Opel compact class: 75-year-old success story

17 Nov 2011


  • In 1936, the Kadett is the first model in Opel’s compact class
  • Symbol for technical advances and variety
  • After five generations Kadett turns into Opel Astra
  • Astra GTC has debut at 2011 Frankfurt Motor Show
Opel - Opel compact class: 75-year-old success story

Rüsselsheim. The story of the five-door Astra, the Sports Tourer and the GTC started exactly 75 years ago as a humble beginning. Although Opel’s compact class was called Kadett at the time, it laid the foundations of the success story for a popular, reliable and technically advanced vehicle that still continues to this day.


Kadett as the first compact car

In the year of the 1936 Olympic Games, Opel is already one of the largest car manufacturers in Europe. With the help of the Kadett, Opel expands its model range and ventures into the compact car segment. The Rüsselsheim engineers used the successful predecessors as their basis for developing new models. The Kadett takes the 1.1 liter four-cylinder engine with 23 hp from the P4 and its modern shape from the Olympia. It was the first time a large-scale production car adopted the concept of a self-supporting body made completely from steel. At the time two variants are available: the sedan and the convertible sedan. Both of them have four seats, two doors and a starting price of 2,100 Reichsmark. Four-door versions are also available for export. In its first generation, the Kadett is sold over 100,000 times until civilian car production ends in 1940 due to the war. After the war ended in 1945, the victorious powers decided to hand over all the plants and blue prints to the Soviet Union. The very first Kadett version is the produced in Russia until the 1950s as the Moskvich 400.

Opel - Opel compact class: 75-year-old success story

Opel Kadett does the trick

From 1962 onwards, the new Kadett with its 1.0 liter overhead valve engine with 40 hp rolls of the production line in Bochum. The compact Opel which is particularly spacious and technologically advanced quickly becomes a talking point. While many larger cars still have to settle for three gears, the Kadett A, which is available as a sedan and station wagon, already has a four-speed gearbox. Shortly afterwards, a 48 hp coupe is launched. The third generation which is launched in the fall of 1965 boasts a variety of models. The vehicles which are all produced in Bochum range from the two and four-door notchbacks to the fast-back limousine, two coupe versions as well as a three and five-door station wagon. The luxurious Olympia edition was offered from 1967 onwards complete with features from the Rekord model and the sporty Rallye-Kadett which Opel uses in motor sports. This rounds off the spectrum of models. Around 2.7 million Kadett B vehicles are made until 1973.


The wild seventies: sporty and open


Next in line is the Kadett C. The new Kadett is first launched as a sedan, station wagon and coupe. In the beginning, the sporty GT / E 1975 coupe is powered by a 1.9-liter injection engine. A new addition is the Kadett City – a three door vehicle with a large tailgate. It is also the first German hatchback compact car with rear wheel drive. For the first time since the nineteen-thirties, there is a special open-air model in Opel’s compact class in 1976 again. The convertible sedan is called “Aero” and is manufactured by the body maker Baur in Stuttgart. In the interests of rigidity and passenger protection it possesses a targa roll bar. More than 1.7 million Opel Kadett cars are produced until 1979.


Modern era: front wheel drive and transverse engines


The fifth-generation Opel ushers in the era of front-wheel drive and a transverse engine. The new 1.3-liter four-cylinder is the first Opel engine with light alloy cylinder heads and an overhead camshaft. Later on, a 1.6 liter diesel engine is developed on the basis of the gasoline unit. This is the first self-igniter in the compact range. Especially passengers benefit from the new powertrain layout. Cabin and luggage space have been improved. The advertising slogan says: “The youngest Opel – the new Kadett. He possesses something that many people want!”, for example the annual car award “Das Goldene Lenkrad”. In 1979, it is the turn of the Kadett D to win this prestigious prize. It is available again as a hatchback and as the popular station wagon which has long been a fixture in the Opel spectrum. However, the traditional notchback as well as the open air variant are off the menu. They both return in the Kadett E.


Low drag and multiple award winner


In the August of 1984, Opel presents the new model in the typical variety. The sporty GSi with front-wheel drive has a drag co-efficient of only 0.30, making the 115 hp the most aerodynamic sedan in the world. At the 51st International Motor Show in Frankfurt, Opel launches the convertible. The Kadett was developed in the Rüsselsheim design center together with Nuccio Bertone. Just like its predecessor, the Kadett E is awarded the German auto prize “Das Goldene Lenkrad”. In total, more than 3.7 million such cars are produced. By 1989, the entire series crosses the 10 million ceiling.

Opel - Opel compact class: 75-year-old success story

20 years ago: a new name but same class

The Rüsselsheimer manufacturer continues its alphabetic sequence with the F model. However, the traditional “Kadett” label is now history. Opel’s compact class is given the “Astra” name. Even twenty years ago, the newcomer is groundbreaking in terms of its side impact protection and seat-belt tensioners. However, it also sets the standard when it comes to passive safety as well as alternative propulsion technologies: for the first time a compact Opel can be fuelled with natural gas. Long before the start of production of the Ampera, the Astra F experimental car even runs on electricity.

The first generation Opel Astra that is produced until 1998 is sold more than four million times. This makes it the best seller in the history of the brand. At the start of 1998, the production of the Astra G begins. It stands head and shoulders above others for its variety of editions.


In addition to the three-and five-door hatchback, notchback convertible and coupe version are also available, as well as a five-door Caravan. Much emphasis is put on the availability of affordable Opel technologies to cut fuel costs. However, sportiness and fun are not neglected. In 1999, the OPC sports car is launched which is powered by a 2 liter 160 hp engine. At the start of the new millennium, the Astra Eco 4 has its debut. It is the first four liter car in the compact class. The Astra G is also the basis of the first compact monocab Zafira, that will set standards with its Flex 7 seating system.


The third Astra generation is launched in March 2004, under the H prefix. New features include a variable electronic damping system that automatically adjusts to changing driving and road conditions in addition to headlights with dynamic curve light. The Astra TwinTop possesses a three-piece hardtop, which opens or closes in less than 30 seconds by pressing a button. The new Astra GTC offers its passengers unusual perspectives with an optional panoramic wind screen. It is the first mass produced car that offers a screen that stretches all the way to the midway point of the roof.

Opel - Opel compact class: 75-year-old success story

The GTC is also one of emotional highlights of the fourth generation Astra segment which was started in 2009. This racy compact coupe was presented to the general public at 64th Frankfurt motor show in 2011. It boasts an exclusive high-tech chassis and a front axle with HiPerStrut Front (High Performance Strut) which optimizes handling. Other GTC innovations include driver assistance systems based on the second generation of the Opel front camera Opel Eye and the advanced adaptive forward lighting system AFL +. The crowning glory comes in summer 2012 when the high performance OPC (Opel Performance Center) rounds off the portfolio of the racy compact coupé. Despite its sporty appeal, functionality and fuel economy are still important, just like with the Kadett. The engineers in Rüsselsheim are currently working on other Astra models. After 75 years and more than 21 million sales, the success story of the Kadett and the Astra continues. Therefore, the old advertising slogan from the nineteen-fifties “Opel compact class, is in short: OK” still holds true for today’s customers.