When the Opel family sold its car company to General Motors in 1929 their fortune was guaranteed for many generations to come. Four decades later that wealth funded the brief and ultimately unsuccessful career of Liechtenstein’s only Formula 1 driver to date.
Early racing career
A resident of that principality for tax reasons, Rikky von Opel first competed under the pseudonym "Antonio Bronco" but his true identity soon became known. He raced in Formula Ford in 1970 and switched to Formula 3 by the end of the following season.
Von Opel joined Mo Nunn’s fledgling Ensign concern for the 1972 British F3 Championship. With a healthy budget augmented by sponsorship from Iberia Airlines, von Opel benefited from extensive testing that others could not afford and won the Lombard British F3 Championship.
Formula 1 with Ensign and Brabham
With an inexperienced driver and a small team based in the British industrial town of Walsall, von Opel and Ensign joined the F1 circus at the 1973 French Grand Prix. While Nunn increasingly gained the respect of the paddock for his striking N173 design, von Opel was dismissed as a rich kid without talent.
He started 1974 with the team but jumped ship when a works Brabham drive became available. Ninth in the Swedish and Dutch GPs, von Opel quit the sport a month later after failing to qualify in France. His record is proof that finance alone does not guarantee motor racing success.