The 1983 Opel Junior concept marked a new, friendlier frontier in small car design. Its impact was to be lasting.
The 1983 (is it really that old?) Opel Junior was one of the stars of that year’s IAA at Frankfurt, where it debuted. Small and really rather perfectly formed, the little Opel was the work of a team of designers at Opel’s Rüsselsheim styling centre, under the direction of Hideo Kodama. Alongside Kodama was Gert Hildebrand and neophyte, Chris Bangle, who it’s said, was responsible for the concept’s modular interior.
Junior was a thought experiment for a more compact Opel model, to slot below the recently launched Corsa. So it was compact, some 210mm shorter than a Corsa, if taller and wider. The exterior styling was a masterclass in less being more – Kodama later saying; “We made a car that was ‘huggable”. Its lack of ornamentation and soft form language was something of a revelation at the time – especially given the fact that the small car state of the art was the taller and more angular Fiat Uno and Panda from the acknowledged hand of maestro Giugiaro.
But if the outside was well received, the interior was where true madness resided. Chris Bangle’s interior was designed with more than a nod to the Issigonis Mini and Giugiaro’s aforementioned Panda. Everything was removable, including the clock which could double as an alarm. The instrument modules could be added to, according to the owner’s budget and the interior vents were attached to rubber hoses, so they could be moved in any direction. Even the seat covers had a dual use – they could be removed and used as sleeping bags. So even if it did look a bit of an unholy mess, there certainly was no shortage of ideas – (and potentially – rattles one assumes). But lets face it, the Junior was really all about the exterior.
And it was the exterior that provided the most lasting testament, beginning a move towards friendlier (cuter) forms, prefiguring the second generation Corsa B and even influencing Giugiaro’s Fiat Punto and Nissan’s second generation Micra, to name just two. Kodama went on to be responsible for the Tigra and the third generation Corsa C, both of which took cues from the Junior concept.
Looking at the clean uncluttered lines of Junior today, it is difficult to see how small car design has improved in the thirty-odd years since the concept was first shown. Certainly, today’s smallest Opel – the frantically overstyled Adam – advances little. Unless vacuity is your raison d’être.