The History of Opel

   

Opel is a German automobile company founded by Adam Opel in 1863. It has been a subsidiary of General Motors (GM) since 1929. The company was an AG (German plc) up to 2005.
Opel is headquartered in Rüsselsheim, Hesse, Germany.
At the beginning, Adam Opel just produced sewing machines in a cowshed in Rüsselsheim. Above all, his success was based on his perfectly customized sewing machines. Because of the quick growth of his business, in 1888 the production was relocated from the cowshed to a more spacious building in Rüsselsheim. Encouraged by success, Adam Opel launched a new product in 1886: He began to sell high-wheel bicycles, also known as penny-farthings.
The first cars were produced in 1899 after Opel's sons entered into a partnership with Friedrich Lutzmann, a locksmith at the court in Dessau in Saxony-Anhalt, who had been working on car designs for some time. These cars were not very successful and so the partnership was dissolved after two years, following which Opel's sons signed a licensing agreement with the French Automobiles Darracq S.A. to manufacture vehicles under the brand name "Opel-Darracq". These cars were made up of Opel bodies mounted on a Darracq chassis, powered by a 2-cylinder engine.
1901 Adam Opel separates from Lutzmann and signed a new contract with a Frenchman, Alexandre Darracq. The company first showed cars of its own design at the 1902 Hamburg Motor Show, and started manufacturing them in 1906, with Opel-Darracq production being discontinued in 1907.
In 1909, the Opel 4/8 hp model, known as the "Doctor's Car" was produced. Its reliability and robustness were greatly appreciated by physicians, who drove a lot to see their patients, back when hard-surfaced roads were still rare.
In 1911, the company's factory was virtually destroyed by fire and a new one was built with more up-to-date machinery.
By 1914, Opel had become the largest German manufacturer of motor vehicles.
In the early 1920's, Opel became the first German car manufacturer to incorporate a mass production assembly line in the building of their cars. In 1924, they used their assembly line to produce a new open two-seater called the "Laubfrosch."
Opel had a 37.5% market share in Germany and was also the country's largest car exporter in 1928. The "Regent", Opel's first eight-cylinder car was offered. The RAK 1 and RAK 2 rocket-propelled cars made sensational record-breaking runs.
In March 1929 General Motors, impressed by Opel's modern production facilities, bought 80% of the company, increasing this to 100% in 1931. Subsequently, a second factory was built at Brandenburg for the production of "Blitz" (~"Lightning") light trucks.
In 1935, Opel became the first German car manufacturer to produce over 100,000 vehicles a year. This was based on the popular Opel "P4" model. The vehicle had a 1.1 liter four cylinder engine with 23 hp and a top speed of 85 km/h. Opel also produced the first mass-production vehicle with a self-supporting all steel body. They called it the "Olympia". With its small weight and aerodynamics came an improvement in both performance and fuel consumption. Opel receives a patent which is considered one of the most important innovations in automotive history.
After the end of the second world war, former Opel employees began to rebuild the nearly completely destroyed Rüsselsheim plant. In response to the pressing need for new trucks in a Germany struggling to rebuild, the American authorities governing Rüsselsheim granted permission to the plant to produce a 1 1/2 ton truck powered by the 2 1/2 liter Kapitän engine. It was a minor miracle that even this was possible. By January of 1946 the plant itself was ready to build trucks but many of the almost 12,000 parts needed to make each one were lacking. Before the big firms could begin, the small ones had to get started too. And illness and poor nutrition so crippled the staff of 6000 workers that it was normal for 500 to be too sick to come to work and more than 400 to report sick during the day.
Overcoming these and other obstacles, Opel finally celebrated the completion of the first postwar Opel Blitz truck on July 15, 1946. The truck was designed to run either on gasoline or on wood gas, for which a gas generator could be supplied. With a ceremonial bouquet of flowers flying from its rear-view mirror, this historic Opel Blitz left the factory gate bound for a buyer in Wiesbaden on July 26. Further production followed at a rate of 150 a month, by the end of 1946 the production total was 839. Frigidaire refrigerators were also being made at Rüsselsheim, as were Olympia engines for the NSU Kettenkrad.
The next step for Opel was the resumption of passenger car production. It might have seemed easiest to bring back the Kapitan first, since its engine was already in production for the truck. But occupation regulations restricted German civilians to cars of 1 1/2 liters or less, which made the Olympia the obvious candidate. Useful changes were made to this tough little car. The Dubonnet front suspension was replaced by a conventional coil-and-wishbone layout ant the steering was correspondingly rearranged.
Announced in November of 1947, production of the post-war Olympia, with austere painted hubcaps, began in December 1948 and allowed a modest return to export sales in that year. In October 1948, the Kapitän cane back to the Opel lineup, unchanged except for such details as the shape of the headlights and improvements in the leaf springs and dampers.
Changes in the Opel cars under GM's management didn't appear until January of 1950, when a face-lifted Olympia was introduced. Front and rear fenders were elongated and a heavy horizontal chrome grille was added. A retrograde step was the replacement of the four-speed gearbox with a three-speed unit, with a column shift lever. Engine tuning emphasized high torque at low engine speeds so the extra ratio wasn't too sorely missed. The cabrio-coach model was returned to the Olympia range and a kombi was also offered , built by Karosserie Miesen. In February 1951, in preparation for the first postwar automobile show in Germany, the Olympia was dressed up further with a trunk compartment that enclosed the spare tire and 15-inch wheels instead of 16-inch wheels and tires. With minor further changes this model lasted to March, 1953.
In 1953 output rose above 100,000 units for the first time since the war, and in 1954, when the sprawling plant by the Main River was considered completely rebuilt, 24,270 were employed at Adam Opel AG and 167,650 vehicles were built -- an all-time high.
Opel makes significant progress in expanding its model range, in new product technology and in the internationalization of the Opel brand. The Opel Technical Development Center in Rüsselsheim, Germany becomes the core of General Motors international product development strategy and the lead source for design and technology. Opel makes considerable investments in the expansion of existing European plants and operations and in new production facilities worldwide. With the increased capacity, Opel is ready to introduce the Opel nameplate in new markets around the globe.
In early 2009, the future of Opel was thrown into uncertainty as the global financial crisis drove GM towards bankruptcy. New Opel (Opel plus Vauxhall, minus Saab), was controlled by a trustee, with a controlling board made up of representatives from GM, employees and the German Government; the company was subject to a bidding process.
On 10 September 2009, GM agreed to sell a 55% stake in Opel to the Magna group with the approval of the German government. The agreement would have kept Opel a fully integrated part of GM’s global product development organisation. However, on 3 November 2009 the GM board called off the Magna deal after coming to the conclusion that Opel was crucial to GM's global strategy.
Opel vehicles are sold as Vauxhalls in the UK. In other right hand drive markets in Europe, like Ireland, Cyprus and Malta, the main brand name is now Opel. However, many Vauxhall cars are imported second hand from the UK and sold in Ireland. Vauxhall has rejected this on the grounds that its brand is well known and, in the eighties, there was a preference among fleet buyers, the main customer base at the time, for the Vauxhall brand.
Many cars sold by General Motors worldwide are Opel engineered vehicles, including such models as the Astra, Corsa, Insignia and Zafira. Opel models are also sold under other GM brand names, such as Vauxhall Motors in the UK, Buick in China and North America and Chevrolet in Latin America. Its Zafira people carrier was sold in Australia badged as a Holden Zafira, while the Astra was sold in the US as the Saturn Astra for model years 2008 to 2009. Other Opel based or slightly modified models sold in the US, include the Buick LaCrosse, Regal, and Chevrolet Cruze.

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