The Opel Commodore GS

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An Appraisal

The cars made in Germany by the Adam Opel Aktiengesellschaft (and marketed here by General Motors from their Buckingham Gate office, servicing being looked after by Lendrum and Harman, whom I always think of as the Buick people) have outgrown their pre-war stigma. This arose because about the only sort of Opel known to British motorists in those days was the ugly if roomy 1,074-c.c. Cadet, which was the least-expensive Continental car available here and thus regarded as a pretty low-form of motoring life by patriotic Englishmen, although it had i.f.s. and quite a decent performance for its size; nor was it alone in looking as if it were made of cardboard and tin-cans, with the Renault Eight from France to keep it company! Indeed, in those days I had some good runs in John (B.R.D.C) Eason-Gibson’s Cadet although a 2½-litre Opel Super Six let me down with clutch failure.

During the war Servicemen were frequently seen in roomy Opels which apparently served them exceedingly well. In more recent times General Motors Opels gained a reputation for being sound but non-sporting cars. The traditional names of Cadet (or Kadett), Admiral and Olympia were retained and new models added. Recently there have been two significant developments at the Russelsheim Company, which G.M. took over in 1929. The first has been a definite attempt to infuse a sporting flavour, with rally participation and fastback coupé models, of which the 1900 GT sounds most promising, the second to introduce a new range of luxury models in Americanised style, with hydraulic tappets for Opel’s well-known side/o.h. camshaft engines and de Dion rear suspension in place of well-located rigid back axles.

Motor Sport road-tested an Opel Kadett Rally coupé in March 1968 and this year I have been able to sample a Commodore GS over a considerable mileage. The latter is a large, handsome car, a full four- or five-seater fastback with vinyl-covered roof. It may not deserve the designation “Grand Sport”, which makes me think of 1926 Amilcars anyway, but as a personalised car for the semi-enthusiast, it is an interesting proposition.

The GS version of the Commodore has a 2,490-c.c. over-square in-line-six o.h.c. twin Zenith d.d. carburettor engine delivering 140 (gross) b.h.p. at 5,400 r.p.m., on a 9.5-to-1 c.r., with an alternator as standard, and a four-speed all-synchro. Gearbox with floor control. The chassis details follow Opel practice, with coil-spring, unequal-length wishbone i.f.s. and a rigid back axle on trailing upper and lower links, using coil-springs and located laterally by a tie-bar. This Opel has a top speed of around 115 m.p.h. seeming even more rapid on account of the noise, an eager waffling sound, emitted by the smooth-running engine. The gear-change is quite good, with a gaitered, well-placed lever of average length cranked back and rising from a central well. It has strong spring loading and is smooth but a bit notchy. A sleeve surrounding the lever has to be lifted to get reverse.

The test car had been given power steering the day before I took it over, which I tested on the twisty road from Newtown to Cross Gates. It made some odd noses but is very good of its kind, because it is not unduly light and has plenty of “feel”, yet makes an easy task of parking in spite of a ratio of only 3½ turns of the big wood-rimmed wheel from one full lock to the other. The clutch is light but tricky to engage smoothly, the disc/drum power-assisted brakes effective under fairly firm application.

The overall impression is of a compact American-type of car with European road-holding and braking and a high-quality German interior. The reclining front seats are reasonably comfortable and very well contrived. The doors have excellent pulls-cum-arm-rests with 45° grips, tiny pull-out interior handles, and neat recessed interior slide-type locks. The interior black upholstery is relieved by discreet unpolished wood décor, used also for the r.h. facia panel. The 140-m.p.h. speedometer with total odometer and the combined fuel-gauge-and-heater-gauge dial have between them a miniature tachometer reading to 7,000 r.p.m. with no peak markings. The fuel gauge reads vaguely but is accurate at zero. Down on a subsidiary panel just above and separate from the transmission tunnel are three very neat and clear angled Vdo dials consisting of an ammeter, accurate clock and an oil-gauge, the last-named normally showing about 3kg./sq. cm. The padded facia contains a lockable cubby more useful for maps than cameras, supplemented by a long open well behind the gear-lever. There are big open bins, too, on each door. The black vinyl upholstery is extended to the roof lining, which is too sombre for some tastes.

A twist-and-pull T-grip facia hand-brake on the left of the steering column is less acceptable than most of the Opel’s controls. A slender r.h. stalk looks after lamps dipping with a flick action, flashing and turn-indicators. The horn is sounded from the hub of the dished steering wheel. Paired press-buttons for the right hand control the wide Bosch lamps, and a recessed ring above the tachometer, which got very hot, varies the instrument lighting. This is well-appointed car with boot and under-bonnet lamps, a lockable filler for the 12-gallon fuel tank beneath a hinged rear panel, twin tail-pipes, roof grabs, coat hooks, cigarette-lighter, anti-dazzle mirror, reversing lamps, heated back window, steering lock, neat stowages for the seat harnesses, and safety door locks, etc. The electrics are Bosch, with high-mounted Bosch halogen driving lamps, which make after dark driving enjoyable. The heater is presumably able to cope with German winters but wasn’t effective on the test car, so that lots of cold air was required to demist the screen. There are facia adjustable air-vents, cut off by levers under the dash, but these will not work independently of the heater feed. Two-speed wipers are controlled by a facia press-switch but its fellow was not arranged for screen washing on this r.h.d. car, this being done by pulling out a stiff under-facia knob with the right hand. The wide rear quarters of the two-door fastback body seriously obstruct vision when reversing or at angled junction, but wing mirrors were fitted.

The ride is commendably pitch-free but apt to suffer from lateral rocking, and it get rather lively over really rough roads. But the Commodore is generally a comfortable and restful car although the engine is too noisy when working at all hard. The cornering and the clutch felt as if enough power was being entrusted to them but as a sporting rather than a sports car which swings easily through corners I enjoyed using this big Opel. Cornering is pleasantly neutral, with a sense of latent oversteer which the slightly notchy power steering seldom has to correct. Its engine normally runs lazily at around 3,500 r.p.m., equal to 70 m.p.h. in top gear, and 5,000 r.p.m. takes the speedometer to 28, 46 and 75 in the lower gears. Although it preferred the most expensive diet, 99-octane petrol was acceptable, giving a consumption of 23.6 m.p.g. from a full tank 250 miles were covered to the red sector of the fuel gauge when about 1¾ gallons remain. A pint of oil was needed in 1,200 miles. The tyres, surprisingly, were not Firestone or Goodyear, but 165 x 14 Michelin XAs, which can be taken as a compliment to the French manufacturer. The steel wheels are smart Sport type, made in Germany and the equal, in appearance, of those simulated alloy wheels now used on several British cars. The heavy bonnet props open to reveal an agricultural-looking engine set well forward, the ribbed valve cover of which hides the special Opel valve gear. A single key opens doors, boot and fuel filler, etc. the vented body had wind-down side windows for the back compartment, much appreciated by the Motoring Dog.

The Opel Commodore GS coupé costs £1,884 in this country, tax paid, but power steering inflates this to more than £1,970. So it is unlikely to sell in any numbers, but for anyone thinking in terms of a modern-looking car which is as individualistic as it is effortless on long runs, it merits a trial run. The 1½-litre Opel Rekord Sprint coupé offers much the same amenities as the Commodore GS, is about ten m.p.h. slower, but costs £319 less, so should interest a wider range of prospective purchasers.—W. B.