A Photoseries For Sunday: 1979 Opel Kadett

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.

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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.

1979 Ford Escort: mazbukti.com

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.

1976 Opel Kadett C: bilgaleri.dk

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:

1980 Ford Escort

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:

1972 Lancia Beta Berlina: classic and sportscar

Everything seems to eventually park on my street so maybe one day I’ll see a Beta there too.

Author: richard herriott

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

23 thoughts on “A Photoseries For Sunday: 1979 Opel Kadett”

  1. Great sighting! It’s also a ling time for me since I last saw a Kadett D. I remember I photographed one about two years ago – I’ll have to dig in my photo harddisk. It was of the 5-door format that was much more common around here. The ‘saloon’ Kadetts I’ve only seen in ‘poverty spec’ in Switzerland (the round headlight kind), and it might also be for that reason that they didn’t sell.

    For me the Kadett looks much more modern and FWD than the Escort of 1980. You already mentioned the difference in proportions. The Escort kept the short wheelbase and long rear overhang of the previous generation, while the Kadett had a much shorter back and its wheelbase was more than 10 cm longer than the Ford’s. It wasn’t as pronounced FWD as the Golf 1, though. The Golf 2 that came two or three years later also lost the predecessor’s sharp proportions and added considerable optical weight to the back (and not only there).

    1. A lOng time ago, not a ling one. Stupid phone keyboard…

    2. I think the “saloons” were, as you say, the entry level budget models.
      I only ever remember seeing base trim on the saloon model, as soon as you started ordering GL (Astra) or Deluxe and Berlina the hatch was part of the package.
      Who would want a saloon version of a hatchback anyway? Not many people it seemed, it can’t have been much more that 18 months of production before the saloon packed its bags and went home.

    3. Typical Opel buyers needed a car with a rigid parcel shelf to store their knitware covered toilet roll and plastic dachshound with illuminated red plastic eyes.

  2. The Kadett D as a great European car surely is the perfect joke for 1st of April.The
    Kadett D was offered with bootlid or hatch because Opel’s customers traditionally belonged to the most conservative and many of them would have been alienated by a hatch, particularly as it was invented by the French

    1. Why shouldn’t it be one of the great European cars? It might not have been one of the most solid cars of that time, but it was literally all over the place and one of the main reasons for Opel being the best selling brand in Switzerland for a long time. While it never reached the Golf’s sales figures, it was offered in more varieties, and its estate was almost without any serious competition at the time. The French offers, Citroĕn GS and Peugeot 304, started to show their age and were considered too quirky by many. And they were soon replaced by much bigger cars. VW was absent from this sector for another ten or twelve years, and Ford had a contender in theory, but the Escort was too small, and it took them several years to finally come up with the right number of doors. From Japan, one could still buy Corolla or Mazda 323 estates based on the previous, RWD generations. No wonder the Kadett Caravan was equally popular as a workhorse and as a practical family car.

    2. It shouldn’t be a great car because it wasn’t. It quite simply was the epitome of mediocrity that despite of being five years younger than the Golf didn’t do anything better but a lot of things worse. It looked weird with its oversize headlamps giving it an expression between astonishment and fear (Golf anxiety??), its Haribo switchgear dashboard is easily one of the most uninspiring ever and above all it drove badly because of its lack of suspension travel and sneeze factor steering and it had gutless engines for most if the model range. They also were badly made, had lots of engine troubles and challenged the Alfasud for corrosion speed.

    3. Since I have no personal experience with this kind of Kadett, I don’t know if I should rather believe your (Dave’s) description or the one of Eric below. Probably I would experience the drivetrain and steering as you describe it, being spoiled by Citroën’s works of the 70s.
      However, what does ‘great’ mean? We can debate, but the one here, while not technically great, has shaped the automotive landscape for quite some time and was not uninfluential (with its estate version, as mentioned) – a lot of very similar vehicles followed in the next ten years, but it wasn’t until about 2000 that the throne of this segment was really conquered by the Golf Variant. At least that’s the picture I know, in other countries it might have been different.

  3. A saloon shaped like a fastback/hatchback was pretty normal in the 1970’s. Before the Kadett D we had the Alfasud, Citroen GS, Fiat 127 and VW Passat. The saloon variant was sold for the entire production run. Opel were just hedging their bets. It was also available in all trim levels apart from the GT/E which was available as a hatchback only. Indeed most of the sports trim SR models I remember seeing at the time were 2 door saloons including the cars used for motorsport in Ireland, presumably the saloon shell was stiffer. I also remember my father arriving home in a brand new 1.3s GL in Sapphire blue metallic. It was a lovely car. The overhead cam engine was lovely and revvy and it handled really well. I was led to believe they toned down the rorty engine note and tight handling on later models. It’s a shame they’re almost extinct now.

  4. Richard, thank you for a reminder of a once ubiquitous motor but now so rare. Haven’t seen one in ages. As I have learned on this site, one does not need high tech to achieve good design or pleasent motoring. Just the basics need to be correct.
    Equally with photography. A clear lens is alfa and omega of mobile phone photography. Thank you for your view on the motoring world and keep up the good work. Happy Easter!

  5. For all who enjoy old cars and vivid colours: an Opel Kadett I photographed some time ago in Switzerland:

    1. That looks like a base model with bits of SR model added to it. Great colour!
      The Kadett D (I’m only counting the models with the ohc engine here. The old ohv engine was awful) was a fine car. It wasn’t one of the all time greats but it does not deserve the kicking it gets from some quarters. It was streets ahead of the mk3 Escort and I think it was a better car than the mk1 Golf. It handled very well but the steering was quite numb. It never came close to an Alfasud or Citroen GS but nothing else did either. As for rust protection my father sold his example when it was 13 years old and there was no visible rust on it. I currently own a ’78 Alfasud and while it’s a fantastic car, keeping rust at bay is a constant battle..

    2. Eric, my compliments on the Alfasud. Commiserations too, as I still recall the almost daily battle against the dreaded rot. Curiously, my 1979 example was a very similar shade to the Kadett shown above, although Alfa Romeo billed it as brown.

      I may have driven a Kadett D, but if I have, it left no discernible trace. It’s Kadett E successor I do recall, although not with any real fondness.

  6. Hi Eoin. The Kadett E was more or less the same underneath as the Kadett D but to me felt quite different to drive. They always seemed very slow and clumsy. I’m thinking your Alfasud may have been a shade called Bruno Cilento? Mine is a 4 door Super model in a very bright metallic green known as Verde Faito.

    1. Well recalled. It wasn’t my first choice in colours – in fact it wasn’t even top five, but I was a stickler then for originality, so Bruno Cilento it remained. Mind you, some Verde Faito did make a brief appearance. One sourced rust-free body panels where one could. That would probably have been my first choice – it really suited the ‘Sud, but rare as hell – well done for finding one. Ours wasn’t in the first flush of youth when we got hold of it and to be frank I never quite got 100% on top of its maladies, so my ‘Sud experience was bittersweet, to say the least. Left a lasting impression though.

  7. I know the feeling. Mine has been fighting me at every turn for the past 7 years. I’ll get there eventually..

    1. I’ve got a wheel centre trim for one of those Alfasuds in my garage somewhere….

    2. Adrian, if you’re thinking of placing it (assuming it’s of the stainless steel variety) on an online auction site, bear in mind it was a generic part, so would probably fit most Alfas of that vintage. As indeed were early (first & second series anyway) road wheels, shared with other ARs on 13″ rims. I vaguely recall Alfettas ran on 14″ wheels of similar design…

    3. I hadn’t realised that until now Eóin – my second lesson this week from you!

      I actually have hung on to it for just over 20 years, in the vain hope that one day I will come across another Alfasud 5M in absolutely wonderful condition being sold at a knock down price because it only had three wheel trims……..I am allowed to dream, aren’t I?

  8. Laughed out loud at two photos in this article. Thanks for the chuckles. One was the linked doggie in the window, the other that Alfa Sud.

    Some European traits have moved noiselessly to North America. Putting the family name on your caravan/RV – The Wilsons. And a hand carved sign on the family homestead front lawn – Dunromin.
    The doggy in the back window, check. But did hanging two giant black fuzzy dice from the rear view mirror translate back to Europe?

  9. The dog is a Wackeldackel and no parcel shelf should be without one. Well, anyone that can spell it properly.
    As for the Kadett, I looked into purchasing one as my first car in 1988. Thought it looked the bees knees and actually still do.
    Bright red, might’ve been an SR (it is a while ago) 2 door and £1050. Cost to insure?
    £2500. I dropped the phone very swiftly and ended up with a rusty red Ford Escort Mk2…

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