Mar 19, 2014
Rüsselsheim/Essen. KAD – this acronym is not only familiar to Opel brand enthusiasts. In the 1960s and 70s, Kapitän, Admiral and Diplomat were ‘The Big Three’ vehicles that defined Opel’s upper class range. The tradition-rich brand celebrates the anniversary of its premium class trio at the 26th Techno Classica in Essen (March 26 – 30): Kapitän, Admiral and Diplomat are 50 years old.
The KAD range entered the market in March 1964. With identical bodies in a modern, linear form, the vehicles were distinguished by their equipment and engines. Five years later, they were succeeded by new, B-series models which set standards in their class with the introduction of state-of-the-art chassis technology and even sleeker styling. Opel builds the bridge to today at the Techno Classica with the Insignia Sports Tourer OPC – the top model from Rüsselsheim will also be on display in Essen. As in the past, Opel Classic presents itself together with the Alt Opel IG vintage car club, the biggest Opel fan club in the world.
The ten KAD vehicles on show at Essen encompass the entire bandwidth of the A and B model series. With a 2.6-liter, six-cylinder engine, the Kapitän A marked Opel’s entrance into the premium class in 1964. Only 113 units of the least common model in the range, the Kapitän with the optional 4.6-liter V8 engine from the Diplomat, were built. In addition, a rare Admiral V8 from the Rüsselsheim Opel Classic collection will be exhibited in Essen. The Diplomat A V8 Coupé also on show was one of the fastest series production cars in Germany in 1965. Retailing at 25,500 Deutschmarks and built by the coachbuilder Karmann, this two-door car was intended for ‘travelers of class’ and had a top speed of 205 km/h thanks to its V8 engine with 5.4 liters displacement and 230 hp.
Representatives of the B-series include a Kapitän and an Admiral, each with a 2.8-liter engine, as well as a Diplomat 2800 E, which was one of the first German six-cylinder cars to feature electronic fuel injection. The KAD exhibition line-up is rounded off by a Diplomat V8 with a 5.4-liter engine, plus two very special variants of the flagship: a Diplomat V8 with a long wheelbase from the Opel Classic collection which was used during the state visit of US President Gerald Ford in July 1975, and a four-door Diplomat 2.8 E Convertible from a private collection which was one of four vehicles modified for representation purposes by Karmann in 1970.
In the spring of 1964, Opel restructured its premium class offer and, after a break of 20 years, again set its sights on buyers of luxury sedans. Kapitän, Admiral and Diplomat were its "Big Three", as the company referred to them in its advertisements. The vehicles adopted linear design inspired by the stylistic role models of Opel’s US parent, General Motors. Designers and critics alike called this type of styling "new objectivity", a marked departure from ornamental, baroque-like bodywork.
The bodywork of the stretched and progressively designed trio from Rüsselsheim was identical and, with a length of 4.95 meters and a width of 1.90 meters, the body of the Opel premium class contenders reached a new dimension. Opel displayed its greatness!
While the Kapitän, already Germany’s best-selling six-cylinder car, was appearing as a new edition, and the luxuriously equipped Admiral continued the success of the famous pre-war model of the same name, the Diplomat became Opel's new top model. By extending its model range upwards, Opel was the only German manufacturer able to offer customers a complete product portfolio: from the Kadett to the Rekord, Kapitän and Admiral, right up to the Diplomat, every buyer could find a suitable car.
The ranking order in the premium class was determined by equipment and engine size. The Kapitän was the only car in the series with a bench seat up front, giving it a six-seater designation, while the other two models had individual front seats.
The Kapitän and Admiral came with the familiar 100 hp, 2.6-liter, six-cylinder engine, which was fitted with maintenance-free hydraulic tappets for the first time. Another new feature was the fully synchronized, four-speed manual gear shift at the steering wheel. A sporty central shift, or the two-speed automatic transmission, was offered at extra cost. A modern, dual-circuit braking system with front disc brakes came as standard.
The Diplomat’s engine was sourced from the United States: a V8 unit with 4.6-liter displacement and 190 hp powered this flagship of the model series. While the Kapitän and Admiral had a top speed of 155 km/h, the Diplomat achieved 200 km/h and accelerated from zero to 100 km/h in 11 seconds. Luxury, elegance and character were the Diplomat’s distinguishing features: the interior was dominated by deep-pile carpets, plush upholstery and a real-wood veneer dashboard, as well as a band speedometer going up to 250 km/h. A vinyl roof, reclining seats, four electric windows, side mirrors adjustable from the inside, and foot-well lights in the rear passenger compartment were additional exclusive equipment details. Hydraulic steering and braking systems, as well as fog lights, were fitted as standard.
Just one year after launch, Opel extended the appeal of the KAD model series. From spring 1965, the Kapitän and the Admiral were optionally available with the 4.6-liter V8 engine and the automatic transmission from the Diplomat. An upgraded chassis with reinforced cardan shafts, axles, wheels, tires and brakes was included in the price of 14,740 and 15,950 Deutschmarks respectively for Kapitän and Admiral V8 models, which retained their special status: only 113 Kapitän and 622 Admirals were built.
A short time later the standard versions were upgraded. They received a newly-developed, camshaft-in-head (CIH), six-cylinder engine with 2.8-liter displacement. This quiet, short-stroke, in-line engine shared its CIH design with the four-cylinder engine introduced in 1965 in the Rekord B. As the S version, the new engine delivered 125 hp and reached a top speed of 170 km/h. For model year 1968, a stronger, 140 hp version was also available as an option.
In 1965, Opel gave the Deutsches Museum in Munich a very special Admiral 2.8 S. Converted to a cutaway model in 5,000 hours of work, the exhibit provided insight into the car’s body structure and technology, replacing the Kapitän model on display since 1952. A Diplomat convertible, built by Karmann on a coupé base, and a long, seven-seat version built by the coachbuilder Vogt remained individual showpieces.
In February 1969 Opel set new technical standards in the premium segment with the new generation KAD models: fundamentally reworked stylistically and technically, they made clear statements in terms of comfort, safety and economy. Kapitän, Admiral and Diplomat had a sophisticated, completely newly developed chassis; body and interior were designed with an emphasis on passive safety. Compared with the predecessor models, the dimensions of the KAD B series were smaller, while the six and eight-cylinder engines were thriftier.
As before, the Kapitän marked the entry level into the new KAD class. Its 2.8-liter, camshaft-in-head, in-line six-cylinder engine delivered 132 hp. Right above this was the comfortably equipped Admiral, which delivered 145 hp in the 2800 S variant and 165 hp in the most powerful Admiral 2800 E version. The electronic Bosch fuel injection was an innovation and was developed especially for the six-cylinder. The modern, smooth-running 165 hp engine was also available in the top Diplomat model. Combined with a three-speed automatic transmission, the 230 hp, 5.4-liter V8 from Chevrolet was reserved for the Diplomat that reached a top speed of 205 km/h. This model distinguished itself with vertical headlamps and rear lights from the Kapitän and Admiral with their horizontally arranged lamps.
Still boasting an impressive appearance, the smooth-surfaced, no-frills body of the "Big Three" was now shorter and slimmer than the previous model series whose design was largely influenced by American tastes. Now the motto was "European with functional design and modern technology."
With the exception of the engines, the new KAD series represented a completely new design. Body structure and interior were characterized by passive safety. The high-tech, coil-sprung De Dion rear axle was the most important innovation on the chassis side. After test drives, car tester icon Fritz B. Busch summarized the qualities of the new premium model as follows: "Opel has outdone itself with this model. Engine, chassis, steering and braking are among the best I have ever come across."
Just one year after the debut of the second KAD generation, Opel streamlined the model range. In April 1970 the Kapitän was dropped and replaced by the Admiral N. The Diplomat, on the other hand, continued to grow: a long version of the Opel flagship was launched in August 1973 for top managers, ministers and heads of state. The wheelbase grew by 150 millimeters and rear seat passengers enjoyed the full benefit of the additional space.
Coachbuilders such as Karmann and Vogt produced other special versions based on the KAD models. Working as a sub-contractor for Karmann, in 1970 the Italian specialist Fissore in Turin converted four Diplomat 2.8 E models to convertible sedans with an open roof and fixed window frame. Until the summer of 1979, the Diplomat convertibles were used as prestigious shuttle service vehicles at major events to transport prominent athletes, actors, politicians and other celebrities.
The Vogt company in Bad Neuenahr took a different approach. As commissioned by Germany's second public-service television broadcaster ZDF, the specialized company converted various Admiral and Diplomat models to fast and spacious camera cars. Thanks to the large trunk lid, even bulky equipment could be easily transported.
Possibly the most attractive Opel Diplomat was launched on the market as a sporty coupé. In 1973 former racing driver Erich Bitter presented the Diplomat CD, modelled on the CD (Coupé Diplomat) study developed by Opel for the IAA car show in 1969. The body of the 2+2-seater was designed by Bitter in collaboration with the Opel Design Center. Built by Baur in Stuttgart, the luxury coupé was based on the Diplomat B.
After a successful career in the automotive elite, the end came for the "Big Three" of the B series in July 1977 after sales of 11,017 (Kapitän), 31,827 (Admiral) and 18,725 (Diplomat). In 1978 Opel's premium models for travelers of class were replaced by the completely newly designed Senator and Monza models.