By the calm Kłodnica, a Waterfall Runs Dry

Image source: Vauxhall Press Room

We take a moment to reflect on the short career of the Opel Cascada, a glamorous under-achiever, conceived in the most parlous of times for its maker.

Its names were once legion, but the Cascada is no more. Production ended at Gliwice not long into 2018, but Vauxhall and Opel Ireland have only gone public on the matter in the last week. All over Europe, Opel’s national sales operations are less direct about the matter. Autocropley reported that: “The model remains available in other European markets as the Opel Cascada.”

In raw figures, 25,234 Cascadas were sold in Europe between 2012 and 2018.  The first and last years scarcely count, so small were the numbers, and the best result was 5910 in 2014.

A line up of run-out 2018 Buick Cascada Convertible Sport Touring models. Image source: GM Buick Media

Even at its early 2013 European launch there was much talk of the Cascada finding its way to the USA wearing the triple shield of Buick. In 2016 it happened, and in the two years when it was on sale, the Buick Cascada achieved 13,666 sales, well over half the number which had been registered as Opels and Vauxhalls in Europe over the car’s 5½ year life.

Australia and New Zealand got a Holden Cascada from April 2015. They couldn’t save the Cascada, and the Cascada couldn’t save Holden.

Image source: GM Holden media

In late 2012 Opel were swimming against the tide by introducing a four seat soft-top. In the previous decade convertibles had been legion, adding glamour but probably not profits, to the otherwise mundane ranges of Renault, Peugeot, Ford, VW and Opel themselves.

Most of these makers eventually realised that they were ploughing a hard furrow. Turning the monocoque of a C-segment hatchback into what is effectively a platform chassis is a difficult enough task, but the market also demanded folding hardtops. Imitating the functions with which nature endowed Coleopterae using sheet metal and computer-managed electro-hydraulic trickery must be one of the hardest tasks in the automotive engineering textbook.

It is also one of the most pointless, which is why fabric roofs returned to the fore. The Cascada’s roof was fabric, and when not required, descended into a cavity concealed by a cleverly articulated boot lid.

Even that 4700mm of roadspace didn’t allow for decent boot room when that clever hood was accommodated, Image source: Autocar

Opel claimed that the Cascada’s body was 43% stiffer than the preceding Astra Twin-Top, although they do not specify whether the stiffness was of the torsional or beam sort, or whether the roofless Astra was particularly deficient in this matter.

Opel are to be admired for successfully distancing the Cascada from the Astra J, which shared its GM Delta II platform. Not that the Astra was a bad car, but Opel’s sights were set on BMW, Daimler, and Audi rivals a full size segment larger. The Astra had a very generous 2685mm wheelbase, which helped when Opel’s engineers gave the Cascada a well-proportioned body 70mm longer than the considerably more expensive Audi A5 cabrio.

What the GM car could not match was Audi’s extensive powertrain range; the most powerful offerings in the Cascada were a 1.6 litre turbocharged petrol four with 168bhp, or a 192bhp 2.0 diesel, if you were willing to inhale the fumes of heavy oil in an open-topped car. With weights of 1733kg and 1810kg to haul, neither engine was going to make the Cascada a dynamic delight.

Well we might well ask what GM were thinking, given the Cascada’s woeful sales performance. Product planning was low on their list of concerns in 2009 as they filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and a ruthless restructuring commenced which almost included the immediate sale of Vauxhall and Opel.

It’s easy to say that the money and development resources expended to produce the Cascada would have been far better spent on a Qashqai clone, but Opel did at least score a bullseye in the sector below with the Mokka, launched at the same time as the Cascada, and soon achieving annual European sales in the hundreds of thousands.

Let us forgive Opel their folly, their Sports Frivolity Vehicle, a glamorous expression of hope in a time of grim adversity. The Cascada’s oddity and rarity should ensure its place as a future classic when the Mokkas, Antarae and Bigland Xs are all gone.

13 thoughts on “By the calm Kłodnica, a Waterfall Runs Dry”

  1. I can confirm that dry toilet paper is 43 percent stiffer than wet toilet paper.
    But it’s still toilet paper and therefore people looking for laid paper won’t buy it.
    Why did Opel bother to build this car? Chopping the roof off a car nobody would want to be seen in doesn’t sound like a particularly clever idea.
    You normally buy an open top car either to have fun which rules out Opel as the epitome of the non-fun car or you buy it as a posh toy which also rules out Opel as they’re neither posh nor toy . An open top Opel is like Toyota in Formula One – a pointless exercise demonstrating a high degree of cognitive dissonance.
    Is there any official Opel statement that they were honestly aiming the Cascada at BMW et al.? If so, I want to smoke some of the same stuff because it makes you so funny.

    Isn’t Cascada the shampoo in a cheap line of cosmetics at Aldi? No, it’s Lidl selling their clothes under the name of Escada…

  2. The Cascada was utter folly. But as useless as it was in terms of product planning (or with regards to profitability), it’s not without its charms.

    As Robertas pointed out, the Cascada is a far more accomplished looking thing than its pedigree would suggest. Dismissing it on aesthetic grounds certainly is nothing but badge snobbery – it may not feature a prestige gap, but has a slightly leftfield appeal of its own. The incorporation of the rear lights into the boot lid certainly is quite a satisfying design detail in itself.

    All of this obviously constitutes faint praise indeed, as the Cascada simply had no right to exist in the first place. But – again in utter accord with Mr Parazitas – I’m similarly convinced that it’ll be the pride and joy of more than one geeky vintage car enthusiast in the future. Not to mention one of the final interesting Opels.

    1. IMHO, the Cascada belonged to a generation of Opel cars (Insignia A and Astra J) that shared a pleasing degree of simplicity, solidity and confidence in their design. It remains a good looking car today. Had the Cascada been launched at the height of the “CC” boom, it would have been a handsome alternative to the metal-roofed competition, all of which were saddled with enormous, ugly backsides and windscreens swept back to an unfeasible degree, to minimise the length of the roof. This undermined the open-air feel of a regular convertible, occasionally cooking the front seat occupants, even with the roof down.

      Jacomo, you’re absolutely right about the (lack of) practicality in four-seat convertibles. Back in the early 90’s, I had an E30 BMW 325i convertible and travelling in the back at speed with the roof down was most uncomfortable. The aerodynamic effect was really odd: you actually felt a constant buffeting on the back of your head and neck as, I would guess, the air was sucked forwards to fill a vortex behind the windscreen. A supply of Ibuprofen in the glovebox was essential!

  3. The fatal flaw with almost all four seat convertibles is that, at anything above ambling speed, the rear passengers have a pretty unpleasant journey. They are crammed into very small seats and assaulted by the air swirling around their heads.

    Effectively, then, they are for two people… in which case, why not buy an MX-5 or another proper sports car?

    Bless Vauxhall / Opel and its long, long run of fairly catastrophic product planning decisions. Where did it all go wrong, eh?

  4. With respect to Robertas, the sales figures weren’t a given when the Cascada was planned.
    To hell with the sales figures: Opel made a nice looking car and made it affordable. I’ve only sat in one parked but it had a nice ambience.

    1. Perhaps Opel thought they were aiming at an open goal with Ford, Renault, and Peugeot exiting the cabrio market, and the VW Eos only just hanging on.

      I’ll hold to my original contention that Opel were desperate to add some allure to their product range. The only class-leaders were the Meriva and Zafira – useful but utterly unglamourous. The Cascada was pitched as their flagship, starting out at around £26,000 in the UK – close enough to Audi and BMW rivals to make the extra £6-8K look like money worth spending.

      It belongs to a heroic GM tradition of products intended to add flair and desirability to mundane ranges, with profits as a secondary consideration. Some worked brilliantly: Corvette, Toronado, Riviera, Fiero, Opel GT, Manta, Monza. Others didn’t: Allante, Reatta, Solstice, Speedster.

      I suspect I’ve only scratched the surface with the above lists – and some may even disagree which deserves to go where.

      The point is that poor product planning kills companies, and Opel / Vauxhall didn’t have money to squander at the beginning of this decade.

  5. One review memorably said that the Cascada had “a whiff of Judith Chalmers” about it, which says it all, really.

    I’ve always wondered why modern convertibles – metal and rag-top – have such steeply-raked windscreens. It’s a pet hate of mine, as when I sit in one, I always feel as though I’m about to smack my head against the header rail. If I sit up straight, I’m often able to look above the screen, which can’t be good.

    1. As I understand it, the large size and steep rake of the windscreen on metal-topped convertibles was to minimise the length if the roof, making it easier to accommodate in the boot when folded.

  6. I don’t think that’s always the case – see the Golf Cabriolet, for instance.

    1. Re ‘Which one?’, I was thinking of the 2011 to 2015 version, for example.

  7. This was sent to the US mainly for companies like Hertz to rent out to sunshine seekers on vacation in Florida, Hawaii, etc.

    It was an overweight underdone porker. So probably didn’t take up much engineering resources. If Car and Driver feel it necessary to write stuff like the folliwing on the Cascada, it can in my view be safely dismissed as a serious machine:

    “The bad news is serious cowl shake, so severe as to be revealed by high-frequency side-to-side motion of the back-seat headrests in the rearview mirror while driving over even modest pavement imperfections.” and “Irritating rubbing sounds emerge from the relative movement between the glass and the rubber seals with the car in motion.”

    So likely to be a classic among the types of owners/drivers who find the MG3 a delight compared to a Golf.

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