Where did Opel come from?
Where did this German company, that became inseparable from Vauxhall originate?
Opel, a company from German origins, General Motors ownership, and identical lineup to Vauxhall. But how did Opel become all these things? How did it get to where it is today? Opel began in 1863, founded by Adam Opel, making sewing machines in Germany. Later the company would make bicycles, becoming synonymous with appliances and bikes throughout Europe.
Later in 1898, Opel began producing cars after they merging with the company of Lutzmann. Selling cars as Opel-Lutzmann. After this, however, the merge would fall through, and Opel made a deal with French Automobiles Darracq to distribute cars under the name Opel-Darracq. The cars under Opel-Darracq were built with Opel bodies with Darracq chassis. The cars also had a 2-cylinder engine.
1899 Opel-Darracq (credit: Flickr)
Opel would become completely independent from Darracq in 1906, and in 1907 they stopped production of the Opel-Darracq. Opel had thoughts of becoming independent from Darracq since 1902, when they released their first independent car in the Hamburg Motor Show. In 1909, the Opel 4/8 PS model was created. And it became known as the "Doctorwagen" because due to its reliability doctors often used it to get to their patients.
A 1909 Opel 4/8 PS, often called the "Doctorwagen" (credit: nosw-oldtimer.de)
In 1911, the Opel factory had caught on fire, and was almost entirely destroyed. This ultimately led to a new factory with more advanced technology being built. And in 1913, Opel would become Germany's largest car manufacturer. And in the 1920s, Opel would created mass assembly lines as standard in its new factory. Taking full advantage of technological advancements for the time.
In 1924, another revolutionary car, the closed cab, affordable car, called the Opel Laubfrosch. Built in this new factory. The Laubfrosch was not initally cheap though, begining at 4,500 marks in 1924. By the 1930s however, the Laubfrosch cost only 1,990 marks, allowing affordable transportation for the masses. The affordability of the Laubfrosch is mainly due to its assembly line factory build, along with the use of cheaper parts. As well as the only available color being green.
Opel Laubfrosch (credit: Flickr)
In 1929, American car conglomerate, General Motors bought out 80% of Opel. Increasing to full ownership in 1931. General Motors, or GM, had made a very wise decision to buy Opel, as had 37.5% of the German market. Opel was sold for a total of $33.3 million. Bicycle production also ended for Opel in 1937. Opel had also begun car exportation, primarily with the Regent, the company's first 8-cylinder car. The Regent came out in 1928 and was a successful car, for both the domestic market. As well as the foreign market.
Opel Regent (credit: secret-classics.com)
And after the Second World War had begun, Opel's factories were seized by Adolf Hitler's Nazi Germany. Putting the Opel factories in service of the German military for the duration of the war. This led to General Motors writing Opel off as a complete loss, and later in the war, many Opel factories were bombed by the Allies. As they were producing trucks for the German military. And after the war, Opel Kadett production was seized by the Soviet Union as compensation for the war. And in 1948, after the war was over, GM resumed control of Opel, and continued to make cars by developing the Opel Olympia.
1948 Opel Olympia (credit: momentcar.com)
Opel would continue to make the same cars until the 1950s, when GM got involved in the lineup. The good-selling Olympia was updated by GM, and other cars were added to the Opel lineup, as during this time Germany was beginning to get back on its feet and the German people were starting to buy more cars. The famous Opel Kapitan was updated as well, getting a new interior dashboard, and a steering column shift. This car was also used at the Frankfurt Car Show in 1951.
1951 Opel Kapitan (credit: Pinterest)
Opel would become known as the car for the middle-class consumer. Not as high-end and fancy as Mercedes, but certainly not a Volkswagen either. Instead, it was in the middle, made to fit a certain market. Under the leadership of GM in the 50s and 60s, Opel grew exponentially, selling over 100,000 units in 1953, and in 1954, a total of 167,650 units were built. Showing the full post-war recovery of Opel under the American leadership.
In 1984, Opel began experimenting with turbocharging their cars, leading to the Opel Rekord 2.3 TD. It was also a diesel, catching onto the latest consumer desire in the European market. During this time, many Opels were sold in other countries. In the United States, they were sold under the Buick brand from 1958 to 1975. And by all accounts they seem to have sold pretty well.
Opel GT (credit: wallup.net)
Opel developed other great, high-selling cars such as the Opel Manta, and the Opel GT. Both were favored among the car enthusiast. Opel also was the highest selling GM brand in Europe, as it was marketed for the Vauxhall-Opel group everywhere outside of Britain. And it was also the highest selling GM brand in Japan as well.
Opel would continue along strong until the 2009 recession, where GM considered getting rid of it. GM made a deal with the Magna Group to sell Opel, but backed out of it later on, keeping Opel. Opel began closing down factories, along with the rest of GM due to the recession, shutting down in manufacturing operation in Belgium. Opel and Vauxhall were later sold to the PSA Group in 2017, and Opel is now a member of Stellantis.