History of Opel Cars


Opel-Logo

Adam Opel AG (Opel) is a German automobile manufacturer headquartered in Rüsselsheim, Hesse, Germany and a subsidiary of the American General Motors Company. The company designs, engineers, manufactures and distributes Opel-branded passenger vehicles, light commercial vehicles and vehicle parts for distribution in Africa, Asia, Europe and South America. Opel designed and manufactured vehicles are also sold under the Buick brand in the United States, Canada, Mexico and China, the Holden brand in Australia and New Zealand and the Vauxhall brand in the United Kingdom.

Opel traces its roots to a sewing machine manufacturer founded by Adam Opel in 1862. The company began manufacturing bicycles in 1886 and produced its first automobile in 1899.

Opel became a share-limited company (German: Aktiengesellschaft) in 1929; United States-based General Motors took a majority stake in Opel that same year. General Motors assumed full control in 1931 and today Adam Opel AG is a wholly owned subsidiary of General Motors Company. Although Adam Opel AG continues to be a share-limited company, shares of the company are not publicly listed. Adam Opel AG is the parent company of General Motors UK Limited, better known as Vauxhall, and various other General Motors subsidiaries.

During the 1970s and 1980s, Opel and Vauxhall ranges were rationalised into one consistent range across Europe.

The company was founded in Rüsselsheim, Hesse, Germany, on January 21, 1862, by Adam Opel. At the beginning, Opel just producedsewing machines in a cowshed in Rüsselsheim. Above all, his success was based on his perfectly customized sewing machines. Because of the quick growth of his business, in 1888 the production was relocated from the cowshed to a more spacious building in Rüsselsheim. Encouraged by success, Adam Opel launched a new product in 1886: He began to sell high-wheel bicycles, also known as penny-farthings. Besides, Opel’s two sons participated in high-wheel bicycle races and thus promoted this means of transportation. Therefore, the production of high-wheel bicycles soon exceeded the production of sewing machines. At the time of Opel’s death in 1895, he was the leader in both markets.

The first cars were produced in 1899 after Opel’s sons entered into a partnership with Friedrich Lutzmann, a locksmith at the court inDessau in Saxony-Anhalt, who had been working on automobile designs for some time. These cars were not very successful and so the partnership was dissolved after two years, following which Opel’s sons signed a licensing agreement in 1901 with the FrenchAutomobiles Darracq S.A. to manufacture vehicles under the brand name “Opel Darracq”. These cars were made up of Opel bodies mounted on a Darracq chassis, powered by a two-cylinder engine.

The company first showed cars of its own design at the 1902 Hamburg Motor Show, and started manufacturing them in 1906, with Opel Darracq production being discontinued in 1907.

In 1909, the Opel 4/8 PS model, known as the “Doktorwagen” “Doctor’s Car” was produced. Its reliability and robustness were greatly appreciated by physicians, who drove a lot to see their patients, back when hard-surfaced roads were still rare. The “Doktorwagen” sold for only 3,950 marks, about half as much as the luxury models of its day.

In 1911, the company’s factory was virtually destroyed by fire and a new one was built with more up-to-date machinery. By 1914, Opel had become the largest German manufacturer of motor vehicles.

In the early 1920s, Opel became the first German car manufacturer to incorporate a mass production assembly line in the building of their automobiles. In 1924, they used their assembly line to produce a new open two-seater called the “Laubfrosch”. The Laubfrosch was finished exclusively in green lacquer. The car sold for an expensive 4,500 marks (expensive considering the less expensive manufacturing process) but by the 1930s this type of vehicle would cost a mere 1,990 marks – due in part to the assembly line, but also due to the skyrocketing demand for cars. Adam Opel led the way for motorized transportation to become not just a means for the rich, but a reliable way for people of all classes to travel.

Opel had a 37.5% market share in Germany and was also the country’s largest automobile exporter in 1928. The “Regent” – Opel’s first eight-cylinder car – was offered. The RAK 1 and RAK 2 rocket-propelled cars made sensational record-breaking runs.

In March 1929, General Motors (GM), impressed by Opel’s modern production facilities, bought 80% of the company, increasing this to 100% in 1931. The Opel family gained $33.3 million from the transaction. Subsequently, during 1935, a second factory was built atBrandenburg for the production of “Blitz” light trucks.

1935 was the year in which Opel became the first German car manufacturer to produce over 100,000 vehicles a year. This was based on the popular Opel “P4” model. The selling price was a mere 1,650 marks and the car had a 23 hp (17 kW) 1.1 L four-cylinder engine and a top speed of 85 km/h (53 mph).

Opel also produced the first mass-production vehicle with a self-supporting (“unibody”) all steel body. They called the car, launched in 1935, the Olympia. With its small weight and aerodynamics came an improvement in both performance and fuel consumption. Opel receives a patent which is considered one of the most important innovations in automotive history.

The 1930s was a decade of growth, and by 1937, with 130,267 cars produced, Opel’s Rüsselsheim plant was Europe’s top car plant in terms of output, while ranking seventh worldwide.

1939 saw the presentation of the highly successful Kapitän. With a 2.5 L six-cylinder engine, all-steel body, front independent suspension, hydraulic shock absorbers, hot-water heating (with electric blower), and central speedometer. 25,374 Kapitäns left the factory before intensification of World War II brought automotive manufacturing to a temporary stop in the Autumn of 1940, by order of the government.

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