Tuesday, February 28, 2012

I dreamed an Opel world

Where do you get these photos from? A question that is asked me quite a few times. Subject: the meanwhile famous 1960s Opel calender photos. Easily the most popular of my photos on Flickr, often re-blogged, and they keep gathering interest. And the collection keeps growing. Time to tell a bit more about this not so common hobby.

1970 Opel Rekord Coupé

My father was most of his professional life employed as the bookkeeper of an automobile dealership, that during the 1950s and 1960s sold Opels and Chevrolets. Towards the end of the year my father used to bring various calenders home that arrived at his office from banks, insurance companies, and of course, Opel. When my Dad found a real nice calender, he would put it under the Christmas tree for me. The Opel calenders were among the best, two plates per month plus a large cover photo, so 25 full colour photos for me to enjoy. The 1965 Opel calender was the first one he managed to secure, and I still remember how in love I was with all the great photos, depicting Opels in several countries. I had to wait until Christmas 1967 for the next Opel calender, and the 1970 edition was the last one my father took home, because by then the Opel years were history for the car business that employed him. Opel went out, Toyota moved in. It was not a bad move for sales, but it was for calenders. I don't know if Toyota calendars were either scarce or snapped away by others. I think I only ever had one, and it was a pathetic substitute for the lavish Opel calenders, since they only showed nice touristy images of Japan, with a tiny Toyota photo on the bottom end of the pages. So, what was so special about these Opel calenders, you might ask? Were it the cars? Maybe. But I grew up with Opels and they were often the subject of conversation, so the cars of the German company from Rüsselsheim were the ones to have in my young eyes.

1969 Opel Diplomat

Opel was big in those years, but still played second fiddle to Volkswagen in the sales charts in the 1960s in my country. That only changed in 1969, when the aging Volkswagen Beetle could not longer withstand the massive success of the Kadett B-model – and Opel would lead the charts here for at least 25 years. The Kadett was everything an Opel always was: roomy, a cavernous boot, reliable, and a decent price tag. Everything a family was looking for. The ultimate John Doe car, except the bigger and more expensive Kapitän, Admiral and V8 Diplomat of course, that catered for the executive market. But the Kadetts and Rekord were the money makers, and being the sensible choice was both Opel’s unique selling points and image problem alike. Opels were not special, and their handling left a lot to be desired for. An image problem the marketing people addressed by adding coupes to the program. The 1962 Rekord P2 was the first Opel to offer this flashy body style, basicly a low roof, no rear head room and higher price tag. Oh, and a lot of brightwork, optional whitewalls and a cigarette lighter of course. But ultimately, that was not enough. Because times were changing.

1968 Opel Commodore Coupé

When GM introduced the Corvair Monza, it spawned the Mustang at its rival in Dearborn. And the Mustang led to the Camaro and Firebird at Chevrolet and Pontiac. And then the entire automotive industry had to tap into that fountain of eternal youth visualized by images of speed and power. The result was tsunami of pony and muscle cars from almost any manufacturer. In Europe this led to the birth of the Capri at Ford, and Opel answer was the Manta, and it's best looking automobile of all times, the GT sportscar that follwoed the lines of its bigger cousin, the Corvette. But before the GT and the Manta were ready for the showroom and the road, Opel had to rely on cosmetic measures. GT packages, striping, extra lights on the front bumpers – red, yellow and orange coupes promising speed and sportscar handling, while maybe only adding a few horses to the power and a few kilometers to the top speed. And if you were not into the faux pony and muscle cars wannabees, elegant coupes, even pillarless hardtops for the Rekord and Commodore, were yours to choose from. All this was of course proudly shown in full colour calender plates. Two per month, nonetheless. And a young boy dreamed when he looked at the photos. And not only because of the cars triggered his imagination, but the exotic photo locations could not be overlooked either. Think about it: places as far as Paris, Switzerland and Greece. These were the Wirschaftswunder years. People bought cars, and discovered Europe! And there I was, dreaming to be there too in my Opel Commodore GS Coupé.

1969 US-spec Opel Kadett

Reality was a bit more down to earth for our family. We were always lucky to have a car, usually with an Opel badge, save for two front wheel drive Ford Taunus'. The cars were not brandnew, sometimes it was a six year old Kapitäns, sometimes a one year old Kadett. But whatever car we had, we traveled in summer to our own exotic destination, being it the Dutch province of Limburg, or the mluntains in Switzerland. I lived in an Opel country, and I dreamed an Opel world. Who can blame a young boy, at an age and at times that everything looked so promising? So, it will not come as a surprise to you, that I always kept these plates, as a physical proof of my Opel coloured imagination of times gone by. The calenders were no flip overs, but of the tear off kind, so they could not survive in original comdition. But all the plates were kept in big sturdy cardbox envelop, and later moved to large albums whit plastic envelop pages to protect them. That's how the 1965, 1968 and 1979 calenders plates were preserved over decades. Some years ago, when I added my photos to Flickr, I decided to scan the calender plates. And it felt good that so many people liked them. I also added a collection of digital vintage Opel publicity photos, but there's nothing like the calender plates you have at home. That's why I, thanks to the internet, started collecting Opel calenders. 1963, 1964 and 1967 are meanwhile added to the collection, and I'm scanning the photos of these treasures now. Maybe, just maybe, one day I'll have all the 1960-1970 calenders. Not sure if I will be that lucky. But as I write this, a 1960 calender is on its way to my mailbox. I just can't wait.

My Opel calender photos set here
My Opel publicity photos set here

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