A Sense of Place

Today, we venture outdoors, virtually speaking, to take the air in Ascona.

The other Ascona

It’s probably fair to say that for most of us, the notion of escape is currently a seductive one – particularly to somewhere sparsely populated, picturesque and relatively pristine. Alpine vistas loom large in the imagination, perhaps somewhere akin to the attractive Swiss resort of Ascona, as pictured above.

When DTW was in its first flush and Mr. Kearne’s dipsomaniacal tendencies hadn’t drained the coffers entirely, Places formed one of our monthly themes, and amid the varied offerings from DTW’s writers that month, we considered Ascona and its (probably tenuous) relationship to the Opel saloon model series of the same name.

(c) ajovalo

The Ascona was first introduced in 1970, slotting into the range above the second-generation Kadett. Barely larger in most notable dimensions, it’s believed to have originally been intended to replace the smaller car, but was repurposed late in development. Rüsselsheim’s ambitions in the US market was probably at least partly behind the decision – that and the growing threat from Köln-Merkenich in the form of the popular mid-size Taunus range.

Closely related beneath the skin to the Manta coupé which debuted a little earlier that same year, the Ascona was available in three engine sizes – a 1.2 litre, 1.6 and 1.9 – the latter two engines featuring the familiar Opel cam-in-head layout. Three body styles were also offered – two and four door saloons and a Caravan three-door estate model.

(c) media-opel.de

Looking at matters agnostically, the Ascona A, whatever its outright capabilities might have been appears to have been viewed as a decent, well-rounded product, well up to its blue oval opposition. The major criticism one could level at the car from a conceptual perspective is that in retrospect it seems rather on the petite side.

Stylistically, there seems little to find fault with, as long as late sixties Americana is to your taste. One observation however. Owing perhaps to the optical effect created by the pronounced inwards taper of the lower bodywork, the ‘Scona always appeared to sit a little high on its wheels.

The Ascona A enjoyed a relatively short lifespan, being withdrawn from production after only 5 years. In that time, close to 700,000 were made and sold. It’s B-suffixed replacement, which was a palpably larger car, came close to doubling that figure over its slightly longer career.

Opels have never been cars to linger long in the memory, so I find little of note to add at this point, apart from recommending Richard’s fine meditation from 2016 on both Ascona the place, and car, which you may savour at your leisure by clicking the link here.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

10 thoughts on “A Sense of Place”

  1. Good morning, Eóin. Ford so clearly hit the sweet spot in terms of size with the Mk1 Cortina (98″ wheelbase) that it’s surprising just how long GM Europe took to respond. The Kadett (94″) and Viva (96″) were a bit small and the Victor (100″ to 102″) and Rekord (105″) too large, and there was a significant gap between them. The 1974 FE Victor (105″) exacerbated the gap by growing in size to match the Rekord.

    The Ascona A ( 96″) was little bigger than the Viva HC and the gap was only fixed when the Ascona B/Cavalier (99″) was launched in 1975. By this time, Ford had created their own gap by significantly increasing the size of the Mk3 Cortina (102″).

    I always thought the Ascona A a rather pretty car and the Ascona B genuinely handsome:

    Unfortunately, the Cavalier’s ‘droop-snoot’ front end rather unbalanced the design, I thought:

  2. In Portugal the Ascona was renamed 1604 and 1904, depending on engine size, as Ascona was too close to a popular naughty word.
    It should be mentioned that the Ascona A had a very successful career in rallying, both in European and National championships.

    1. Ha – just like the Hyundai Kona, which is a Kauai in Portugal. The Cheshire truckmaker Foden had a similar problem in translation.

      Opel’s chosen numbers were very BMW (or Glas)-ish. Perhaps prestige by association?

    2. VW played the same numbers game, albeit briefly and unconvincingly, with the 1302 and 1303 Beetles, both of which had 1600cc engines, confusingly.

    3. The Ascona A did indeed enjoy a successful rally career, as did its Ascona B successor, as I recall – later handing the baton to the Manta 400. Curiously however, and despite Opel’s successes on the special stages, Russelsheim never quite garnered the performance image they craved. Ford by comparison, leveraged its race and rally successes for all they were worth, gaining not only sales, but they undying loyalty of a cohort of enthusiasts – one which lasts to this day. Few now recall Opel’s rally days, while the Escort remains synonymous with the sport.

      Daniel: The Ascona B was indeed a very nicely judged piece of styling, and I agree, the Vauxhall modifications did it few favours. I recall LJKS giving the ‘Scona B a positive write up at launch, for what it’s worth. The Mark IV Cortina/Taunus looked a more substantial car than either however, and in that market at the time, that probably mattered. As did the wider choice of engines and trim levels. Ford really had the key to fleet market’s heart back then.

    4. Here’s the Ascona A prepared for its most prominent driver Walter Röhrl.

      Walter won the European championship with a car prepared by tuner Irmscher. When rally activities were transferred to Rüsselsheim under the name Euro Händler Team for World championship ambitions the car almost invariably failed.

  3. Was the Cavalier in Daniel’s picture regarded as avant-garde at the time with its grille-less droop snoot?

    1. Hi John, it was certainly different and, unlike the Mk1 Carlton, had the benefit of bespoke headlamps, but the elongated front end looked slightly odd. There was a practical issue too: an acquaintance of mine had one and I remember him complaining about the susceptibility of the front panel to stone chips on Ireland’s notoriously poor roads at that time.

      I think the sloping front end looked more natural on the Cavalier Coupé and Sportshatch and Manta B. The latter was distinguished from the Vauxhall models by two horizontal slots in the front panel:

      Later cars got four slots:

      But the Cavalier Coupé/Sportshatch never had any:

      The droop-snoot was a Vauxhall idea, originally seen on the Firenza and featured on early design studies for the Viva HD, which morphed into the Cavalier Mk1:

      I rather like that last photo. There’s something of the Ferrari 400i in that front end. It’s a shame it was watered down for production.

  4. The Ascona B is a good looker it is like a more accomplished face lift of the “wide shield” Alfetta. I’m not old enough to remember the Mkl Cavalier as anything other than an old car with no value. Whilst the coupe’s work really well with the snout the Cavalier saloon has a frog like face (And not in a good way like the AH Sprite). On the “Shove-it” saloon it does work really well, same look, differing proportions- and slightly different lamp housing- loads more style.

  5. Hi Eoin,

    I only remember the Ascona C which I thought was handsome in this GT version. I mean it has a little boot spoiler and red electrical tape in the bumpers, what’s not to like ?

    there were quite a few grey ones in GT spec where I lived, it seemed a popular choice at the time. I much preferred the Ascona C in Saloon form, the hatchback being less attractive in my opinion.

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