In the mid-eighties Opel took the lead in the hot hatch market with the announcement of its ‘T’ car Kadett GSi. The 1.8 litre hatch took South Africa by storm and soon became a must-have for the young and young at heart enthusiast motorist.
Before the opposition could catch its breath the company followed up with the Kadett Super Boss. Powered by a two litre 16-valve engine with cylinder head design by Cosworth and a handling package to match, this car set new benchmarks in the class and set production class circuit racing alight around South Africa.
While volume production models focused on more ecologically friendly engines, Opel continued to explore performance options for its vehicles on a limited volume basis. This process became the responsibility of an Opel subsidiary, Opel Performance Centre (OPC) in 1997.
The OPC operating brief is quite simple. Explore and expand Opel technology to its performance boundaries to produce a range of exclusive high-performance cars that offer superior driving dynamics and a distinctive, sporty design but are at the same time well suited to everyday driving conditions. To achieve this there is close collaboration with Opel’s International Technical Development Centre.
All OPC vehicles benefit from the extensive experience of Opel’s motor sport engineers in the German Touring Car series, rallying, and Formula 3.
The first product from the Opel Performance Centre (OPC) was based on the Astra and enjoyed success beyond expectations. This first Astra OPC wasn’t driven by an identified market need (that would come later) but rather by necessity.
Opel wanted representation in the German Clubman motorsport formula with its then new Astra to continue a proud tradition in competition. To do this it had to have a homologated vehicle with at least 2500 examples produced before the German Motorsport Federation would sign the vehicle off for competition. The Astra was chosen for this transformation.
The concept was quite straightforward, take a standard Astra and transform it into a circuit racer, but because Opel had to sell 2 500 of the vehicles, it would also have to be a fully functional road car.
The transformation began with changes to the body to provide improved aerodynamic performance which in turn provided a styling point of difference from the standard Astra. Power came from a spirited 2-litre naturally aspirated engine developing 118 kW fitted into a well tuned chassis with powerful brakes. This package provided acceleration from rest to 100 km/h in 8,2 seconds and a top speed of 220 km/h, both quick for this generation of small cars. The package introduced a huge enjoyment factor for the enthusiast motorist, and it was competitively priced to boot to provide a unique blend of performance and value for money.
A limited production run of 3 000 units was laid down and sold out within just four months of introduction to the surprise of Opel. It was immediately apparent that there was scope for this type of vehicle outside of competition users as performance minded buyers clamoured for an exciting motoring experience.
Driven by the wide spread interest in the Astra OPC, a second generation of the concept was developed for introduction towards the end of 2002. This new version took performance to new heights with a significant power boost.
Further development of the engine included the addition of a refined exhaust turbocharger to increase maximum power to 147 kW. Maximum speed went up to 230 km/h with acceleration to match. The hot hatch had just got hotter with true sports car performance.
The success of the OPC concept was transferred to other models in the Opel range, most notably the Zafira. The concept of sporty handling and performance together with space and functionality produced a unique sports van. The market responded by buying, rapidly filling the order book for the full 12 000 unit production run of the first generation of the world’s fastest production minivan. The OPC concept was now well proven.
With the introduction of the new Corsa came an announcement from Opel that they would add an OPC version of the stylish new small hatch to the line up. This model joined the existing range of OPC models based on the latest generation Astra, Zafira, and Vectra.
Both the Astra and Zafira models have established themselves amongst sports minded buyers in South Africa. The new Corsa OPC joined these two OPC models in the General Motors South Africa Opel range in March and has captured the imagination of enthusiast drivers in the small hatch market.