Following in the footsteps of the original pre-war Kadett, Opel’s new small family car was introduced 22 years after production of the series II ended in 1940. The new Kadett remained true to the pre-war goals of offering an affordable, technologically advanced family car to the masses. It was built to compete directly with the VW Beetle, not an easy task for any manufacturer. It was well received by the motoring public who appreciated its modern design and greater interior space.
Opel’s British sister company Vauxhall shared much of the design and production methods of these early cars and the very similar Viva was released only a year after the Kadett A’s introduction – although in typical fashion a lot was changed between the two.
Opel, now under the control of GM (with all the financial clout that went with this), was a large force among Germany’s automotive producers. It put a lot of faith in its new small car by building the dedicated Bochum manufacturing plant for the Kadett in a depressed part of Germany, which it also mirrored in the UK with the Ellesmere Port factory.
Although early models were not imported to the UK, later versions did make it to these shores. While expensive compared to the UK-built Viva, these Kadett models compared favourably in other areas such as build quality, economy and refinement.
The regular versions were not sporty cars in any way though, and from the beginning were designed to be a serious threat to the VW Beetle for an up and coming Germany. On the road, any Kadett is a relatively capable offering, combining fairly average dynamic ability and a supple ride quality. Thanks to the range of weedy power plants, the standard Kadett is generally a pleasant and characterful way of getting about – even if it’s a slight struggle to keep up with modern traffic. There are of course a few slightly more interesting options for the more keen drivers out there, such as the Rallye.
Which one to buy?
Engine choice for the A models was limited to a 1.0-litre four-cylinder, churning out 40bhp in standard form or 48bhp in higher compression ‘S’ specification. Available in two-door saloon, three-door CarAvan (estate) and Coupe versions, a total of 649,512 Type A Kadetts were sold in the short three-year production run. The saloon models sold in the greatest numbers and are the most numerous today, although understandably it’s the attractive coupe version that is the most sought after.
In 1965 Opel introduced the new Kadett B range. While effectively a comprehensive facelift, the new car was larger in every respect, and despite the weight penalty, an initial increase in capacity to 1.1-litres maintained modest performance levels. Throughout the eight year-production run, engine capacity grew through 1.2, 1.5 and 1.7-litre versions, peaking with the 1.9-litre version. The Kadett B was also made available in optional three-speed automatic guise from 1968 onwards, although you might struggle to find one of these today. Disc brakes were also available as an optional extra on some models.
Additional body styles over the Kadett A increased popularity and a total of 2,649,500 Kadett Bs were built. It was a great success for Opel, capitalising on the dwindling demand for the VW Beetle.
One of the most coveted models today is the Kadett Rallye. Only available in Coupe form, it was initially offered with the 1.1-litre power unit tuned to a 90bhp, with the 1.9-litre engine becoming available from 1967 onwards. It did well against its contemporaries and achieved some good results in motorsport too.
Whether you go for the earlier A generation or pick one of the more numerous (although still relatively rare) B series cars, the Kadett is a solidly built small family car, with strong mechanicals and a decent supply of parts.
Around 50 per cent of Kadett models manufactured were actually sold outside of Germany’s borders, reaching more than 120 countries. Searching for one today can be an adventure, as many have disappeared from the roads. It’s worth looking to its birthplace, as well as the US to increase your chances of finding a good one.
While we’re not covering them in this guide, it’s worth mentioning that the Kadett name continued to be used by Opel for many years, and after the third generation Kadett C, the car was effectively re-badged to become the Mk1 and Mk2 Vauxhall Astra.
Performance and specs
Kadett A Sedan
Engine 993cc, 8-valve OHC in-line four-cylinder
Power 40bhp @ 5000rpm
Torque 52lb ft @ 2600-3600rpm
Top speed 75mph
0-62mph 19 seconds
Fuel consumption 35-40mpg
Gearbox Four-speed manual
Dimensions and weight
Kadett B Sedan
• Mechanical components are available through various sources, especially some good online stores. Getting in touch with Opel and Vauxhall owners clubs can be a good way to increase your chances of finding some of the more elusive items too.
• Engines are well designed, and the basic 1.2-litre units went on to power Kadetts and Corsas well into the 1990s. They do benefit from regular servicing, with abused engines often developing head gasket leaks, so take a good look around the engine bay.
• Rust is a major concern with these early Kadetts, and it is imperative that the car is checked over thoroughly before purchase. A lot of otherwise decent cars have been lost to severe corrosion, and due to their generally low value, rusty examples may not be viable for restoration.
• Corrosion can set in anywhere, however the luggage compartment and footwells are singled out as particularly prone to severe rust. Replacement body panels are generally available, although quality can vary.
• Interior trim can be difficult to get so check that the cockpit is in good condition, certain items such as the headliner and carpets can be custom made however bespoke dashboard mouldings and original seats are far harder to source.
1962: Kadett A is introduced with 1.0-litre engine in two states of tune.
1964: Kadett is exported to the US and sold through Buick dealerships.
1965: Kadett B replaces A and is launched at the Frankfurt Motor Show. More body styles available as well as a more powerful 1.1-litre engine in 45bhp or 55bhp ’S’ versions. Disc brakes are now an optional extra
1967: Five door estate or ‘CarAvan’ version added to line-up. Servo assistance on Disk brakes becomes standard, and more powerful 1100 SR engine with 60 bhp introduced. 1.7-litre 75bhp and 1.9-litre 90bhp engines added to model range. Suspension upgraded from the original Kadett A setup, as well as new steering wheel, incorporating telescopic steering column. Luxurious Olympia branded models introduced
1968: Three-speed automatic becomes an option on larger engined cars
1969: Automatic option now available on all Kadetts
1970: More powerful 105bhp 1.9 litre made available as option for Rallye Sprint models. Olympia models withdrawn from line-up
1971: 1.2-litre 60bhp engine replaces high-compression 1.0-litre ‘S’ versions
1973: Three special run-out models offered, the Kadett Holiday, Festival and Grand Prix with unique trim options. With 2,691,300 units sold, the B version was one of the most commercially successful cars in Opel’s history.
Owners clubs, forums and websites
• www.vodc.co.uk – Vauxhall Opel Drivers Club forum
• www.opel-classic-parts.com – Huge online shop for classic Opel parts and spares
Summary and prices
If you are prepared to wait for the right car, a good condition Kadett A or B can be had for around £4000. Finding a car in need of some work will not require as much waiting, although you will still require patience while sourcing any replacement spares!
It’s the rarer Rallye models, as well as concourse condition cars, that tend to command considerably higher prices. Considering what they offer, these Kadetts remain eminently affordable classic cars. If you like having something a little different, the the Kadett is a very rare sight on the roads, and a good one with one of the larger engines is still a pleasant drive, with rev-happy, willing engines and a basic yet functional interior.
Stick to one of the updated Kadett Bs, make sure that the body is sound, and you should have a great little car to enjoy with the family for years to come.