David Mullen takes an admiring look at Opel’s rise in Ireland from minnow to major player
Opels were sold in Ireland in the Thirties in respectable numbers before trailing-off in 1939 when the war ended sales here. The German company, like Vauxhall in Britain, had been bought by the American giant General Motors in 1929, though it could trace its roots back to 1862 when it was founded by Adam Opel.
Despite the German economy being ravaged by the First World War and Great Depression, the late-Twenties, early-Thirties weren’t a bad time for Opel and in 1928 they held 38% of the German market, as well as being the country’s largest car exporter and the first, in 1935, thanks to its mass-production techniques, to build more than 100,000 cars in a year.
The Opel Blitz light truck saw extensive use in the Second World War but bombing and the subsequent Allied carve-up of Germany, which saw a large part of the company’s facilities fall into the hands of Soviets, nearly wiped-out Opel. Recovery would be tough, but, in time, recover it did.
By 1956, Opel was back in Ireland. Its large Kapitän saloon wasn’t sold here, so the first Opel to sell in Ireland after the war was the Olympia Rekord. This was a medium-sized car and in Germany in competed against the Volkswagen Beetle. Its position in Ireland was a bit more muddled. It was neither a small, cheap car like the Ford Popular nor a big car like the Ford Zephyr. It didn’t matter much anyway – in 1956, Opel only sold thirty-two.
1957 saw a new Rekord, the P1, which didn’t set the Irish market alight either. Strangely, Opels were assembled in Ireland by two firms at the same time. O’Shea’s in Cork assembled and distributed cars for Carlow, Cork, Kilkenny, Tipperary, Waterford and Wexford whilst Reg Armstrong Limited in Ringsend in Dublin covered the rest of the twenty-six counties. The quality of the Cork-built cars was reportedly poor, with water leaks a common problem. According to Bob Montgomery’s excellent book Motor Assembly in Ireland, one employee brought the topic to the attention of senior management only to be told that customers suffering from water leaks should “buy wellington boots”. A broken Rekord, indeed!
A 1962 Irish advertisement for the Rekord P1 shows a price of £695 for the saloon and £735 for the estate or “Car-a-van”. A note on the ad says “We apologise to those who have been unable to secure delivery of the Opel Car-a-van but are glad to state that, following Opel’s increased production, plentiful supplies will be available again shortly.” Shortages notwith-standing, sales didn’t exceed 100 until 1961.
A new Rekord, the P2, arrived in 1960 and was sold as a two-door and four-door saloon, three-door estate, convertible, coupé and even a van and pickup. In Ireland, this was a natural competitor for the likes of the Austin Cambridge and Morris Oxford.
In 1963, a saloon would have set you back £699 with the Car-a-van costing £789. Problems with the O’Shea cars meant that by the mid-Sixties, all Opel assembly had switched to Reg Armstrong.