Rüsselsheim. Everything about the Opel Vectra was new when it hit the streets in the fall of 1988 – exactly 25 years ago: the name, the shape and the technology it encapsulated. Opel’s new mid-size model had a tough act to follow in replacing the successful Ascona, which was introduced in 1970 and had evolved through three model generations. The Vectra’s name and its aerodynamic design were inspired by the progressive looks of the Omega. Available as a notchback and hatchback, the Vectra introduced new technologies in series production: it was the first Opel model which could be ordered with all-wheel drive. And by the model change in the late summer of 1995, the Vectra A had won more than 20 national and international awards, provided the technical base for the Calibra sports coupé and achieved up to 20 percent market share at its peak. With 2.5 million units sold across Europe, the Vectra was the most successful mid-size model in Opel’s history until then.
Progressive in design, advanced in technology
More than 3.9 million Asconas had been sold during its 18 year production run, but when the Vectra arrived 25 years ago it was the future, consigning the Ascona to its place in history. Only its front-wheel drive layout and size was carried over, while space was dramatically increased. With five seats and 530 liters of trunk volume, the new Vectra rivaled Opel’s high-end Senator model. And when the rear seatbacks were folded down, load volume increased to 840 liters.
Opel invested over five million hours of development time in creating the Vectra, with 20,000 hours alone devoted to perfecting the aerodynamics of its slippery new body shape. Boasting an impressive drag coefficient of just 0.29, the Vectra was one of the most aerodynamic cars in its class, just like its role model, the Omega, which had brought advanced design language and a new nomenclature into the Opel model portfolio in 1986. The Vectra, conceived for the European market of the 1990s, was “progressive in design, leading in aerodynamics and advanced in technology”, according to the press kit.
Changes in construction were numerous. In addition to an optional, newly developed, electronically controlled four-speed automatic transmission with three driving modes (economy, sport and winter), the Vectra was the first Opel passenger car available with a factory-fitted all-wheel drive system. Developed in co-operation with Steyr-Daimler-Puch, the system featured a viscous coupling that enabled variable power distribution to the rear axle according to driving and road conditions, and a multi-disk clutch that decoupled the rear axle during braking, thus guaranteeing high directional stability.
Optional all-wheel drive was available for the Vectra with 1.8 or 2.0-liter engines. The top-of-the-line model was the four-door Vectra 2000 16V 4x4, with a 150 hp, 2.0-liter DOHC four-cylinder unit with four-valve technology, all-wheel drive, electronically controlled ABS, a semi-trailing-arm rear axle with independent rear suspension from the Omega, and disc brakes fitted all-round. The 215 km/h Vectra 2000 16V was also available only with front-wheel drive, and it occupied a special place in the Vectra range, with a sporty character similar to the Kadett GSi and Omega 3000 models.
The Vectra came standard with a 75 hp, four-cylinder 1.6-liter OHC engine and a lambda-probe-equipped three-way catalyst. More powerful models were the four-cylinder with 1.8 liters and 88 hp and the 2.0 i CAT engine with 115 hp. The 1.7-liter diesel with 57 hp was new to the range. The Vectra was offered in two body styles – as a classic, four-door notchback and as a five-door hatchback model – and four equipment lines. The notchback was available as a GL, GLS or luxury CD, and the hatchback in GL and sporty GT versions. A dynamic lifestyle station wagon like the Voyage from the first Ascona generation was not offered.
Market leader in the mid-size class
During the first model year, 364,000 units of the Opel Vectra and its British sister model Vauxhall Cavalier were built. In the late summer of 1989, the dynamically styled coupé version, the Calibra, was introduced. The Vectra served as the technical base for the sporty two-door coupé. After just 30 months, in April 1991, the one-millionth vehicle rolled off the assembly line.
The continuous further development of the model range, which at times was produced simultaneously in Germany, Belgium, the UK and Turkey, played a major role in this success. In 1990 the powertrain portfolio was expanded with a newly developed 1.8-liter four-cylinder with fuel injection and lambda-probe-equipped catalyst (90 hp) as well as a 1.7-liter turbo diesel (82 hp). From June 1992 the Vectra was the only car in its class in Europe to feature ABS as standard, and in August 1992 the bestseller was given a more modern look with a newly designed front, color-coded bumpers as well as optimized safety equipment with standard seat-belt pretensioners and side impact protection in the doors.
In 1993 the model line got two completely new, innovative and very differently designed top models within just six months. In the spring of 1993 the luxurious Vectra V6 was introduced, the first Opel model in its class offered with a six-cylinder engine. The V6 power plant was also a premiere for the company: the 2.5-liter, 170 hp 24V ECOTEC unit was the first Opel engine with V-cylinder arrangement. The Vectra GT 16V with 150 hp replaced the Vectra 2000 as the model line’s sporty spearhead.
In the fall of 1993 the Vectra family grew again with the Vectra turbo. It featured the top Calibra model’s propulsion technology and combined the established all-wheel drive with a standard six-speed manual transmission and a supercharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with 204 hp. The turbo was the only member of the first Vectra generation to reach a top speed of 240 km/h and come with 6 J x 16 light alloy wheels as standard.
The last update already anticipated the future. In the spring of 1994 the Vectra CDX was presented with a newly-developed 2.0-liter 16 V four-cylinder engine with 136 hp that was also used in the successor Vectra B model. At this time in its seventh year of production, the Vectra A was number 2 in European registration statistics. When it was replaced in model year 1996, around 2.5 million units had been sold, making it the most successful car in the mid-size class at the time.