THE last time an Opel Olympia rolled out of Russelheim was in 1970. It was a short run of three years when the name was really just a fancy variant of the Kadett B fastback four and two doors.
I always imagine the car in orange with black vinyl roof. I think all Olympias came with vinyl roof.
As cars go, this is probably one of the yardstick for forgettable-ness and you are probably scratching your head trying to recall this little-known model.
For most Malaysians, Opel means Kadett and that was the most popular model sold here when the brand was active in the 1960s and 1970s. The Kadett was as popular among Malaysian motorists then as Subaru is today.
Which is to say that you would probably see one every day but there probably wasn’t one parked on your street at night.
The Olympia was really rare. The last time I saw one was in Kluang, Johor, some years ago and it used to belong to my father.
Every time I look at photographs of the car today, I wonder how the car even ended up with in Malaysia. It’s so bland.
I suspect Opel forced all their distributors to take up this last-ditch effort to revive the Olympia name as a high-end, high-margin model.
It didn’t work because it offered no real difference over the Kadett other than the embarrassingly trendy vinyl roof and some fancy plastic bits around the front and rear lamps.
The interior was a bit nicer than the Kadett but it was still, clearly, a dressed up mass-market model.
The Kadett is one of Opel’s most popular cars of all time, selling nearly three million units in its eight-year life span. Oh yes, cars used to live for eight years as opposed to the current five-year cycle.
So the Kadett was already pretty good as an entry-level vehicle and, for most people, there was no need splash out on the Olympia.
The fast back design is quite fetching but you could get the same car with a Kadett badge and leave the dealership with extra cash in your wallet and a distinct lack of urge to wear flared pants or shiny, oversized sunglasses.
This is the car which took us from Terengganu where my parents were stationed as teachers to Johor and Perak to visit my grandparents.
I don’t remember the car much because it only stayed with us until 1975 and my earliest memory began in a particular day during a school break that year.
A particular memory with the car involves getting onto a river ferry on the way back to Johor. Some of you may remember those ferries which were attached to cables and are pulled back and forth.
They were really nothing more than small barges that could barely take on the heavy loads when big lorries showed up in the queue.
They would balance the ferry as best as they could and then the ferry would depart, swaying and trembling as it cuts across the river current.
I remember a long wait in the car and feeling of relief when we got out while on the ferry, fresh river breeze on our faces. Fresh with a strong flavour of diesel fumes.
River ferry crossings are a nice break to the relatively slow drive on the coastal road but I cannot say that I miss them because, at best, they are mildly interesting bottlenecks.
Can you imagine how long the queue would snake during the big breaks?
Other than the vague memory of being a half terrified and half happy child on the ferry, there is no other recollection of the car.
My earliest memory starts from 1975, after the accident. The Olympia must have been badly damaged because I never saw it again. That was the last I saw my mother, too.
A few years later it appeared in the nearby village near my grandfather’s kampung but no one wanted to talk about it and certainly no one was keen to see it again.
I was quite curious about the car. I wanted to know it but perhaps the memory was too painful for the adults who were involved at the time.
So every time we pass by the car I would just look at it.
I suspect, deep down, the trauma associated with the Olympia is what got me hooked onto cars.
I try to look kindly at vinyl roof, and anything from Opel really. Not because of the accident but because it was our first car.
It’s very much the same reason I hate and feel sorry at the same time for the original Beetle, which I thought was ugly and noisy and charming.
I also haven’t been back to the Kota Tinggi waterfalls since and Simpang Renggam is just a name to me.