The evolution of the Opel logo

In Germany and many continental European countries Opel is a well-known car manufacturer. British people are more familiar with Vauxhall, a brand that also once belonged to General Motors, which in the 1980s started to offer the same models as Opel but with different logo and right-hand drive and which was eventually sold to the French PSA Group together with Opel. At this point we will limit ourselves to the company from Rüsselsheim in Germany, which was founded in 1862 by Adam Opel. Initially, they produced sewing machines with the initials of the company’s founder integrated into the cast-iron housing. This was virtually the first Opel logo and was retained in a slightly modified form for around 25 years. From 1887 Opel also produced bicycles whose frames received so-called steering head plates, which were first produced as stickers and later as a nickel-plated brass badge. Two years later, the model name ‘Blitz’ (flash or lightning) appeared for the first time, which was sometimes also linked to other names of saints or Roman deities.

After the company founder Adam Opel died in 1895, his widow Sophie and his five sons Carl, Wilhelm, Heinrich, Fritz and Ludwig also entered the world of automobile production in 1899 by taking over the Anhaltische Motorwagenfabrik from Friedrich Lutzmann. After a short time, this factory moved completely to Rüsselsheim, which also changed the text on the large polished coat of arms on the side of the vehicles. While Opel added motorcycles to its range from 1901, the company split up with designer Lutzmann in 1902 and gave the vehicles a much smaller, almost oval brass logo on the radiator, the ‘Opel eye’. Between 1904 and 1910, there were comparatively creative logos and the beginning of curved lettering on the radiator grille, which appeared again and again until the 1930s. In 1910, Grand Duke Ernst Ludwig von Hessen designed a sketch based on the almost oval brass logo with angular lettering, triangles at the sides and a border that was remotely reminiscent of laurel wreaths that could be won as prizes for successful racing drivers. This logo was so popular with the Opel family that it was used almost unchanged until 1935. For the motorcycles, like the popular Motoclub of 1928, this logo was used with a red background and whitegold lettering. After the bicycle and motorcycle division was sold to NSU in 1937, the Opel logo remained part of the official identification for many years.

In the case of automobiles, Opel adopted what was considered a particularly modern means of transport in the logo from 1934. At the time, airships such as the companion developed by Graf Zeppelin were considered a comfortable and safe method of travel for the decades to come. While the two-dimensional depiction integrated a stylized airship into a wheel, this logo also existed as a radiator figure, although some viewers were more inclined to recognize a cigar in it. Due to the tragic crash of the Hindenburg near New York, Opel exaggerated the stylized depiction of the airship more and more in the following years, added a dorsal fin in the 1950s, and from 1963 onward, the logo finally merged into a transverse ‘Blitz’ in a circle. A little macabre, if one knows the reasons for the Hindenburg crash, but on the other hand understandable, since Opel had been using the flash symbol and the name repeatedly for decades. In 1930, for example, a nationwide competition was held in Germany to find a catchy model name for a new commercial vehicle. The term ‘Blitz’ was the winner, and the jagged representation still familiar today was chosen for the first time. Since 1937, Opel dealers and service stations have been displaying oval logos with colors white and yellow vertically divided into two parts. This ‘Opel egg’ was also found on the Opel Frigidaire refrigerators produced between 1949 and 1959 and didn’t disappear until 1970.

Since autumn 1963, all newly delivered Opel passenger cars have had the lightning bolt in a circle on their front, which has undergone repeated slight revisions. First, the pointed ends of the flash disappeared in 1970, while at the same time, for the first time in the company’s history, clear guidelines were issued for the design of company buildings, printed matter, signs, advertising banners and the like. A yellow square and a sober Opel lettering were included, which was retained in a similar form until 2002, although the yellow portion was reduced in 1987. In the new millennium, Opel followed the trend towards three-dimensional logos, whereby the Opel lettering was integrated in the upper part of the circle from 2009. With the introduction of the second model generation of the small SUV Mokka, the logo is currently undergoing a further revision, in which the brand lettering is placed in the lower part of the circle and the circle itself is simultaneously made slimmer. Nevertheless, every child can still recognise from a distance that a car from Rüsselsheim is approaching.

Images: Opel