Table of contents:
- The beginning of history and the personality of the founder of the German brand
- Development of the company and participation in the occupation
- Restoring the plant and bringing it back to life
2023 Author: Charles Youmans | [email protected]. Last modified: 2023-05-20 18:41
Opel is one of the central carmakers located in Germany. At the moment, the main industry is considered to be the production of cars. The history of Opel has many turning points, which at any moment were ready to drag the founders and management to the bottom. The story about the brand clearly characterizes the state of affairs in the entire central Europe of the 20th century.
The beginning of history and the personality of the founder of the German brand
In the original version, Opel, like most car brands, had nothing to do with the machine industry. So, in the middle of the 19th century, the lands of Hesse were located in the west of modern Germany. People of that time could not imagine life without creating fabrics. The textile industry has become fundamental to the future industrial revolution of these lands. It is this area that will be able to bring the fragmented Germany into the leaders of all of Europe in the future.
As for the personality of the founder, the son of the farmer Togez Opel, Adam, was at the helm. It was he who began to deal with fabrics after a long trip to Europe. In 1862, a young man learns about the existence of a sewing machine, which he first saw at a Paris exhibition. Upon arriving home, he decides to go into production. He opens a small hat workshop. It is located in the small town of Rüsselheim. From this moment on, we can talk about the beginning of the life of the future auto giant.
Opel's sewing machines became his main source of income. Financial affairs were going uphill. However, the car was not the only way of making money for the German. Abroad, the farmer saw another interesting "curiosity" - a bicycle with huge wheels. The production of this vehicle was organized by Adam Opel in 1886. Interestingly, his children were able to inherit a similar love of technology. Gradually, they also "got involved" in their father's business, took part in competitions that strengthen the position of their own business in the market. In 1895, the founder of the company dies, leaving a legacy of a business that occupies a leading position in the bicycle market in Germany.
Later it becomes clear that the children of Opel are not inferior in love to technical innovations to their father. They attend international exhibitions. One of them, taking place in Berlin, turned the future of the company upside down. It was there that they first saw the car and thought about starting their own production. In the original version, it was necessary to attract outside help. Friedrich Lutzmann became an ally in the idea of creating the first car, as evidenced by the first name of the car - Opel-Lutzmann. A little later, the opportunity arose to buy a purebred Opel, since it was possible to conclude an agreement for the supply of the main units with the French side - the Darracq company. New cars quickly conquered the market due to the simple design of quality auto parts. This combination was "pushed" by competent marketing. The creators managed to interest the state in supporting their business. At that time, preparations were underway for the First World War, so the government was interested in increasing the number of serious industries capable of working for the army.
The problems of 1918 laid a heavy burden on the country's economy. The most difficult peace treaty turned into a global crisis. In addition, constant internal conflicts “crushed”. In contrast, there was hyperinflation, which led to the need to pay wages on a daily basis. The fact is that it was no longer possible to buy something in the evening with a morning salary. It was impossible to talk about the development of the company at that moment, but the personal qualities of the heirs here did not let the company go into the annals of history. A family passion for progress led Wilhelm Opel with a leading engineering group in the United States, where at that moment conveyors were actively introduced with the light hand of Henry Ford. Such technological innovations allowed Opel not only to avoid the strongest consequences of the crisis, but also to break out into the leading position of the automobile manufacturer in the country. In addition to decent quality, the popularity of the created machines grew due to the low price. Thanks to the assembly line, it was possible to establish a full cycle for the production of 39,000 vehicles per year. As a result, revenue grew and the company remained “afloat”.
At the end of the 20s, the largest automobile concern from America, General Motors, came to Germany, which had already managed to buy out the Vauxhall company. Of course, GM could not ignore the growing and technologically advanced Opel. In 1929, the owners agree to sell the family business for $ 30 million.
Development of the company and participation in the occupation
The emergence of American management methods led to an increase in production. As a result, they managed to achieve the output of 100,000 cars in a year of operation. At the same time, a new plant was created in the east of Germany - Brandenburg. It was there in the 36th year that the Opel Olympia appeared, which later earned the title of "people's car". This model was released on the eve of the Olympics, so it remained one of the main symbols in the minds of the fans. Recall that the Berlin Olympics were planned by Hitler to showcase the Third Reich. By the way, the new car was only a cover for creating capacities for the production of military equipment. The fate of Wilhelm Opel by that time was also determined. He joined the NSDAP and took the position of one of the central sponsors.
Of course, such machinations did not suit the American owners, however, business interests took priority over moral arguments. From the facilities of the German plant, they began to produce Blitz from Opel. The characteristics justified the name, which translated as "lightning". From here the Opel corporate symbol was taken, on which lightning crosses out the first letter of the brand name.
Subsequently, the Opel Blitz will become a symbol of the European occupation. It is known that Stirlitz preferred Mercedes, German employees cut BMWs on motorcycles, and the infantry moved precisely on Opels. The truck can be seen in numerous films about the Great Patriotic War. He is also described in books, for example, in "The Era of Mercy", based on which the film "The Meeting Place Cannot Be Changed" was made. In the latter, you can see not the original car, but a modern ZiS, which was remade for a German car, since it was not possible to find the original. Zhiglov and operatives affectionately call their car "Ferdinand". Of course, the war did serious damage to the German company. In military history there is a place of nationalization, as well as American bombers who did not spare the plant, destroying it completely.
Restoring the plant and bringing it back to life
After the war ended, the factories remained in limbo. So, the facilities located in Brandenburg became a trophy of the Soviet zone of occupation. It was from there that Russian engineers got prototypes for the further creation of the Moskvich-400. The resulting technologies and drawings of Olympia and the subsequent update of the Opel Cadet became a prototype for a Soviet car. In fact, the car remained German, despite small changes made by Russian engineers, adapting the vehicle to their own needs.
West Germany did not take the destroyed enterprise seriously. All the burdens of restoring the plant fell on the shoulders of the workers who were involved in production before the outbreak of hostilities. American subjects returned to their own factory only after the Cold War began. Alfred Sloan, the head of GM, was a huge help in this. Getting used to American governance is too slow. The new owners were able to establish themselves as administration only in 1948. At that time, almost no new Opel were produced, photos of the presented cars can be seen in rare copies.
The 1950s saw a major expansion of the model range. Success returned to Opel only after the release of the "hit" of that time - Opel Kapitan. Opel reviews proved the similarity with American models. The foundation of marketing was built on this. The slogans said that you can buy a big car for little money.
Starting with this version, Opel is heading for the creation of large cars. It was these features that determined the future cars created in the 50-60s. At that time, new versions of Cammodore, Captain and Record appeared. These cars were hugely popular, which gave GM a huge boost in revenue. As a result, Opel reached a new level, not only gaining a foothold in Germany, but also in the European market as a whole.
Cars could not boast of compactness, unlike Volkswagen, luxury comparable to Mercedes, not a huge price like BMW, but, in the end, this is what made the car popular.
The next shock for Opel was the fuel crisis of the early 70s. At that time, the famous machines appeared that made the name of the company. Among them was the right-hand drive Vauxhall. After that, the Opel Astra and Opel Vectra were produced, which were successfully sold under the Vauxhall brand. True, these cars had serious differences. For example, in the local market, they received an alternative name - Cadett D.
In the period from 1970 to 1980, a number of new products appeared: Opel Omega, Ascona, Manta, Omega, Vectra. The Cadett line is expanding, where each successive generation is assigned the next letter of the alphabet. For example, the E version overtook the Renault 25 in popularity, and the Omega became more in demand than the Audi 80 and BMW 7-series. In 1986, a small-tonnage truck was released - Opel Combo, which has a single front-wheel drive. Opel continues to improve its own cars.
At the end of the 80s, a "window" to the Soviet Union opened, so domestic fans received official Opels. In the post-Soviet space, however, the brand failed to occupy its niche. They were not in demand as prestigious, did not "hold out" to high-speed and were not suitable for bandits. In most cases, ordinary citizens used it, leaving it near their own Moscow entrances. In 1982, the popular German supermini, the Opel Corsa, appears.
Opel gained popularity in the early 90s, after German cars began to be in demand. In 1991, the first generation of the Opel Frontera SUV appears, which will receive an update in 2001. In the same year, the Opel Vivaro minivan appears. A new wave began in the early 2010s, when the old "Europeans" began to be distilled to the European part from the Baltic States, but even here it was not possible to achieve consistency and soon the "boom" came to naught. In 2012, the company will present the Opel Mokka mini-crossover. In 2016, the company releases a new modification of the Astra from Opel. Diesel should breathe new life into an outdated model.
After that, Opel strengthens its position in Russia only at the suggestion of General Motor, which organizes its own production in Kaliningrad and near St. Petersburg. Quite popular models are assembled at these factories: Opel Zafira, Opel Insignia, Opel Antara, Opel Mokka, Opel Meriva. It is noteworthy that for connoisseurs, they still continue to produce Opel Life, for example, for Zafir. Each of them deserves special attention from Russian fans. Modern "Germans" are valued for the high quality of security systems. Marketers position the models as "family", which determines the main buyers of the brand. One of the last ones released by the company was the Opel Grandland X, in 2017. At the moment, the company has left Russia, but the remaining mothballed factories indicate a possible return.