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Posts filed under ‘Car Culture’

A Local Find: 1968 Opel Kadett

October 1, 2014 by Matt

Opel Kadett Green

Some long-time Spannerhead readers may be aware of my affection for the 1970-1975 Opel Manta. I featured an example of the spry little coupe in my first Ones That Got Away series post, and mused on it again more recently. I’d love to own one, and seeing as how one of my default downtime Internet activities is Craigslist tire-kicking, I type the term “Opel” quite often in the Craiglist search field.

But Mantas are rare beasts in the US, and what pops up most frequently are GTs, Opel’s more popular, plastic-bodied mini-Corvette. Last week, though, an ad for the 1968 Kadett shown in this post appeared.

Opel Kadett Green

Built from 1965 to 1973, the Kadett B, as it’s called, is mechanically similar to the Manta, but doesn’t quite match its stablemate’s delicate proportions and detailing. The Kadett is much more prosaic-looking, but it still has a great deal of charm. This particular car has been repainted, as evidenced by the color of the engine bay and door frames, among other bits, but at least the deep green is a lovely, classic choice of hue.

Opel Kadett Interior Inside Cockpit Console

The interior needs some help. The dash is cracked in multiple places, but the seats appear to be in good shape. It’s possible the owner added the aftermarket gauges because the originals were too difficult to repair or too rare to find working replacements for.

Opel Kadett Interior Inside Cockpit Console

Some rust is in evidence on the door sill, probably a sign of additional rot elsewhere.

Opel Kadett Back Rear Seat

As with the fronts, the back seats seem to be in very good shape.

Opel Kadett Engine Motor

As far as I can determine, the engine fitted to this Kadett is a 4-cylinder, 1.5l, 64-hp CIH unit. It’s certainly not going to win any races, but the appeal of the car isn’t the performance, but the style and the experience. It’s a fair bet the carb isn’t original, but overall, the engine bay is remarkably clean. A little elbow grease and it would be very presentable indeed.

Opel Kadett Literature

The seller also includes OEM literature, always a bonus. I wonder if the car was painted to match the covers?

I’ve tried to figure out what it is exactly that draws me to these little vintage coupes, and I’ve decided it’s what I’m going to call the European Mustang Effect. As Ate Up With Motor discusses in its excellent history of the contemporary Ford Capri, small coupes like the Kadett, Manta and contemporary Capri filled the niche in Europe the Mustang did in the US: Plucky, stylish personal statements that were thoroughly customizable to each buyer’s specific preferences. They had a dash of performance (the Capri and Manta more so than the Kadett coupe), but like the Mustang, above all, their most prominent attribute was that they were—and are—incredibly cool. Other cars were faster, and cheaper and handled better, but none cornered the market on cool quite as effectively as the Mustang in America, or the Capri and Manta in Europe.

Having spent 5 of my formative years in France, and that period being the real genesis of my automotive interest, it’s understandable my initial tastes would have been shaped by what was around me at that time. So as much as car buffs who grow up in the States have an ingrained affection for the apple-pie-American Mustang and its domestic flavor of cool, I think I was weaned on the European variation of that quality. As a result, I’ve always had a semi-conscious affection for sporty RWD coupes from that side of the pond. That’s the formula that holds the greatest appeal for me.


I Hate In-Dash Navigation Screens

September 11, 2014 by Matt

Infiniti M45 2006 Interior Inside Console Cockpit

It’s a question of focus.

Since the dawn of the automobile in the late 1800s, the focus of every car’s cockpit area has been the steering wheel, and by extension, the activity that should occupy the majority of the driver’s attention while behind said wheel; namely, actually driving the car.

In the past few years, though, with the emergence of large in-dash navigation screens on even basic commuter cars like the Ford Focus and VW Golf, the steering wheel’s visual preeminence in the average car’s interior has been steadily watered down. Whenever I consider a photograph of a new car’s inside, my eyes are pulled in two different directions, alternately drawn by the steering wheel and then by the massive screen squatting in the center console. As an enthusiast, it creates a kind of uncomfortable tension in my brain where I’m subconsciously unsure of the car’s emphasis simply by glancing at the interior. There’s a visual competition going on in the cockpit, a conflict where before there was certainty, simplicity.

Mercedes Benz CLA Interior Inside Console Cockpit

So is this design shift just a personal preference, a nit-pick without larger implications? No—I don’t think it overstates the case to say that the uneasy power-sharing arrangement going on in the modern car’s interior is a bellwether of a changing societal relationship with the automobile.

Since their inception, cars have been made steadily easier to drive. Engineering ingenuity has progressively done away with the need to manage things like spark advance, choke setting or even gear changes. The tedious chore of driving now approaches the convenience of taking a stroll down the street or cooking a meal in a microwave oven. Start the car, alternately press the “go” and “stop” pedals, occasionally turn the large circular thing positioned in front of you while enduring a period of isolation in your transportation appliance, and arrive at your destination. Why not give the car’s occupants a little television to play with during the trip? It’s not like anything else of note is making a demand on their time.

I’ll admit I’m being a bit obtuse; I know full well that not everyone is a driving enthusiast, and nowhere is it written that every car owner shall read the entire owner’s manual from cover to cover and make every effort to bond with their automobile. And yes, I multitask while driving; I fiddle with the stereo and talk on my cell phone, among other things. The tipping point for me hinges on the design statement, the visual prominence given to the in-dash screen and the emphasis it usurps from the steering wheel. Aesthetically, the stereo is just one of many secondary controls, and I can put my cell phone away, but a built-in touchscreen is always there, always demanding my attention. And even if I choose to ignore it, the design decision to place it on equal footing with the steering wheel comes from someplace; it wouldn’t have been made if there wasn’t a demand for it. As drivers, we have a finite amount of attention to devote to the range of tasks available behind the wheel. I’m just saddened to witness a symbol of the shrinking slice of our “attention pie” devoted to the act of driving.

Image credits:,

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Station Wagon Perceptions

August 6, 2014 by Matt

Buick Roadmaster Station Wagon

The above represents the mental image my wife conjures whenever I utter the term “station wagon.”

It’s sad, really. I’ve had to accept it as one of those areas where “never the twain shall meet,” since when I think of a station wagon, or more commonly use manufacturer-specific terms like Touring (BMW) or Avant (Audi), I visualize vehicles along the lines of the late, great RS2 Avant.

Ford Taurus Station Wagon Rear

Speak to many folks, and while the more practical ones will concede the advantages of a wagon over, say, a regular sedan, I’m not sure their image of the body style is quite in line with the typical enthusiast perception. As for the rest of the driving population, well… My wife’s attitude toward the station wagon is probably pretty typical. It preceded the minivan, which inherited its soccer mom and neutered male connotations, associations which, in America, rather unfairly, the station wagon has never lived down.

Car buffs, for our part, tend to adopt the European mindset: The station wagon is simply the sign of a practical owner, full stop; there are no negative connotations to overcome. The body style is liberated to accept whatever capability its manufacturer choose to bestow upon it, from cheap and slow to range-topping road-eaters like the Cadillac CTS-V Wagon, Audi RS6 Avant (never sold here, sadly) and to a lesser degree, the Dodge Magnum. Even Subaru got into the act, initially offering their third-generation WRX STI only as a wagon. Enthusiasts see the body style as just another possible shape for a performance car, as valid as any sports sedan or coupe—in a sense, even more so, since the practical nature of the wagon introduces an appealing “sleeper” element to the car’s perception.

All that said, I’ve made my peace with the fact that it’s unlikely my wife’s concept of the station wagon will ever nudge closer to the more open-minded view we enthusiasts take. That’s fine; at least there are performance cars in plenty of other body styles to choose from.

Image credits:,


On The Psychology of Car Desire

December 7, 2012 by Matt

A funny thing happened as I was poring over a glossy brochure of an Audi A5 acquired from a chance visit to the dealership a few weeks ago. I felt something I hadn’t experienced in quite some time: The desire for a completely unattainable car.

That used to be all I felt as I flipped through car magazines and road tests. Being young, without (or with marginal) employment and without a driver’s license meant that every car was out of reach. But as I got older, more cars entered the realm of possible purchases, not simply because my bottom line was a bit healthier, but also because many of the cars I fantasized about in my early years had depreciated to the point where they were in reach financially. Add to that a penchant for older, boxier, non- or less-electronically-infested cars and the used car market had become my oyster, so to speak.

My experience flipping through the A5 brochure brought those two different mindsets into sharper focus. Naturally, there’s quite a bit of overlap between the two, but basically, we can distinguish between:

Mazda RX-7 RX7 FD Silver

  • The idea of a car. This is all I had in the beginning. Leafing through coffee table books on vintage Lamborghinis and pictorials of the Porsche factory museum, and reading road tests in Car and Driver and my grandmother’s issues of Consumer Reports shaped my views on automotive matters—but it remained an abstract subject. In a way, it was like “car astronomy;” the vehicles I formed opinions about were as remote to me as stars or planets. I gathered data about them from a distance, but any chance of experiencing them was absent.

    This doesn’t mean, by any stretch, that I was dissatisfied with my situation, any more than an 8-year-old is unhappy reading about dinosaurs or learning about fighter jets. Cars were confined to the realm of theory, and just the activity of organizing the various brands and their offerings in my mind and stacking them up against each other was deeply satisfying. However, as I grew older, a new form of automotive enjoyment came alongside:

    Mazda RX-7 RX7 FB SA22C Light Sky Blue

  • The idea of owning a car. This is where the rubber met the road. This is where I began visualizing myself behind the wheel of a little sports car I could actually endeavor to purchase if I were disciplined enough to save for a few months. All of a sudden, worthwhile cars were within reach, and the emotional thrust of my car interest morphed from simple fascination with cars from a distance to “How can I acquire the car I want?” So much time and energy was spent marshaling resources here and there, pondering trade scenarios, working out potential monthly payments on personal loans… I was still enthralled by theory—more than ever, in fact, now that I could dive under the hood of my latest project and familiarize myself with its intricacies—but the additional hemming and hawing over whether a purchase or trade would be the right decision came into play. I agonized over these things. There was, and continues to be, a restlessness absent the gentle succession of internal spotlights on the unattainable magazine car du jour.

That kind of anxiety-free excitement over a particular car model came rushing back to me as I perused the A5’s brochure, and the twinge of forgotten familiarity pleased me, like a comforting smell I hadn’t experienced in years. I want more of the perspective from my younger days; I need to endeavor keep the fingers of potential acquisition from reflexively closing around whatever car I may be fascinated with next. It’s just more healthy that way.

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