The 1977 Opel Rekord E was a spacious, comfortable and practical car. It was also somewhat plain and austere looking. A well-judged facelift changed it for the better.
The 1971 Opel Rekord D was a finely wrought and handsome design. Penned by Chuck Jordan, a GM ‘lifer’ and Opel’s Head of Design, it successfully melded GM’s transatlantic design influences with a clean, almost ascetic European reserve. The beauty was in its smooth, unadorned flanks, elegantly flared elliptical wheel arches, neatly integrated light clusters front and rear, and a total lack of superfluous ornamentation.
By comparison, its Vauxhall Victor FE cousin, released just three months later and sharing its platform and other components, was somewhat heavy-handed and certainly more brash and mid-Atlantic looking. This was tacitly acknowledged by Vauxhall in its advertising, where the FE was nicknamed ‘The Transcontinental’.
Opel wisely left the design of the Rekord D untouched over its six-year lifespan, but its replacement was dramatically different. The 1977 Rekord E, although similar in size to its predecessor, was notably more spacious inside. The price paid for this increased utility was a loss of the elegance that had characterised the superseded model. Instead, the new model was bluff and slab-sided, with chamfered corners replacing the smooth curves of its predecessor.
The detailing left something to be desired too. Rather than wrapping around properly into the front wings, the narrow indicators were precariously perched onto the corners of the car outboard of the headlamps and looked as though they might fall off with even a slight provocation. The rear light units were mounted proud of the surrounding metalwork and had a very odd pink-purple border that sat uncomfortably against both the colour of the lenses and the paintwork of the car.
The front bumper wrapped around to meet the wheel arches neatly but, inexplicably, the rear bumper was oddly truncated and barely more than a horizontal bar across the back of the car. The side rubbing strip (where one was fitted) was instead extended rearward to meet the ends of the bumper rather uncomfortably.
Despite its rather dour design, the Rekord E sold well enough on its undoubted space and practicality, roughly matching the sales of its predecessor. It was offered as a two and four-door saloon, a three and five-door estate, and a commercial version based on the three-door estate, but with the rear side glass replaced by metal panels. Tellingly, and probably wisely, Opel never offered a coupé version of the Rekord E. A coupé had been part of the Rekord range since the 1961 P2 generation model, but it is difficult to imagine how the Rekord E could have been given sufficient style and desirability to succeed in this market segment.
The Rekord E was also repurposed to become the first Vauxhall Carlton, with mixed results aesthetically. At the rear, a proper wraparound bumper was fitted to the saloon. (Oddly, the Carlton estate retained the Rekord’s truncated item.) The tail lights had black rather than coloured borders and the number plate was displaced down to the bumper by a black panel between the tail lights with ‘Vauxhall’ spelt out in individual letters. The new arrangement looked rather smarter than that of the utilitarian Record.
Modifications to the front were, unfortunately, counterproductive. Vauxhall wanted to distinguish its car with a ‘droop-snoot’ similar to that of the Mk1 Cavalier but did not have the budget to do it properly. A new extended bonnet and larger indicators were uneasily tied in to the standard Rekord headlamps by a rather Heath Robinson arrangement of silver painted filler pieces, instead of the new flush headlamps the designers envisaged.
If the Rekord E was an attempt by Opel’s designers to embrace a more industrial design aesthetic, then it missed that goal by some margin. The 1981 Ascona C was a much more accomplished effort, with far better detailing. While the Ascona C was in development, Opel was also working on a comprehensive facelift of the Rekord E, and this was launched in 1982 as the E2.
This was no simple nip-and-tuck, but a major reworking of the design. The E2 featured a new and much smoother front end, with the leading edge of the bonnet now dipping down to a shallower grille between the new headlamps, and larger indicators that aligned more precisely with the leading edges of the front wings. The panel gaps and shut lines were now all much tidier and tighter in this area.
At the rear, the deck was raised and squared off. The C-pillar was reworked, and the small plastic vent replaced with a larger triangular gloss black panel that completed the revised DLO profile. Larger rear lights were still surface mounted but were better integrated and lost those strange coloured borders. New wraparound plastic bumpers completed the external changes. The Carlton adopted these changes wholesale and was, badges apart, now identical to its Rüsselsheim cousin.
At first glance the Rekord E2 looked like an enlarged and smoothened Ascona C, which is in no way an insult. The facelifted car cleaved the air rather better, with a Cd of 0.36, versus 0.42 of the pre-facelift version. The Rekord’s new smoother front end would also be used to good effect on the larger Commodore, Senator and Monza models (and their Vauxhall equivalents) replacing the rectilinear, chrome-laden and somewhat chintzy original design.