Rüsselsheim.  The Opel Rekord D, which celebrates its 50th birthday in January 2022, had a tough act to follow. Its direct predecessor had been built more than 1.2 million times – one-eighth of all the cars that Opel had produced in 70 years of automobile manufacture. This, exclaimed an Opel “Presse-Information” at the time, was evidence that the market “could not afford to lose a car such as the Rekord”. The decisive role it played in the automotive business would therefore be transferred to its young successor, which entered production in December 1971.

The Rekord D followed in wide wheel tracks, but that did not stop it from taking its own direction. For example, in contrast to the Rekord C, whose “coke-bottle-shape” near the C‑pillar was influenced by the design language of North American sister models, the new design had European features. Clear and functional lines, smooth surfaces as well as large windows and a low beltline defined the timeless exterior styling. “The Rekord D comes to the market like a guest who brings a welcome breath of fresh air to a party”, swooned the press kit.

As with the predecessor, there were a remarkable three body styles to choose from: the classic limousine, with two or four doors, the sporty coupé and a caravan estate with three or five doors. For commercial applications and in the best tradition of the legendary “Schnelllieferwagen” of the 1950s and ‘60s, Opel also offered the Rekord van (a three-door estate minus rear side windows).

Safety first: Frontal deformation zone plus side-impact protection

The Opel Rekord D (aka Rekord II in order to avoid confusion with “D” for diesel) also raised the bar in passive safety. Reinforcements in the sides and roof offered protection in the event of side impacts and rollovers, while deformation zones guarded the occupants in case of frontal collisions.

The petrol engines of the Rekord D were further developments of the proven four-cylinder units with camshaft-in-head (CIH), which had already been made over two million times by the time of the debut. The basis was a 1.7-litre engine with 66 hp, the S-engine delivered 83 hp and the 1.9-litre unit 97 hp.

But the Rekord D also put Opel’s first diesel passenger car onto the market – in September 1972, with the production version of a world record engine! The 95 hp, turbocharged swirl-chamber diesel had celebrated its debut the previous June in a prototype. The Opel GT Diesel with its aerodynamically optimized body set 18 international and two world records at the Opel test track in Dudenhofen. In the Rekord, the new compression-ignition engine produced 60 hp, consumed an average of 8.7 litres of fuel per 100 kilometres and enabled a top speed of 135 km/h. The Opel Rekord 2100 D was recognisable by the bulge in the bonnet: due to the overhead camshaft and modified cylinder head, the diesel was taller than the petrol engines.

“For lovers of powerful touring cars”: Opel Commodore

From March 1972, the Commodore B extended the range upwards, closing the gap between the Rekord and the higher positioned Admiral and Diplomat. The Commodore B shared its body shape with the Rekord, but it was more luxuriously equipped than the Rekord and only available with six-cylinder engines. Developments were rapid: the 115 hp 2.5-litre Commodore S was followed by the 130 hp GS and then the 2.8-litre GS with twin carburettors and 142 hp. Finally in September 1972, the top of the line Commodore GS/E burst onto the scene. The 160 hp 2.8-litre engine with electronic fuel injection enabled impressive performance. The coupé could reach a top speed of 200 km/h, the four-door limousine 195 km/h. “The GS/E is for lovers of powerful touring cars who like to cover long distances at higher speeds”, declared Opel.

It therefore comes as no surprise that the Commodore GS/E also proved a strong competitor in racing and rallying. In 1973, the young Walter Röhrl competed for the first time in an Opel at the Monte Carlo Rally. With success, although the lack of homologation caused the Irmscher-prepared Commodore GS/E coupé to compete in the Group 2 class for modified vehicles.

However, the Commodore and the Rekord scored their greatest victories away from the racetrack and special stages. At the beginning of September 1976, a golden Rekord D limousine rolled off the production line as the next one-millionth model in the series – confirmation that the market indeed “needs the Rekord”, as Opel had declared at the launch in 1972. To mark the achievement, a limited edition of the special “Millionaire” model with 100 hp 2.0-litre S-engine and “Berlina” trim entered the market. When the last Rekord generation was launched in September 1977, 1,128,196 units of the Rekord D and 140,827 Commodore B had rolled off the production line in Rüsselsheim.