By on April 22, 2013

At around 2:00 PM on the afternoon of October 6, 1973, more than 200 Soviet built Egyptian aircraft began to assault Israeli air bases and missile emplacements north of the Suez canal and the established line of defense, known as the Bar Lev Line. During the night that followed, Egyptian combat engineers crossed the canal in small boats and used gasoline powered pumps to throw streams of high pressure water against the massive sand wall the Israeli forces had erected at the water’s edge following their 1967 conquest of the Sinai. The water eroded the wall with amazing efficiency and by the next day more than 50,000 Egyptian troops and 400 tanks had made their way across the Suez, through the remains of the Bar Lev line and out onto the Sinai desert where they forced the Israeli military back in disarray. The offensive, known as Operation Badr was the opening of the 1973 Yom Kippur War and it makes interesting reading. The conflict had lasting effects in region and some say that it helped to set the stage for the Camp David Accords and eventually led to the peace treaty that President Carter helped negotiate between Egypt and Israel. The war also had effects closer to home and, thanks in part to the Arab Oil Embargo that was a direct result of America’s support of Israel during the conflict, it led to a new, fuel efficient car appearing in my family’s driveway.

The Opel Kadett wasn’t running right. My father’s coworker had purchased the little car, 1.1 liter Coupe, new back in 1969 and it had always been a spry little car. It was never a power machine, but with its light weight and manual transmission it could scoot when you wanted to go and it looked good doing it. For some reason, however, the car’s performance had begun to degrade and now, just four years old, it was proving to be a disappointment to its owner. Naturally, my dad bought it for next to nothing.

Once the car was safe at home, my dad, who could fix anything, took a closer look at it. The car ran smoothly and shifted fine, but it was definitely down on acceleration. Under the hood, and with my older brother Bruce in the driver’s seat working the accelerator pedal, my dad watched the carburetor linkage as it moved through its full range of motion. It wasn’t binding, but the butterfly valves didn’t seem to be fully opening, either. An hour of troubleshooting located the problem, two screws under the accelerator pedal had worked their way out over the years and, thanks to their interference, the pedal simply wouldn’t go all the way down any more. Two minutes with a screw driver completed the repair and the little car’s power was restored.

My dad used the car as his daily driver for three years and as the older of my two brothers, Bruce, approached his 16th birthday it became a given that the little Opel would go to him. Bruce drove the car for a year or two without incident and then passed it on to our brother Tracy. Between the two of them, I am sure that the car went on any number of mid ‘70s high school adventures most of which I, who am about 7 years younger than them, never actually heard about. I did hear about the big wreck, however.

There may or may not have been alcohol involved. According to Tracy, he came speeding around a corner to find several kids in the middle of road pushing a go-kart. He swerved to avoid them, put the car into the ditch where it dug into the soft earth and flipped onto its top. Tracy and his friends righted the car, popped out the dented roof and refilled the engine with oil. Unfortunately, they forgot to refill the transmission oil as well and by the time he got the car home the transmission was fully destroyed.

The Opel ended up in our garage as it awaited my father’s attention and, for some reason or other, he never quite got around to getting the parts to repair the little car. Tracy graduated high school, got his first full time job and sunk a part of his monthly salary into a slightly used 1978 Nova coupe. The Opel languished in the garage where it became my own personal play car. I read the entire owner’s manual cover to cover, learned the purpose of every switch and warning light and even taught myself how to recharge the battery to keep the radio working so I would have music as I played. I logged a lot of hours behind the wheel, fantasizing about being out on the road. Although I was only 13 at the time, I naturally assumed that like my brothers the car would eventually become mine. Despite the fact that over the years I endured a whole host of hand-me-downs, clothes, toys, and bicycles, I never did inherit the car. Somewhere around 1981 the little car left our garage and was never heard from again.

The Opel looms larger in my brothers’ transition into adulthood than it does my own but, like so many machines I have bonded with over the years, the little car was more than just the sum of its mechanical parts. Maybe she was a little too old for me, and maybe she had been around the block a few too many times, but the Opel’s clean, utilitarian design helped to shape my view of what great cars should be. The little car took everything my brothers could throw at it and still brought them home safely every time. Its toughness and reliability are legend and, to this day, that Opel holds a special place in every Kreutzer’s heart. It was the one that got away.

Thomas M Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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36 Comments on “Opel Kadett: The One That Got Away...”


  • avatar
    cargogh

    I looked at one of these with my dad when I turned 16. It was white with black vinyl and very utilitarian. I don’t remember what year the car was, but this was in 1979. It was $800. Goes down as another of those cars that I wish I had gotten. How I chose a ’73 Orange Super Beetle over it is beyond me now.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    The nostalgia window is always rose-colored. But agreed on the nice timeless shape; too bad it got away.

  • avatar

    After the 1973 oil embargo, my dad picked up a very nice barely used VW Super Beetle to save on gas when he wasn’t driving his big Mercury. Some Jewish friends gave him a hard time about driving a German car, but ironically, the car was vandalized, along with a number of other cars, by some anti-Semite while my parents were at an event at our synagogue. I’m not sure why he sold it, I think when gas prices got higher someone offered him way more than he paid for it.

  • avatar
    MossBoss

    Ah yes, “The Opel”. Used to transport a little sister to confirmation classes at the church. Dad worked a lot- so Bruce had the duty of dropping me off and picking me up quite often. It was on one such evening that he cut in front of neighbor kid Chuck on the Flowing Lake Road and a wild chase ensued. Bruce gunned The Opel, failing to navigate Devils Elbow and proceeded straight on to the bumpy, winding, dirt road- with Chuck in hot pursuit. Tracy and I held on for dear life while dirt flew up around us and we were tossed around inside the little car. Eventually Bruce wound his way around on the back roads and came out somewhere on the road where the Hayes kids lived. Chuck was no where to be seen.

    It was a zippy little car that withstood a lot of abuse from a couple of teenaged boys.

  • avatar
    ArBee

    I liked Opels a lot, especially when fitted with the 1.9 liter engine. It was fear of the Buick dealership experience that kept me from buying a Kadett in 1968. Through the years, I would go back and look with interest at Opel GTs and Opel Mantas, but the knowledge of how captive import owners were treated kept me in my VWs.

    • 0 avatar

      Before I sat down and started looking for pictures for this story I had no idea just how many different Kadette models there were. I had, over the years, seen some with diffeent (and, frankly less attratcive) rear windows but I had always assumed these were different model years.

      Our neighbors also had an orange Kadette wagon of about the same vintage so there were quite a few of these around at the time. Another neighbor had a battered GT that I got to drive a couple of times when I was in high school. It was a neat little car, too.

      I remember really likeing he Mantas and then I remember when GM tried to pull the wool over all our eyes by sticking the Opel name on some badge engineered Isuzus. Yeah, nobody fell for that…

  • avatar
    goacom

    Interesting. My dad had a Kadett too, but we lived on the other side of the “enemy” line – in the Arab Middle east. He had it from the late 60′s to around 1977. As I was only single digits of age, I don’t remember much, except for the fact it would make quite a ruckus at 80kmph and I think 100 was about as fast I saw my dad go in it. The car had no AC and the front quarter window was used to direct air into the cabin, which also contributed to the audible mayhem. We had no seat belts then and on one occasion, my dad drove the car headlong into a long divider/traffic median, which resulted in the car skidding and sparking on its under body for several meters. It had been raining heavily – a rare event in the middle east, along with poor lighting and even weaker head lights, confused my dad. Me and my younger brother were naturally quite terrified. Several pedestrians and drivers came to help us get out of the car. Then, they just lifted the car off the island and put it on back on the road, and off we went on with our trip!

  • avatar
    ktm_525

    There is no way a 1.1L could be described as spry. I am currently running a 1970 Volvo P1800E 2.0L with a few goodies and the power is merely adequate. Spry perhaps compared to walking?

    • 0 avatar

      you would be surprised. I drive a 1.0 with 65 hp and the wife another one with 77 hp. More than enough to get in trouble. It takes a little work but can be done.

    • 0 avatar
      luvmyv8

      When a car weighs next to nothing, it doesn’t take much power to move it. More then likely it wasn’t a rocket, but it probably was pretty fun, sort of like a Datsun 240Z, sort of.

    • 0 avatar
      wmba

      @ktm_525

      Since the P1800 became the 1800S in 1963, I assume what you are driving is a special? The 1966 I had seat time in ’66 and ’67 in Canada said 1800S on its rear. They were heavy and not as much fun to careen around in as the 544, plus you had to put the boot in and get the engine past 3000 with the SU intakes howling to have fun in any B18 car. The fuelie engine you have is certainly a tame trundler, and put me right off Volvos.

      We didn’t get Kadetts in Canada, we got the Vauxhall Viva, same thing under the skin and yup, they were sprightly little things to drive for the times. One college pal put a diesel airhorn in his, plenty of room as the engine was tiny. The horn looked bigger. The kids playing street hockey who would never get out of the way of his little tin box, jumped about six feet in the air when he gave ‘em a blast. He wore an evil yet amiable grin as he cruised the city, ever ready to give people the surprise of their lives on the narrower streets, where the echo gave best results. Nobody suspected the light green Viva and always looked for a big rig. Great fun if you like to watch a crowd scatter in panic.

      • 0 avatar
        ktm_525

        Sorry 1800E no P. The 70E had the high compression head and the B20 so HP increased from the 108 SAE Hp to 130 SAE hp. Curb weight is around 2500 lbs vs the 544 at 2200. The 544 had a 90 SAE 90 HP rating. Stock it puts the P1800 at 19lbs/hp which is not bad for stock in that era. With the IPD mods It is closer to 15 lbs/HP.

        1800E

        For 1970 numerous changes came with the fuel-injected 1800E, which had the B20E engine with Bosch D-Jetronic fuel injection and a revised camshaft, and produced 130 bhp (97 kW) without sacrificing fuel economy. Top speed was around 190 km/h (120 mph) and acceleration from 0–100 km/h (0–62.1 mph) took 9.5 seconds. In addition, the 1970 model was the first 1800 with four-wheel disc brakes; till then the 1800 series had front discs and rear drums.

  • avatar
    Darkhorse

    I remember the great test driver Uncle Tom McCahill rolled one of these in a road test for Mechanics Illustrated in the 1960s (I think). The magazine printed several pictures of the Kadett flying through the air. Awesome.

    He blamed himself for the accident. Surprised he survived without seatbelts. Maybe his famous girth protected him

  • avatar
    56BelAire

    My wife and I newly married in late 1967 and then living in NJ bought a new Opel Kadeet at Jack Schlein Buick/Opel in Hackensack, NJ. I was commuting to an insurance job in Newark NJ, about a 50 mile roundtrip commute. It did the job nicely and as I recall got around 30mpg. Ours was Beige with a Saddle interior.

    About a year and a half later our first child arrived and we traded the Opel for a used ’66 Olds Delta 88 so we could tote around the port-a-crib and playpen that all new parents lugged around in those days when visiting friends and family. Needless to say our gas budget went up significantly.

    Another nice story Tom, thanks.

    Edit, follow up. During this same time period my Dad bought his “last” car, 1967 Pontiac Catalina Cpe. It now resides in my garage in Utah. See avatar.

  • avatar

    great story, Thomas. Please keep them coming.

  • avatar
    greaseyknight

    I shall call you Oliver……..

  • avatar
    bill mcgee

    Back in the day , these sold quite well in my suburban, mostly Jewish neighborhood . Many parents , already driving a Deuce and a quarter or Skylark, would also shop at the same Buick dealer for either an extra economy car for commuting or for the kids. At the time , Buick played heavily and successfully on potential customers’ fears of being unable to find someone to service the more recently imported cars , such as those kooky Toyotas and Datsuns . A friend’s older brother had a sixties Kadett I recall riding in frequently , and I often drove a friend’s 70s Manta , bought at maybe 5 years old , and drove a time or two my younger sister’s BF’s nearly new GT. Oddly , one memory was the strangely shaped gearshift knob for the 4 speed , with a hard , thin unpleasant feeling edge to it .

  • avatar
    bwright1991

    Oliver!

  • avatar
    AFX

    My dad worked in a Buick dealership back when these cars were being sold new. I always thought it was odd seeing a German “import” car being sold at a Buick dealership. My dad was stationed in Germany during WW-2, and he got to drive a Kubelwagen over there, so being around Opels was probably no big deal for him.

    Even stranger was a local Lincoln-Mercury dealership located nearby in a small farming town. Back in the early 70′s the dealership not only sold Lincoln-Mercury cars, but they also sold Ford farm tractors too. One day back in the early 70′s we drove past that dealership and in and amongst the Ford farm tractors parked in the front row was a brand new bright yellow De Tomaso Pantera for sale.

    • 0 avatar
      cargogh

      I was wondering what it was going to be, but would have never guessed a Pantera. All that tall blue and white with a low slung yellow beauty in it–I’d like to have a picture of that.

  • avatar
    thelaine

    Wonder how the Israelis managed to beat such a superior force?

    • 0 avatar
      gslippy

      A nation fighting for its life is highly motivated. Plus, they had some US help.

      • 0 avatar
        silverkris

        While the Israelis came pretty close to getting defeated, they were able to react and recover quickly. The attack during the Yom Kippur holiday, ironically, actually helped the Israelis mobilize reservists fairly quickly because many of them were at home and thus easily contacted.

        This actually served as a good wake-up call for the IDF, because they had been dangerously overconfident after the 1967 war. Afterwards they changed quite a bit of their tactics and organization to reflect some of the lessons learned in the 1973 conflict.

  • avatar
    Junebug

    Back in the late 70′s, I had a high school teacher – Ms.Burke, man she was hot, young and hip and always wore nice tight jeans. She drove a silver Opel Manta that I thought was cool since nobody else in town had anything like it. One day she asked if I knew anybody that could fix her window in the car – oh hell yeah! That night she picked me up and we went to the body shop I worked at after school, big Ed took one look at Ms. Burke and fixed the car for free, and Ed never did anything for free! We rode back to where I had left my car and the moon was up, the biggest, most amazing looking moon I’d ever seen, we stopped and looked at it for a few minutes. Later on as I graduated, she signed my yearbook and said we would never forget our “moonlight ride”, I won’t either!

    • 0 avatar
      Summicron

      Wow… first thing I think of when I hear Opel is my 7th grade math teacher, Cammy M., who had a white ’67 Kadett. You know, “insane” is such an over-used expression nowadays, but there’s no other way to describe how sexy whe was.

  • avatar
    Athos Nobile

    I once read that Opels, being working class cars, tended to be very sturdy.

    The Kadett, in its later iterations (T-body) and with different brand/names, became a beloved workhorse in many countries.

  • avatar
    threeer

    Always appreciated the simplicity of the Kadett. Dad’s Opel of choice for our many, many years in Germany was the Rekord, having owned three of them. 2 1971 models, and one 1980 model. All four door, all had a hand-crank sunroof. Yes, the word “sturdy” comes to mind. Never fancy, but much-loved nonetheless.

  • avatar
    schmitt trigger

    When I was a teenager, a friend of mine had one of these, with a four-on-the-tree manual.

    If I recall properly, one could actually mesh the reverse gear while going forward, although slowly.
    Then by revving the engine and carefully working the clutch, one could go from forward to reverse immediately…

    I also remember a road that dipped followed by a small rise, and if one approached it at just the right speed, one could actually get the four wheels in the air.

    All in all, a very fun car for adrenaline ladden high schoolers.

  • avatar
    jhargis

    Another great story. This is what makes TTAC the best car website on the net.

  • avatar
    Felix Hoenikker

    About a year out of college, I bought my first new car, a 1975 Opel Manta as a leftover in the fall of 75. It turned out to be a very fun and durable car that I drove on a cross country trip from Phila to Yosemite in 79. I zipped through the Rocky Mountains when similar aged cars were struggling in the high altitude. The suspension and Bosch Jet L Electronic fuel injected 1.9L four made for both good handling and drivability. In an era when crude emission controls had throttled carbeurated engines and sometimes made them undrivable during warm up, it warmed up seamlessly. The more precise electronic fuel injection met emissions without the need for a cat. I sold the car after 7 years of trouble free driving to get a car with air conditioning and four doors. I consider it the second best car I ever owned with respect to reliability and drivability. It would be nice to drive one again to calibrate my memory against new cars of the same class.

  • avatar

    the Opel Kadette reminds me of my old ’77 Toyota Corolla, which I bought in ’86 for roughly $1,000 (inflation adjusted). It was a 1.2 liter.

  • avatar
    davew833

    My family had a couple of Opel wagons– a ’71 Kadette, I think, that we bought in about 1976, and then a ’74 1800 that we bought about 10 years later. I didn’t care for the ’71 much, but the ’74 was bulletproof. We got it for $400, drove it for about 5 years until the floorboards rotted through, and then sold it probably for what we paid for it.

  • avatar
    hawox

    i have great memories about a 70′s kadett. my mom had one bought used, it was very slow but immensively fun to drive.
    i don’t know how a basic escort of the day used to handle and some of the contemporary fwd rivals were great (alfasud, scirocco….) but the kadett was an incredible drifting machine (on the wet were even the small engine could beat the tyre grip).
    the basic 1.2 handled like the rally gte and i had great times driving that small cheap car, the steering was so precise and sensible and the whole car weighted about 850kg so in the rain you could make it oversteer around a corner easily and precisely. if you remained under the rear tyre’s limit the car was perfectly neutral, i remember the big delusion when i tested a ’70s celica and discovered it’s big understeer.
    such a shame that a modern corsa feels like a beached wale by comparison… such a shame that nowdays we can no more buy proper cheap fun car.


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