75 years of AMS: Opel Kadett

First ride in the cheap, but small and not very representative Kadett. Reinhard Seiffert wrote the original test. Reinhard Seiffert wrote the original test in 1969.

New car models cannot be shaken out of the sleeve. A team of good designers can get a ready-to-build design on the drawing board in a short time, but that's not all, because the bigger problem is production and its preparation. If a new car is to roll off the assembly line every minute, every half minute or even faster, then this requires a lot of preparatory work, of which the design of the car is the least important. A huge mechanism has to be put in place, starting with the planning of the tools for subcontractors and ending with the installation of the final assembly line.

When the new model comes out, it's at least about two years old: that's how long you have to calculate back from the day of release to find the point in time when the new car had to have its final face. In modern automotive engineering, which is highly dependent on competition, these two years are a major uncertainty factor: Despite all the market research and comparative considerations, it is impossible to say what market situation the new car will find itself in on day X. The Opel Kadett is a classic case for considerations of this kind; it could have come from a textbook for automotive students. Because the Kadett is not only a new model with which a new group of buyers is to be addressed, it not only comes into an extremely interesting competitive situation, it is not only completely redesigned, but it is also the product of a completely new factory. Two years ago, where it rolls off the assembly line was nothing but a barren suburban area undermined by coal mines. ,

That's a lot at once, especially since it's not happening in a developing country feverishly waiting to see its first home-built cars, but in a leading automotive country with large capacity and a spoiled buyer public. But behind the manufacturer of the Kadett stands the largest automobile company in the world, the General Motors Corporation, and their experience in mass production of cars that can hardly be surpassed guarantees that nothing was missed in order to give this model case everything that is known to date . GM would hardly have put a good billion marks into the new Adam Opel AG plant if success were not almost certain. It is almost certain because the automobile market in Germany and Central Europe is quite healthy; at least so healthy that a production of between five hundred and a thousand one-liter cars per day (that should be about the range within which the Bochum plant works profitably) can be easily accommodated. These are the reassuring foundations to build upon.Nevertheless, there is a certain residual risk, because you don't just have to sell, you have to sell well. For Opel it depends on every Kadett that ends up in the hands of the expectant buyer instead of a Volkswagen, instead of a Ford 12M or another competitor vehicle.

At first glance, the Kadett appears to do surprisingly little justice to this need. He doesn't appear with the grand gesture of a strong man, but small, polite and modest. If you put it next to the Volkswagen, the question is which of the two cars looks more representative, and if you put it next to the new 12M, then the Opel looks like a small car, while the not significantly more expensive Ford looks like a mid-range car.

This understatement is actually the biggest surprise of the Kadett. American and American-influenced auto companies are very appreciative of the value of outward representation. What prompted Opel to show such spartan modesty in dealing with the means of external impact? ,

We think we know: the price. In the competitive struggle of the future, the price will be one of the decisive factors, because Europe is not looking forward to particularly rich times. So the most important requirement was probably that the new car could be manufactured and sold at a low price. It succeeded, the Kadett price is close to the VW price and maintains a clear distance to the price of the 12 M. And Opel has probably calculated the Kadett price in such a way that it can be maintained for a long time. The price of the 12 M, on the other hand, tends to go up (additional price for special equipment and possibly a more powerful engine).

But you have to accept that the Kadett is a smaller, less representative car. Opel salespeople also have to accept that they would certainly prefer to sell a car that looks as wide and tall as the 12M. But miracles cannot be achieved in car manufacturing, least of all companies like Opel and Ford think of miracles, because they want to earn money, even if the capacity is not fully utilized. Opel has opted for the low sales price, Ford for the representative appearance, and both have good arguments. ,

In order to overcome the psychological handicap that undoubtedly exists, Opel comes up with numbers that can be used to dampen indications of "too small": favorable seat and trunk dimensions. Of course, the interior width is not discussed here, in which the Kadett is inferior to the Ford and – with regard to the rear seats – also to the Volkswagen. And the Kadett is only approved as a four-seater, while the 12M and Volkswagen are five-seaters. There is no denying that the Kadett is a real small car in its entirety.If you had known the current situation two or more years ago, just before the point of no return - the new 12M, but also the Renault R 8 and the Morris 1100 - you might have taken a slightly different path . But a completely different path could not have been taken.

Principle: Conservative

Because Opel is a conservative automobile factory, financially dependent on the Detroit parent company, but by no means without traditional ties to European automobile construction. The middle position between the old and new worlds may explain the fact that Opel is extremely progressive and modern in terms of production technology, but is not exactly keen on innovation when it comes to construction. Inconceivable that a Morris 1100 or even just a Renault R 8 could have been created by Opel! At Opel, people are only very cautious about turning the wheel of automotive technical progress, but they are also extremely serious and think about every innovation a hundred times that others only think about fifty times.

This word about seriousness also applies to the stability of the body, which was the subject of various rumors in the period between the official presentation of the Kadett (August 20) and the start of production (October 10). The Kadett is not a car that twists under full load so that the doors no longer close, but like all self-supporting cars in this class it is as light as possible, but structurally completely correct. We not only loaded it with the permissible total weight of 1,025 kg, but also with about 60 kg more without any signs of twisting occurring. With this overload, the doors closed easily and precisely as always, even when the car was subjected to twisting (one wheel on a high curb). There was also no disadvantage when driving intentionally recklessly on bad roads. ,

However, the weight of our test car with a full tank was 694 kg, which is 24 kg more than the DIN unladen weight of 670 kg specified by the factory. This weight does not include the additional equipment (first aid kit, spare canister) supplied by the factory, only the transistor radio, which is not very heavy. The possible payload for the test vehicle was only 331 kg, which according to the AUTO, MOTOR and SPORT formula (per person 75 kg + 10 kg luggage), which does not correspond to the DIN standards, results in a personal index number of 3.9. The Kadett is not more than a four-seater in terms of weight.

Not in terms of space either. The interior width is completely sufficient for two people at the front and rear, but not for three people. The seating comfort in the front and rear is good, as is the knee room in the rear seats, which is emphasized in the Kadett advertising.The fact that individual seats were installed in the front is logical and reasonable, it brought with it the convenience of a handy lever handbrake between the seats and a very easy entry to the rear, because the seats are folded forward as a whole. Their locking mechanism (which the Kadett has over the 12M) is simple and solid; it can be operated with your foot from the rear seats, and with a bit of skill you can release the lock and fold the seat up with one hand at the same time. A disadvantage: it is impossible to fold up the front passenger seat from the driver's seat. You have to get used to it as a Kadett owner. For the rest, little imagination and ingenuity prevailed in the outfitting of the Kadett. This nimble little car could make an ideal city vehicle, but there's not the slightest bit of storage space aside from the small glove box (and of course the large, smooth-surfaced trunk). There is also no place for the front passenger to grab hold, but they must be warned not to hold on to the inside door handle. Some other things are made without real love and consideration: the tape speedometer is very confusing due to its ribbing, which is supposed to look elegant, the ashtray is attached in such a way that, when it is open, you polish your knuckles on it when changing gears, the Toggle switches are too small and unwieldy (we had to keep looking for the wiper switch), the white steering wheel is reflected heavily in the windshield, the horn button in the middle of the steering wheel is out of place, we think the foot dimming is antiquated. Finally, the owner's manual is also antiquated, and its technical driving advice was apparently inspired by "Königs Kraftfahrlehre" from 1925 ("You should drive downhill in the same gear and at the same speed as uphill... A good driver regulates the driving speed without using the brakes if possible ...").

The seating position would be good in every respect if you hadn't made the common mistake of placing the steering wheel too close to the driver, so that even with the seat fully reclined, he does not have full freedom of movement. We would advocate simply shortening the steering column by a few centimetres, which would really bring the Kadett's maneuverability to the fore. (We know of a similar experiment from another car factory: all the test drivers were initially against it, but after driving four weeks with the new arrangement, they completely rejected the old one.)

On the other hand, it worked much better (from the collision with apart from the ashtray) the attachment of the shift lever. The hand falls almost automatically from the steering wheel to the shift lever, shifting is very easy and precise - except for reverse gear, which was difficult to get into in the test car.We didn't find anything wrong with the pedals either, the foot pressure for the clutch and gas pedal is low, for the brakes it is within normal limits.

The well-functioning windshield washer system is commendable; We also liked the simple key system with a single so-called "central key". You don't need the key to drive, the ignition and starter positions can also be operated with a coin or by hand, the ignition and steering lock can only be used without a key when the steering wheel is in the locked position. The purpose of this facility: you can take the car with the trunk locked to be washed or repaired and keep the key with you. Your disadvantage: anyone can drive off without a key in any Kadett that does not have the steering and doors locked.

The Kadett's heating is undoubtedly one of its advantages, because it is very effective and easy to regulate. After about 3 km of normal driving, the car warmed up - even if it had previously been outside on frosty nights. Both the temperature and the amount of air can be regulated, and the heating air can be distributed between the footwell and the windscreen as usual. The windscreen is defrosted quickly and over a pleasantly large area. The heater fan has two stages and works so quietly in the normally sufficient first stage that you cannot hear it while driving. What is new is that the air in the footwell above the center tunnel is directed sideways, which means that the driver's left foot is heated far more than the right foot (vice versa for the passenger). The meaning of this measure remains obscure.

With a central joint

The details of the simple and conservative equipment of the Kadett could still be improved, but overall it is so reasonable that everyone can get along with this car immediately. We generally only read operating instructions after a few days, and it is always a good sign if you can understand everything without the operating instructions. That was the case with the Kadett; he is extremely easy to deal with. You also feel comfortable in it right from the start, because it is handy and uncluttered (you can even see all four corners of the car from the driver's seat). It also all seems stable and permanent; the build quality was not perfect in all areas, but overall the car made a solid impression and was completely free of body noise. There was only a rhythmic grinding noise that we could not exactly define; it depended on the wheel speed and probably came from the speedometer drive.

Driving it shows even more clearly that the Kadett is a reasonable and simple car. It is one of those cars where you hardly need to correct the first impression later, because it does not pose any puzzles for the driver or the tester.It's not the most advanced of the new one-liter cars we've driven in recent months, but it's the least problematic. ,

That must have been the intention of its creators, who obviously wanted to combine good practical value with production-related simplicity. From this perspective you will also have to see the only detail in which the Kadett differs significantly from the standard design practiced at Opel up to now: the "central joint", which at the same time functions as the third point of the engine suspension that has been set far back, as the (single) cardan joint and as the suspension point the rigid rear axle is used. This design is known in principle from earlier times, but was hardly used because it does not offer any better conditions for the suspension and springing of the rear axle than the usual solution with a rigid axle suspended from leaf springs and a continuous cardan shaft that vibrates when the springs deflect.

The effect achieved with the Kadett solution is similar to that of a cardan shaft with intermediate bearings, such as that built by Fiat. The propshaft, divided by an intermediate bearing, consists of two relatively short parts that tend to vibrate less than a continuous, long propshaft. In addition, only the rear part of such a shaft vibrates during compression. However, a split cardan shaft is more expensive and heavier than a simple one, and the Kadett avoided this with the trick of using the intermediate bearing as the third point of the engine mount at the same time. This not only saves the bearing block for the usual suspension on the rear part of the engine transmission block, but also the front cardan joint: the cardan shaft runs in a "support tube" which is rigidly connected to the engine-transmission block and articulated at the central joint behind the middle of the car is.

In principle, this is a simplification, like the combination of engine block and front suspension on the Ford 12 M, but unlike this one, it does not increase the transmission of engine vibrations to the chassis and body, but reduces them. The first impression you get when driving the Kadett is proof of that: the extraordinarily quiet, almost inaudible idling of the engine. But the thing also proves its worth when driving; There are no annoying vibrations in any speed range, and when driving fast on the motorway, even in the range above the normal maximum speed, which is critical in many cars due to propshaft vibrations, the engine runs with the smoothness of an electric motor.This is entirely due to the suspension, the engine itself is no more vibration free than any other; He proved this to us by the fact that after a long drive on the Autobahn, the carburetor disintegrated into its components - perhaps because the screws were not properly tightened, but perhaps also because the rather large air filter was only screwed onto the carburetor without any further support and while driving comes into swing. The engine's phone numbers that we measured are slightly, but not significantly, lower than the 12 M, although the impression when driving is completely different: the effective noise level is not the sole measure, the transmission of vibrations plays at least the same role in driving comfort major role. ,

The second effect of the central joint construction is less noticeable: the more precise guidance of the rear axle. The rear rigid axle is T-shaped and swings around the central joint with its forward-pointing part. As a result, the axle is guided in such a way that it cannot perform any undesirable movements of its own, as can happen with the normal axle that is only suspended on the leaf springs, because the springs are not completely rigid. The disadvantage of the solution, however, is that the "unsprung masses" tend to be larger than smaller, because not only the rear part of the cardan shaft but also the supporting tube also swings up and down. If you want to prevent the axle from trampling, you have to make the suspension relatively hard, and that's what you did with the Kadett. Herein lies an undeniable disadvantage of the Kadett design, both compared to the rear independent wheel suspensions of the rear-engined competitors and to the light, rigid rear axle of the front-wheel drive 12M.

Suspension and driving behavior: Sporty

The Kadett rear axle ensures perfect driving characteristics, but does little for driving comfort. It has to be acknowledged that the suspension isn't uncomfortably hard, though, and is very well dampened. It handles bumps perfectly and doesn't cause any annoying pitching vibrations, but it can't work miracles: on bad roads you notice - especially on the back seats - that you're not driving a road cruiser.

The overall character of the suspension, which is still quite acceptable, is certainly partly due to the front axle, which was designed very carefully: the wheels are precisely guided by double wishbones, the suspension is provided by a "floating" wide-gap half spring. Wide gap means that the three Spring leaves do not lie on top of each other, but are kept apart by rubber blocks.The whole thing guarantees low-friction, easily responding front wheel suspension.

The front transverse spring also serves as a transverse stabilizer thanks to its floating suspension, and together with the firm overall suspension, it ensures that the Kadett has sporty driving characteristics: it hardly leans in curves and can be driven quickly and safely on bad and good roads. Very rarely does it happen that the rear axle makes a slight bounce, but this is not a concern in curves or on the straight and does not require any reaction from the driver; the car accepts it good-naturedly. ,

His other driving behavior is also good-natured. It normally behaves slightly understeering even when cornering quickly and therefore does not require any steering wheel corrections. In the limit area - we also tried it on wet pavement and on black ice - it initially slips slightly over the front wheels, but then transitions into well-controllable oversteer. The transition is not sudden, but smooth and undramatic. This type of driving behavior at the limit is undoubtedly preferable to extreme understeer or oversteer. The Kadett's driving characteristics are not sensational, but they are reliable and clean. It's certainly a good winter car too; However, we were not able to test to what extent the small wheels have a negative effect when starting on slippery surfaces. In any case, the cadet behaved immaculately on the first ice in November. The Continental round-shoulder tires mounted on the test car performed well on ice, wet and dry roads.

However, the Kadett has one quality that you have to become familiar with: it is a little "curvy", so it reacts very willingly to movements of the steering wheel. You have to drive it with a relaxed hand and not "over-torque" it in corners - nothing dangerous happens if you do that, but you have to correct it. This property was also evident in the wagging test: the Kadett can be easily controlled when the steering is repeatedly jerked if you are economical with steering wheel movements. Otherwise, there will be swiveling movements around the vertical axis, which you have to carefully maneuver out. Fortunately, it is completely unproblematic to take the gas off; this even stabilizes the car.

Perhaps it will be possible to mitigate this characteristic of the Kadett (which, by the way, is by no means uncommon in cars of this size) without harming its handiness. That would be a shame, because the Kadett is not only easy to steer, but also very precise. Its rack-and-pinion steering is quite sympathetic, although it's not completely smooth, it doesn't strain you even on bad roads if you grip the steering wheel loosely. It also ensures that gusts of wind, which do not always leave the Kadett unimpressed, can be safely outmaneuvered.,

The owner's manual makes every effort to advise against using the brakes. We consider this to be objectively incorrect, because a brake that is not used enough usually works unreliably in an emergency because the pads have no "wearing pattern". Of course, you have to point out to the novice drivers, with whom you will often have to deal with at the Kadett, that you should not drive down Alpine passes with a fully loaded car in high gear, but the instruction "in the same gear downhill as uphill" is just as outdated as it is unclear , because how should one know in which gear one would drive up a certain slope? Another recommendation is not to "slam on the brakes" - usually that's fine, but sometimes you just have to. And when the never-used brakes pull crooked and the driver doesn't even know it, the result is catastrophic. That's why we would at least suggest the additional note that you should occasionally check the condition of your brakes on a dry and traffic-free road by braking several times with increasing force.

Of course, such a thing would have led to an immediate complaint with the test car, because a front wheel brake locked up, so that the car went significantly off track when braking. We also made a complaint, and an Opel workshop rectified the defect in a short time. After that, the brakes worked perfectly - so a little attention to their condition is not a mistake...

We don't want to assume that the brake instructions in the owner's manual are an expression of a bad conscience, because Opel has convinced us several times Expression that drum brakes for cars of this type are currently the best solution. The brakes on our test car, once fixed, didn't necessarily contradict that belief. They worked evenly and were sufficient for normal use. Without a doubt, however, they tire more quickly on downhill serpentines (reduction in the effect and lengthening of the pedal travel) than, for example, with the four-wheel disc brakes of the Renault R 8. 480 cm2 braking surface for a good one ton permissible total weight is not exactly much either. Without wanting to comment on the question of whether drum brakes or disc brakes are preferable, we can only give the Kadett brakes the grade "sufficient".

A lively car

From what we have said about the Kadett's driving characteristics, the reader will already get the impression that this is quite a lively little car. In fact, the character of the Kadett is less related to its bigger brothers Rekord and Kapitän than to sporty small cars such as the Fiat 600 and 1100 or the corresponding models from Renault and Simca.It is actually not an "Opel" in the sense of a middle-class car for normal motorists, but rather a vehicle that is really fun to drive.

This is also ensured by his driving performance. 40 hp and 40 hp are not the same when there is a weight difference of more than 150 kg - this is clearly demonstrated by the comparison between 12 M and Kadett. It was not at all necessary to hold private races with the 12 M previously on the streets, the owners of which usually still show a certain ambition, because in the range below 100 km/h a 12 M has absolutely no chance against a Kadett. Above 100 km/h, the 12 M makes up ground with its obviously very streamlined shape; its top speed is (both according to our measurements and according to the factory specifications) 5 km/h higher, but its acceleration is noticeably worse than that of the Kadett. In our opinion, it is justified to make such comparisons - not because of the racing, but simply because every increase in acceleration in cars of this size means an increase in driving safety. ,

Our Kadett test car was not a particularly fast specimen, it pretty much reached the factory specifications, which were significantly exceeded by cars of this type measured abroad. But its temperament was already so pleasing (with 3,000 km on the counter) that we always felt comfortable and never felt a lack of power - neither when overtaking nor on inclines, even with a full car. The revving ability of the engine also plays a role here: you can use the III. Extend the gear to over 100 km/h without feeling that the engine is struggling.

The engine is actually a pleasing example of its kind because it runs evenly and smoothly in almost all areas. Nevertheless, it is grateful for shifting, in the lowest range it no longer works very elastically like all short strokers; in fourth gear you can't ask for much acceleration below 50 km/h. On the other hand, high engine speeds certainly don't harm it, even at the catalog top speed of 120 km/h, the piston speed is only 9.5 m/s. The speed is 4,700 rpm at 120 km/h, so the Kadett engine normally only reaches its rated speed of 5,000 rpm in the gears or when driving in the snow on slopes and with a tailwind. In any case, you can drive the Kadett at full throttle over long distances without hesitation, and revving up in the gears well over 5,000 rpm is completely unaffected by the engine, it doesn't even get louder. ,

In cold weather, the engine needed the starter pull to start and sometimes took a little time. But then it immediately ran evenly and was not sensitive to the setting of the starter cable, which could be fully pushed in very soon after driving off.We drove the Kadett with regular gasoline and only noticed an occasional ringing of acceleration under heavy use. If you want to do something good for it, you can drive it with "waste", but that's obviously not necessary.

Our consumption values ​​were between 7 and 10 liters/100 km; the 10 liter limit was only reached or exceeded when driving continuously at full throttle. On the other hand, the Kadett was pleasantly insensitive to driving at frequently changing speeds - the city and short-distance consumption values ​​remained in the range of around 8 liters. The low weight of the car has a positive effect here, because the carburettor setting was obviously not "tortured" for low consumption, but is designed for smooth running and good acceleration, it was not necessary to top up the oil on our 1,500 km test route. ,


One thing became very clear to us when dealing with the Opel Kadett: when designing this car, Adam Opel AG wanted to avoid taking any risks. She avoided any experiment; the result is accordingly not a sensational or avant-garde car, but a solid piece of automotive engineering, a flawless constructive and industrial achievement - no more, but also no less. That may disappoint some expectations, just as the VW 1500, built according to similar no-experimental principles, disappointed some expectations; but there is no doubt that a safe middle ground has been marked for manufacturers and buyers alike. There are more interesting cars in this class, more representative, more spacious, with softer springs; but only a few can be said as little as against the Opel Kadett. And when there are only a few cars, there is little need to worry about buying a copy from the first series, because in our opinion the Kadett is not a car on which important parts still have to be changed. Apparently a lot has been done to be on the safe side in this regard, production has started very hesitantly and the first production cars have not been delivered, but have been subjected to tough driving tests again. All this costs a lot of money, but should pay off. Another important argument is the well-established Opel customer service that is represented everywhere. In some cases the Kadett will be a size too small, being no more than a four seater, but still a four seater with good luggage space. The interested party must consider carefully whether he is asking for more than the Kadett can offer. If that's enough, then the Kadett is a reasonable purchase at a reasonable price.


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