To help establish the Opel name in North America in the 1960s, the Opel Kadett was the basic workhorse model imported and sold by GM's Buick dealers. A compact-sized automobile from the German Opel Company which is part of GM's European division, the Kadett was a small family vehicle produced between 1937 until 1940, and then again from 1962 until 1992. In December of 1936 Opel introduced the first generation to carry the Kadett name by Opel's Commercial-Technical director, Heinrich Nordhoff. (Nordhoff would later become well known for his leadership role in building up the Volkswagen Company.)
Opel Kadett was designed for high volume low cost production and followed the innovative Opel Olympia in adopting a chassis-less monocoque construction, much like the Vauxhall 10 that debuted in 1937. The Kadett was very competitively priced which led to its commercial success. Kadett's continued to be produced during the early months of the war, and by the time production was halted in 1940 following intensified hostilities. A total of 107,608 Kadetts came off the assembly line at Opel's Rüsselsheim plant which had been the first major vehicle plant in Germany to apply the assembly-line production techniques developed by Henry Ford.
Following the war, Opel production facilities from Rüsselsheim and Brandenburg an der Havel were all packed up and relocated to the Soviet Union in an effort of a larger reparations package agreed on by the victorious powers. The prewar Kadett was manufactured as the Moskvitch 400/420 and it continued to be produced in Moscow until 1956.
Appearing in October of 1962, the first Opel Kadett was the Kadett A which was produced until 1965. Featuring a much more modern design than the Volkswagen Beetle, which at the time had dominated the small family car market in Germany and surrounding countries, the Kadett offered more passenger space, much more luggage space and a much less encumbered view out. In addition to the standard saloon, there was an L; luxury model, a coupe, and an estate (called Caravan). The all-new Opel OHV engine was available as 1.0 with 40 hp and a 1.0 S with 48 hp. The fuel consumption was even under most conditions superior to that of the Volkswagen. Many commentators preferred the Opel's handling and its light and effective brakes to those of the market leader.
Unfortunately by the mid-1970's the Kadett's greatest relative weakness was becoming painfully apparent. The Kadett was disappearing rapidly from German roads while the Beetles remained strong. The bodywork on the Kadett was not well protected from corrosion. From 1966 until 1973 the Kadett B was sold with two and four-door saloons, a three-door estate and two coupes. With a 1.9 L engine, there was a sporting Opel Kadett Rallye. Based heavily on Kadett B components, there was a two-seat Opel GT with its body constructed by a French contractor, Brissonneau & Lotz.
Opel opened their new plant at Bochum in 1966 which was devoted exclusively to Kadett production. Opel produced 2,691,300 Kadett B's between 1965 and 1973 which makes the B the most successful Opels to date in terms of sales volume. At this time the domestic market was going through a progressive slowing of demand for the old Volkswagen Beetle which benefited the Kadett, while the Ford Escort and Volkswagen Gold which would compete for sales more effectively against the Kadett C both got off to a relatively slow start respectively in 1968 and 1974.
The Opel Olympia A was a ‘luxury' derivative of the Kadett B. From 1967 until 1972 the Kadett B was sold in the U.S. through Buick dealers simply as the Opel. U.S. models were eventually granted the front end and trim of the new Opel Olympia which was introduced in 1966 as an up-market version of the Kadett. During its commercial life the Kadett B took part in the Trans-Am Series. Technically simple cars, the Kadett A and B were produced to compete with the market leader, the Volkswagen Beetle. Unfortunately Car and Driver magazine published a highly critical test of the Kadett in 1968 with feature photos of the vehicle in a junkyard, highlighting the car's lack of sophistication. GM withdrew any ads from Car and Driver for several months following that publication.
In 1973 the Kadett C was introduced with a wheelbase of 94.9 inches, a length of 163.0 inches, a width of 62,6 inches and a height of 50.8 engines and it was Opel's version of General Motors' 'T-Car'. Marketed as the Holden Gemini in Australia, the T-Car was also built in Japan by Isuzu and sold as the Isuzu Gemini. Saehan Motor in South Korea, then Daewoo Motor built a version known as the Daewoo Maepsy and Maepsy-Na. Forming the basis of the British Vauxhall Chevette, the Kadett C featured a restyled front end launched with a hatchback body. The C utilized a 1256 cc OHV (over-head valve) Vauxhall engine instead of the 1196 cc OHV Opel engine.
Making the Kadett C notable the Chevette allowed it to become Opel's first hatchback; a version named Kadett City which appeared in August 1975 based on the Chevette's hatchback body. In 1979 the Kadett C ended production but the Chevette continued to be produced until January of 1984. The Chevette was also imported to Germany beginning in 1979, a rarity for Vauxhall models, to satisfy the demand for rear wheel drive traditionalists and was a bit of a success for several years.
Today the Kadett C is a cult car in Germany, especially in fastback form. The most popular and searched for variations of the Kadette C Coupe were the Rallye and GT/E models. These models were initially constructed with the Bosch fuel injected 187 cc OHC Opel engine, shortly followed by the updated 1998 cc OHC engine. Rarely found are the right versions of these sports models. Another very rare version was the Aero-Kadett which was included in the range from 1976, the Aero-Kadett, an open-top Kadett with targa roll bar, a separate convertible top aft of the roll bar and a detachable roof insert. The Aero-Kadett was built in very limited numbers by Karosserie Baur in Stuttgart.
Produced as the Buick-Opel in the U.S., the Kadett C was an Isuzu Gemini, which was an updated version of this vehicle marketed in the U.S. as the Isuzu I-Mark in the early 1980s. The Kadett C was released six months before its European release in Brazil as the Chevrolet Chevette. The C was available with a choice of three petrol engines, in 1.4 L, 1.6 L, and 1.0 L displacements, 1.4 L and 1.6 L versions were also available running on ethanol. Undergoing through several redesigns, this Chevette featured first front and rear panels similar to the Opel version, a look very similar to the British Vauxhall Chevette, and finally a design reminiscent of the updated U.S. Chevy Chevette version. Available in different bodies, in Brazil the C was available as a hatchback, estate, pickup and saloon. Before it was replaced by the Chevrolet Corsa the Chevette sold over 1.6 million units in Brazil.
In 1979 the Kadett D was unveiled and it went on sale in the UK about five months prior to the British version; the Vauxhall Astra Mark 1 was introduced in April of 1980. The Kadett D featured an overall length of 157.4 inches, a width of 64.4 inches and a height of 55.1 inches. All of the D models were designed as three- or five-door hatchbacks and estates or station wagons. Utilizing the same bodyshells as the hatchbacks, there were also two- and four-door sedans, but eventually these were dropped.
Opel and Vauxhall's first front wheel drive car, the Kadett D was technologically a major departure from the previous mechanics. Kadett also unveiled the Family II engine design with a single overhead camshaft, aluminum alloy cylinder head, hydraulic valve lifters with capacities of 1300 and 1600 cc and also a innovative transaxle design that allowed the clutch to be replaced without removing the transmission unit. The 1800 cc version was eventually introduced for the Kadett/Astra GTE model. This particular range of engines was also utilized for later models of the Nova/Corsa, and the mid-sized Ascona/Cavalier. Also equipped with a 1600 cc diesel engine the Kadett D was capable of driving as cheap as 5.0 L/100 km, and a carry-over 1196cc OHV engine.
In 1984 the Kadett E was introduced, and as the Vauxhall Astra Mark 2 in the U.K. In 1985 it was voted Car of the Year, mainly due to its advanced aerodynamic body styling. Badged the Vauxhall Belmont in the UK, and the Opel Monza in South Africa, the 1984 model was also developed into a more conventional 'three box' design with a trunk. For the first time in 1987 a convertible version was also available and was built by Bertone of Torino/Italy. Capacities were raised to 1400, 1800 and a new 2000 cc engine for the 1988 model, again utilizing on the GSi and Vauxhall Astra GTE. A 16-valve twin-cam version was developed in 1988 for a high performance GSi/GTE model which yielded 156 hp in manufactured form.
In the UK the Kadett E was seen as a grey import, but unfortunately it isn't as popular as the Vauxhall Astra Mark 2. Never officially sold in Britain, by 1989 General Motors was only marketing the Vauxhall brand in the UK. Late in the 1980s and the early 1990s, South African Kadett GSi's were upgraded for touring car competitions. Around 500 were built for homoligation purposes. The GSi's featured more aggressive cams, a locally developed limited slip differential and special 15' wheels, these models were dubbed the Superboss and produced 168 hp. In Brazil the Kadett E was unveiled as the Chevy Kadett, but the three-door station was called the Chevy Impanema.
The Kadett E formed the basis of the Daewoo LeMans in South Korea, and also as Heaven in Chile, which was sold in the U.S. and New Zealand as the Pontiac LeMans, and in Canada as the Passport Optima. In 1993 the LeMans sales ended. In Asaka, Uzbekistan the Nexia is still being produced at UzDaewoo plant. Lastly being produced as a semi-independent plant in Craiova, Romania was the Cielo.By Jessica Donaldson