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Australia has close ties with cars that have been designed and produced by Opel. Opel is one of the oldest car marques in the world, and its rich history started with a man called Adam Opel.

Early on in his work, Adam Opel spent many years as a metal worker. In 1862, Mr Opel went into business building his first sewing machine in Russelsheim, Germany. It was Opel’s success with his sewing machines that founded the Opel Company. By 1868, the sewing machine business was flourishing and he was able to move into his first factory building, an industrial hall with attached living quarters. In this same year, Adam also tied the knot with Sophie Scheller. Mr Opel introduced steam power into his manufacturing facilities.

A decade had passed before Mr Opel turned his interests towards bicycle manufacture. I wonder if his teenage sons aided Adam’s plunge into two wheels. By 1886, he was building both sewing machines and bicycles, and his sons enjoyed winning many bike races on Opel built bicycles. Opel was to become the world’s biggest bicycle manufacturer.

Sadly, in 1895 Adam Opel passed on and Sophie took over the running of the business with the help of her sons.

In 1899, the Opel Company began manufacturing cars in Russelsheim. “Opel Patent Motor Car, System Lutzmann” was the name given to the first Opel motorcar. By 1901, the Opel Company was right into racing their cars, and it was Heinrich von Opel who won the Königsstuhl hill climb near Heidelberg in an Opel Lutzmann. Ever expanding, Opel began manufacturing motorcycles and they also entered into a contract with the French manufacturer Alexandre Darracq, authorizing Opel to produce Darracq automobiles under license. In 1902, the first Darracq chassis was fitted with an Opel body in Rüsselsheim. The vehicles were marketed under the brand name – you guessed it – Opel Darracq.

In 1903, Opel was quick to design and build their very first four-cylinder engine with an output of 20 to 24 hp. And by 1909, Opel introduced an affordable compact car with a 4 kW (8 hp) engine. This car had a two-seater design and was to become a very reliable workhorse for many. Its dependability lent the car to becoming known as the “Doktorwagen” (Doctor’s Car).

By 1912, Opel celebrated its fiftieth anniversary, and car number 10,000 rolled out of the automobile manufacturing plant. Only two years later, Opel’s success enabled the company to create a record-breaking race car which was one of the first cars to feature four-valve engine technology.

During the First World War (1914–1918), Opel produced heavy trucks for the military.

We’ve all heard about the Nurburgring, but did you know that, in 1919, the Opel Racetrack got there first? Located south of Rüsselsheim, the oval course was the first permanent track for racing and testing in Germany. It had a concrete surface with raised banking at each corner. Opel was to design the RAK rocket-propelled vehicle. In 1928, the RAK 1 accelerated from zero to 100 km/h in just eight seconds on the Opel Racetrack. One month later, Fritz von Opel reached a top speed of 238 km/h in the RAK 2. In 1929, Fritz von Opel makes the world’s first manned rocket flight, in his RAK 1 Friedrich rocket aircraft.

In 1931, The Rüsselsheim plant built the first “people’s automobile”. This was very affordable and boasted a dependable 1.2-litre engine. Between 1931 and 1935, 100,000 units were built – a volume never before reached with a single model in Germany. However, a government directive halted production of passenger cars, probably in favour of the government-backed Volkswagen (which is German for “people’s car”). General Motors bought the remaining 20 % of shares in the Opel Corporation.

By the time World War II started Opel had enjoyed much success, with many new cars being manufactured. Trucks and refrigerators were some of the other items Opel turned their hand to. Between World War I and World War II, Opel became Europe’s largest car manufacturer, a testimony of how well designed and how popular the Opel cars were for their time. By 1999, Opel had built its 50 millionth vehicle.

By 1944, allied bombs destroyed half of the Rüsselsheim plant, while the Brandenburg plant is almost completely destroyed. Opel made a slow start back into manufacturing motorcars and refrigerators, but by 1947 passenger car production resumed with the new Olympia motorcar.

During the 1950s and 1960s, some of the classic Opel cars were built. The Opel Kapitan and Opel Olympia Rekord. A Coupe version of the Rekord was a big hit. Kadett and Commodore A were names that appeared on some of the great new cars to be coming from the Opel Company. A V8 version of the Kadett was to be the fastest production model of its time.

During the years of the 1970s through to the late 1990s, Australia’s Holden would have very strong ties with the cars designed by Opel and GM. Over recent decades, Holden has used Opel stock for their range of cars in Australia. Yes, Holden still relies on Opel/Vauxhall designs. The Opel Ampera is a stylish medium-sized car with hybrid technology underneath its sleek lines. The Ampera is derived from the Chevrolet Volt and is being sold in Australia as the Holden Volt. Astra and Vectra models, even some of the Commodore models, have Opel designer’s handy work. So, when you think about it, Australia’s car world has been strongly influenced by Germany’s successful Opel/Vauxhall brand.

Today sees Opel, and its sister brand Vauxhall, actively producing many types of vehicles for over 40 countries around the globe. In 2010 Opel and Vauxhall sold over 1.1 million passenger cars and light commercial vehicles ­ enough to gain a 6.2 percent market share in Europe for the year.

2012 sees Opel opening many showrooms across Australia. Keep your eyes out for the exciting new Opel Astra and Opel Insignia cars, and others! We’ll be adding the new arrivals to the Opel line to this site, so keep watching this space.

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