Sunday, July 26, 2015

A WORLD CAR THAT WASN'T

Opel Kadett B
In 1972 GM Europe began planning a replacement for the stodgy, ugly Opel Kadett B. The project was called ‘Project 909’, and the concept was based on GM’s T-car platform.

Opel Kadett C coupe






The design was styled in Opel’s HQ at Russelsheim as a 4-door and 2-door sedan, a 3-door hatch, coupe and wagon.

Opel Kadett Kombi





GM Detroit overlords decided the car would be sold internationally as a timely response to the rapidly-growing demand for light, fuel-efficient cars. 

Mind you, they never expected the car to sell well in the USA, but product planners included America in the global lineup for what was shaping up as a ‘world car’.

Chevette - GM do Brasil
The car was to be launched first in Brazil, in August 1974, as the Chevette – a badge the car would wear as a Chevrolet (in the USA) and a Vauxhall (in the UK).

The Brazilian car was a two-door sedan, and the Vauxhall version was a three-door hatchback.

Vauxhall Chevette 'City'

GM’s Japanese partner, Isuzu wanted a replacement for its ageing Bellett, and GM’s Asia-Pacific chief suggested Isuzu join the program.

In Australia General Motors-Holden said it would take a version. Each international division of GM was thinking along the same lines – it was virtually a world car, sold in identical versions in every market, so cost of production could be constrained.

GM in Detroit decided Isuzu would build the Japanese-Australian prototypes, which would be a four-door sedan, powered by Isuzu’s excellent 1.6 litre  G161Z engine, which it used originally in the Bellett.

By May 1974 Isuzu’s prototypes were on the road in both Fujisawa and Victoria, Australia.

A good friend of mine, David ......, used to often make his way into the Holden proving ground at Lang Lang, about two hours south east of Melbourne in the foothills of the Dandenong Ranges.

David would photograph any and all cars he saw on the road test circuits, and the high speed banking, and send the photos along to me to identify. This time David called me to say he'd shot a 'little red jigger'!


As Editor of Australia’s leading monthly automotive news magazine I was always on the lookout for scoops! This one was fantastic! A car which we previously knew nothing about, and right here on our doorstep.

Our research revealed the Opel Kadett version was being tested in Europe, and MODERN MOTOR’S European editor spotted a Vauxhall version at GM’s Millbrook Proving Ground in the UK.


Next, my Japanese editor snapped some Isuzu prototypes on the road near the factory in Fujisawa, and a major global story was developing.

I kept a lid on the story until we could publish as much detail as possible on this new ‘Baby Holden’ (which we erroneously named as a Torana), but in the June 1974 issue of MODERN MOTOR we were able to publish the full story.





The Holden Gemini was launched in January 1975, and was an immediate hit Down Under.

More than 250,000 Geminis were built and sold in Australia, between 1975 and 1986. It was facelifted quite a few times, but always retained the excellent Isuzu 1.6 litre SOHC engine.



Now, the sting in the tail.

Various global GM engineering divisions for the T-car program changed a variety of internal components, as well as the firewall and windscreen. This meant that all the original tooling for the Brazilian/German project was different to the Isuzu/Holden model, leading to the result that each version of the T-car was slightly different – and not one of them were identical!


Efficiencies? None! Cost savings? None! So what?

This was General Motors from a different era, no wonder the giant corporation needed a US government bailout!


However, despite its fragmented build complications, the T-car was a worldwide success and one of GM’s most popular designs.


Isuzu Gemini

What defeated its world car tag was the fact that each group of ‘local’ engineers wanted to ensure they still had a job, by making ‘their version’ unique to 'their' market. A great world car? Not this time!

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