50 Years of Innovation: Opel Design Studio First of its Kind in Europe
Jun 29, 2014
Advanced Studio started its creative work at Opel in Rüsselsheim in 1964
Architecture and concept was modeled after GM studio in Warren, Michigan
Design icons from Opel GT to Monza Concept
Rüsselsheim. 1964 was a year of Olympic Games – the XI Winter Games were opened in Innsbruck, and just a few months later, the Olympic flame burned at the XVIII Summer Games in Tokyo. And Rüsselsheim also extended an invitation to a special celebration. For the first time, guests were able to visit the new Opel Design Studio in building N10. For many of them it was also the last time, because after the grand opening, the futuristic-looking facilities were again closed to the public. From June 1964, forms, colors and functions of the brand’s cars were developed and decided here. “It’s easier to get into Fort Knox than into N10,” said an insider back then.
The formal opening of the building marked a milestone in European automotive history. It was the largest design studio owned by an automaker in Europe. Up until then, most European car manufacturers often commissioned external specialists for the development of new concept cars. Northern Italy, in particular the area around the capital of the Piedmont region, Turin, was regarded as the mecca of automobile design. Pietro Frua, Guiseppe “Nuccio” Bertone and Pininfarina had all set up their coachbuilding enterprises between the Alps and the Apennines. They were responsible for the design of many of the car manufacturers’ new models and concepts.
The idea for Opel’s own design studio came from US parent company GM. In Warren, Michigan, near company headquarters in Detroit, GM Styling had already been working on the future of the automobile since the late 1950s. The first attention-getting concept car had been presented even earlier: after the Art & Color Section established in 1927 and headed by Harley Earl was re-named GM Styling in 1937, just one year later GM presented the Buick Y-Job – the first genuine concept vehicle in automotive history. The goal had been to develop a new, large convertible for the Buick brand to present to the public. The building in Warren was now built on the Rüsselsheim premises, identical in form, layout and function, just on a smaller scale.
However, the Rüsselsheim design studio’s task was much more complex. It was to develop not only the design language of new model lines, but its sharp minds and visionaries were to reach out beyond the confines of daily business and research the design of future vehicles. Design was seen as strategic focus for future success, not as an end in itself. And this is exactly what made the difference. While others at best developed the shape of a new body, in Rüsselsheim thought was being put into design language and emotions, including aspects like what kind of statement, what character does the customer expect from the car of the future.
Advanced Studio was a department in N10, free from daily design work, charged not with working on what should be on the road tomorrow or the day after, but with developing possibilities and opportunities for products that would win over customers years down the road. This was a real challenge. Because as a designer back then said, if you are a step ahead of the mainstream’s taste, you are moving around on the precipice to boredom. Take a brave step further, and you have made yourself inaccessible to most people. Or to put it more bluntly: had someone entered the king’s palace in the 19th century with a tablet PC, that person would have had to reckon with being thrown in jail for subversive behavior. Maybe that is why some automobile studies look boring and uninspired just a few years after their premiere.
The Opel design studio’s task made it unique in Europe. It quickly turned into a European school for automobile design that had a magical attraction for the best in the industry. The studio’s personnel list from the past reads like a Who’s Who of the automotive design world: Anatole Lapine, Erhard Schnell, George Gallion, Charles M. ‘Chuck’ Jordan, Herbert Killmer, Chris Bangle, Murat Nasr and Hideo Kodama. And more than a few made their way to other manufacturers during their career after other brands had also established their own design studios years later. Many ideas, forms and design statements in automobiles originated in Rüsselsheim and reach back into the 1960s.
The list of design icons created by the Opel Advanced Design Studio in these 50 years can hardly be topped in its diversity. The Opel Experimental GT was the first masterpiece of work the young, committed team presented just one year after the new design studio was opened. The bold sports car already made its debut in 1965 at the Frankfurt Motor Show (IAA). Thereafter in quick succession followed the Opel CD, a streamlined coupé with a V8 engine in 1969, the GT2 with sliding doors in 1975 and the extremely aerodynamically optimized Tech1, whose drag coefficient of Cd 0.235 was an absolute sensation in the early 1980s. The women and men from the Advanced Design Studio team presented their latest work at the last IAA in Frankfurt. The Opel Monza Concept shows design solutions and technical approaches that will appear in the brand’s model lines in the coming years.