The Gentian Bitter and the Honey Sweet

Many concept cars go nowhere. The 1981 Opel Tech 1 laid the groundwork for the 1986 Opel Omega and the rest of Opel’s cars for the decade.

1981 Opel Tech 1

This Club version of the Opel Omega attracted my attention recently. Audi justifiably get recognition for their strict rationalism. The Omega, it seems to me, demonstrates much the same seriousness.

The Omega advances the aerodynamic style of the Tech 1 and neatens some of the details. The wheel arch is handled more proficiently and the Opel Omega dodges the cliché of the window line curving at the A-pillar. I even fancy Opel nodded a little towards Velizy in that with some tweaks this could have been a Citroen DX estate: the year is right.

1986 Opel Omega “A” estate

Another irony here is that Opel were pursuing a quite serious industrial design ethic here and if you compare it to the industrial design-style Passat B3 of 1988 it’s much more refined; compared to the styled 1996 B5 it’s more industrial design in its style. The B5 is actually quite sculptural on its flanks.

1986 Opel Omega “A”

You don’t see these around much (and its Granada peer is as rare) so this is a good chance to evaluate a rather forgotten bit of automotive design. I grant that the W-124 is better made but gets a disproportionate amount of attention in comparison to the Omega A which shows comparable discipline within the framework of its form-language.


Author: richard herriott

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

11 thoughts on “The Gentian Bitter and the Honey Sweet”

  1. If I recall correctly, the drag coefficient of this car is very good.

    Down in Brazil, the Omega A is regarded as a landmark. It was the first “flagship” car produced here after imports were resumed, in 1990. It was produced from 1992, by the time its European product cycle was ending, and sold with a Chevrolet badge, and you can still find a reasonable amount of Omegas on the road –
    but not too many estates (which were named Suprema around here).

    Since Opel had plans to phase out the 3.0 inline-6 engine that equipped the top version of the Omega here, Chevrolet do Brasil hired Lotus to upgrade its old “Stovebolt” I6 motor – a project that dates back to the late 1920s. They managed to upgrade the 4.1-litre engine to 168hp from some 125hp – and this powerplant was used in the Omega A until the end of its Brazilian production in 1998, when a rebadged Holden Calais (also sold as Chevrolet Omega) imported from Australia took its place.

    1. Thanks for that. So, there are Omegas with 4.1 litre engines (6 cylinder). And that body wasn’t heavy either. How did they fare in the S American environment? Some of the publicity images make it like a concept car. The glazing is extraordinary too. Chevrolet SA didn’t mess with styling in the way GM Australia and Ford Australia usually murled up vehicles handed down from their Euro relatives.

    2. Chevrolet dropped the old 235 cubic inch (3.86 l) four main bearing Stovebolt six here for the entirely new 250 thinwall casting 7 main bearing six for the 1964 model year. That older engine and its truck version at 261 cubic inches (4.28 l)weighed at least 630 lbs (286 kg), the new ’64 only 440 lbs (200 kg)

      Did GM actually resurrect the Blueflame Stovebolt six for the Brazilian Opel? I looked on Wikipedia, and no, the six in the ’90s Brazilian Opel was the 1964 engine updated with fuel injection. 250 cubic inches = 4.1 litres. Nothing in common with the Stovebolt six at all except six cylinders inline and much smaller physically. A nearly 300 kg lump rivalling the Jaguar DOHC in sheer avoirdupois would have been just a bit heavy on the front suspension anyway.

      Still, the old six powered the first American car I ever rode in when our family came to Canada – it was a ’59 Chevrolet Biscayne Batwing with three-on-the-tree. Very, very smooth. For four years I sat behind the 261 version in school buses as a student, clocking up more than 20,000 miles. Rugged old beasts. All suffered unequal mixture distribution from a single throat carb so were run rich. Fuel economy? Don’t ask.

      You had me worried there for a minute!

    3. So- to clarify – what is the
      basis of the 4.1 litre engine?
      And what was wrong with Opel’s
      own 3.0 six?
      The Omega could very well have
      been a good basis for a US car
      but for the fact GM USA had been drifting to FWD for a decade. Opel had quite a lot of independence, didn’t they? I could see the Omega “A” as an Oldsmobile and then again, in 1986 the Olds range was dizzyingly dated plus GM pursued a rectlinear style across the board. I should compare a 1986 Omega with a 1986 Cutlass saloon. Perhaps GM USA could have used the pre-facelift Rekord/Senator for something?

  2. I remember being impressed by the third generation Granada (Scorpio), then when these came out about a year later it felt like the bar had been raised again.

    1. Yes, the Omega led one to think a brighter future edged closer. The expression of technical advancement found form in the metal and by dint of intelligent simplicity. The customers could read it too. Presumably if you tried this today then customers wouldn’t get it. Not coincidentally, the stylists now are the product of car styling courses (such as the rather poor course I attended “with all due respect”) whereas the chaps doing the Grannie and Omega were designers/engineers. They might have generally been dogmatic modernists but in cars that’s usually a benefit.

  3. In the late 1970s into the 1980s the general movement across the industry seemed to be to make cars more modern, sometimes futuristic and certainly aerodynamic.

    The drive nowadays seems to be based on the smartphone industry: bigger and with more gizmos. Are we really progressing any more?

  4. On the other hand, I can see the need for change. This was the end of the line for that particular design language, there was no way to take it further. This is the language of the previous generation in its interity, only with the Tech 1 aero styling cues added to it. Like the Kadett E is only a Kadett D with rounded corners, so is the Omega A only a Rekord E with rounded corners.

    I remember it became Car of the Year, but for what I have no idea. Besides applying those aero styling cues, there was nothing inventive whatsoever with the platform. I now it’s not a re skin of the previous generation, but it could for all intents and purposes really have been as it’s there’s no fundamental change at all to the technical execution of the platform.

    To me, this generation of Omega A and Kadett E signals the end of the line of the teutonic military order, out went all of the stale thinking and all the military names with it. Who in their right mind would name a car the Kapitän, Admiral, Diplomat, or even Senator these days? It was clearly time for Opel to take a long hard look at itself and come up with something new…

    1. That’s a bit harsh, no? And the Omega and Astra showed that that
      naval/military names were being
      offered the “ausgang”.
      Opel, with the Omega, did what Toyota did often: utterly revise
      a body and retain the mechanicals. That avoids rushed development (see: Citroen, Renault, Jaguar) and buys time to revise the mechanicals. Even then the Omega was more economical and spacious than the Rekord/Senator so it wasn’t as if the car only seemed cosmetically modern. And how much more advanced was the Scorpio than the square Granada anyway? BMW kept the same basic 5er from ’72 to ’88, note and it was a cramped and rust-prone device. The more I think about it, the E12/E28’s longevity was remarkable in its cheapness.

    2. But the E34 was also a radical departure from the E28? As the E28 was only a reskin of the E12, so the E30 was only a reskin of the E21. It doesn’t look like it, but the window line on the E30 is exactly the same. And yes, BMW had gone extremely stale in the mid 80’s, the E32 7-series and the E34 5-series was exactly what they needed at that moment.

      But lets just say there’s a fine knifes edge walking between conservatism and radicalism. Never change a winning team, and people always wants more of the same, only better than before. But one can also get too much of the same, and people just don’t want the same old boring stuff over and over again, they want something new and fresh. Fickle crowd, those people, if they only knew what they wanted?

      It’s the same problem Gandini had with the SuperCinq, trying to reprise the success of the first Renault 5. The problem is that it’s so clearly just a shortened Renault 11 with the golden hits of Renault 5 styling cues plastered all over it. It just failed to capture that je ne sais quoi of the first generation. And what car really did came from the competition, the Peugeot 205 was the Renault 5 of the 80’s.

      BMW ended up in the same situation as Opel and Renault, only a generation later. The E38 and E39 is the second album problem of the automotive world, how could they ever outshine their previous iterations? They may have been better dynamically, but not stylistically and not from a perceived value standpoint. There are just so many ways one can serve the same sausage, and that’s why they hired Bangle to give the E65 the most radical design seen yet.

      And perhaps that’s the only way to go? BMW thrives to this day, Opel failed to make any interesting cars whatsoever. The Omega B just wasn’t radical enough to make a difference, and nothing they have done since has made a difference yet.

    3. The defence of Opel rests on the case that they aim to sell straightforward cars at a reasonable price. They have had as many duff cars (Zafira?) as Ford, Citroen or Benz, to pick three.
      The last Omega did quite well as far as I can tell even if, in styling terms, it ran more to the middle of the road than its predecessor.

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