Tuesday, January 19, 2010

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1970 Opel Kadett

Few people in the United States today remember GM's experiment with marketing their German subsidiary Opel in the US. Long before we started seeing Opels on our streets in the form of the modern Saturn range, Opel was here under its own brand. It only lasted about a decade beginning in 1967 and they were sold through Buick dealerships, sometimes as Buick-Opels. Foreign cars were still a novelty in the United States, with most import sales going to Volkswagen. Toyota and Honda, powerhouses in the market today, were still just minor players. Nissan existed only as Datsun and Mazda was building weird little microcars and experimenting with rotary power. European cars were relatively popular, many in the form of Mercedes-Benz luxury cars and Jaguar, MG and Triumph roadsters. BMW had yet to develop a strong reputation for luxury cars, having marketed many of its cars as economy compacts. Detroit toyed with the idea of importing fuel-efficient compact imports of its own to compete in the American market. Ford brought over its British-made Cortina. Chrysler invested in Mitsubishi and in 1970 began marketing a series of Japanese-built "captive imports" under the Dodge and Plymouth names. General Motors had Opel.

Opel's US lineup consisted of the GT sports car and the Kadett compact. The Kadett was available as a coupe, hatchback or two-door wagon and was powered by a small, sub-2-liter four-cylinder engine.
The Kadett was a very popular car in its home market of Germany. It was marketed as a Beetle competitor, and offered the Beetle's level of simplicity and practicality but lacked the Beetle's rustproofing. This would prove epidemic among Opel's lineup for years as the cars rotted away. Car & Driver magazine hated the Kadett for its utterly basic nature.
This is a 1970 Kadett L wagon. "L" indicated a trim level above base. I actually found this car via Google Maps Street View while browsing for cars in San Francisco to find and shoot. It's a fine example of the breed, with a straight and intact body with relatively litle rust despite its urban surroundings and proximity to the ocean. This little wagon could use a coat of paint to spruce it up a bit. As compact cars go, this one has basic, utilitarian lines that give it a curious resemblance to a pint-size Suburban of the same era while maintaining a European flavor. The wheel-to-body ratio is high, making it look like a vehicle intended for low-speed transportation of goods and people rather than spirited driving. Funny thing is, people used to rally the Kadett coupes, so I guess the center of gravity isn't terribly excessive. But then again, when you're turning left to go right and doing 80mph sideways, anything can happen. That is, if it can even do 80mph...


  1. This car definitely could not do 80. My first car was a 66 Kadett wagon and I wish I had it back. It was a lot of fun, but 50 was its top speed! It was rusted out above the front wheels, so that when you drove in the rain, little fountains spurted up from the fenders. There was also a hole in the passenger side floor. But I still loved it!

  2. My 1970 4-speed can do 80 just fine. Maybe you had the 3-speed automatic.

  3. I would like to see Ople come back in the us market.

  4. I owned a 1970 Kadett Wagon. 65mph and maybe 66 mph if you stuck your foot out and kicked a couple of times. Loved the car and looking for another one to restore.

  5. this was a good car for the daily use, and work-mule in my country, venezuela. GM assambled this in 4 doors sedans an 2 or 4 doors wagons. optional, the non windows in the back, for comercial use,specially for newspaper or bakery delivery. Cheap to maintain, no a fuel eater, and moderate speed, you see this cars to the last long.