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In the heart of the Opel factory in western Germany hides an old building with a rough, industrial appearance.
Yet this unassuming space houses an exceptional collection of vehicles that bear witness to the forgotten riches of this often overlooked manufacturer’s history.
Uwe Mertin is a busy man. The boss of Opel Classic, the marque’s historic arm formed more than 20 years ago, has several plates spinning at any one time: supervising the maintenance of the ex-Walter Röhrl Ascona before it leaves for an exhibition; preparing five participants ahead of a historic rally; or even inspecting the final stages of the restoration of a 5CV built under licence from Citroën in 1924.
With nearly 600 cars, motorbikes, trucks and bicycles, he is responsible for one of the largest and most impressive manufacturer collections.
Better yet, some 90% of its cars are fully functioning, too.
Spread over two floors at the manufacturer’s historic Rüsselsheim works, where the current Astra and Insignia are built, the museum includes competition cars, city cars and concept cars representing the entire history of the marque, dating right back to its very first model, the 1899 Patentwagen, and the first car designed entirely in-house, the 1903 10/12hp racer.
Like so many collections, the Opel Museum has been forced to temporarily close its doors as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic but, rather than rest on its laurels, the team has moved online with a series of virtual tours.
You can browse the collection by hall or visit curated areas with digital information boards for selected models; find out more here.
Among the more intriguing cars to look out for is the Opel Diplomat B in which US president Lyndon B Johnson was chauffeured during a visit to Germany: with its gluttonous 5.4-litre V8 and opulent blue velvet trim, presumably it didn’t feel like too much of a change of scene.
When the facility reopens you may be able to follow in his wheeltracks, too, with several of the museum’s cars available for pre-booked rides as part of the programme of special tours.
The Ascona A in which Röhrl won the European Rally Championship in 1974 is just one of many Kadett, Ascona and Manta variants that shone on the motorsport stage from the 1960s to the mid-’80s, while other competition machines include DTM Calibras and Astras, and the first official post-war Opel racer, the ex-Niki Lauda Rekord ‘Black Widow’.
Meanwhile, the delicate Opel GT bridges the road and track realms with several examples including the unique Diesel Rekordwagen (C&SC, August 2005), a production car and one of the original clay models, the Salon Experimental GT prototype of 1965.
Other former show cars include the futuristic CD styling study displayed at Frankfurt in 1969 and the pretty, rotary-engined experimental GT-W presented at the 1973 Geneva Salon.
The diversity of machinery on display, from humble Kadett estate car via rocket-powered 1928 RAK 2 record car to six-seater bicycle, is a testament to the changes of direction the marque has taken under its various adoptive parents.
The brand was taken under the wing of General Motors from 1929 until 2017, before being absorbed by PSA and subsequently becoming part of Stellantis.
The good news, however, is that far from being forgotten it aims to draw inspiration from its sister marques’ Peugeot Citroën DS Adventure programmes when the doors reopen, with plans to remanufacture parts for key historic models in the future.
Words & images: Camille Pinet
- Name Opel Museum
- Address Friedrich-Lutzmann-Ring 1, D-65423 Rüsselsheim
- Where On site at the Opel factory; tours start at Adam Opel-Haus
- How much? Prices vary according to group sizes
- Opening hours Weekdays only; check COVID-19 restrictions
- Tel 0049 6142 7 65600
- Email firstname.lastname@example.org
- Web opel.de/ueber-opel/opel-werkstour.html