80s European Charm with American Bones: Rediscovering the Opel Ascona

    The Opel Ascona may not be considered particularly special for fans of older European vehicles, but it holds more significance than meets the eye. Produced between 1981 and 1988, the third and final generation of the Opel Ascona played a pivotal role in the German brand’s transition to the 1990s, a time when cars became more sophisticated, comfortable, and technologically advanced. The Ascona C marked Opel’s first attempt at creating a relatively affordable yet spacious, well-equipped, and practical car that operated on its front wheels. Although it was not available for sale in the United States, it shared the same platform, GM’s J platform, as the Chevrolet Cavalier CL, Pontiac J2000 LE, Oldsmobile Firenza LX, Buick Skyhawk Limited, and Cadillac Cimarron, which were sold in the US.

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    Why do we love it?

    The Opel Ascona has rightfully earned its reputation as a beloved classic for several reasons. Its elegant and timeless design, comfortable ride, and exceptional handling are just a few factors that have endeared it to enthusiasts. The Ascona’s practicality, fuel efficiency, and solid build quality made it an ideal choice for both daily commuting and long road trips. Furthermore, its sportier variants, such as the Ascona 400, have achieved legendary status among rally racing fans due to their impressive performance on the tracks. It is worth noting that the Ascona 400 was part of the second-generation Ascona lineup, with which Walter Röhrl secured the 1982 World Rally Championship drivers’ title.

    When was the car launched?

    The third generation of the Opel Ascona made its debut in 1981, replacing the second-generation Ascona that had been in production since 1975. This new iteration brought several modern updates to the table, including improved aerodynamics, enhanced safety features, and a more refined interior. It stood out as the only Ascona model across all three generations to be powered by its front wheels.

    Where did it sit in the brand’s lineup?

    As a mid-sized family car, the Ascona occupied a crucial position in Opel’s lineup. Positioned between the smaller Kadett and the larger Rekord and Senator models, the Ascona catered to consumers seeking a balance of size, practicality, and performance. This strategic placement allowed the Ascona to cater to a wide range of customers, from families to individuals looking for a stylish and comfortable daily driver.

    What engines did it have?

    The third-generation Ascona offered a range of engine options, including fuel-efficient four-cylinder units as well as more potent powerplants suited for the sportier Ascona models. The available motors included 1.3-liter, 1.6-liter, and 2.0-liter inline-four engines. Notably, the Ascona became one of Opel’s first mass-production vehicles to feature a diesel engine – a 1.6-liter naturally aspirated compression ignition mill with 55 horsepower. Depending on the engine, buyers could choose between four- and five-speed manual transmissions or a three-speed automatic. The range-topping engine boasted 130 horsepower from a 2.0-liter powerplant.

    Did it sell well?

    With approximately 1.7 million sales, the third-generation Ascona proved to be one of Opel’s best-selling models at the time. In 1988, the automaker discontinued the Ascona and replaced it with the Vectra. Throughout its three generations, the Ascona sold over 3.9 million units. A version of the car continued production in Brazil until 1996, with a significant facelift in 1990 for both the two- and four-door models.

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