GALLERY: Go Behind The Scenes On Our 1964 Opel Kadett Film Shoot
Joseph DeBattista came to the United States in 1974 with $600 to his name. Hard work and the right attitude allowed him to start a family and a car collection later on, and while he drove E-Types and the like in the interim it was the unexpected addition of an unassuming Lapis Blue Opel Kadett that built the strongest bond between him and his son Joey, who first cut his restoration chops as a rubber mallet-wielding toddler making a few dents in Dad’s MGB GT project. The DeBattista’s Opel was received in trade for Joey’s Volkswagen (the company that GM was targeting when they revived the Opel name in the early 1960s), and the subsequent restoration process kicked off an odyssey of a restoration project that’s paid off handsomely in ways that money can never measure.
After taking ownership of the Opel—whose parts were all there but all in need of restoration—Joseph and Joey got to work tracking down the parts and people necessary to bring it back to its original condition. This didn’t mean doing it all to modern standards with perfect paint depth and everything chromed to flawless mirrors, for the car’s in period were never given that kind of attention. So when they mixed up a few colors and some rustoleum to coat the undercarriage, they applied it with paint brushes and rollers to give it the same look as it would have had in 1964.
Parts like the taillight housings were a bit harder to find than others, because even though GM and Opel built a few hundred thousand Kadetts, the car didn’t sell nearly as well in the US as it did in places like continental Europe and Scandinavia, and the DeBattistas believe that only about 2,500 of them came to the US. Couple that with the fact that the cars used very thin-gauge sheetmetal that was prone to rust and corrosion over the years, their status as entry-level everyman cars, and the relatively low value compared to other classic cars, there’s not a wealth of parts available or being remade—which is why the taillight housing reflectors on the DeBattista’s are made from the family toaster.
And while their Kadett presents as a terrifically accurate and well-sorted piece of history from a very brief era (the car was only imported to the US briefly in 1964 after it was launched in the world market in 1962), it’s not really about winning awards for these two car enthusiasts—though it does, and did so one time when it was just parked outside and not entered into judging. To Joey, who also owns a 10-second quarter-miler of a Camaro, nothing beats the Opel. It’s the “rare old weird” stuff that he’s primarily interested in, and the story behind this car is irreplaceable. Joey and his dad did the bodywork themselves, in metal, no bondo; they signed up for a quick trade education class to learn how to paint it themselves; and in the process of tracking down the original parts manufacturers all across Europe, they compiled a library of history for their project that took on a life of its own.
The end result is an adorable little Lapis Blue box of a sports coupe (this has the 1.0L “S” engine, which gave it a whopping 54hp as opposed to the lowly 48 of the sedans), and even though it’s more or less finished now restoration-wise, it provided lifelong memories for the DeBattistas, and while both of them enjoy the car on its merits alone, they find greater satisfaction in seeing how proud the other is of the work they did together.