Just Like The December Coronation

We’re back at the anniversary game again for this Saturday morning. Is it really forty years since the Opel Kapitan, Admiral and Diplomat cars first appeared (in their “B” incarnations)? No, it´s fifty.

KAD-B-Baureihe: source.  Look at those wheels.

I must confess that this anniversary did not leap into my conciousness unaided. The people at Oldtimer Markt did the classic-car world the service of putting the 1969 K-A-D cars on the front cover of the current edition of magazine. I am sure you all knew the cars were from around the late 60s. But did you know they they staggered on until 1977? That was the same year you could buy a Citroen CX, a Ford Grannie Mk 1, a Peugeot 604, a Lancia Gamma, Rover SD1 (if you were a sucker for pain) or a Mercedes W-123.  Only an actual Cadillac could be said to offer something more outlandishly transatlantic than the Admiral.

fights fat on the shins
1969 Opel Admiral “B”: source **

That, I think is a point in the KAD cars’ favour. How pleasant that you could get a Chevrolet engined V8 in something European sized, an interesting blend of America and Europe (making the Admiral something like the European equivalent of the 1963 Buick Riviera).

The cars didn’t fly out of the showrooms, alas, not the “A” series. The KAD cars’ scale may have been a deterrant, being just 20 cm shorter than a Silver Shadow. They were though the same length as the Mercedes W-116 S-class. The oil crisis didn’t help though again, the Admiral and Kapitan had straight sixes that were not especially more profligate than the other large cars.

Opel Diplomat B: source

The KAD cars are in interesting hybrid of trim level differentiation and model differentiation. I will have to think of another similar case but off -hand can’t. The three cars clearly have the same main structure and panels. As the header photo shows the had markedly different trims. The Diplomat had a V8. And they had different names; custom has it that a model name is handed out to a car body distinct from other car bodies in a manufacturers range. Does a different front wing make for a different car?

The Admiral and Kapitan did differ that much and they get a name each.  Only Ford seems to be trying this at the moment with the body known as the Mondeo being also sold as a Vignale.

Opel Diplomat B interior: source

Opel produced about 60,000 units of the KAD series cars between 1969 and 1977. BMW and Mercedes in the same time sold about five times as many of their entrants in the same price/size class. Presumably Opel felt rather uncomfortable about this. In the game of “car business as sport” its typical to declare such products as failures.

I am not going to do that. It’s not my money for a start and it all happened a long time ago. From this distance, I see three rather imposing cars showing a kind of alternative take on American car design. And I also see three alluring objects onto which I can project ideas: it’s our old friend surplus of meaning again.

In 1977 the KAD cars ceased production, to be replaced by the Senator.

**Notice that the gent in the black and white photo is wearing a bowler hat.  It looks like a bowler hat to me. That is a fascinating concatenation of influences: British, German and American. I have recently taken ownership of a bowler hat, by the way (not the one from Lock & Co, sadly). I can recommend wearing such a hat.

Author: richard herriott

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

21 thoughts on “Just Like The December Coronation”

  1. The pictured interior is from a Diplomat A, an even larger barge.
    The B’s interior looked like this:

    These cars’ predecessor didn’t sell and Opel came to the conclusion that it was too large, particularly far too wide.
    Tey replaced it with the cars shown here which were only slightly smaller but even more openly American at a time when looking American definitely was out of fashion. Opel knew it because they replaced the scaled down Chevy look Rekord C with the clean Euro style Rekord D.
    Imagine trying to sell such a brash barge against BMW E3 or W108/109 and that’s before you compare its antediluvian cast iron monster of an engine with BMW’s M30. Not even having a DeDion rear suspension did help.

    1. Yes, the cast iron M30 engine, that wonder which in the 1970s warped its alloy head following head gasket failure before 50,000 miles. Probably weighed as much as the Chev – 550 lbs. A pal at our RC Club was a technician who repaired XK engines at his own business. When these misfiring BMW owners found out about him after recoiling at BMW dealer service prices for their BMW Bavaria (actual model name, no numbers) – a straight six man so they thought, a new business branch of sending out warped heads for milling supplemented his income. It was a change from the usual cam chain changes for steam-era chuffer-stroke 800 lb Jag engines made on third-hand gear if you believe AJ Engineering, and I do personally.

      Could it at all be that the smog version of this M30 didn’t work very well and ate itself? Possible. But all the delicate Euro stuff got a bit wearing on owners after a few years – you began to think: when will they ever get a clue? Then the Japanese blew away the German stuff for longevity, so we knew it wasn’t a delusion that barring Volvos, Euro engines were suspect, including the contemporary Mercedes V8 oil-eater and this M30. Let’s not even speak of that horror, the PRV V6. Whereas, the small block Chev just worked, or were Formula 5000 and Trans Am mirages?

      Antedeluvian? As cast iron as an M30 block you mean? Well it would be to a European, I suppose, used to even older stone age BMC and Renault pushrod wheezers without ball stud rockers and no hydraulic lifters. Tap, tap, tap. What a laugh. Take Rootes engines. Please. The alloy version of the Chevy V8 engine is still made by the million each year, with DI, a 17 configuration cylinder deactivation to avoid cool spotting, variable valve timing and 420 hp. GM knows its V8 engines.

    2. The BMW M30/M10 had cylinder head cracking issues due to exhaust heat of late 1970’s emission controls. They would crack between the exhaust seat/port and water jacket. I think they changed the castings and later emission controls had lower exhaust temperatures so the later engines were somewhat better.

      The Volvo red blocks show that aluminum head on iron block could be drop dead durable even with 70’s emission controls.

      The weight increment between a SBC and M30 is about 50 pounds and I don’t think there is much fuel economy difference for the same weight of car. Late 70’s BMW 5 series were absolute guzzlers. But for post oil crisis Europe, I think the concept of a V8 would put people off. An inline 6 is also a low narrower – it is one of the real advantages of the format.

    3. BMW started a racing campaign in the US because customers there insisted on calling the cars British Motor Works. Therefore the E3 sold as Bavaria and the racers had large ‘Bavarian Motor Works’ stickers on their windscreens.

      The Opel engine has an antediluvian cast iron reverse flow head with CIH rather than proper OHC valve gear.
      It is unwilling to rev, devoid of serious power and isn’t particularly frugal. The M30 has a light alloy cross flow head with proper OHC valve gear and valves set at an angle. It is free revving with plenty of power and is exceptionally smooth. Properly maintained (a concept largely unknown to US customers) it could be driven hard over long distances with good fuel economy. The M10 and M30 engines were known to be long lived except for their valve guide oil seals and they offered good tuning potential that was amply demonstrated by Alpina or Schnitzer

    4. BMW M30 2,500cc: 191 kgs
      Opel CIH four cylinder: 145 kgs
      Small block V8: 260 kgs

  2. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a KAD car in the metal. I suppose they never made it to impoverished Ireland in the 1960’s and 70’s. We’re they LHD only? Time has, I think, been kind to this design and it looks rather handsome and distinguished, particularly the Diplomat with the upright headlamps.

    Now, does anyone else think those alloy wheels are strangely familiar, given the rarity of the KAD trio? They should be, as they were also fitted to a considerably more popular and successful model from another European manufacturer. That’s the riddle for today, and not too difficult, I think.

    1. Re the alloy wheels – I’d say Ford Granada. Opel-based Frua coupés also had them, of course.

      I think that hat’s too square to be a bowler – it looks like a homburg, to me

    2. Well done, Charles, you are, of course, correct. They were featured on the Mk1 Granada saloon and coupé:

      Given that they were also fitted to certain Opel models, I wonder if they were manufactured by a third-party supplier such as BBS?

  3. Richard – buying a new bowler hat in May?

    I didn’t have you down as that sort of Irishman…

    1. While am respectful of the various cultural traditions in Ireland, the bowler-hat wearing one figures so low on my list of references I had not considered it much (I considered it a little and realised the day I bought the bowler I had pin-striped trousers and an orange polo neck sweater with a black jacket. It seemed like I was posing as a kind of Mod Unionist.) My intention with the bowler is to reclaim symbols of authority from certain types of conservatives.

  4. The last generation of K-A-D cars had their origins in the L-body (112 inch wheelbase) component of the 1962-onwards GM Vauxhall / Opel / Holden Interchangability Programme, a failed venture largely down to the obduracy of Opel engineers and product planners who “ended up going it alone, and wished they hadn’t” according to the excellent Vauxpedia:

    http://vauxpedianet.uk2sitebuilder.com/vauxhall—opel—holden-interchangeability-programme

    1. Bill Mitchell headed a vast design empire. He was responsible for developing many themes and elements which helped give GM’s various divisions separate and unique identities while maintaining a certain family resemblance, which complimented the need for platform sharing. There are many stories of him steamrolling right over bean counters and engineers to push his ideas into production, which then became influential hallmarks of various GM brands. The Buick Riviera is a famous example.

      However, Mitchell was also known as something of a bigot, I think it shows in these designs which appear to prefigure or recycle ideas seen on many of his American designs along with influences from the Italian carrozzeria. Yet he’s clearly failed to develop consistent themes of strong identity for any of these brands. It would seem that Mitchell’s prejudices became his own worst enemy in this endeavor.

      The most compelling designs on this page for me are the Victor FE and Rekord D which bear the distinct signature of Chuck Jordan’s strong design leadership at GME, that team included Tony Lapine and also produced the iconic Manta and Opel GT. I think we all like the Commodore, Senator, and Monza designs depicted here too, but despite their gestation occurring at the tail end of Mitchell’s reign they don’t resemble his work.

  5. Trim levels with different model names:
    Kadett with vinyl roof and 1,9 engine = Opel Olympia
    Rekord C with six cylinder engine = Opel Commodore
    Ford Consul with six cylinder engine = Ford Granada
    Audi 100 with plush interior = Audi 200 (same for 80/90)
    Cheesy S-Class = Maybach
    VW Beetle with six cylinder engine = Porsche 911

    1. Ooh, Dave…you have lobbed an incendiary device, but two hours later it appears not to have detonated. DTW readers therefore appear both mature and mellow!

    2. Yes, the Beetle/911 jibe was a low blow. Happily, I was preoccupied with our lunch guests and am now sufficiently anesthetised not to rise to it. Regarding “badge engineering”, BMC is regarded as the master of this dark art in Europe, but Rootes/Chrysler must hold the record for the number of different model names applied to a single model, the Arrow series car:

      Here’s a (possibly incomplete) list of the different make and model names applied over its long life:

      Hillman Minx
      Hillman Hunter
      Hillman Vogue (South Africa)
      Hillman GT
      Hillman Hustler (Australia)
      Hillman Break de Chasse (estate version, Francophone markets)
      Humber Sceptre
      Singer Gazelle
      Singer Vogue
      Sunbeam Arrow (USA and Canada)
      Sunbeam Hunter
      Sunbeam Minx
      Sunbeam Break de Chasse (Canada)
      Sunbeam Sceptre (France and Germany)
      Sunbeam Vogue
      Chrysler Hunter
      Chrysler Vogue (South Africa)
      Dodge Husky (pick-up version, South Africa)
      Paykan (Iran)

      Phew! The list above covers the saloon, estate and pick-up versions. There were, of course, the coupe versions, branded Sunbeam Alpine and Rapier, but these had completely different bodywork.

    1. Hi Robertas. Thanks for your additional contributions. That takes the total to 22, and we may not be done yet! Sadly, the Hunter was never rebadged Talbot, even though it survived for a while after the sale of Chrysler’s European interests to Peugeot, the last ones being assembled in Dublin, I believe.

      I was always perplexed by how close the Hunter and Avenger were in size. The former was notionally a D-segment competitor for the Cortina, the latter a C-segment competitor for the Escort, yet they shared a 98″ (2.5m) wheelbase and differed in overall length by just 10″ (250mm). The Hunter was a contemporary of the Mk2 Cortina and I suppose, had it been replaced, it would have grown to Cortina Mk3 dimensions. (Its indirect replacement, the Chrysler Alpine, had a 102″ (2.6m) wheelbase, an inch longer than the Mk3 Cortina.)

  6. Fascinating period German ad for the Admiral. Note how the illustration subtly distorts the proportions of the Admiral to de-emphasis the “American” styling cues, giving it: a taller greenhouse, less body turn under, less sill ground clearance, less prominent door handles.

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