Opel Birthday Celebrations: 160 Years of Innovations for Millions
  • 1862-2022: Opel democratises innovations for 160 years
  • For all: From sewing machines and bicycles to today’s electric vehicles
  • 1899: Opel starts producing cars and quickly makes mobility affordable
  • Emotional bestseller: From Opel GT and Manta to Corsa and Mokka
  • Opel success in motorsport: From Kadett Rallye to all-electric Corsa-e Rally
  • New drivetrains: From RAK and HYDROGEN to pioneering electric brand

In 2022, Opel is celebrating a very special anniversary. For 160 years, the brand with the lightning bolt emblem has been making innovations affordable for a wide audience. This was ensured by Adam Opel himself when he founded the company in August 1862 – and later by his five sons and his wife Sophie, who energetically participated in the further development of the company and can therefore be considered the first female manager of a sewing machine, bicycle and automobile brand.

Offering customers innovations paired with emotion and tradition – the automobile manufacturer has remained true to this commitment to this day. There are numerous models from the legendary 4/12 PS “Laubfrosch”, Kadett and Kapitän to current bestsellers such as the AstraMokka and the Corsa, which is celebrating its 40th birthday this year. Just as Opel was a pioneer in the 1920s with the introduction of assembly line technology, the car manufacturer is now on the way to becoming a sustainable mobility brand that will rely entirely on electric vehicles in Europe from 2028.

“Opel has been moving people for 160 years. Today we are driven by the same spirit as the company founder Adam Opel: technology and innovations for everyone – whether sewing machines, bicycles or cars. All this with a clear view of the future, always ready to face new challenges. Many bestsellers from Opel's rich history stand for this, as do our current models, most of which are already electrified. From 2028, Opel will be a purely electric brand in Europe. We are therefore well prepared for the next 160 years,” says Opel CEO Uwe Hochschurtz.

The beginnings: From sewing machines to the biggest bicycle maker in the world

The success story began at the end of August 1862. Adam Opel assembled his first sewing machine in Rüsselsheim, laying the foundation stone for the young Opel company. Production figures quickly rose – not least because Opel accommodated individual customer wishes and designed special sewing machines for special requirements. As early as 1868, Adam Opel and his employees moved into a new factory. The company soon developed into one of the largest sewing machine manufacturers in Germany and exported to the whole of Europe.

After the sewing machines, Opel built up its next successful pillar with the bicycle. In 1886 the first penny-farthing bicycle was built in Rüsselsheim - making Opel one of the first bicycle manufacturers in Germany. Soon the range of models expanded to include tricycles and “Sicherheits-Niederräder” (“safety bicycle” with “low wheels”), and in 1888 the first factory building was inaugurated, reserved solely for the production of bicycles. Opel was quick to adopt modern technology such as pneumatic tyres, ball bearings and free-wheel hubs for its bicycles. From 1894 onwards, Opel introduced bicycles specially designed for women. The success story continued through the decades. In the 1920s, Opel advanced to become the world's largest bicycle manufacturer.

Start 1899: Affordable mobility with advanced technology and production

The decisive developmental step in the history of the company – driven forward by the five sons after Adam Opel's death – was the start of automobile production in 1899. Opel is thus one of the pioneers in this industry and one of the most traditional car manufacturers in the world. Automobile production in Rüsselsheim started with the Opel “Patent-Motorwagen System Lutzmann”. In 1906 the 1,000th vehicle was built. The final breakthrough came in 1909 with the legendary 4/8 PS “Doktorwagen”. At 3,950 marks, it cost half as much as luxurious competitors and paved the way for a broader section of the population to own their own car. The introduction of the modular system in 1910 also made a significant contribution.

Opel was the first German manufacturer to introduce large-scale production using assembly line technology. The first car to roll off the assembly line in Germany in 1924 was the 4/12 PS “Laubfrosch”, always painted green. Just three years later, the Opel 4 PS, with a base price of only 2,980 marks, was no longer an expensive luxury item for the well-heeled, but developed into a reliable means of transport for many. At the same time, thanks to rational production, the car became more affordable from year to year - and with continuously increasing performance. Demand for Opel continued to grow, and in 1931 the 1.2 litre became the first true “people's car”.

The next revolution in production followed soon after. In 1935, the new Olympia model became the first German mass-produced vehicle with a unitary all-steel body, which, thanks to its low weight, ensured improved driving performance and low fuel consumption. For the first time, the new design enabled the so-called “marriage” between the body and the power units. The entire production process was thus faster and more efficient, paving the way for the construction method to enter large-scale production.

With heart and mind: Innovative bestsellers and new car classes

Over the decades, Opel has repeatedly set trends with new models and vehicle variants and created true bestsellers. The most enduring and traditional model line was the Kadett, the first version of which saw the light of day in 1936. In 1962, the Kadett A became a million-seller: as a compact car, it was the driving force behind the German “economic miracle”, and in the 12th generation – since 1991 under the name Astra – it continues to ensure that innovations find their way into the compact class. Opel remains conscious of its tradition. For example, the side “gill”-look in the new Astra hatchback is reminiscent of earlier Kadett generations.

What is now known as the Astra and Insignia Sports Tourer rolled off the production line a few decades ago as the Caravan. Here, too, Opel played a pioneering role. In 1953, the carmaker launched the Olympia Rekord Caravan, a mixture of “car and van”, the first large-series station wagon from a German manufacturer. But Opel was also an early player among the “big stuff”. The first post-war Opel, a 1.5 tonne Blitz truck, left the factory in 1946. Today, the light commercial vehicles ComboVivaro and Movano, all of which have already been electrified, are practical, have a large load volume and are fully up to date – the latter even comes in two CO2-free versions: the battery-electric Vivaro-e and the hydrogen fuel cell transporter Vivaro-e HYDROGEN.

Opel has also enjoyed great success with smaller models over the decades. First and foremost, the Corsa small car, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. Right from the start, it quickly became the best-selling vehicle in its segment and continues to be a success. In the current generation, electrified for the first time, it is once again a bestseller in its class.

Opel also established a new vehicle class in 1991 - the Frontera, an “all-wheel drive recreational vehicle”, made its debut at the Geneva Motor Show. The compact Opel Frontera Sport was the first to demonstrate what is now widely known as an SUV, and the five-door Frontera with a long wheelbase became the forerunner of the modern off-road vehicle. Around 30 years ago, it immediately became the market leader and triggered a four-wheel drive boom throughout Europe.

In 1999, Opel once again demonstrated how it combines heart and mind with innovative solutions. With the Zafira and its highly variable Flex7 concept, Opel defined the new segment of seven-seater compact vans. For the first time, a seven-seater could be transformed into a two-seater with a large load area in the blink of an eye - without having to remove any seats.

Safety and comfort for all: Airbags, Intelli-Lux LED® Pixel Light and AGR seats

Safety and comfort across all vehicle classes have always been Opel's top priorities. From the 1930s onwards, the self-supporting unitary body made the Olympia, Kadett and Kapitän more stable and lighter. The Rekord C was also an innovator for the brand. When it was launched in 1967, it was the first Opel car to have coil springs on the rear axle. It also set standards in its class with front disc brakes and a brake booster. In addition, the telescoping safety steering column became standard in Opel models as early as 1968.

In 1991, the Astra was fitted with the Opel Safety System with side impact protection, anti-submarining ramps in the seats and seat belt tensioners. And in 1995, Opel was the first German car manufacturer to introduce full-size airbags for driver and front passenger as standard on all new cars.

Opel also democratises lighting technologies in the medium, compact and small car classes that were previously only available in much higher-priced vehicles. In 2003, Opel was the first vehicle manufacturer to introduce AFL (Adaptive Forward Lighting), dynamic cornering lights and 90-degree cornering lights in the mid-size class; in 2008, the next generation of lights, AFL+, also made its debut with the introduction of the first Insignia. And in 2015, the Opel Astra was the first to feature the adaptive Intelli-Lux LED® Matrix Light, the latest generation of which, as Pixel Light with a total of 168 LED elements, now provides situation-specific, precise illumination in the InsigniaGrandland and the new Astra without dazzling other road users.

In addition to safety, Opel drivers can also count on comfort. The ergonomic seats available in many models are not only adjustable in many ways and offer options including ventilation and massage functions – they have also been certified by the Aktion Gesunder Rücken e.V. (Healthy Back Campaign).

“Only flying is nicer”: Sporty cars that arouse the emotions

The emotions that extraordinary cars can arouse were recently demonstrated by the Opel Manta GSe ElektroMOD - the electrified homage to the Manta sports coupé that became a cult car in the 1970s and 1980s. Even back then, the Manta A inspired with its design and characteristic front "visor", which today adorns all new Opel models from the current Mokka to the Grandland as the Opel Vizor.

However, the company had already underlined its reputation as a manufacturer of particularly dynamic series-produced models. In 1965, Opel presented the Experimental GT, the first concept car from a European car manufacturer, at the IAA motor show in Frankfurt. The two-seater broke the mould of conventional European car design. Only three years later, the first series-produced Opel GT rolled off the production line. Its performance, unique design and attractive price made the GT a hit with buyers, and it is still a real dream car today.

In 1990, the Opel Calibra seamlessly joined this line-up. With its streamlined wedge shape, the sleek model scored points with customers and set a world record drag coefficient of 0.26. The optimum aerodynamics combined with powerful engines producing up to 150 kW/204 hp pushed the maximum speed to 245 km/h.

Sporty cars in search of records - that has always been part of Opel. The most spectacular example from the early days was set on 23 May 1928 by Fritz von Opel, Adam Opel's eldest grandson. With the RAK 2 rocket car, he reached a speed of 238 km/h on the Berlin Avus.

Almost five decades ago, Walter Röhrl put Opel front and centre in motorsport. In 1974, he and co-driver Jochen Berger became European Rally Champions in an Ascona SR, and in 1982, together with Christian Geistdörfer, he won the Monte Carlo Rally in an Ascona 400 against strong four-wheel drive competition, and at the end of the season claimed the World Rally Championship title.

The Opel Corsa-e Rally is currently proving that top performance and environmental compatibility are not mutually exclusive. With the emission-free small car, Opel is the first manufacturer to develop a battery-electric rally car that has been competing in the ADAC Opel e-Rally Cup, the first electric rally one-make cup worldwide, since 2021 and thus demonstrates the future of rallying.

For the environment: From catalytic converter as standard to electric pioneer

Opel is aware of its responsibility towards the environment and acts accordingly - then as now. As early as 1985, Opel presented the Corsa 1.3i, the first European small car with a three-way catalytic converter. And in spring 1989, the brand with the lightning bolt emblem was the first European manufacturer to equip all models from small cars to large limousines with the exhaust gas after-treatment system as standard. To further increase the sustainability of the vehicles and the materials used, Opel is the first car manufacturer to have implemented a recycling cycle for synthetic materials just one year later.

Opel was already on the road electrically at an early stage - and at a “record pace”. As early as 1971, the Elektro GT set six sensational electric car world records on the Hockenheim racetrack. Opel continued its role as electric pioneer in series production vehicles as well. With the electrified Opel Ampera, Europe's “Car of the Year 2012", the traditional brand established a new segment in the European automotive market. With its range extender, the coupé-like four-seater was the first electrically driven vehicle suitable for everyday use with a range of around 500 kilometres. The Opel Ampera-e, a purely battery-electric compact car, followed in 2016. A single charge of the 60-kWh lithium-ion battery provides a driving range of up to 520 kilometres (according to NEDC). And in 2019, Opel launched the Corsa-e, the brand's first all-electric compact car, affordable e-mobility accessible to many customers across Europe. The range of electric models – as plug-in hybrids as well as battery-electric – has continued to grow ever since, so that by 2024 all Opel models will also be available in electrified variants.

The latest addition to the zero-emission range is the new Vivaro-e HYDROGEN fuel cell van. It is no coincidence that an Opel Vivaro-e serves as the technology carrier for the innovative drive concept. Stellantis and Opel have gained a lot of experience in more than two decades of developing hydrogen fuel-cell-drive – from the HydroGen1 feasibility study to the HydroGen4 test fleet in customer use – and have expertise in this field that covers all areas of the system.