kadett and Opel Astra cars sold is an impressive number and a notable achievement. Lined up one behind the other, all Opel compact models built so far would surpass the magical 100,000-kilometer mark and create a column of cars that could circle the equator two and a half times. Opel compact cars have successively made personal mobility accessible to a broad customer base, especially in economically difficult times and not only that. The latest generations have made technologies and innovations from higher segments affordable for numerous customers. The new Opel Astra K, launched in 2015, has already been ordered 275,000 times across Europe.
1936-1940: Opel Kadett 1 – The “Volkswagen”
The speedy four-seater could do nearly 100 km/h and it did not take long to find its way into the hearts of the general public. It also found favor with the press: “As the first test drives have confirmed, the Kadett is certainly not an ordinary vehicle in this price range,” wrote a German newspaper, “Braunschweiger Tageszeitung,” on December 5, 1936. The chassis with Dubonnet independent front suspension and leaf-spring rear axle stemmed from the Opel Olympia, and the L-head four-cylinder gray cast-iron engine was taken from the Opel P 4. It generated 23 hp from a displacement of 1,073 cm3. The advantages of taking the engineering from a modular system also played a key part in the low price of the car. Just like its big brother the Olympia, which it resembles in appearance, the Kadett is a modern car. Harmonious proportions with a hatchback and integrated headlights are characteristic.
Flowing lines: The 1936 Opel Kadett shows harmonious proportions with a hatchback and integrated headlights.
From Kadett to Admiral
“Just as agile, versatile and obedient to all the driver’s commands as you would expect of a career-making cadet,” wrote the Cologne newspaper, “Kölnische Zeitung,” in 1936 about Opel’s new car. Its name, “Kadett” was as new as the segment. Up until the debut of the first Astra in 1991 (see page 54), Opel’s compact class line would use this name for more than five decades. The company launched two more ranges with names stemming from the German navy, Admiral and Kapitän, in 1937 and 1938.
Unitary body and ultra-modern production
After the Olympia, which was the first German series-production vehicle to feature a unitary all-steel body, the first Kadett also had a monocoque body. There are many advantages of this construction compared with the classic wooden body-on frame. For instance, the driving performance and fuel consumption benefit from the car’s low weight, while the safety level is higher thanks to the rigid passenger cell and the lower center of gravity. The self-supporting structure opened the door to a new production method that is still commonly used today: The body and the powertrain (engine, transmission, axles) are “married” on the production line with the help of hydraulic elevators. The Kadett was manufactured by Opel, in Rüsselsheim. In 1936, the company operated the most modern drop forge in the world and the largest body press shop in Europe.
Fresh design and innovative technology
Headlamps integrated into the body instead of the ancient separate lamp units gave the Kadett a fresh appearance. Not surprising, because it was Opel that first made modern car design popular in Europe. Back in the 1930s, shortly after the company’s integration into the General Motors Group, a design department was established in Rüsselsheim on the initiative of GM chief designer, Harley Earl.
Impressive from all angles: Opel Kadett was popular right from the start and is now a sought-after classic car.
The secret of the Kadett’s success: Modern design, outstanding spaciousness and innovative technology such as the unitary body construction.
The Kadett was the first Opel model to feature an in-house developed downdraft carburetor with a so-called venturi tube. In this tube, named after the Italian physicist, Giovanni Battista Venturi (1746–1822), the fuel is mixed into the incoming air ahead of the throttle valve. The venturi tube is a smooth-walled piece of tubing with a constriction in it. When air flows through the tube and passes the constricted section, it has to flow faster at this point than in the other sections. As a result, a vacuum is produced (as on the upper side of an aircraft wing). At the constricted point is a tube filled with gasoline. The fuel is sucked in by the vacuum in the venturi tube and dragged along.
At a glance
|Series||First generation Opel Kadett|
|Number||107,608 (Moskwitch: 247,439)|
|Body variants||Two-door sedan|
|Engine||Gasoline: 1.1 l/23 hp|
|Body/chassis design||Monocoque all steel body|
|Front wheel suspension||Rigid axle, forged|
|Front wheel suspension/damping||Dubonnet springs/shock absorbers|
|Rear wheel suspension||Rigid axle, banjo type|
|Rear wheel suspension/damping||Semi-elliptical leaf springs, hydraulic shock absorbers; “Normal-Limousine” (sedan) from 1937: semi-elliptical leaf springs, shock absorbers|
|Steering, type||Worm segment steering|
|Wheels, type||Steel disk wheels|
|Tires, size (Base)||4.50 x 16|
|Length/width/height (mm) (Sedan)||3810 x 1375 x 1455|
|Special-Limousine (from 1937)||3840 x 1375 x 1535|
|Normal-Limousine (from 1937)||3710 x 1375 x 1455|
|Wheel base (mm) (Sedan)||2337|
|Track width front/rear (mm)||1075/1168|
|Curb weight (kg)||757|
1962-1965: Opel Kadett A – For the economic miracle
A large trunk and plenty of room for four people plus a new, lively engine and low maintenance costs made up the recipe for success for the Kadett A. Opel built nearly 650,000 of them from 1962 to 1965. The contours of the two-door notchback model were businesslike and modern. The beltline was low down, the panoramic windows made for good visibility and a decorative strip running along the side accentuated the stretched form. Front fenders tapered off into the headlamps and the rear ends were shaped like fins. The interior space deeply impressed owners of conventional small cars. The trunk was a real baggage compartment and the fuel tank cap was outside! “Opel Kadett, in brief: O.K.,” wrote Opel’s advertising team, unable to also resist a dig at their competitors in Wolfsburg. “You never have the smell of gasoline in the trunk,” they said with a wink. With its modern, water-cooled front engine, the Kadett had another major design advantage over the Beetle. The 993 cm3 four-cylinder unit developed 40 hp and, from March 1963, also powered the new Kadett Caravan.
1965-1973: Opel Kadett B – “Das Auto”
B follows A, and in 1965 a new series replaced the first model. The new version was more than four meters long and thus a good deal bigger than its predecessor. As for its fashionable figure – the designers were inspired by their colleagues overseas. The flat sloping rear was reminiscent of the fastback models popular in the USA. In 1966, “Automobil Illustrierte” noted: “You can almost see the power and speed before you hear the engine.” Not only was the length stepped up – so, too, was the horsepower. Opel engineers enlarged the bore of the four-cylinder unit by 3 mm. The basic 1,078 cm3 unit developed 45 hp. Also available was a higher-compression 1.1 S engine with 55 hp.
The Kadett was a fast success, with over 2.6 million units produced from September 1965 to July 1973. And its success was certainly not limited to its country of birth. In 1966, the export quota reached 50 percent as customers from 120 countries around the globe snatched up the Kadett.
1973-1979: Opel Kadett C – The athlete
The Kadett C family had many faces: a smart family car, a chic second car with a practical rear tailgate, or a competitive sports coupé in war paint. A total of 1.7 million of them were built between 1973 and 1979. The rear-wheel drive Kadett C made its debut in August 1973 with a cleanly designed body and a new double-wishbone front axle. Characteristic design features included a flat radiator grille, an engine hood with the brand’s signature crease, and a front apron in spoiler form. “The Kadett not only drives exceptionally well, but is also conscientiously designed and cleanly made. It requires little maintenance, is repair-friendly and economical to run,” praised the car-testing experts at “auto motor und sport” in the 20/73 edition. The powerful GT/E debuted at the 1975 IAA. Its 1.9-liter engine with Bosch L-Jetronic injection produced 105 hp and propelled the mere 900 kilograms of Kadett to a top speed of 184 km/h.
1979-1984: Opel Kadett D – The front-wheel drive car
|New epoch: Front-wheel drive and transverse-mounted engine celebrated their debuts in Opel compact class cars in the 1979 Kadett D.|
|Great white: Opel Kadett D GTE with its sports chassis, Recaro seats and feisty 115 hp began hunting down GTIs in 1983.|
1984-1991: Opel Kadett E – The aerodynamics world champion
|Opel Kadett E: “Car of the Year 1985”|
The second front-wheel drive Kadett, built from 1984 to 1991, was named “Car of the Year 1984” and was an absolute winner. Selling a grand total of 3,779,289 cars in its lifetime, it was the bestselling Opel so far and a real aerodynamics world champion. Opel engineers certainly hit the jackpot in 1984. Based on the engineering of its predecessor but with a completely new hatchback design, the Kadett E was set for a stellar career. With a drag coefficient of 0.39, the Kadett D was already best in its class, but this figure paled in comparison to its successor. After spending 1,200 hours of fine-tuning in the wind tunnel, the E model achieved a sensational 0.32. The sporty GSi, with a Cd of 0.30 and aerodynamic drag of 0.57 m2, was the most aerodynamic hatchback in the world. Buyers took to the new form after only a few months, paving the way for a new success story that provided the Kadett E with 625,000 new registrations across Europe in 1987. By this time, the station wagon version had already climbed to the top of its class. From the fall of 1985, a notchback variant was again in the line-up, the first since the Kadett C. Moreover, the sporty GSi variant was an icon in the making. When the legendary 16-valve engine arrived on the scene in 1987, it left its competitors eating dust.
1991-1997: Opel Astra F – The bestseller
|Body variants of the ’91 Opel Astra F, 1991–1998.|
|Opel Astra F with active belt system with pre-tensioners|
|High safety as standard: Side protection with double steel tube reinforcements in all the doors.|
1998-2004: Opel Astra G – The versatile car
In spring 1998, the Astra with coupé-like design was offered from the start as a three- and five-door hatchback and as a station wagon. A notchback sedan, coupé and convertible were added later. Progressive independent design, dynamic chassis and powertrain technology as well as nearly twice the torsional and flexural rigidity of its predecessor were just some of the characteristics of the completely new, second-generation Opel Astra. The new model’s fully galvanized body played a key role in its high value retention. Active safety was enhanced with a 30 percent increase in the light output of the transparent H7 halogen headlamps and the completely redesigned Dynamic Safety (DSA) chassis. It combined comfort with agile and safe handling, even under full load. The wheelbase was around ten centimeters longer, enabling more interior space, in particular more rear knee room in the rear and a larger trunk volume of 370 liters.
With twelve engines ranging from 90 to 240 hp and seven body variants, the choice of models for the Astra H that sold over 2.7 million units was exceptional. When it was launched in March 2004, the third-generation Opel Astra boasted a progressive design, high driving dynamics and plenty of technical innovations, immediately winning numerous comparison tests in specialist automotive publications. The Astra’s technological highlights included the adaptive IDSPlus chassis system with electronic Continuous Damping Control (CDC), otherwise only found in luxury class and exclusive sports cars, as well as Adaptive Forward Lighting (AFL) Bi-Xenon headlamp system with dynamic curve light.
The Astra also boasted high levels of safety. The consumer protection organization Euro NCAP (European New Car Assessment Programme) awarded the Astra the highest rating of five stars for adult passenger protection. With a total of 34 points, the bestseller was considered one of the safest sedans in the compact class.
2009 – 2015: Opel Astra J – The designer piece
Sculptural artistry combined with German precision – the Opel Astra J not only embodies the brand’s new design philosophy, it also assists drivers with a range of technologies that already made an important contribution to the success of the best-selling mid-class Insignia. The Opel Eye recognizes traffic signs and informs the driver of speed limits or overtaking bans. It also warns drivers if they are in danger of veering out of lane. With the AFL+ headlamp system, the Astra can look around the corner and, if necessary, even automatically dim the lights or switch to high beam. With a chassis that can be enhanced by the FlexRide adaptive technology, the current Astra can play out its dynamic talents to the full. A new rear axle construction guarantees driving fun, improved handling and maximum comfort, with a Watt’s link incorporated to improve wheel control. Astra drivers also benefit from a new generation of front seats developed according to the latest findings in safety ergonomics and are awarded with the seal of quality from the independent medical and back experts of the AGR (action for healthy backs) organization.
From 2015: Opel Astra K – Car of the Year 2016
Up to 200 kg lighter, roomier inside despite a reduced overall length, and more efficient thanks to exclusive use of new-generation engines – the new Opel Astra is a quantum leap in development and is crowned European Car of the Year 2016. The compact car is once again available as a hatchback and as a spacious Sports Tourer. Opel receive numerous orders even before the official world premiere at the 2015 Frankfurt Motor Show – to date, Opel has received 275,000 orders of the latest generation Astra.
Continuing a tradition that started with the Astra G, the new Astra K also stands out with its lighting technology. It is the first car to introduce the adaptive, Full LED Matrix technology IntelliLux LED – so far reserved for luxury and premium models from higher classes – into the compact segment. New generation driver assistant systems also comprise Traffic Sign Assistant (TSA), Lane Keep Assist (LKA) with Lane Departure Warning (LDW) along with Following Distance Indication (FDI) and Forward Collision Alert (FCA) with Collision Imminent Braking (CIB). In addition, the new Opel Astra K once again delivers on wellness with newly engineered ergonomic front seats, certified by the AGR (Aktion Gesunder Rücken) organization once more, being introduced. These new front seats can even be enhanced with a ventilation and massage function.