the wise sedan that became a rally champion

The story begins with difficulty in 1968 when the brand decides to create a new car, between the Kadett and the Rekord, Opel’s top-of-the-range sedan.

Chuck Jordan is working on the 1450 project and designing a larger, more comfortable and more attractive car than the Kadett; it is intended to compete with the compacts which are beginning to settle in the automotive landscape.

The styling of the front is already fixed and the rear ends with a sloping tailgate. All is well until the first rolling models.

Reviewed and corrected due to competition

At General Motors, the 1450 project was stopped by Bob Lutz and the manufacturer’s management team. The reason ? Ford launches the Taunus and the Capri. The objectives have just changed and everything will have to be redesigned.

The mechanical base is preserved and we will start by designing a coupe, the Manta, which will be presented in the fall of 1970. The sedan?

The development of Ascona has been frozen. Its launch will not even take place in Frankfurt, but at the Turin Motor Show in October, very discreetly. And it is a wise three-volume sedan that appears.



The Voyage version, a 3-door station wagon, was mainly sold in the United States under the Buick badge; it was intended for young families who enjoyed sports recreation and for beginning entrepreneurs due to the volume available. Photo DR

Why this name?

From 1956, the Swiss subsidiary of Opel, which markets the Rekord then the Kadett, adds a luxurious finish based on specific paints and chrome logos; it is the Ascona finish from the name of a Swiss municipality located on the shores of Lake Maggiore, in the canton of Ticino.

The new Opel is therefore a tribute to this special series and claims a positioning close to the Rekord. The Ascona is offered as a two- or four-door sedan and as a three-door station wagon which will be marketed in the United States by Buick under the name of Opel 1900.


The first Ascona was a nice little saloon with wise lines intended to counter the Ford Taunus which had just come out.  Picture Vauxhall

 

The first Ascona was a nice little saloon with wise lines intended to counter the Ford Taunus which had just come out. Picture Vauxhall

Ascona A, encouraging beginnings

The Ascona was available in Standard and Luxury finishes and had 1.6 l engines of 68 and 80 hp and a 1.9 l of 90 hp then, in 1972, a 1.2 l of 60 hp which was the entry-level model.

Right from the start, true to Opel tradition, the Ascona aligns legendary reliability. Add nice lines, good interior space and contained prices and you sell just under 700,000 copies in no time.

And Ascona also allows competition; in 1974 Walter Röhrl won the European Rally Championship with a 206 hp Ascona and the following year he won the Acropolis Rally, Opel’s first World Rally Championship victory.


At the time, black was everywhere when it came to sportiness: black bonnet, black vinyl roof, special rims;  here a 1.9 l SR finish of the Ascona B. Photo Opel

 

At the time, black was everywhere when it came to sportiness: black bonnet, black vinyl roof, special rims; here a 1.9 l SR finish of the Ascona B. Photo Opel

Ascona B, full of success

In 1975 at the Frankfurt Motor Show, the second generation of the Ascona was unveiled at the same time as its cousin Manta. Few new features are announced; the dimensions are larger in order to favor the interior space and the capacity of the boot. Only the 2- and 4-door sedans remain.

In terms of engines, the basic 1.2 l is maintained; the range includes a 1.3 l, the 1.6 l and the 1.9 l petrol. In 1978, a 2 l diesel arrived.

The range was restyled in 1980 with more enveloping bumpers and a new grille. Also arrives a 2 l petrol injection which comes to compete with the Escort RS 2000 and the Golf GTI. It gets sporty.


The first generation Ascona has not seen much competition.  Yet Walter Röhrl won the European Rally Championship in 1974 on an Ascona A. Photo DR

 

The first generation Ascona has not seen much competition. Yet Walter Röhrl won the European Rally Championship in 1974 on an Ascona A. Photo DR

Ascona 400, the beast

The Ascona 400, presented in 1979, is intended for rallying in group 4. For this, Opel must build 400 copies of the car. Prudently, civilian versions will be limited to 144 hp.

For the others, the wizards are called Cosworth for the mechanics and Irmscher for the rest of the car (wing extensions, etc.). Very quickly, the engineers realize that the 2 l is not enough.

So, in an emergency, we realise to 2.4 l, we fit bigger pistons, etc. The Ascona reaches 230 hp, or even 340 hp in extreme cases. As a result, Opel won the 1982 World Rally Championship; it is the last propulsion to win, before the Audi Quattro and the Lancia Integrale.


The third generation Ascona had grown even bigger compared to its predecessor.  Road holding, comfort, and pleasure are all there.  The European press is unanimous as to the qualities of Ascona.  Picture Vauxhall

 

The third generation Ascona had grown even bigger compared to its predecessor. Road holding, comfort, and pleasure are all there. The European press is unanimous as to the qualities of Ascona. Picture Vauxhall

Ascona C, technological revolution

The third generation of the Ascona, presented in 1981, became front-wheel drive, like its little sister the Kadett. The range includes 51 versions; 2 and 4-door 3-volume sedan, 5-door hatchback, 1 station wagon for the English market and 6 different engines, from 60 to 115 hp.

The finishes available range from the L to the SR then, in 1982, a CD comes to oversee the whole with quite exceptional services for the time: electric and heated mirrors and an on-board computer. As an option, you could choose heated seats.


The Ascona C also existed in a 5-door hatchback version;  all engine versions were available.  Picture Vauxhall

 

The Ascona C also existed in a 5-door hatchback version; all engine versions were available. Picture Vauxhall

Ascona C, the best-selling

Sold in nearly 1.8 million units, the latest Ascona has transverse engines, front disc brakes and 4-wheel independent suspension.

On the mechanical side, the simplicity of manufacture and good mechanical accessibility should be noted; it was possible to change the clutch without dropping the box…

Despite its record number of sales, the Ascona was criticized for its sometimes too long transmissions, too soft shock absorbers and perfectible steering.

Over the years, the finishes are reduced; the Recaro seats disappear from the GT versions whose aluminum rims are replaced by hubcaps. In 1988, it’s the end clap; the Vectra is coming.

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