A photo for Sunday: 1984-1991 Opel Kadett 1.3 S

Not another Opel. But it is. This is a follow-up to our Opel Astra saloon. I’d like to draw your attention to the fine detailing of the rear side window. 

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And the aerodynamically-shaped rear wheel arch looks good too. The interior is a study in Spartan efficiency. The centre stack rises from the floor in a neat column and to its left is driver-orientated binnacle. The seats in this car look quite unmarked and the rest of the car is nearly unaffected by the passage of time. I’d guess it’s a late-model car, one owner, with a garage. It has a 1.3 engine, so it’s pre-1988. If I hope to achieve anything with this focus on Opel, it’s to

1988 Pontia Le Mans: zombidrive.com
1988 Pontia Le Mans: zombidrive.com

re-appraise the firm’s design. While VW gets a lot of respect and medals for its output, and often rightly so, Russelsheim made similar efforts to combine efficiency with thoughtful design. There is nothing about this shape that is incorrectly finished and it still manages to have a distinct personality.

The same bodyshell went over to the US where it became the quite horrible Pontiac Le Mans. This website considers the Vauxhall Belmont one of the worst British-made cars ever and judges the boot to have been hastily tacked-on. No, it was simply the saloon version of a decent hatchback, no more and no less. In my view it’s properly integrated and seems no less acceptable than a 3-Series of the same period.

When you realise a Pontiac Le Mans once look like this, the sheer wrongness of forcing a moderately-priced front-drive hatch into the same role becomes glaring.

1967 Pontiac Le :www.uneedapart.com
1967 Pontiac Le :www.uneedapart.com

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

32 thoughts on “A photo for Sunday: 1984-1991 Opel Kadett 1.3 S”

  1. I like stuff that often other people don’t like Richard ..eg Montego and Metro …. but I can’t see a single thing I personally like about the Vauxhall Belmont.

    1. The Metro isn’t often championed. There was a ritzy one called the Kensington, was there not? If I was being pugnacious I’d suggest that the Kadastra is at least equally as lovely as the Rover 114.
      On that note I went hunting on mobile.de for my dream Kadett. There are 75 of them on sale and none are black. That’s surprising. I am told black paint is unflattering for sheet metal that is not pressed with extra care. Interesting, I would say.
      A Google search throws up one, a 1988 GSi which is a 3 door with a 2.0 litre engine. I want a saloon.

  2. Try imagining the car in black with a 1.6 litre engine.
    To be honest, it is a plain kind of car. How much better is the VW Jetta than this; this is part of my argument. Personally, I prefer this. It’s light and aerodynamic.

    1. I can’t fault you with the Jetta comparison. I actually thought Ford did better with the Orion but only with the MK1 (or alternatively MK111 Escort) after that things went downhill rather rapidly for the notchback. SAAB did OK with the notchback as a design but as a business success it didn’t fare well as customers preferred the hatch. Then they scored an own goal by only introducing the 9 5 as a saloon/sedan.
      The belmont just doesn’t cut it for me and neither did the Astra it’s based on … an anonymous bubble but I appreciate your eye is for details as much as the whole.

  3. The Orion is for me the worst offender. I might do a visual analysis to see how the 320, Orion, Belmont and Jetta compare.
    Why did Saab turn their back on the fifth door? Peer pressure?

    1. I’m in bother now. Not sure why SAAB turned their back on the hatch. It was their most successful concept 900 classic, new gen 900, 9000 and 9-3. After a year or so they introduced the estate. Mimicking Volvo in this respect, perhaps the US market swayed them…. though they didn’t seem to have a shortage of US customers for the hatchback.

    2. I’m really confused about the attitude manufactures seem to have about hatches in the US. Most SUV’s have hatches, as does a very popular version of the current (US) Focus. Once I got one of those I started noticing that basic body style, the sort of sleek, 5 door hatch, and the are EVERYWERE, on everything from cheap econoboxes to high end SUV’s.

      And yet some manufactures seem to think American’s don’t like hatches, very strange.

    3. The eye opener for me was when I read that some American customers prefer the security of a sedan compared to a hatch. My understanding is the American preference is for saloons and not hatches when we are talking of cars. Hence the popularity of the Civic sedan, Jetta/Vento, Sentra and so on. But as soon as people move to an SUV, the hatch is accepted. Is it because the SUV is really just a modern station wagon? I wonder what would happen if someone made a saloon based on an SUV. Disaster?

    4. For an SUV based saloon, see AMC Eagle – which I kind of like, but just because it’s so odd. If you’re not going for a saloon, but a hatchback, then you get abominations like an X6 or a GLC Coupé. So yes, an SUV is like a “modern” (read: fashionable) station wagon, and for a reason.

  4. This is the early version of the Kadett Sedan from 1984-1989. The 1989 facelift was a really successful one – ito me. It gives the Kadett a much more harmonic, horizontal and solid look.

    But in general, the class of small sedan cars is really not my favourite car class. There are a remarkakable number of boring and direful variations of this theme – It seems to be a big challenge for a car designer to transform a beautiful compact car into an elegant three box shape.

    1. Are there any examples which do work that are not more than four and a half metres long? The core of the matter is that the passenger cell has to have certain minimum dimensions and a small car thus has to accomodate the shortness forward of the bonnet and aft of the c-pillar. The BMW 3-Series E21 and E30 managed to look exactly right and far from sleek. The way I look at a design is to ask if the object did all that it could within its limitations and compromises. I assume a small saloon can never have the scope of a Silver Shadow or S-class. Rather, I ask “is this a good small saloon”. I feel that even within this lowered expectation there have been been some very good small saloons. What irks me is that the class is written off very casually and a few offenders are used to condemn the whole breed.

    2. Old 3-series BMWs are a good example for saloons that work with a length below 4.5 m. The Italians also had very good cars in that segment, like a Fiat 124 or an Alfa Giulia. All these had two things in common: a distinct RWD architecture (i.e. a short front overhang and a long one in the back) and upright cabins. The first hepled in getting equilibrated proportions in spite of the short length, the second in keeping the cabin short while spacious enough.

      With saloons derived from FWD hatchbacks, the short wheelbase and longer front overhang is complemented by another long overhang in the back, so the car looks as if put on too small underpinnings. For me, it leaves an impression of “wannabe-big”, and that makes me dislike this segment almost entirely.

      By the way, I think that all of the above RWD examples would have looked quite odd as shortened hatchbacks, don’t you think? So a transformation between the two shapes isn’t easy in either way.

    3. “Are there any examples which do work that are not more than four and a half metres long?” asks Richard. I don’t know whether we are including new models in this debate, but I’d say current Audi A3 Saloon. More controversially I wanted to add current Mazda3 Fastback (it’s a saloon), but it’s longer than 4.5m.

    1. Nail. Head. Hit. Yes, that works very well. I wish they had been made better because my impression of the craftsmanship ruins my perception of the forms. The Prisma I see in my own recollection is faded petrol blue with sagging upholstery.

  5. Is the Lancia picture an official one? It looks it, but the door is out of alignment. Maybe it was honest advertising.

    Being very small, the Mazda 121 was possibly one of the oddest proportioned saloons – though to my eyes oddly attractive.

    But then I always had a soft spot for the Renault 7. From 1974, was that the first booted hatchback?

    1. The Renault 7 might really be one of the earliest examples (1974). The VW Derby only came in 1977. One earlier example that comes to my mind is the Riley Elf / Wolseley Hornet. OK, the Mini technically isn’t a hatchback, but the scheme is the same: small car with upright back gets a boot.

      The 7 works well for me for the same reason as earlier RWD examples: although it’s front driven, it doesn’t have the typical long front overhang and therefore does well in looking like a “real car”.

      And yes, the Mazda 121. Though generally not inclined towards nothbacks, I really liked this very different entry in the supermini class. It was a big loss when it was replaced by that insipid Fiesta clone.

    2. Regarding the steel bumpers on the R7: this might also have to do with Spanish regulations at the time. I remember various photos of Citroëns from the ’70s which had some additional bars on their bumpers. I always thought that these were to meet a special requirement regarding bumper height or crash resistance. Maybe Renault was unable to fulfill this with the plastic items.

    3. Good point about the Hornet / Elf. And also, again sating the Spanish liking for boots, there was the 1100 based Victoria, or whatever it got called in other markets, a true British Leyland mish-mash.

    4. Yes, I had a faint memory of that booted 1100, but was not able to dig it out…

      More Spanish boots: the Seat 850 was also sold in a lengtgened 4-door version in saloon style (though its “boot” contained the engine, of course).

    5. That booted 1100 looks like warped Triumph Dolomite, does it not? Makes one wonder why they did not just try to sell those to the Spanish market instead?

    6. That booted Maxi looks quite good; certainly far better than the donor car. “Spot the Maxi Doors” is a game for another time.

  6. The R7 bumpers are fine; it´s the amount of body-coloured metal below then. Ford used to colour this sort of area black to avoid the tail-heavy look on the Focus II.

  7. That booted 1100 is new to me. It must have cost £10,000 to engineer. In the light of these dubious examples I hope the Kadett now can be recognised for the professional effort it actually is.

  8. Diving a bit deeper into the Seat 850 saloon topic, I found this:

    A Fiat 850 Lucciola by Francis Lombardi. Apparently, this is built on the original Floorpan of the 850 (the Seat only rarely came in this length, most saloons were lengthened by 15 cm). At a length of 3.57 m and a wheelbase of 2.03 m, this must be one of the shortest 4-door, notchback saloons ever (at least in Europe; there might be a Japanese Kei Car that beats it). And still, though it looks very short, it’s not proportionally odd or wrong.

    1. I like that. Applying generic Italian 60s berlina styling to those dimensions is rather satisfying, though maybe it’s drooping a bit too much in the shadows..

  9. Thank you very much to write about this wonderful car!
    Kind Regards,
    The car owner (from Aarhus)

    1. Hello Sven:

      Thanks for dropping by. As you can tell I am quite a fan of this line of cars. If you´re interested, Aarhus University have what looks like a very good Kadett combi which they use to carry small things around in. All the variants of this car looked right and so does the kombi (in three or five door form!). From a pure industrial design point of view Opel were doing “pure industrial design” long before VW got in on the act.
      I hope you enjoy the rest of the site. We have other Astra/Kadett things here despite the apathy and indifference of my esteemed colleagues.


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