Cute and tough, the Buick-Opels were often driven into the ground (2024)

Cute and tough, the Buick-Opels were often driven into the ground (1)

International Underdogs

General Motors ownedOpel from 1929 to 2017, and in 1958, Opels were brought over from Europe to compete in the burgeoning import market. They were sold here through Buick dealerships.

Opel platforms are still used to support Buick and other GM models and have been for decades, including Vauxhalls and the Cadillac Catera, too. The two separate generations of Opels—1970 and 1976—best show the Buick-marketed Opel's purpose and evolution before and after the first energy crisis.

My brother's best friend growing up was a bit of a hellion, and his family owned two cars. One was a white 1965 Plymouth Fury station wagon they kept for years: I remember his mother driving it as late as 1978, and it was always in beautiful condition. The other car was a light blue, two-door 1970 Opel Kadett Sport Sedan his father drove to work and maintained diligently, while also letting his three teenagers drive it. One day in 1977, my brother's friend was messing around with the Opel and dropped the transmission around the corner from our house. He revved it very high in first and quickly released the clutch, thus killing the transmission on a seven-year-old car with almost 100,000 miles on it. I am sure his father was not too happy that the car he used for work was rendered inoperable by teenage shenanigans. I remind you that it survived two teenagers before this incident.

I'm telling you this story for a reason. People tend to declare certain cars crap, and usually those cars are what were considered cheap "throwaways." Quite often those offering an opinion never actually owned one. Those who did own them often leave out the abuse these cars suffered yet survived. I'll get an email from someone telling me a car I featured was his first car, which had 250,000 miles on when he bought it for $200. He'll then tell me what a piece of crap it was and how he drove it on the beach, through the woods and into a pool and continued to drive it until he graduated from college. That car wasn't crap. It was a tank.

The cheaper the car, the less likely it was treated with care. Yes, there are exceptions. Every once in a while, a cherry Chevette, owned by someone's grandmother, will show up for sale, looking like it just came off the showroom floor. Luckily for you, Grandma never let her grandkids get ahold of her car.

Before 1973, inexpensive, small economy cars were sought after by people who wanted a second car or basic transportation, and the 1970 Opel fit the bill. "The Mini- Brute" offered five models: Rallye Kadett, Deluxe wagon, Super Deluxe sport sedan, two-door sport sedan, and the cheapest model, a two-door sedan.

Cute and tough, the Buick-Opels were often driven into the ground (2)

The base engine generated 63 hp with 8.2:1 compression. The standard Rallye engine was a 1.1-liter OHV four-cylinder producing 67 hp at 6,000 rpm with 9.2:1 compression, fed through two one-barrel carburetors. An optional engine for all but the two-door sedan was a single two-barrel-carbureted 1.9-liter OHC four-cylinder that generated 102 hp at 5,400 rpm and drank premium fuel. The standard transmission was a fully synchronized four-speed manual, and there was an optional three-speed automatic. Combined gas mileage averaged between 25 and 30 mpg, and Opels rode on a coil suspension.

The attractive styling was very Chevrolet Nova-like in miniature, and the wagon could be quite handy. The Rallye Kadett would compete directly with Ford's soonto- be-introduced Capri. They sold well, and I remember seeing a lot of Kadetts back in the day. Now, let's jump ahead to 1976, in a totally different world.

The Kadett name had been dropped, and the cars now called Opels in America were actually built by Isuzu of Japan. Styling was evolutionary and gave them a more substantial, if not a little mundane, appearance. Models included the sport coupe, four-door sedan, Deluxe coupe, and standard coupe, but no wagon. Still rear-wheel drive, the engine was now a 1.8-liter OHC, generating 60 hp (80 hp optional). Transmission choices were a four-speed manual or an automatic. The most desirable today, if you could find one, would probably be the Buick-Opel Sport Coupe with plastic covered bumpers, black-out trim, and "SC" decals.

Now, are they still around? While the Opel Mantas andGTs are aplenty, they are not underdogs nor priced as such. I did find a few Opel Kadetts for no more than $1,000, and all of them were in rough shape. Maybe this is an opportunity for those of you who have always wanted to create a hot rod but needed a cheap car for a base. They are the same size as a Henry J and look just as cool, but cost a lot less. Think about it.


Cute and tough, the Buick-Opels were often driven into the ground (2024)


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