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The Opel 1.3-litre is a small car manufactured by Adam Opel AG. Production commenced in January 1934, although a few (officially 2) pre-production cars had been built during the final part of 1933.

More than two thirds of the 1.3-litres produced were produced in the single year of 1934, but the car continued to be manufactured until October 1935 by which time its successor, the innovative unitary bodied Opel Olympia, had already been in production for some six months. During its brief production run, the Opel 1.3-litre was a big seller, with 19,840 of the cars produced in 1934 alone, representing the equivalent of 15% of the overall German auto-market, though even the 1934 volume never toppled Opel’s own 1.2-litre from its top spot in the market place.

Origins

The 1.3-litre can be seen both as a potential successor and as complementary to the popular Opel 1.2 litre, though production of both cars was formally ended in the Autumn of 1935. The 1.3-litre, developed by General Motors in North America, was like its predecessor engineered with ease of manufacture in mind. The car was designed around a new “torsion resistant” box frame chassis and featured a fashionably streamlined body that incorporated, at the back, an unusually large (by the standards of the time) trunk/boot which could be accessed via a lid from outside the car.


The brakes were now hydraulically controlled, in place of the cable based system that had stopped the 1.2-litre, and which continued after 1935 to be fitted on the upgraded version of the smaller model, the Opel P4.

Innovative design

The 1.3-litre accordingly embodied visible technical progress in several important respects. Another advance much trumpeted at the time but not uncontroversial in retrospect was the inclusion of “Synchronous springing” (Synchronfederung), also recently introduced by General Motors in North America. The suspension was based on the relatively complex Dubonnet suspension system for which General Motors had acquired a license, but the General Motors approach involved further developments that attempted better to harmonise the springing of the front and rear wheels. The system included an axle beam rigidly attached to the chassis frame which reduced the unsprung weight on the vehicle, and it came with the promise of a smooth ride, but on a car as small and (by North American standards) light as the Opel 1.3-litre, it attracted criticism for a loss of directional control, especially when the car was not driven in a straight line, while technically astute critics recorded that unless the front wheels were perfectly balanced each time a new tyre was fitted, directional stability was further and alarmingly compromised by savage vibrations travelling up the steering column. As the years continued to roll, the system was presumably refined and the criticisms addressed, but the Opel 1.3 litre was an "early adopter" and with a production run of less than two years, was evidently not in production for long enough to benefit from these developments.

Engine

The 1288cc side-valve engine delivered a claimed maximum output of 24 PS (18 kW; 24 hp) at 3,200 rpm. Transmission of power to the rear wheels took place via a four speed manual gearbox without synchromesh.

Modern bodies

The fashionably stream-lined body was available as a two door “Limousine” (sedan/saloon) priced in 1934 at 2,650 Marks. Also offered was a four door “six-light” limousine. A “Cabrio-Limousine” with a foldaway roof-hood was available with either two or four doors. Buyers preferring to make their own arrangements could select an Opel 1.3-litre in “base-chassis” form for 2,150 Marks. The listed prices increased by 200 Marks in 1935, which was consistent with the continuing period of inflation experienced by the German economy in 1934.


The Opel 1.3 litre was introduced at the same time as the Opel “6” 2-litre, and was superficially similar to the four seater bodied Opel 2-litre, both cars featuring the then newly fashionable streamlined style. The 1.3 litre was nevertheless significantly shorter than even the short wheel base version of the 2-litre, with a 2,474 mm (97.4 in) wheelbase compared to the 6 cylinder car’s 2,642 mm (104.0 in) wheelbase. At the same time, the 1.3-litre had a wheel-base that was nearly 200 mm (7.9 in) longer than the 2,286 mm (90.0 in) wheelbase of the smaller Opel 1.2 litre. With its elaborate suspension and new robust chassis the 1.3-litre was also, at 700 kg, more than 20% heavier than the 1.2-litre in base chassis form, and nearly 30% heavier once Opel’s standard two door saloon/sedan body had been attached. Despite this, the 24 PS (18 kW; 24 hp) maximum output from the car’s engine was just a single 1 PS (1 kW; 1 hp) higher than on the smaller engined car. The 1.3-litre came with a listed top speed of 90 km/h (56 mph) which was not unreasonable for its size and class, but it nevertheless acquired a reputation for being seriously underpowered.

Commercial

In slightly under two years till production ended in October 1935 GM’s German daughter produced 30,758 Opel 1.3-litres making it one of the leading contenders in the German auto-market during its short life. Few survive. It was replaced by the Opel Olympia, already in production since April 1935. The first Olympia came with the same 1288 cc engine and the same 24 PS (18 kW; 24 hp) claimed maximum power level, but its modern unitary body was 110 kg (nearly 11%) lighter, making it faster and more fuel efficient. Presumably the Olympia was also simpler to produce, since the two door saloon/sedan version was advertised in 1935 at 2,500 Marks whereas the equivalent Opel 1.3-litre was by then offered at 2,850 Marks.,


In many respects the Olympia was the car that the 1.3-litre might have become, but both its novel chassisless construction and the manufacturer’s decision to give it a name chosen with marketing considerations – and the forthcoming Olympic Games - in mind, rather than a few hard to fathom digits suggested that with the Opel Olympia the company was more interested in the future than the past.