This Day in History – January 21st, 1899

Opal Car 1899Adam Opel AG (Opel) is a German automobile manufacturer headquartered in Rüsselsheim, Hesse, Germany and a subsidiary of General Motors Company. The company designs, engineers, manufactures and distributes Opel-branded passenger vehicles, light commercial vehicles and vehicle parts for distribution in Africa, Asia, Europe and South America. Opel designed and manufactured vehicles are also sold under the Buick brand in the United States, Canada, Mexico and China, the Holden brand in Australia and New Zealand and the Vauxhall brand in the United Kingdom.

Opel traces its roots to a sewing machine manufacturer founded by Adam Opel in 1862. The company began manufacturing bicycles in 1886 and produced its first automobile on January 21st, 1899.

The first cars were produced in 1899 after Opel’s sons entered into a partnership with Friedrich Lutzmann, a locksmith at the court in Dessau in Saxony-Anhalt, who had been working on automobile designs for some time. These cars were not very successful and so the partnership was dissolved after two years, following which Opel’s sons signed a licensing agreement in 1901 with the French Automobiles Darracq S.A. to manufacture vehicles under the brand name “Opel Darracq”. These cars were made up of Opel bodies mounted on a Darracq chassis, powered by a two-cylinder engine.

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The company first showed cars of its own design at the 1902 Hamburg Motor Show, and started manufacturing them in 1906, with Opel Darracq production being discontinued in 1907.

DoktorwagenIn 1909, the Opel 4/8 PS model, known as the “Doktorwagen” “Doctor’s Car” was produced. Its reliability and robustness were greatly appreciated by physicians, who drove a lot to see their patients, back when hard-surfaced roads were still rare. The “Doktorwagen” sold for only 3,950 marks, about half as much as the luxury models of its day.

In 1911, the company’s factory was virtually destroyed by fire and a new one was built with more up-to-date machinery. By 1914, Opel had become the largest German manufacturer of motor vehicles.

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