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…