This Should Have Never Happened For Years

1.4 million Opel Rekord E models sold, dear readers. This one is still running though maybe not for so much longer.

Nothing new under the sun, is there?  When the current generation of Opel Insignia appeared, it upset me that there was a false pane in the side-glass. Since then I noticed the previous Mazda6 came very close to the same supposed sin. If we go back to 1977 we find the Rekord D1 where the last element of the apparent DLW is a black panel or fake pane.

I can´t decide if Opel’s Mark Adams was nodding in the direction of the Rekord or if he missed a trick by not taking a small extra effort to

flag up the fact the last panel on the Insignia sideglass is not transparent – grooves? A texture? Another material?

Opel Rekord

Ratty as this example might be I can still see something to admire in the form. It is distinctly different from a Ford Granada and indeed all the other large cars of the time, without being wilfully wierd.

Opel Rekord

One thing that catches my eye is the flow from the front wing, up the A-pillar, over the roof and down to the bootlid.  The base of the DLO does not make an effort to flow around to the base of the windscreen, not even a half-hearted little bend. And there is a small increase in curvature on the forward part of the front wing which is (this is magical, the designers implemented this detail) not the same as the one on the Peugeot 604.

The contrast with the straight bootlid is pleasing but I am at a loss to say why. It might be the way it sets up the context for the apparent DLO (really the C-pillar) to cut into the boot volume.

I went to find out how much a decent Rekord costs. The answer is about 4000 euros or more. This spiffing 1976 Opel Rekord 1900 SH De Luxe appeared in my search and I nearly fell off my chair:

1976 Opel Rekord 1900 SH De Luxe: source

Take a look at the subtle way the front wheel cut-out leans forward, in sympathy with the forward lean of the wing; at the back the rear wheel cut-out is slightly flattened. The rocker panel/sill is inclined upwards as it goes backwards. This is a symphony of subtle touches.

That realisation makes me return to the Rekord E1 which is the main point of this article. I don’t have an answer to this question: what motivated the move to much plainer shapes for the E1?  The boring answer is “to make it look different”. There is an infinity of other shapes that would have been different to the Rekord D – the designers chose the plain, industrial shapes of the E1 as their preferred expression of difference.

Was this choice inspired by Brutalism in architecture? Was it inspired by a wish for apparent sobriety? I like the E1; the D is even better, an inspired mix of rectangular with nuanced deviations from the simplest lines.

Author: richard herriott

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

51 thoughts on “This Should Have Never Happened For Years”

  1. Good morning, Richard. The tatty example in your photos is actually the later, facelifted model. The original was even more severely rational and industrial looking, and did a have a conventional vent grille in the C-pillar:

    The facelift was, I think, an attempt to smooth it off and add some style. It was quite comprehensive and added a new front end and raised boot as well as the alterations to the DLO outline:

    That black triangle still incorporates a vent and isn’t pretending to be part of the glazing, so is not “dishonest” like the current Insignia. I would judge the facelift to be a success in its objective, albeit having sacrificed some of the purity of the original.

    1. In Britain, where it was a Carlton, the facelift was far more popular than the first shot, not because it was necessarily better but because of its visual affinity with the second generation Vauxhall Cavalier (Ascona C), which was a massive sales success.

      The original Carlton had a blank-faced front end, intended to align with the drop-snoot Firenza, Cavalier and Chevette, but instead looking like a failed copy of the Rover SD1. The six cylinder Vauxhall Viceroy got the Royale grille shared with the Holden Commodore – that which may have gone down better on the first Carlton and saved some tooling costs.

    2. Wow. They changed all the panels – that is a sign of disatisfaction with the first version, is it not?
      About the vent panel: on both Rekords the vent is painted black and enclosed within the chrome frame. Only to point out the slippery nature of dishonesty, I could say that if they wanted to be honest, the Rekord´s stylists ought to have put the vents outside the chrome frame or painted the vent another colour. I am not that bothered – and now take a more relaxed view of the Insignia´s little deception.
      The little extra pointy bit on the vent panel on the Series 1 Rekord D has an effect far out of proportion to its physical dimensions. I like the colour of the earlier car. The second car seems more nuanced than the first, more finished. I am a sucked for these cars because they are totems of daily German life in the 1970s (totemic like a Peugeot 604 is for France in the 1970s).

    3. You have lost me now… which extra pointy bit do you refer to on the S1 Rekord D?

    4. Ah, I got it now, the extra bit is on the second series. Yes, its effect is tremendous, it makes the whole C-pillar seem much more inclined, although I guess the slope of the last part on the door and the upper half of the vent panel is still the same. I’m not quite sure if they altered the rear windscreen, though.

    5. When you look at the Rekord D’s rear door you see a typical Opel door opening with a very vertical trailing edge of the door window and the transition from C post to roof high up and far back. This is necessary to allow elderly people (Opel Rekords weren’t exactly young men’s cars) easier access to the rear seat without banging their head at the C post. The extractor panel does an efficient job of disguising this door design which can look very odd as can be seen on Astra F/G and Vectra C. One more window would have been another solution as can be seen on the Senator which was the car the Rekord E should have been anyway.

    6. Hi Dave,

      It’s incredible that they had senior people in mind when designing a particular detail. What is this ? freaking Japan ?

  2. Hi,
    The C pillar treatment reminds me of the Astra B coupé that came out years later, especially the oblique crease joining the DLO to the boot lid.
    Reading about that black back-window panel in the article reminded me of the Kadett E.
    However iam not sure if I dreamt this but I could swear that this particular Kadett blinged up this part of its anatomy: I was pretty sure some versions had a grey plastic panel with round holes all over but I can’t find any pictures online after a quick search, maybe it was all in my head. There’s a bit of Ford Orion too for me in the side profile of the Rekord.

    1. Good morning, NRJ. No, you’re not hallucinating, some versions of the three-door model had round perforations rather than vertical slats for that grille:

    2. I like how the 2 lamps in the upper right-hand window make it seems like there’s an evil and menacing Thing looking out: it goes well with the derelict and creepy quality of the car.

    3. In fact, that main picture really looks like a still from a Horror film. A remake of ‘Christine’ perhaps, called ‘Birgit’ this time around ?

  3. Dammit. I’ve been fooled.

    The Insignia’s blank plastic panel is both a subtle and faithful nod towards Opel’s ‘design DNA’. I was insufficiently clued up to appreciate it.

    Perhaps Mark Adams could have gone further, with some ’16v’ and ‘ABS’ badges on the tailgate?

  4. Well, it’s pretty obvious to me at least that the earlier Rekord D from 1971 was a far better looking car than the tatty lump of an updated E heading the article.

    The D’s front wheel arch design first made its appearance in the 1962 Chevy II; its metamorphosis into the Nova of 1968 brought the flattened rear wheel arch. The ’70s Vega and derivatives had elements of both. What first the Manta and then the Rekord D did was to file off all the rough edges of previous efforts and deliver really good-looking cars.

    No surprise, since Chuck Jordan’s handiwork was a GM staple for many years and he’s credited with both the good-looking Opels and the GT before that, following the Buick Riviera. Thus when the first version of the Rekord E lump appeared in 1978, one assumes he was off on other projects, primarily the downsizing of GM’s US fleet after GM promoted his underling Rybicki over him as VP Design following Mitchell’s retirement. Finally in ’86 they made him Design VP as the company began its extraordinary decline and it was all a bit too late. I cannot imagine Jordan would have stood for what is known as “DLO fail”. The 1992 Cadillac Seville was his last car, and in the flesh it’s really quite becoming.

    1. Oddly, all the Opels from the 1980 don’t come across to me as DLO fails. The ‘cheese wedges’ behind the windows, as they were called in German, actually became a quite defining feature of Opel’s design at the time. What sets them apart from today’s ‘efforts’ was that they didn’t pretend to be something else then they really were. They were just air vents drawn in a specific fashion – more interesting than all the rectangular grilles at the base of the C-pillar like on all other cars. That the Opel designs of the early eighties were rather unrefined and blocky and lacked the finesse that was found in the seventies is a different story, and I couldn’t agree more here.

    2. Thanks for that. Is it just me or does the Chevy II look quite compact? I can see the same theme in the wheel-arches. The Opel is still simpler, lacking some of the feature lines that grace the Chevrolet. The on-line history claims the development process lasteded 18 months. There were four variants, at least.
      Bill might be a little to harsh on the later Rekord. I have shown a sad example. A search found a clean one in black with a blue interior that is quite enticing as a low-level minister´s official car. It has quite a different feel to the Granada now that I consider both of them.

    3. Hideo Kodama was a key player in Jordan’s team at Opel. He penned the Rekord D/Commodore B coupé.
      Tipped to become a « Baby Riviera » in the US at the time,the Commo B was a real competitor to the BMW e9 coupe in Europe.
      Successful as a rally car and none too shabby on the track, it’s most spectacular appearance was as the Steinmetz « Jumbo ». Enough to give a showroom full of Cossies wing envy!

  5. They couldn’t resist and even added a black corner on the 1982 corsa 3dr.

    What I didn’t realise until today and that quick search for a picture is that it wasn’t a plastic panel but merely painted and I forgot that some versions didn’t have the black triangle at all.

    1. Good morning, NRJ. That Corsa three-door had unusual ridges pressed into the metalwork around the rear side windows simulating bright/black trim fittings. These were painted black on higher level versions but were left body colour on lower trim cars which, to my eyes, always looked rather odd. They are more evident in the photo below:

    2. Hi Daniel,

      Yes it’s odd without the black bit, especially as it changes its phisionomy quite a lot because we go from a rounded form at the base of the C-pillar for the cheap variants to a much more angular look on the upper versions.

  6. Good morning, Robertas. Regarding the Carlton, the original was hobbled by the fact that Vauxhall was forced to utilise the standard Rekord headlamps, rather than specify a new unit that would have given a properly smooth front end. The whole assembly looked a bit “home-spun” as a result. At least they were allowed to fit a different rear bumper that wrapped around to the wheelarches. The Opel item looked rather mean and unfinished by comparison. Both the Rekord and Carlton received a new, common front end in the facelift:

    The pre-facelift Rekord, for comparison:

    1. In the yellow version we see a classic cheapish big car. To get a similar effect today you´d have to take an Astra saloon and remove 50% of the content. Even then it would not feel as bare as those 70s cars. Another way to think about it would be if Dacia made a saloon the size of an E-class with the equipment of a Sandero. They cost 6000 UK pounds. So, I imagine a Dacai D-class car would come in at around 11,000. Why not?
      Thanks for the graphic work on the Corsa. What´s with the fact the pointy shape looks to be of a higher quality? I have a theory that to some extent we can detect value/cost differences. A properly glazed DLO apeterure would feature all glass to fill the gap. Chopping the corner off is an expedient to save glass (I believe). We read the pointy-glass DLO as costing more to. I still feel that there is an optical effect which by-passses thoughts of value and cost. The Rekord with the pointy-ended DLO has another visual “feeling” the basis of which probably requires an experiment to investigate. I can´t guess off hand how it works. Probably a Gestalt thing.

    2. I’m not sure if it’s really the sharpness of a corner that makes me perceive more value. For me it’s actually the additional layer of black paint that makes a big difference. That might have two reasons: A) applying an extra process and extra material is bringing in more cost (and thus value) by itself. It’s cheaper to not do it. B) it also makes me think that they actually wanted the corner to look nice instead of just giving me the obvious solution. So it’s not about the material value, but the intent.

      Determining what makes people think ‘valuable’ is a very interesting (and tricky) question indeed. Working in the fastener industry, I have witnessed lengthy discussions about shiny or matte zinc coatings and their perceived value. Depending on personal taste you could get completely opposite answers on that question. But there also seemed to be a cultural aspect with American, Asian and European people having different preferences.

    3. The black paint on the more expensive versions simply makes the rear window look the same height as the one in front door. The black paint then aligns with the window trim on the door and that is probably what makes it look more expensive.
      Rounded corners are easier to fit because the rubber seal is less tricky to handle, it’s less prone to cracking during handling than a sharp corner, round corners are easier to make water tight and the base of the C post is stiffer when it flows into the wing structure without a sharp corner – with body stiffness being a weakness of Opels from that era (it also plagued the Rekord E and Senator).

    4. Dave and Simon: this is the semantics of cost and value. Somewhere between the cheapest viable method and making everything by hand from gold is the sweet middle ground of appropriately high quality. Most people can intuitively see when something is a bit better than the minimum. The best designers know how to make things that can´t attain upper-middle quality look good.

  7. The pale blue car in the first pictures has a driver’s side front wing standing sticking out at the bottom, probably because it has corroded free and lost its attachment to the sill.
    Buyers’ guides for the Rekord E recommend to put a ruler transversely across bonnet and front wing. If the outer end of the ruler is pointing upwards then the front suspension turret has corroded off the inner wing, bending the whole side of the car upwards relative to the bonnet. The blue car looks as if this already happened.

  8. Hi, Richard. Regarding the Corsa, I think you’re right, it is a Gestalt thing. Without the framing and black paint, the round-cornered rear side window is disconnected from and at odds with the sharp upper and lower rear corners of the door window. Even worse, the glazed area of the rear side window does not quite align horizontally with the door window, either at the top or bottom edges, as it is slightly shallower. The pressings were an attempt visually to connect the two, but it only really works with the addition of black paint and trim. On the maroon car, a half-hearted attempt to do so by blacking out the B-pillar merely highlights the fact that they don’t align perfectly. I couldn’t find a side view of an unpainted car, but I think this shows what I mean about the conflict between the two window shapes:

    The blacked out B-pillar reveals the alignment issue, particularly at the bottom:

    Only with black paint and an additional frame are the two really seen as unified:

    I can’t help thinking that GME created a wholly avoidable problem with this detail. VW made a much better job of the contemporary “bread van” Mk2 Polo simply by aligning the two windows properly and the simple expedient of having square rather than rounded corners on the leading edge of the rear side window rubber:

    Higher line versions of the Polo had a blacked out B-pillar, but even on the basic version pictured, your eye visually connects the two areas of glazing.

    1. Nice work. The revised white Corsa looks like a totally different kind of car too. It has a Citroen vibe. I wonder if such cost cuts as disfigure the cheaper Corsas were indigenous or imposed from GM head office. If I think about it there was a run of cars from Opel which suffered from visible cost-cutting: the series one Rekord D, that Corsa, the 1981 Ascona and the contemporary Kadett. Before those cars they were rather smart and after that they regained their mojo (with the last Rekord, series 2 which pre-empted the magnificent aero Omega “A”. GM USA cars of the mid 80s also wanted for much visual finesses (with exceptions at Buick and Cadillac at the higher end).
      I am very pleased the old blue rusty car has caught people´s imaginations.

    2. Funny that you mention a Citroën vibe. I don’t especially see it in the Corsa, but I remember that the front design of the Kadett E and the Rekord you presented was often said to resemble the Citroën CX. No wonder for a company that got big by copying Citroën (Opel ‘Laubfrosch’ as a copy of the Citroën 5HP).

  9. Hi Dave, interesing point about square-cornered window rubbers being more difficult to make waterproof. I owned a new 1982 “breadvan” Polo Mk2 as pictured above and both rear side window rubbers leaked in the rain, particularly at the leading edge The VW dealer told me it was a common problem and used a builder’s gutter sealant to fix it under warranty!

  10. Is “probably a Gestalt thing” the DTW equivalent of “That would be an ecumenical matter”?

    1. It is certainly a catch phrase of ours. My understanding of “that would be an ecumenical matter” was that it was used to dodge a tricky question and signified a clear lack of understanding. Since DTW is gifted with an unusually high number of bright people our tics operate at a higher level.

  11. Hi,

    Iam putting all pictures of my post separately to see if my post goes through. I’ve tried many times to post and it just wouldn’t work so iam wondering if it’s due to the pictures links ?

    Good work on the revisions to the Corsa, Daniel.
    In its defense GM doesn’t seem to have been the only one using that trick. Ford did the exact same thing then with the 3dr Escort.

    Black paint around the windows seems like it was a widespread phenomenon in the early 80’s: Austin Metro, Citroën AX and Seat Ronda amongst many others.

    Some cars like the Talbot Samba added a lick of black paint at the back, to make the rear windscreen look bigger I presume ?

    I find that whole masquerade kind of funny, for me it kind of sent the message that Glass was more expensive than Metal and having more of it meant Luxury, to the point where they would trick customers into thinking they were buying more Glass.

    Regarding the issue of the seemingly smaller rear window that doesn’t align with the front one, iam ondering if it wasn’t the intent. When I think about it, many 3 door-cars born before the 80s had a smaller rear window compare to the front, like the Renault 5 Mk 1 for example.

    Unless it was due to technical limitations I wonder if this wasn’t a style choice then, to try and make the 3 door versions look sportier: real coupés often have a smaller rear window.

    It’d be interesting to know if Opel offered the black lining at launch or if it came later on, perhaps if and when they realised the smaller window trick was just too last decade ?
    I think that cars that came out just a few years after the Corsa already started to use a different and more modern kind of black surround, like the Tipo 3dr for example.

    Talking about the R5, how cute of Renault to have added the original eyes of the old adverts to the headlamps back in 2012 for the car’s 40th birthday.

    1. Ok sorry, there won’t be any pics, I’ve tried to post the links for the last 45mn and it wouldn’t accept them.

  12. Thank you very much to whoever posted the pictures. I really appreciate, this drove me nuts.

    1. I love that powder blue R5 – the wheel trims are just magic!

  13. Good morning, NRJ. You’ve obviously cracked the photo hosting and posting thing!

    That black paint around the rear window was a quite popular trick at the time amongst French manufacturers:

    However, Chrysler/Talbot went the other way when they facelifted the Horizon, blacking out the lower part of the rear glass for some reason:

    And, of course, there was this:

    1. I didn’t crack anything Daniel except my nerves. I’ve managed to add the links after some time and while the post went through moderation (it seems to go through it when you add more than 2-3 picture links) a charitable soul magically transformed the links into actual pictures. I say ‘Magical’ because the trick to be able to post pictures directly is obviously a close-guarded secret around here, passed down through the generations amongst a select few only. strange that WordPress doesn’t seems to accept the regular embed code that works everywhere else, or maybe iam missing something, iam not excatly an expert with these things.

      Anyway, yes lots of other example of that Mascara phase. For the Horizon it looks as if they’ve put a windscreen upside down, with the sun-shielding darker band at the bottom rather than on top 😀

      For the smaller rear window on the Corsa I understand you think it wasn’t a voluntary choice on their part but I think other 3dr cars, even more modern ones, had a smaller window that seemed to be intentional. Again, Iam not sure if that’s because of manufacturing necessities (Daaaave !) but for example it always seemed like an integral part of the Twingo Mk 1’s design to me.

    1. Hi, NRJ. I’m willing to risk the wrath of the DTW conventicle and reveal the secrets of picture hosting to you. (I use the Imgur app on an Android tablet.) Please let me know if you would like me to do so.

  14. Thank you so much Daniel for this wonderful act of selflessness and bravery. However I will regrettably decline your invitation. It has become a matter of Pride now. I’ve raged against that Thing so much earlier on that iam like a moody teenager sulking in his bedroom after an argument: an “I don’t want to know anything about this vile commenting system and I don’t care” kind of reaction.

    1. Daniel: you are aware that acts of decency and generosity will not go unpunished? How does a three month ban sound to you? Simon A. Kearne does not take this kind of thing lightly. Ever wonder what happened to Miles Gorfe? We don´t talk about it.

  15. Er…I’ve heard some ugly rumours, but just couldn’t believe that gentlemen who appreciate a fine sherry could be responsible for dispensing such brutal summary justice.

    Luckily, I’m leaving the country in the morning…😁

    Oh, hang on, I’m going to Ireland…😲

    1. Daniel, you dignify Mr. Editor Kearne’s appreciation of the finer finos, he’ll quaff anything – Cillit Bang at a pinch. (He once informed me it’s a far superior drink to meths). I would also suggest you underestimate Mr. Herriott at your peril. His judgements are if anything, even more severe – and frequently binding. Fortunately, he is not resident in the land of his fathers, but his reach is long.

      Careful now…

    2. Eoin: while Simon might drink anything he does prefer a nice fino en rama or a tawny port. I believe he has also been experimenting with gin and any other drink as a cocktail: gin and Campari, gin and Dubonnet, gin and whiskey, gin and cooking marsala.
      Daniel: I´ll have a word with Simon and say you won´t do it again.

  16. By the way: the research on the blacked out window edges is worth an article in itself. We can add the Series 2 Citroen Visa ((insert image here)). The rear decks of the Citroen and Renault must be blacked out to reduce the visual weight of the rear end of the cars. Without photoshopping it, that´s my guess.
    The trend must have had roots in the idea of the pursuit of full glazing. In Mulhouse the medieval town hall is painted to look like stone: the Renaissance burghers must have been embarassed to still have a wooden town hall so they painted on marbling. The idea of painting things to look like something else is not new. And Citroen still does it on a lot of their smaller cars.

    1. The blacked out lower window on the Horizon was to allow the parcel shelf to sit higher and give more space in the boot. I have a photograph to illustrate, but I’m not even going to try….

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