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.