An Easter treat. Just as we were discussing great European cars, one of them parked in my neighbourhood. It’s an Opel Kadett D: a two-door fastback.
The photo quality leaves lots to be desired. This is where I would need the skills and photographic equipment of Helmut Newton to do justice to the atmospherics. Instead I have a bad camera and limited skills in photo editing. It has been a long time since I saw one of these. As ever, that means a chance to re-assess the design in the cold gloaming.
The records say the design deployed front-wheel drive. It doesn’t look it. The styling says hatchback but the car actually has a boot. A hatchback did exist, one of a broad range of formats: 2 and 4 door saloon, 3 and 5 door hatchback and 3 and 5 door estate. Yes, Opel, threw everything at this section of the market. The engine range also covered the bases: 1.0, 1.2, 1.6 and 1.8 petrols plus a diesel.
The Kadett D lives in the shadow the of the VW Golf: one car is remembered for its sharp Italian styling and the other is not remembered much at all. The Escort is also better remembered. Opel did rally the Kadett yet it’s Escorts in the snow and slithering on forest stages that stick in my mind (… I just went and looked at the image results for “Opel Kadett rally driving” and most of the photos show the Kadett C. It seems D did not get much rally time).
As usual, the Kadett is somewhere in the middle of the poles set out by the Escort and the Golf. The three cars are very much the German expression of the C-class. The Kadett has more charm than an Escort and is less light-looking than the Golf. Subtle differences are at play here.
That’s a slightly modified Escort (1979) above. It’s very saloony and is surfaced in much the same way as the Kadett C, below. Both have that hard-to-define mid-70s blend of upright main volumes and almost organic surfaces. It’s really something to do with the radii. They aren’t huge as on a properly free-form 90s car and they aren’t tiny as in the late 80s. I simply don’t have a name for this other than automotive vernacular.
If we put the Escort Mk2 and Kadett C together and they have a lot in common. The next Escort then followed the Kadett’s style (Ford was in catch-up mode). We have a lovely photo here from our private archive:
It’s not quite a fastback and, frankly, is not all that well proportioned. The wheel-arch treatment and surfacing is pretty much out of the same box as the Kadett D and neither of the two cars look much like the Mk2 Golf.
Honest John says this about the Kadett D: “Great to drive with both excellent performance and roadholding” Rust killed most of them, alas.
Turning to more abstract matters, a puzzle for me is why retro car styling or the general turn of fashion has not exhumed this period’s style for re-examination.
There is a lot that’s right in the general shape of the D and the way the car is put together: wouldn’t it be very satisfying to see a modern re-interpretation of the 1979 flat-panel school of design? The current Astra is very decent car but it is simply so far away from the robust and straightforward honesty of the 1979 Kadett. I don’t even think you can buy a car as simple as the Kadett, even in the lower prices ranges of Kia and Hyundai. And if they are as simple they are much, much smaller.
And finally: the rear of the Kadett is not unlike the Alfa Romeo Alfasud. I also see some Lancia Beta there as well:
Everything seems to eventually park on my street so maybe one day I’ll see a Beta there too.