The Opel Rekord Series E was a large family car, replacing the Rekord D on Opel's Rüsselsheim production lines in August 1977, following the end of the summer vacation plant shut-down. It shared its wheelbase and inherited most of its engines from its predecessor, but the bodies were completely new.
In October 1982 the Rekord E was extensively reworked, retaining the central portion of the body, the same windows and the principal elements of the substructure, but with redesigned front and back ends, and with several significant new engines.
The Rekord E's 9 year production run was far longer than that of any previous generation of Opel Rekord. It became the third Opel Rekord to exceed a million units produced, but it took longer to reach that target than its predecessor. By now eye watering increases in fuel prices had persuaded many middle market customers to down-size. The Opel Rekord was perceived as a large family car even in its West German home market where, traditionally, family cars were a little larger than in southern Europe.
The Rekord E was sold in the UK badged as the Vauxhall Carlton, initially identified by a reworked bonnet/hood panel, and after 1982 differentiated by little more than the badges. Despite the UK branding, the Carltons were all produced at Rüsselsheim, leaving Vauxhall's British plants to concentrate on Cavaliers, Chevettes, Vivas and their successors.
The car was developed by Opel and a direct development of a succession of previous Opel Rekords, but during the closing decades of the twentieth century General Motors displayed a growing strategic interest in internationalizing their products, and the underpinnings of the Rekord E became known as the General Motors "V-platform". Cars based on the Rekord E (V-platform) were also built at General Motors plants outside Europe.
Opel Rekord E1 (1977-1982)
Despite sharing its wheelbase and, at least initially, its engine range with the car it replaced, the Opel Rekord E as launched at the 1977 Frankfurt Motor Show was slightly wider, slightly longer, slightly higher and, with larger windows, significantly heavier than the Opel Rekord D. Inside it was noticeably more spacious.
Plaudits for the technologically impressive (though commercially unsuccessful) NSU Ro 80, introduced in 1968, had prompted a revived interest in aerodynamics among West German automakers, and the Rekord E came with claims of an improved drag coefficient of 0.42 C.)
The monocoque steel bodied cars offered seating for five. Top seller was the saloon/sedan, available with either 2 or 4 doors, although by now the West German market, which had for many years retained an appetite for larger cars with just two doors, was becoming more like the other major automarkets of western Europe in expecting cars the size of the Rekord to provide rear seta passengers with their own doors. The 4 door Rekord comfortably outsold its 2 door sibling.The was also a "Kombi" station wagon with three or five doors, accounting for approximately 20% of Rekord E1 sales.
Opel also offered a three door delivery van combining the driving experience of a car with the load carrying capability of a small commercial vehicle: this was in most respects identical to the station wagon except that the rear side windows were replaced with metal panels. This configuration of vehicles offered self-employed small traders tax advantages in some countries. 30,477 Kasten-Lieferwagen (delivery van) Opel Rekord E1s were produced.
For the first time since 1961 no Opel Rekord coupé was listed. However, customers wishing to enjoy style at the expense of rear seat headroom had not been abandoned to the competition, having been catered for since September 1970 by the company's stylish new Manta.
Petrol / gasoline
Opel had introduced a new generation of petrol/gasoline engines in 1966 with the Rekord B and these were the engines that reappeared in the Rekord E in 1977. As before, the stroke length was fixed at 69.8 mm: differences in engine size were achieved by varying the cylinder bore. The engine featured an unusual Camshaft in Head (CIH) configuration. The chain-driven camshaft was positioned directly above the cylinders but this was not a conventional ohc design. The camshaft operated the valves using rocker arms because the camshaft itself was positioned too low above the cylinders to permit direct action from the camshaft on the valves ends. One reason for this may have been cosmetic. Opel's so-called (CIH) engine configuration allowed the Rekord to incorporate the low bonnet/hood lines that style-conscious product development departments called for.
The smallest power unit at launch was a 1698 cc engine with the low 8.0:1 compression ratio and 44 kW (60 hp) as on the predecessor. The engine had seen its power output reduced during its time in the previous model following the reduction in standard octanes on West German forecourts in response to reductions in permissible lead levels in motor fuel. This, combined with the increased weight, of the Rekord E to provide rather an underpowered package. The engine presumably cost much the same to produce as similarly configured larger engines and from the point of view of the costing department it no doubt made sense that customers specifying a car with this "1.7N" engine were, according to the manufacturer's price list, charged exactly the same as customer specifying the greater power (and barely enhanced fuel economy) available from the Rekord E when power by the low compression "1.9N" engine. Few Rekord E customers selected the 1.7 litre engine and it disappeared from the list in 1980.
The more popular entry level power unit during the early years of the Rekord E was the 1897 cc engine, also with a low compression ratio and so content to use basic grade low octane petrol/gasoline. Powered by this unit, the Rekord E's maximum claimed power output was 55 kW (75 hp), just as it had been when the same unit was fitted in the Rekord D.
Two years before production of the Rekord D came to an end, Opel had added to its engine palette a bored out 1979 cc version of their (CIH) engine, and this engine size reappeared in the Rekord E1 with three different power output levels, being 66 kW (90 PS), 74 kW (100PS) and 81 kW (110) PS. The first of these, known as the "2.0N" came with a low 8:1 compression ratio and used basic grade fuel. The 74 kW unit, the "2.0S", had a 9:1 compression ratio and drivers using this engine were required to pay for "super" grade higher octane fuel. The 81 kW "2.0E" engined Rekord also called for higher octane fuel and was the first Opel Rekord to feature fuel injection.
This was rendered the more significant because during the 1980s legislators across western Europe would require automakers to fit catalytic converters to petrol/gasoline fueled cars, and these would need to be used in conjunction with fuel injection because of a belief at the time that the imprecision of the fuel amounts injected with traditional carburettors created a risk of unburnt fuel emerging from the engine and burning or exploding in the converter, permanently and expensively damaging it. However, when the Rekord E was introduced in 1977 the challenges of catalytic converters, although already a familiar current challenge for General Motors in North America, were still a few years ahead for the European automakers. The Fuel injection system on the Rekord E came from Bosch who had already acquired extensive expertise of the relevant technologies working with Volkswagen. The system employed on the first fuel injected Rekords was the Bosch L Jetronic system, replaced towards the end of 1981 with the LE Jetronic.
The 2,068 cc diesel engine with which in 1972 Opel had made their bid for a slice of the lucrative stranglehold that Mercedes-Benz enjoyed over the taxi market reappeared on launch in the Rekord E still offering 44 kW (60 PS) of maximum power. However, the new car was heavier than its predecessor and the market had also developed in the intervening half decade. Just a year later, in 1978, the engine was replaced with a bored out 2,260 cc version for which 48 kW (65 PS) was claimed. As before, the diesel engine was taller than the petrol units designed for the Rekord and diesel powered Rekord Es were differentiated by a long hump shaped ridge along the centre of the bonnet /hood, necessary to accommodate the engine block.
By now Ford were also looking for a share of the taxi market with a Peugeot-powered diesel version of their Granada model and Peugeot's own diesel powered 504 was itself becoming an increasingly serious competitor, especially in shared European export markets. The diesel powered Rekord E matched its competitors in many respects and - at least in terms of undiscounted published prices - was generally cheaper than the Mercedes models, but somehow Mercedes-Benz continued to dominate the taxi market in Germany and the surrounding western countries.
For markets - notably Italy - where car tax increased savagely for car with engine capacities above two litres a reduced diesel engine of 1,998 cc, and offering a maximum power output of just 43 kW (58 hp) was available, this being the engine more usually specified for diesel powered versions of the smaller lighter Opel Ascona.
The standard transmission package was a manual all-synchromesh four speed gearbox, controlled using a centrally positioned floor mounted gear lever. There were plans to offer a new five-speed transmission, as in the Opels Senator and Monza, but when, in 1980, this was still not ready the manufacturer instead offered to buyers of the 1979 cc petrol/gasoline powered Rekords, for an extra DM 520, the option of a newly developed 4-speed manual transmission incorporating an overdrive: this was intended to provide the chance to achieve improved fuel economy at a time when fuel efficiency was moving up the agenda of European car buyers coming to terms with the belief that the "era of cheap fuel" was over for good. Nevertheless, relatively few customers opted for the "four speeds with overdrive" transmission option.
Buyers could also specify a 3 speed automatic transmission. The system used was the three speed TH180 unit from the manufacturer's transmission plant in Strasbourg.
At the front the suspension was redesigned, now incorporating MacPherson struts. The result was more compact, lighter, and probably cheaper to assemble than the uneven wishbone arrangements on the previous model, and the car's handling benefitted. Unfortunately Opel took a "one end at a time" to their suspension upgrade, however, and at the back the Rekord E retained from the previous model a swing axle tamed with four trailing connector arms, a Panhard rod like system and an anti-roll bar, in combination with coil springs and shock absorbers.
Commentators felt that by now the swing-rear axle based rear suspension fell short of mainstream west European standards in terms of the handling characteristics that it conferred on the car. However, customers wishing for more control over the back axle during fast bumpy rides could specify a "sports package" in the Opel Rekord E: the package included replacement of the standard oil-filled shock absorbers at the back of the car by gas-filled shocks. There will no coubt have been a trade-off in terms of a firmer ride in exchange for reduced wallow.
The braking configuration was also essentially that from the previous Rekords, with a dual circuit hydraulically controlled system along with the brake servo as before, and incorporating, on larger engined versions, a brake force limiter for the rear brakes. The car used disc brakes at the front and drum brakes at the back.
There was a handbrake control light included in order to discourage drivers from setting off without fully releasing the handbrake.
Trim and equipment packages and special editions
Various different packages of trims and options were offered. These was a "base" Rekord, a luxury version branded as the "Rekord Luxus" and a "Rekord Berlina" which offered a still more opulent level of comfort and equipment. On the outside all cars other than the base version featured a rubber "protection strip" along the side of the car, and further differentiation was apparent from the differing levels of chrome trim and differently shaped steel wheels. On the inside trim qualities and fabrics varied according to version, and the "Berlina" featured a steering wheel with four thin spokes rather than two thick ones.Between 1977 and 1982 the precise details of which items were included in which trim package was periodically modified.
The extensive list of optional extras included a "Sports package" offered on all except the 1.7 litre cars, including various extra dials on the dash-board, halogen head-lights and gas filled shock absorbers for the rear wheels. Customers could also choose from a range of radios and speakers. One of the most eye catching options, featured for the first time on an Opel Rekord, was air conditioning, but for this feature the price was provided only "on application". The very small number of Rekord E1s delivered with air-conditioning suggests that the prices quoted were very high, and that air-conditioning was more a marker for Opel's future than a realistic option for Rekord customers in 1980.
The tactic continued of stimulating sales at quiet times of year by offering special editions - cars equipped with a package of options and advertised at a lower price than the buyer would face if simply equipping a Rekord with the same options from the standard price list. With the Rekord E1 the special editions included the "Rekord Regent", the "Rekord Royale", the "Rekord Classic", the "Rekord Touring" and the "Rekord SR/E".
Overall the Rekord E1 sold at approximately the same rate as its predecessor and in that respect experienced commercial success. Nevertheless, the automarket in West Germany and the surrounding countries had grown substantially in the 1960s and (if more erratically) the 1970s. West Germany remained Europe's largest automarket, and here the latest Rekord did not dominate the market for family cars in the way Rekords had done fifteen years earlier. From the long-standing rival, Ford Germany, data show the Ford Granada/Consul, with 1,619,265 cars produced between 1972 - 1977, being produced at a far higher rate than the Rekord, although these figures take no allowance for the large proportion of Granadas sold the UK, another major European auto-market and one where the Granada inherited the market niche formerly occupied by the home grown Ford Zephyr.
Back in West Germany, Audi now enjoyed the commitment and financial backing of Volkswagen enabling them in due course to expand production at their Ingolstadt facility in response to demand of the Audi 100. Between 1976 and 1982 Audi produced 896,299 Audi 100 models, while between 1977 and 1982 Opel produced 962,218 Opel Rekord E1s. Half a class down Volkswagen's competent and modern Passat captured the mood of the market place, seducing potential Opel customers in a way the K70 had not. Half a class up from the Rekord BMW, close to bankruptcy in the early 1960s, now had the financial muscle to invest in growing production capacity for their 5 series at their own new plant in Dingolfing.
The Opel Rekord retained a powerful position in the market place, but that position was increasingly constrained on several fronts. By the time the Rekord E1 was replaced, in 1982, by the extensively upgraded Opel Rekord E2, Opel Rekords were losing market share, and the Rekord E2 would be produced at a significantly lower rate than the Rekord E1.