The story starts with the Opel Kadett, when Opel introduced between the two world wars, 78 years ago, what the brand describes today as "a fully-fledged car at an affordable price", designed to bring mobility to more people at a time when car ownership was still a luxury. Then came the second world war.
Several decades later, during the 1960s and early 1970s, Opel really took off in the era of Germany’s ‘economic miracle’, with the arrival of the Kadett A and B. During that time, as customers became more prosperous and more discerning, the small Kadett became larger and more powerful, moving closer to the mid-size class with each newer version, and subsequently, making a slot below what had become Rüsselsheim’s classic entry-level model.
That's when Opel saw the opportunity to fill the gap with a new, really small car: Its name was the 1982 Opel Corsa.
Of course, the brand also had its full line-up of larger (and niche) models in the other segments. But that's another story.
Corsa I, 1982When it came in 1982, the Corsa A (Opel designates these successive generations in the alphabet letters order) was not longer than... 3.62 meters. It had bold, flared wheel-arches like a rallye car and a low 0.36 drag coefficient at the time, which was exceptional for its class. Chief designer Erhard Schnell had created a sporty small car with crisp, chiseled lines, intended to particularly appeal to ‘the man of the house’. The highlight was the 100 hp Corsa GSi, and diesel power was also introduced.
The two-door hatch- and notchback line-up was expanded in 1985 with the addition of the popular five-door model. The Corsa A became a top seller with 3.1 million units built.
Corsa II, 1993From the ‘the man of the house’, and despite the success of Corsa I, the decision was taken in Rüsselsheim to position its successor as a real ‘ladies’ darling’. Opel design legend Hideo Kodama set to work and created a much rounder, softer Corsa, with appealing ‘saucer-eye’ headlamps which perfectly fit with cute, child-like looks. At 3.72 meters, the Corsa II was ten centimeter longer than the first model, and naturally more spacious inside.
Corsa II also introduced better safety standards, including ABS braking, side-impact protection and front airbags. Next to the hatchback, Opel again offered in special markets a notchback as well as station wagon and pick-up variants. Gasoline (petrol) engines already had fuel-injection technology and catalytic converters, while the GSi featured 16 valves and... diesel power was now turbo-charged. Global sales of the Corsa II topped the four million mark.
Corsa III, 2000While the first generation Corsa lived for 11 years, the accelerating model renewals in the auto industry led to a Corsa II generation cycle of 7 years, with the arrival of the Corsa III at the beginning of the new millennium. Hideo Kodama was again asked to design the shape of the Corsa III, or C, as Opel designates it.
The styling was in continuity with its successful predecessor and, again, the new Corsa grew by ten centimeter in length (3.82m), with a wide stance and a longer wheelbase, for an increased interior space. For the first time, the body was fully galvanized, and the powerplant got sophisticated (at the time, especially for the segment) four-valve ECOTEC gasoline and new direct-injection turbo diesel engines for more power with less low fuel consumption and emission values. All variants already complied to the Euro 4 emission standards. In its six years of production, the Corsa III sold 2.5 million units.
Corsa IV, 2006With the 4th generation Corsa, the three and five-door versions go their separate ways: the three-door Corsa has a coupé-like styling aimed at sporty customers, just like the original Corsa I. The five-door variant becomes a more spacious, small family car that is still less than four meters in length... by 1 mm, having grown to exactly 3.999 meters.
With Opel’s ecoFLEX technology, the Corsa IV gets fuel-saving Start/Stop systems with efficient engines. The 1.3 CDTI ecoFLEX version consumes just 3.3 l/100 km (71.28 US mpg, 85.6 UK mpg, 30.3 km per litre of fuel) over the combined cycle and emits only 88 g/km (142 g/mile) CO2.
Having lasted for eight years, the fourth generation Corsa is now coming to the end of its production run, having sold 2.8 million units to date. Through four model generations, a total of 12.3 million Opel Corsas have been sold, mostly in Europe (11.7 million).