Fun with Spider, Sport and Queen: Opel Corsa bestseller turns 40

With flared fenders in racing style, the small Opel Corsa sprinted away from almost all city runabouts established in Europe from 1982 onwards.

Fun with Spider, Sport and Queen: Opel Corsa bestseller turns 40

With flared fenders in racing style, the small Opel Corsa sprinted away from almost all city runabouts established in Europe from 1982 onwards. In the iconic biodesign of the 1990s, the mini-Opel even took pole position in the global car sales charts. The Corsa fills Opel's coffers to this day, now also as a Stromer.

In Japan, the smallest are traditionally the biggest sales successes, clever kei car minis simply fit best in metropolises and megacities. Opel's first real mini runabout, the Corsa (A), presented in 1982, also turned out to be a bestseller - and the best-selling Opel model series of all time. While the Corsa initially attempted to use edges to overtake the field of small cars, which had long been overcrowded, the Japanese designer Hideo Kodama gave the cuddly lightning racer a rounded organic design in 1993, similar to what already characterized Nippon cult models such as the Mazda 121 and Nissan Micra. However, Kodama made its Corsa (B) look more confident than the Japanese competition.

The Opel was not only built with these iconic contours on every continent, it even won the race for pole position as the world's best-selling car in 1998 - fitting its Italian name (Corsa = race). Today, after six generations and 40 years, the Corsa production counter already stands at over 14 million units, most of them from the European plants in Zaragoza and Eisenach. Not even Opel Astra or Kadett can surpass that number. The award for the most traditional model name in the current Opel portfolio also goes to the Corsa. At the same time, it is future-oriented, as the fully electric, successful e-Corsa (F) shows.

Such a career for the Corsa was unthinkable in the late summer of 1982, when the first examples of the 3.62 meter short three-door rolled off the assembly lines of the factory specially built in Zaragoza, Spain. The largely automated plant only needed 10,000 employees to deliver up to 300,000 Corsa a year and thus anchor Spain as the fourth largest European car nation. A place that Great Britain had held up until then, as trade unions vehemently tried to prevent the import of the smallest product from the then Opel/Vauxhall parent company General Motors (GM) into the island kingdom.

In Germany, too, the Opel employees would have welcomed it if the challenger from VW Polo, Ford Fiesta or Fiat Uno had been built in Rüsselheim or Bochum. In fact, the first Opel Corsa or Vauxhall Nova did not arrive in the home markets of the GM subsidiaries with the Blitz or Griffin logo until spring 1983. By then, however, the Corsa had established itself as the new favorite in the smallest family car segment in southern Europe, not least thanks to the unconventionally contoured two-door notchback Corsa TR, which was only popular there.

It wasn't just advantages such as high product quality and lower prices than, for example, the Polo or the Peugeot 205 that made the Corsa the best-selling Opel model of all time. The 735-kilogram lightweight won the sympathy of the "I want fun society" of the 1980s even before the start of series production thanks to a Spider study that whetted the appetite for a revival of the extinct little roadster. The open Opel then became reality through tuners such as Irmscher and Michalak, whose Spider conversions found a surprising number of fans. But even when closed, the Mini-Opel guaranteed a permanent grin on the faces of racing enthusiasts as the Corsa Sprint motorsport homologation series.

Editions such as Corsa Swing and Joy, on the other hand, reached young female buyers in particular, and in 1988 the special series "Steffi-Special" went well with it, with which tennis legend Steffi Graf celebrated what was perhaps her year of greatest success. Sport and Corsa, this connection almost always won. The Corsa GSi with 74 kW/100 hp, unveiled in 1987, showed its powerfully flared fenders to the fiesta XR2 or Metro MG in sprint duels, and even the animal comic heroes Tom and Jerry trusted the agile small car in their mouse-quick duels in cheerful commercials.

The first Corsa since 1985, also with an optional five-door hatchback or four-door notchback, succeeded in leaving others behind. In general, the variety of body concepts was one of the secrets of the success of the smallest GM product. Were there any increases? From 1993, the Corsa (B) demonstrated that the diversity of a world car can be almost limitless. This Blitz, ignited in Rüsselsheim, was built on five continents, briefly in an annual production of around one million units.

This was made possible by Hideo Kodama's bioforms, which adorned hatchbacks, notchbacks, South American station wagons, pick-ups, Australian convertibles and cargo ships; with Opel, Buick, Chevrolet, Chevy, Holden, Jilin Jiangbei, Vauxhall and even Suzuki logos depending on the market. This was matched by the colorful band of model names, ranging from Corsa to Vita, Lite, Sail, Meilu, Montana, Tornado, Celta, Prisma and Monza.

And then, since 1994, there was the agile Tigra sports coupé and the Combo high-roof station wagon, types for which the Corsa also provided the technical backbone. While the 2 2-seater Tigra also made a name for itself in Latin America and Australia, the combo was particularly successful with European tradespeople and families. In contrast, Britain's traditional people's car, the Ford Fiesta, could hardly defend the throne of sales champion against the charming Corsa (B). Even Queen Elizabeth appreciated the qualities of this Opel, as the 1995 TV advertisement suggested. In this hilarious spot, a queen double used the dynamic Corsa for clandestine escapes from royal duties.

The third and fourth generations of the Corsa (C/D) have retained their sporting spirit, especially as the chic coupé-cabriolet Tigra Twin Top (from 2004) and as the hot-blooded powerhouse Corsa OPC (from 2007). It was a 141 kW/192 hp magma red OPC that was delivered in Zaragoza in 2007 on the 25th anniversary of the Corsa as the eight millionth example of the series. Shortly thereafter, the little one broke the ten million mark, but then new Minis from Japan and Korea put the Opel under massive pressure. A difficult situation from which the Opel management could not free itself for a long time, as demonstrated by the rather lackluster, but all the more arbitrary Corsa (E) from 2014.

It was an era in which the future of the Rüsselsheim carmaker was unclear overall. It was only when the Hessians moved under the umbrella of the Stellantis group that the long-running Corsa was able to reinvent itself. With the Ampera, Opel was one of the pioneers in modern e-car series production, but it was not until the sixth Corsa (F) that a small, all-electric Opel entered mass production in 2019. That's not all, the current Corsa is also proving itself to be the hottest flash in electric rallying. Only one European small car sold better than the Corsa in the first half of 2022: the technically related Stellantis Group colleague Peugeot 208.

The Hessians follow suit. For the 40th birthday there is a Corsa Jubilee Edition. In keeping with the year of birth, there are only 1982 copies, but these also draw increased attention to the unlimited variants of the viceroy among city runabouts.

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