An Oldsmobile Cutlass Salon, Cadillac Eldorado, a 1991 Buick Roadmaster, a Chevrolet Nova, some Mustangs, an El Camino. Those were a few of the older cars I saw on a recent trip to Sweden. Most exciting was this Opel Ascona 1.6 C automatic (1981-1984)…
The Ascona C followed on the delightfully flat heels of the Kadett as Opel’s second front-wheel drive car. While the Ascona C sold very, very well there was also some selling of the Ascona’s soul involved too. The predecessor could easily make a good claim to be quite a sporty car, one model of which had a 2.4 litre engine, the 2.4 E. (I expect you all knew this already).
Instead, the “C” majored on packaging efficiency what with its front wheel drive arrangement and slabbier form. Like the Opel Rekord “D” we discussed recently (the interest was remarkable), the Ascona here is very much out of the brutalist school of industrial design
The body turned out as something of a corporate compromise since much the same shell served GM all around the world: nine other badges adorned the bootlid. Worst of them wasn’t the Cimarron but the awful 1981-1989 Buick Skyhawk, worst because it managed to attract customers and discredit the Buick name while the Cimarron had a shorter life and was obviously appalling. The most distinctive thing about the Ascona must be its DLO and this feature seems to be have been a constant of all the badge engineering variants.
It’s the Opel version I like the best, naturally: it’s the Ur-Ascona from which all the others were spawned. Like the Rekord it mostly rolled out of the showrooms as a base-esque models (see below, an exception).
Whatever they did sell, beige has survived as the most common colour (for the Rekord D, blue or white). This colour colours our impressions of the car, no? Imagine it then in black or dark red and undraped with car seat covers. Or like this rarity:
Give it a 2.0 litre engine**, a five-speed gearbox, paint it black with dark grey cloth. You never see that combination. They are always as spartan as a mid-spec Corsa.
If only Opel had retained the sporting character of the previous version not watered it down so much. If Opel’s image for drabness (quite out of proportion to their few corporate sins) stems from one car, it’s the Ascona C, something fundamentally to do with the beige and white examples that littered the streets of early 90s.
Before closing, we should remember that the Ascona in all its angular glory competed with the ultra smooth Sierra (1982 onwards), the semi-round Renault 18 (1978 onwards), angular Citroen BX (1982 onwards) and presumably lesser versions of the compoundedly subtle BMW 3-series (E30, from 1982). That’s quite a diverse range of shapes, isn’t it? In that context the Ascona is not so strange because they all seem to be distinctive designs.
** The 2.0 engine came late in the Ascona C’s life, two years befor it was replaced.