Convertible classic: rare drop-top isn't your typical Opel
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Most classic car owners have a fund of interesting stories, but Jan Hendrix takes the cake.
Every one of his cars has a fascinating history, not least this 1937 Opel Capitan cabriolet. We’d fronted up to talk about his Triumph Gloria Monte Carlo, one of just 13 surviving worldwide, but it didn’t want to run. Fortunately Jan has three other classics, and this one caught our eye.
It’s the only Kuhn-bodied Opel like it left today, and it’s won the prestigious 2000km durch Deutschland rally for classic cars, started by Hitler in 1933 as a race to show how good German marques were.
Allegedly he roped in 8000 soldiers to close off side roads as around 2000 entries sped by. After factory Fiat entries took the top 10 places in 1934 it ceased, and restarted only in 1989, as a reliability rally for street-legal classic cars.
But we digress. Jan has a bit of history with Opels. He restored a 1931 Opel for his father when he worked for him. His dad had seven, and did all the big European rallies.
“At some stage I rang Holland and said I’d visit. Mum said come in July and do the durch Deutschland rally, I’ve done enough!”
After his return, “I thought ‘Jeez, it’s a nice hobby’,” which inevitably led to the computer, where he spotted his Triumph TR2, a model his godfather had owned.
“I didn’t know he’d been a driver of the factory team — he was 18, and very light — alongside the inventor of speed cameras.”
Then he saw the Gloria at a show-and-shine, so that soon arrived home.
But Jan wanted an Opel.
“Mum’s granddad had the first car in the south of Holland, and there’s still an Opel dealership in the family. I’ve been round cars all my life.”
Indeed, there’s an entry board on the garage wall from a rally he attended at the age of 4, when he helped at a checkpoint.
Anyway, by then his two brothers-in-law were fighting over his father’s 1930s Opel Capitan, a big, comfortable sedan.
He found one on eBay in the US. It had been built in South Africa, and its second owner was the Philippine ambassador there. The car had gone back to the Philippines but the new posting was to Italy, and it was for sale.
Jan bought it, without papers as they were en route to Europe. Later he got a phone call from New Zealand’s ambassador to Paris. The Filipino bigwig had passed the papers over, and they’d come to New Zealand safe in the diplomatic baggage.
Jan could tell his dad he wouldn’t join in the Capitan squabble — he had his own.
Meantime he regularly travelled to Europe to join his father in the Capitan cabrio for the durch Deutschland until parental health intervened.
Jan flew back, and his father asked which car he’d like.
“We’d spent seven weeks and 30,000km in this Opel, it’s the one with most memories. So Dad had it sent to the wharf on Thursday, and he passed on Saturday. That was 2012.”
So here it is, painted that lovely rich cream, with a 2.5-litre straight six under the bonnet. Export markets received the car as a Super Six. Opel didn’t build the body, instead it supplied that engine, plus chassis, to coachbuilder Otto Kuhn, its preference for any models built in smaller numbers.
Jan and his wife, Marian, use a classic most weeks, but with four to pick from, the furthest he’s taken this Opel is Te Aroha. Indeed, you’d need to pack light to go much further. Most of that curving tail is filled with the soft-top roof and two spare tyres.
A luxurious amble round a rural block or two revealed you could drive to the other end of the world in this car in perfect comfort. The ride is unbelievably smooth and well controlled. It really does glide.
And it keeps up with traffic, “It goes at 90km/h, not much faster, I think top speed is 112.”
There are indicators, which weren’t standard, and the original wipers have a newer motor. There are small add-ons in the cabin to suit rallying — a stick-on clock and an under-dash pen holder.
Behind the massive steering wheel, I discovered how easy it is to drive. There is no synchro for the three gears (to change, you depress the clutch, disengage the gear, lift the clutch and depress it again as you blip the throttle, then select the next gear when the revs match, a lot easier than it sounds), but it drives at almost any speed in top.
There’s no power steer, but it rarely feels too heavy, and the hydraulic brakes work reasonably well. Really, the only thing that feels odd is driving on the left when you sit so low.