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Opel Ascona… a classic? Absolutely and beyond any shadow of a doubt! It is after all one of the very successful daily heroes from back when even the smallest of villages would have a proper pub, and all the lads would congregate after school at the Hi-Fi geek to listen to the latest Dire Straits LP.

This past weekend, we featured a rare Opel Manta 400 as our Prime Find. Of course, Anders also mentioned the legendary Ascona 400 which was built on the Ascona B platform. But it all got me thinking; is the coolest car from any given model range always the one with motorsport heritage. Let’s take a closer look and travel a little further back in time while doing so…

During the early seventies, the Opel GT was at the top of the Opel hierarchy. It was a proper sportscar. Then came the Manta A – quite sporty yet with a degree of practicality too. And then there was the financially more accessible Ascona. Not really sporty at all, but very practical. Even so, it was an entirely handsome and sharp saloon design, and aided by the competitive pricing it was a favourite with many families throughout Denmark and the rest of Europe. I’m sure most of a certain age will have memories which involve an Ascona in one way or another. A little later in life I owned a newer Ascona in GT-trim, and I really can’t fault it. But back when the Ascona was at the very top of its game, I didn’t even possess a driver’s license yet. Instead I stood on the sidewalk with my school friends and watched in envy as the young suburbia hotshots would cruise up the High Street in their Ascona’s with wide wheels and loud exhausts.

And then there’s the Opel 1900 Sport Wagon… Doesn’t ring a bell? Perhaps not so odd if you’re European, as that’s not what we called them on this side of the pond. But when the American Buick dealerships decided there was a market for Opel Ascona A estates from 1971 through to 1975, that was the catchy name which they were marketed under. To be honest though, we didn’t do too bad locally in Europe either, as the Ascona estate was dubbed the Opel Ascona Voyage – sounds suitably adventurous, doesn’t it? But whether badged Sport Wagon or Voyage, the 3-door estate version of the Ascona is really quite a charming – I would almost go as far as calling it dashing – little tool. It seems the perfect companion for a valiant young man with a newly started business; or maybe just a madras in the spacious rear, ready to service the sweetest young women at the local beach.

The Sport Wagon is of course easiest identified by the US-legislated sidelights.
This perfectly period bronze metallic seems to have been a popular choice in the US.

While us Europeans were of course spared the ungainly sidelights, some poor misguided soul within Opel’s European marketing department instead figured we would want faux wood panels adorning just about every exterior surface of the Ascona Voyage. What were they thinking? Luckily, it was optional. While I suppose it has some sort of kitsch retro appeal today, I can’t imagine the European Opel-driving-public would have purchased many in this configuration.

Of course, when the Ascona A immediately became a huge sales success when it was launched in Europe in 1970, it wasn’t just down to the handsome styling. Whether in 2-door, 4-door or estate version, they were also well-engineered and equipped with sturdy and dependable engines. But where the Americans only got the 1.9-litre CIH Opel engine, we in Europe also got a smaller, more economical 1.6-litre CIH and even the puny 1.2-litre OHV engine which was really better suited for the smaller and lighter Opel Kadetts. But then again, in an Opel Ascona Voyage it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey. So why rush it?

Most of us at ViaRETRO seem drawn to classic estates, but of course, not everyone shares our passion. But be honest, how do you feel about the practical estate version of the Ascona A? To me, all it really needs is a quality Hi-Fi cassette player, decent speakers and a glove compartment loaded with cassette tapes from Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and Santana. Takes me right back to the seventies…

 

4 Responses

  1. yrhmblhst

    Nothing but agreement here! Love these little things, always have. Have never seen one with fake wood tho…have had my eye on one sitting still for 25 years or so out in the wilds of Greater Suburban Prattville; looks all there and isnt rusty – last time I checked – but hasnt moved in decades. Some day when I get rich and famous, I plan to go rescue it. The investment will be 20 times the value, but I just like em. This particular one is bright – as in Richard Petty bright – blue with the ‘RoStyle-ish’ wheels. Cute as it can be.

    One minor point tho ; American Buick dealerships didnt decide there was a market for these, or any other Opel – they were forced to take them on. GM correctly saw the market for them and decided to bring them over,. WHY they stuck em in Buick dealers I dont know – not a logical choice given the demographic of the core customer – I’m gonna assume that since buick was the lowest volume selling car line, they figured that such would be welcomed to possibly build traffic. Boy was Detroit wrong…the buick dealers, by and large, hated the things. They were roundly ignored, parts werent stocked and service wasnt provided. Few promoted the cars and even fewer showed enthusiasm for them. Poor dealer support is what killed Opel in the US, not poor cars.
    See, over here in the 50s thru the late 80s or so, GM had a plan. Ones first new car or two was supposed to be a Chevrolet. Then, as you became more ‘established’ and made a bit more coin, you were supposed to move into Pontiac. As the pontiac owner ‘matured’ , got wife and kids and that promotion into management at work, you ‘moved up’. IF you were of an engineering bent and maybe a bit of a car person, you moved up into Oldsmobile. Olds was an engineering driven company and made some really nice, and occasionally innovative cars. If you played golf and wore white belts, you went over to buick. Naturally, when you ‘arrived’ , you bought a Caddy. But, you can see, given the typical shopper at a buick dealer and the attitude of the typical buick sales deopt, why the Opels didnt fly. That, plus there wasnt near the ‘meat on the bone’ – markup- on the Opel as the core product and the strength of the German Mark at the time made the cars a little expensive for what they were in the mind of the average consumer. Buick dealers didnt want them – they were forced to take them in markets large enough to theoretically support Opel sales. ANOTHER reason to dislike buick…

    Reply
  2. Anders Bilidt

    HeHe… it’s a bit of a liability writing about anything US-market as long as we have our Yank ViaRETRO resident here… ;-)

    @soren-navntoft, I’m with you 100% – both on the Ascona A being an entirely handsome design, but especially on the estate version actually being the coolest of the model range. While I actually kind of like the faux wood on a massive US landyacht of a station wagon, it really doesn’t suit the Ascona at all. I’d have a clean Voyage in either that bronze metallic or maybe a sharp yellow, orange or perhaps even the bright blue which @yrhmblhst mentions. Oh, and naturally sitting on Opel’s incarnation of the RoStyle steel wheel. If we could also make it a 1.9-litre with a manual 4-speed box, that would just be the icing on the cake…

    Reply
  3. GTeglman

    @soren-navntoft & @anders-bilidt, I would love to have a bright blue Ascona Voyage to compliment my 1971 Opel GT.

    The four spoke steel rim is in my opinion spot on, and make it look a little more sporty.

    I’m satisfied that you call the Opel GT a proper sports car, though I have to admit that the Manta A which came only a year later than the GT is actually is a better drive, but back to the Ascona, let us not forget that it had quite a success in racing as well, with Walter Rörhl winning the 1974 European Rally Championship in a Ascona SR.

    The icing on my Voyage-cake would be a 1.9S engine, with Steinmetz manifold and a double Solex carb..- just to make it a little more fresh ;-))

    Cheers

    Reply

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