The Opel Kadett B was resolutely unexceptional, except in one respect.
The development of flexible modular platforms and standardised component sets has enabled automakers to spin off a wide variety of models from the same basic architecture. This allows them economically to target market niches where projected sales would make unique stand-alone models entirely unviable. For example, the Cupra Formentor would probably not have been signed off for production if it were not for the existence of volume sellers such as the Škoda Karoq, with which it shares a great deal under the skin.
In similar vein, Opel / Vauxhall’s Stellantis-era models are based on existing Peugeot / Citroën architectures, which has allowed them to be developed for production in a remarkably short time. Whether this widespread commonality is conducive to providing genuine choice for drivers is a moot point, but it is certainly here to stay and is likely to become even more widespread as we move fully into the EV era.
More than half a century ago, however, Opel produced a single model that was available in a bewildering variety of different variants, each one having unique bodywork. That model was the Kadett B, an otherwise wholly unremarkable car.
The Kadett B was Opel’s small family car. It was launched at the Frankfurt motor show in the autumn of 1965. The Kadett B was a conventional front-engined rear-wheel-drive car with a wheelbase of 2,416mm (95”) and overall length of between 4,100mm and 4,182mm (161½” and 164¾”) depending on bodystyle. It was powered by an OHV inline four-cylinder engine, initially with a capacity of 1,078cc(1) and available in standard 44bhp (33kW) and high-compression 54bhp (40kW) forms. A four-speed gearbox and live rear axle completed the drivetrain. The suspension used a transverse leaf spring at the front and longitudinal semi-elliptic leaf springs at the rear. Brakes were drums all round.
The styling of the Kadett B was considered somewhat dowdy compared to its neat and linear predecessor. Its deep, unadorned sides and shallow DLO, with just a hint of a curve in the waistline(2), was perhaps just too plain and functional, even if it allowed for a roomy interior. The arrival in September 1966 of its flashier English cousin, the Viva HB, with its fashionable GM-influenced coke-bottle waistline and shallower front and rear ends, did the poor Kadett no favours, making it immediately look somewhat outdated.
However, Opel had played a trump card in the sheer variety of bodystyles offered by the Kadett B. It was available as a two and four-door three-box Limousine saloon, a two and four-door Fastback saloon, a three and five-door Caravan estate and a two-door Coupé. That’s seven different bodystyles so far, and we’re not yet done.
The Fastback saloons were identical to the Limousine as far back as the B-pillar. Behind this, the two-door had a differently profiled rear side window, while the four-door had a different rear door with a rounded trailing edge to the quarter-light. The Fastback’s wider C-pillar swept down in a smooth concave arc to the tail of the car, raising the leading edge of the boot lid and (slightly) increasing luggage capacity. The Fastback’s rain gutter followed the rear side window or door window frame down to the waistline rather than continuing horizontally across the C-pillar to meet the top of the rear windscreen, as on the Limousine.
The combination of these changes gave the Fastback versions a sleeker profile, but we are talking in strictly relative terms here: it was pleasant, but certainly no radiant beauty. That said, Opel might well lay claim to have invented the currently highly popular four-door coupé with the Fastback variant of the Kadett B(3).
The Coupé had an upswept lower edge to the rear side window, the trailing corner of which aligned with and almost touched the upper corner of the curved rear windscreen. Behind the rear side window, three fake grilles were pressed into the broad triangular C-pillar. This feature was responsible for the car’s soubriquet, the Kiemencoupé, which translates as ‘gills coupé’. The American-influenced style of the DLO was similar to that of the 1964 Plymouth Barracuda.
For some strange reason, Opel decided almost immediately either that the Coupé’s styling was outdated, or that the restricted vision from the rear seats was off-putting to potential buyers, so the company designed a second coupé with a longer C-shaped rear side window and flatter rear windscreen. This model was launched in 1967 and was known as the Coupé F. Its side window treatment predated and predicted that of the 1969 Ford Capri Mk1. The Coupé F was produced alongside the original Coupé in higher-trim LS form for four years before replacing it completely in the Kadett B range.
Notwithstanding its staid looks and rather rudimentary mechanicals, which bestowed equally rudimentary ride and handling characteristics according to contemporary road tests, the Kadett B was a strong seller for Opel and remained on the market for eight years, during which time a total of 2,691,300 found buyers. It enjoyed a reputation as a roomy and reliable family car and became the best-selling Opel to date.
In addition to the eight concurrent passenger versions of the Kadett B, there was also a two-door pick-up with an open rear deck. That makes a total of nine different bodystyles. I’ll stick my neck out and assert that no other European mass-production car has been concurrently offered in so many different bodystyles during my lifetime, which is sixty or so years, since you ask.
Unless you know differently, of course…
(1) Smaller and larger capacity variants of the OHV engine would be offered later, as would Opel’s larger CIH (cam-in-head) units.
(2) Oddly, the three-door estate version had a straight, horizontal waistline, unlike any of the others.
(3) I’m sure automakers have made more implausible claims than this one.