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BMW 502, Mercedes 300, Opel Kapitän: the economic miracle luxury car of the 50s

Arturo Rivas
BMW 502, Mercedes 300, Opel Kapitän
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D he Opel Kapitän L cost around 10,000 marks only roughly half of the BMW 502 or Mercedes 300. It promoted the small economic miracle, that of the handicraft businesses or the retail stores. BMW 502 and Mercedes 300 were responsible for the big world, that of entrepreneurs, directors and politicians. Behind the Käfer and Rekord, the captain was always in third place in the registration statistics in the 1950s. So popular was the six-cylinder sedan, which VW and DKW drivers jealously dubbed the 'butcher's car' at the time, which taxi drivers swore by despite the higher consumption and which had significantly shaped the slogan 'Opel, the reliable'.

'Opel, the reliable' - the Kapitän engine runs silky and forever

The many model changes of the Opel Kapitän did not bother us, especially the 56 model fully met the American-dictated taste in terms of car fashion : A modern pontoon shape garnished with pretty tail fins, plus a smiling face; Length that runs and large windows make it attractive. A huge trunk and such a lush feeling of space that you think you have to take people with you in order not to feel lost, inspire. The butcher's car has significantly more interior width than Barockengel and Adenauer. A plus of the new clear functional form, which is accompanied by a self-supporting body that is susceptible to rust and saves production costs.

Our Opel Kapitän from 1957 in the lavishly decorated luxury version even survived unwelded. An honorable 100,000 km badge is emblazoned on the instrument panel. So he was not spared, the black and red with the soft, light gray fabric seats. One turn of the ignition key and the two-and-a-half-liter six-cylinder falls into a stoic, hoarse idle without any choke.

The Opel captain always wanted only be as good as necessary

The engine is a pre-war construction, well-behaved, but without any highlights. Pure cast iron, square design, only four crankshaft bearings, spur gear drive, done. But the valves are already hanging in the head, and the compression is simply increased for the almost annual increase in output. The 56-series Opel Kapitän has 75 hp, not much for a large 1.3-ton car, but they feel heavier because the maximum torque comes from 1,700 rpm. Three courses are therefore sufficient. you will besorted via an astonishingly precise steering wheel gearshift, the first one is on the bottom left From 50 km /h at the latest, the third is in the plane, the engine falls into a throaty murmur. It's the typical Opel sound.

The apparently so modern Opel Kapitän also affords a few antiquities. The pedals grow up out of the ground, his headlights, modeled with pretty flickering eyes, blink with six-volt lamps. The stick handbrake is aimed at the driver's knee, and the huge steering wheel requires energetic gripping despite the 'new, direct recirculating ball steering in the 56 captain', without the novice captain being able to drive a clean line straight away. The captain's leaf-sprung rigid axle landing gear cannot work miracles. It opted for rocky litter comfort instead of road holding. The Opel understeer heavily, its small 13-inch tires smack and squeak early in tight corners.

BMW with the first post-war Eight-cylinder

An Opel Kapitän always intended to be only as good as necessary, which made it inexpensive and reliable. The ambitious BMW 502, which pulls out all the technical registers, is completely different. Today it would be called the archetype of the active luxury car because of its pronounced harmony of engine and chassis. After all, he, the inconspicuous, the underrated, provides the technical blueprint for the sports car icons 503 and 507.

The first and, for a whole decade before the Mercedes 600, the only post-war German eight-cylinder engine also embodies body construction in manufacture quality. The BMW 502 succeeded as early as 1954, which the original type 501 with its small pre-war six-cylinder could not do. The elaborate chassis with elegant torsion bar suspension on all four wheels and a rear rigid axle that is carefully guided not only thanks to the Watt linkage meets an adequate motor.

BMW 502 with bewitching sound and smooth power delivery

Yes What's more, with the 100 hp, completely redesigned 2.6-liter aluminum eight-cylinder, the BMW 502 became the first serious alternative to the Mercedes 300. Thanks to the beguiling sound and smooth power delivery in the engine properties, it can clearly outperform the Adenauer In the catalog price it only started to draw level from 1955 as a 3.2-liter with 120, then 140 and finally 160 hp. But even the 100 hp version delivers better performance than the Mercedes, which is handicapped by its 300 kilograms higher weight. He also wears a stiff pre-war wardrobe, which conservative Mercedes customers welcome rather than criticize.

Unfortunately, the progressive BMW 502's traditional rounded suit, despite the elegant cut, large windows and inexpensive aerodynamics, is the undoing of the progressive BMW 502. The audience perceived his Rubens figure to be out of date early on. As accessories for the mannequins inthe fashion magazine 'Film & Frau' often chooses a 300, never a V8. Sales are sluggish, at the end of his twelve-year life 20,000 baroque angels have just been made.

The BMW 502 is taut and secure

The late 62 series BMW 2600 L develops 110 hp, behind the ivory-colored four-spoke steering wheel, the former driving dynamics superiority can still be clearly felt today. Above all, the Opel Kapitän switchers notice the difference in road holding, steering and braking behavior. The big BMW is tight and secure, even in fast corners, its brakes don't give you the feeling of reaching the limit of deceleration quickly.

The suspension of the V8 is much more comfortable than that of the vibrating Opel, which is primarily due to the better damping. Its unorthodox bevel gear steering works much more directly without appearing sluggish. The BMW 502 is designed entirely as a fast touring car - especially for the country roads of the time, which demanded much more driver and car.

Perhaps it is also the contradiction between the cozy design of the baroque angel and its sporty character that made him unsuccessful. The wood-veneered, corduroy-lined BMW 502 looks like a rolling salon for cigar smokers. Its opposite opening portal doors fit into this cozy picture.

The Mercedes 300 - perfect solidity

The Mercedes 300 does not have such an identity problem. He gives body and soul the first-class luxury sedan with enormous leg room in the rear. A cutting disc is often ordered, and the large ashtrays are specially designed for cigars. The narrow window areas provide a discreet distance from the environment, you get the feeling that all 300s, especially the early ones with the distinctive round tail, were delivered in authoritarian black.

Its basic shape was created before the war for a new, The larger type 230 thwarted by the Schell Plan. The enormously heavy and elaborately built double-joint pendulum axle of the Mercedes 300 with two coil springs per wheel was also found in the legendary 500 and 540 K compressor cars. Before the invention of hydropneumatics, it was considered the most comfortable wheel suspension at all.

No question about it, the Mercedes 300 inspires a lot of respect. You stand at attention in front of you, sitting high behind the large, steep steering wheel, in front of you the mighty bonnet, an endless high plateau behind the narrow windshield with the big star as a lighthouse in front of the horizon. The ease of driving is astounding given its intimidating appearance. You start with the starter button, standing pedals, the size of a truck, for clutch and brake. The steering is only difficult when maneuvering, and the four-speed steering wheel gearshift can be operated with two fingers.

The Mercedes 300 springs divinely

The in-line six-cylinder with overhead camshaft, which was redesigned at the time and even has seven bearings, sounds so typically Mercedes like all its relatives to the pagoda engine. His temperament is sufficient, his elasticity inspires, and you can accelerate smoothly in fourth from 30 km /h. The Mercedes 300 springs divinely, supported by the powerful 15-inch super balloon diagonal tires.

Although the chassis is identical to that of the gullwing, the Mercedes 300 does not like it sporty at all. He initially defends himself against fast cornering by understeering, we don't want to risk more. The old swing axle is considered to be very capricious. Your mood can quickly turn into oversteer that is difficult to control.

Even more than the BMW 502, the Mercedes 300 feels like an indestructible, time-defying manufactured automobile. Much is milled from solid and feels incredibly good, from the door handle to the indicator ring in the steering wheel. The car for life doesn't have to be a Rolls-Royce.


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