I’ll Give Anything to See a Berger’s Clouded Yellow…!

A is for Omega.

All images: The author

The other day when digging back into my Car collection I stumbled or fell or happened across an article by LJK Setright dealing with the Opel Omega B. In that article he chanted the praises of its predecessor, the Omega A. And this is the car we have for you today, photographed in Hamburg in July, as the thermometer managed to nudge past 40 degrees, centigrade. This one is one of the later models from a run that spanned the years 1986 to 1994.

As I return my gaze to the photos, I have a hard time seeing a car whose roots probably go back to 1981. Like other products from German industrial titans from this period this car draws from the later years of the Ulm school of design. The mode of aesthetic expression is derived from the same aesthetic ethic that Dieter Rams expressed in his ten principles. Those in turn draw from a deeper vein that has always existed in German architecture, furniture and product design.

The same year Opel presented the rationalism of the A, Rover were serving up a Honda Legend dressed in more stripes than a Saville Row suit. And the Opel Omega was also a car which makes the provision of high-minded design concepts to the mainstream all the more noble and pleasing.

The Omega replaced the long-serving Rekord (née 1978) and its long line of predecessors which extended back to the end of the Schmalkaldic wars. The styling is based on aerodynamic principles, and its appearance strongly followed the template of the 1985 Opel Astra E (1984). Product planning did not allow this theme much of a chance to expand into other parts of the Opel catalogue.

The Corsa A adhered to the styling established the late 70s cars such as the Rekord (even if the Rekord inherited Omega-like facelifting in 1982) and endured for a fearsomely long time, to 1983). And the Ascona’s 1988 replacement, the Vectra A looks like it is a softer, less geometrical shape, verging on the organic.

That means the last Kadett and the Omega A were the only two cars to have this exact styling theme deployed. The very next car moved on, bringing to Opel the organic shapes that were beginning to predominate in car design around that time – and lo, the year before the Omega B left the order books, the Corsa B turned up, looking even more organic than the Vectra A and leap-frogging Opel’s aero-geometrical phase completely.

The aero-geometrical phase could be considered as evolution of the trend begun with the more visually consistent predecessor cars in Opel’s range, a refinement of design based on flatter panels. It could conceivably have lasted long enough to make more of a mark on the Vectra A – I can only suppose there were good marketing reasons for this and, indeed, the Kadett and Omega A are unusually high-concept for a brand like Opel that worked more in the vein of contemporary vernacular.

1996 Chevrolet Monza 8 (source)

It’s not at all clear why the Opel Omega A did not achieve the same level of design acclaim as the Mercedes 190E of 1982 – it’s a fine bit of work on every level but it still retains the recognisable baroque feeling of earlier Mercs. The second generation 5 series, E28 (1981-1988) was still very much an Italianate shape, born in the years of Abba and kipper ties.  The Omega A managed to deliver a low cD while Citroën’s much-lauded and highly gorgeous CX only appeared aerodynamic.

Author: richard herriott

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

42 thoughts on “I’ll Give Anything to See a Berger’s Clouded Yellow…!”

  1. Applying the design-theme on the Senator B (1987) didn’t lead to something you might call a succes. Hence we all forgot about it.

  2. Thanks Richard. A few of these made it over to NZ, badged as Vauxhalls, (ex UK), or Opels, (ex Japan), but that was just the whole cars.

    The doors were much more common, as they were used on the Australian 2nd gen Holden Commodore range, (VN, VP, VR, VS ) from ’88 to ’97. This, of course, also means they were used on the rare Toyota Lexcen badge engineered version as well. Only the side pressings could be used as the car was now wider by 50mm to better match arch-rival Ford Falcon

    VN ’88-’91

    Toyota Lexcen (V6 Automatic only, no V8)

    VP ’91-’93

    ’91-’93 Lexcen

    The matching wagon versions used Opel designed threequarter panels too.

    VR to VS ’93-’97 Or how to do a facelift properly.

    Lexcen final version

    The long wheelbase versions were back along with the extra width, The Statesman Caprice.
    The Ulm School of Design meets Detroit. The wagon rear doors on these, with the tail light full width garnish panel shared with a US GM model, (Oldsmobile?, Buick?)

    1. Good evening David. Thanks for posting those images. Doesn’t the red Lexcen look odd with its unpainted bumpers and uncovered steel wheels? Its a long time since we have seen large cars in duch a basic spec.

    2. The plain steel wheels were really only ever seen on Police cars, and in Australia Police cars often came with unpainted bumpers, as did taxis.

    3. The glass area on the metallic beige saloon in the last pic (rear 3/4 view) looks a lot like the one on the first gen Mercury Sable:

      Mercury Sable:

    4. It’s really interesting to see those versions; I prefer many of them, as they change the rather bland, ‘wide-eyed’ look of the Opel / Vauxhall versions. I particularly like the VN version, despite its wonky grille.

      There’s something odd, to me, about the Opel / Vauxhall versions – they look a bit ‘flabby’ – the surfaces look big and thin. I much prefer Omega B as being more interesting to look at.

  3. The front end was heavily ‘inspired’ by the CX and the whole thing looked quite good considering it still had its roots in the Rekord C from 1966 including fragile A posts.
    But whoever had the idea for the naff badge with the fake diamond should have been shot.

    It all fell apart in the interior. Your picture illustrates the cheapo fabric of the seat covers and the brittle plastic everywhere.
    The dashboard shows a complete lack of attention to detail with amix of switch types -rockers, sliders, push-pull, knurled wheel and the shapes simply don’t fit together with rectangular instrument panel and ventilation outlets in an arched environment. The Omega also must have been one of the last cars of its class to use blanks in place of non-existing switches. It all contributes to an impression of low quality, a deadly sin in an era when BMW or Audi continuously raised the bar with their interiors.

    1. The lamps a bit like the CX, I accept. But the general impression is of two very different cars rather than the Omega being merely derivative.

    2. the „fake diamond“ was signage for a well equipped special edition: the „Omega Diamant“.

      You could also get a „Kadett Diamant“ and a „Vectra Diamant“, all of which had the specific ruby red metallic paint in common.

  4. I have similar thoughts to Dave. The exterior is clean, aero-looking and I love the suggestion of spats over the rear wheels. It always looked like a big, long and sleek car. The estate does bear a passing resemblance to a CX break.

    Wasn’t it the first to be sold with ABS as standard across the range? (in the UK at least).

    If you want to compare it to the Rover, and I know we will disagree, the interior on the 800 was far more inviting and classy looking. The exterior of the Omega is more imposing and distinctive, although I have always liked the Rover all the same.

    1. S.V,

      I believe the 1985 Ford Granada Mk3/Scorpio had the distinction of being the first to be sold with ABS as standard across the range.

    2. You are correct of course, I recall now it was the Ford marketing team who were denigrating their GM equivalents about the greater ABS prowess of their car compared to the Vauxhall.

    3. Ford wanted one safety feature for the Scorpio and had to decide between a standard airbag or standard ABS. They went for ABS of the then new semi-open type (where the pressure for one circuit is created in the ABS) which had the advantage of soaking up the full production capacity at Bosch, forcing competitors into a wait until they could order similar systems themselves.

    4. The way the ‘computer’ is not aligned with anything around it, neither in shape nor in font type or colour makes it look like the afterthought it certainly was and creates an impression of the exact opposite of what was intended.
      Not that cheaper versions looked any better than the CD in the picture. They have a clock that is just as non-integrated and misaligned. The semi-circular instruments look decidedly cheap (the first A class and early W203s suffered from the same effect) and the circular clock makes them look even cheaper.

      At least they dumped the Haribo-look switchgear of the Rekord E.

  5. Good morning Richard. I really liked the aero look of the Omega A, especially the facelifted version you show, which improved the slightly pinched look of the front of the original with larger indicators that wrapped further around into the front wings:

    It always put me in mind of the Chevrolet Caprice ‘land yacht’ of the same era:

    That dashboard is a shocker, though, as Dave points out, lots of square pegs in round holes. The Omega wasn’t that well equipped either, at least in lower trim levels. My brother-in-law had one and I was driving it one day, with him in the front passenger seat. As we pulled up to a parking ticket machine, I hunted around for the electric window switch and, after a few moments of fruitless searching, he reached across me and pointed to the manual window winder on the door card…

    1. Indeed – and BMW served up mean equipment too. The E28 had a blank plate for the rear passenger door; the rear left seat was a foam dummy; you had to pay extra for a fuel tank and the steering wheel was an option. Many drivers were disappointed to find they could not conduct the car because it had no pedals (another option reserved for the more expensive models)…

    2. The standard equipment levels of even expensive German cars were a joke at that time.
      Manual windows were standard until far into the Nineties and for whatever reason the only significant extra you got was central locking on most cars (BMWs with small lights in the key but no remote control). Everything cost extra and was expensive but every Mercedes front had fog lights as standard.
      No armrest for the rear seat, no air con, no electric windows in sight. This changed all of a sudden when the Alfa 156 came with much of the stuff included and BMW and Audi had to follow.

    3. Not to mention turn signals that are optional on anything “premium” to this day, Richard…

    4. I like manual window winders. Unfortunately it’s too much like exercise for everyone and the inactive lifestyle is king.

    5. Electric windows can be lighter without all that equipment to make the leverage level the right ratio to enable hand cranking. That’s why the lightweight masterpiece, the first Lotus Elan had them.

  6. I used a 2 litre Vauxhall Carlton Estate for a few years and have fond memories. It was not highly powered, yet was fast (those aerodynamics), comfortable, capacious (a proper estate with a vertical tailgate), and handled well. I found it a discreetly good looking car at the time, and proof of Richard’s argument is that I still do – not the case with some of the other cars that I’ve admired in the past.

    Mine was one of those ‘special editions’ that had been cheered up with special hubcaps and … not much else. Looking back, it was truly offensive of manufacturers (especially Ford) to produce these lower spec versions with rows of blank switches, warning lights that didn’t display, half hearted trim and clumsy grilles that just shouted – “you cheapskate – can’t you afford the proper version?” at their (unvalued) customers. That said, trimming it with ‘wood’ for the CD versions just emphasises the ill made dashboard.

  7. Thanks for posting that image – it looks really cool to me, a button festival. Conceivably the different types of control were needed to map the function to the action. Mercedes were also criticised for their controls – without coming to much harm.

    1. Remember the Rover 2000 P6 where every switch was either a different colour or a different shape. That was lauded at the time as being a safety feature. With the latest version of the Golf we have reached maximum smoothness with minimum utility and safety.

    2. The other thing about instrument panels of that era is that the controls tended mostly to be mounted high up, near the driver’s eyeline, making their operation so much easier. Admittedly such arrangements tend to be uncomfortable for smaller drivers, who can feel rather hemmed in.

  8. I think context is important here, as a GM car widespread early adoption was inevitable, so it filtered out to become a familiar sight on British roads far quicker than most of it’s new rivals (I recall 1986-87 been a time of wholesale refreshment of the executive car sector). This meant that eight year old me was comparing it to run-out models from Alfa, BM, MB and Rover, all of which had their origins or inspiration in the 1970’s. BMW aside they were all first generation curved-side-window cars and the W123 never got round to forsaking silver window frames for the dubious delights of black anodising. Compare with the bonded windshield, flush glazing look of the Omega/ Carlton. It consequently looked incredibly futuristic at the time and never really lost it, perhaps because the new generation rivals it squired were all more nuanced designs; no one else had the brass neck to embrace a design language which I’m going to call “Uncompromised streamlining” .

    It does look bloated to me, the Rover 800 is a much more tailered design (For my sins I prefer it) but that perhaps ended up looking a little skinny. The Omega is slightly bigger than the Record E but looks vastly larger.

    One final point, I don’t ‘Read’ this as a Germanic design, it has a lot of North American associations to me. I suppose this is from seeing it’s Opel influenced GM cousins in contemporary US films and telly programmes. To me it embodies a particular phase when big block RWDrivers were still the sweet spot of US motoring but the layers of Americana were starting to be designed out.

    1. It´s as German as the Bundesflag wrapped around a bockwurst singing Viva Colonia, in my view. I see this as being a direct outcome of the Ulm design school approach to design which reached its apogee around about the 1980s as the graduates reached the high point of their careers. After that it was post-Modernism all the way down.

  9. I sometimes rode in, and occasionally drove, the Vauxhall badged “A” belonging to a family member. Rather cumbersome in traffic but a great motorway cruiser. Pity it was such an ugly brute, though not as bad as the final Kadett.

    1. Eye of the beholder of course, but I must agree with Richard Herriott. I find both the Opels Kadett E and Omega A (or Vauxhall Astras and Carlton as we had to call them in UK) so pleasing because they are totally honest to their functions, and thus well designed in relation to that brief. I mentioned the vertical tailgate of the Estate above which, for me, is an essential component of a functioning load carrier. Compare that to the Audi Avant C3 of the similar generation which tried to flatter its owner that they never had to do anything as prosaic as lugging stuff around, by making it impossible to do so with a 45 degree hatch.

    2. The acres of black plastic, fore and aft – the rear wheel-arch treatment, Kadett especially . The way the black plastic grill bled into the black plastic front valance of the Kadett really shouted ‘poverty’.

    3. I can see both sides of the argument here. The Kadett E was a nicely sculpted and an honest and practical design, but the unpainted dark grey plastic used for the bumpers and integrated front grille quickly faded to a patchy pale grey that resisted any attempt to revive it. This is how it looked when new:

      This is how it went:

      Vauxhall didn’t help matters by making the rear badges out of the same material using a large all-caps font which looked poundshop-cheap.

      Oddly, Opel used the same material and font for the ‘Kadett’ badge, but this was (mis)matched with a more traditional chrome-on-black ‘Opel’ badge.

      When the Kadett was facelifted, the revised model badge was matched to the Opel badge:

      This one’s a beauty, as you can see!

      Oh dear, my memory really is stuffed to the gunwales with a load of old rubbish…no wonder I often get to the top of the stairs and cannot remember why I went upstairs in the virst place…😨

    4. Opel was very good at giving their special editions particularly daft names, often combined with equally naff badges. Rekord berlinetta, Rekord Millionär with golden badge…

      They missed out on an Admiral Dönitz or at least Canaris with enigma shaped badge or a Kapitän KaLeu U96…

  10. Notice how the sedan have a bit of trim at the base of the D-pillar to hide the welded seam between sailpanel and roof section, as per the aforementioned Volvo 760 of the previous week? But in this case the trim is body coloured so it isn’t as obvious as for the Volvo.

    1. Regarding the C-pillar seam on W124: The way that plain piece of trim relates to the door frame…and also the folded part of the C-pillar adjacent to the backlight make it a truly masterful detail. Nobody else did it that way. For example W201 (and several others, notably Audi) endeavors to create a diversion at that seam by presenting it as a vent (real or not), but W124 is more self-assured in doing without the contrivance of surface noise to distract the eye from the truth about its construction. Rather the undisguised seam instead integrates incredibly effortlessly as compared to the other cars we are considering here. This approach did not occur to Volvo, GM, Audi, or Jaguar, nor even Mercedes back when they were designing the W123.

      I think if we are comparing Omega A to Mercedes’s, BMWs etc. then we should probably take a look at Senator B. Omega A was quite obviously intentionally made to look cheaper and less desirable to protect Senator B. Of course it would look more credible with the Senator’s front clip, side trim, and tail lights.

      And here’s Senator B’s interior:

      A world of difference, apples to apples then.

    2. I am able to say I like the Senator while also thinking it is a specced-up Omega. I consider the Omega A authentic and the Senator to be derived from it. I would prefer a top spec Omega A to the equivalent Senator. Nice as it is, the Senator is a face-lift of the Omega.

  11. Notwithstanding the platform’s long standing reputation for weakness around the A pillar, my aunt in law had cause to be very thankful after a quarry truck decided to shed part of its load on top of her Omega A. As it was loaded with sharp stones (stones are one thing Connemara is not short of) the car was pretty well destroyed. She, however, was unscathed, to the point that the first guards (police) on the scene refused at first to believe she had been the driver…

  12. Confession: I never liked the Omega A. I understand it’s a very disciplined and consistent piece of design (on the outside at least), but the DLO-of-many-pillars (very visible in Daniel’s picture) and particularly the rear wheel arches really don’t work for me. The Lotus Omega/Carlton, though a little over the top, showed to me what a difference those wheel arches (and a wider track) make:

    Even with its flawed design, I rather like the Rover 800, stripes and all…

  13. Wow this brings back some memories!

    My Grandfather had a Carlton CDX 2.0i Auto Estate (H382 AHY) which served faithfully in duties delivering furniture from his shop in Cleakheaton, West Yorkshire and towing his caravan to our summer holidays in Scarborough year after year.

    An absolutely cracking example in “mobility-scooter-red” on lattice spoke alloys, over velour and wood. If not top-spec if wasn’t far off, rocking a Blaupunkt CD player in the slot above the radio, which required the disc to be placed into a cassette, electric sunroof and heated seats. It even had those tasty headlight wipers.

    Not a blank switch in sight then, but not wanting to invite prying eyes my Grandad fashioned blanking panels of his own! He would fit neatly sized black painted boards over the radio and CD player wherever he parked.

    When he passed away I used the car for a while at university. Grandad was onto something with the blanking panels though – one night some miscreant broke in, bending the entire window frame away from the body. They didn’t touch the Blaupunkt though and the whole thing was re-shaped back to place.

    I remember the dashboard being really intuitive, able to operate everything by feel, without taking eyes from the road. The car was really comfortable, really quiet and moved along at a decent lick.

    Without real need or space to keep it, and with rust swallowing the rear arches whole, we moved it on – something I now regret terribly.

    1. Thanks for that comment, Andy. They seem to be quite agreeable cars, all told. I can´t fault them for much. A side-by-side comparison with the Granada would be instructive. I had a look for period road tests a few years ago and didn´t find a lot. I recall I only got one review in print…

  14. The Carlton / Omega has just been covered by YouTube channel, ‘Big Car’. I think he does a good job.

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