The 2013 Frankfurt show was, as usual, an important event for German car manufacturers. BMW introduced their i3 megacity car, and their i8 sports car.
Audi introduced the Sport Quattro Coupé concept, along with a massive standalone pavilion designed by the German firm Schmidhuber+Partner. Mercedes introduced the S-Klasse Coupé, while Volkswagen introduced the e-Golf and e-Up electric cars.
But one of the surprises of the show was the Opel Monza concept. Visitors to the Opel stand were greeted with a long (4690mm), sculpted car with an athletic stance. At first glance it seemed to be a coupé, but also seemed like a shooting brake. Its length suggested a sedan. The name Monza recalled a classic sports coupé from Opel in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
In fact, it was all of the above. Opel called the car a “Sportsbrake” – positioning it somewhere between a sports coupé and a shooting brake. It was also a four-seat grand tourer and sports sedan – and yes, it was connected conceptually to the earlier Monza.
As Friedhelm Engler, Director of Advanced Design at Opel, explained at the time, “The Monza began with a vision of the brand. We wanted to visualise efficiency that could also be realised from the point of view of engineering. The idea was for it not to convey heaviness but also not fragility. That is how the original sketch of the lady and the dog was born.”
“This greyhound is just skin and bone, is incredibly agile, and at the same time looks elegant. That is perfect. Also, this woman, she’s got a ‘70s, ‘80s look on the one hand, but is also modern and cool. That was it; that was a full story. Together we developed the idea for another two years. A show car is not the work of just one person. It is a team effort, involving 70 or 80 people.”
Elaborating on the greyhound inspiration, Engler said, “Examples from the animal world are appreciated simply because they mean something to everyone. When I talk about a cheetah or a greyhound in conversation, everyone has an image in their mind straight away.”
As for the earlier Monza GSE, its design has made it a cult classic, and the car was the first to receive digital instrumentation, making it an inspiration for the advanced instrument panel in the 2013 Monza.
The exterior is sculpted with the idea of beautiful sinuous forms in mind, but also, according to Opel, of ocean waves lapping against the shore. The flowing surfaces mimic the ebbing and flowing of ocean tides, tapering off towards the rear wheel.
The front of the car had a pentagonal grille with the Opel symbol prominently displayed. Flanking this grille were a pair of LED headlights and air scoops for wheel cooling. This front mask design seemed to preview the Cadillac Escala concept of 2017.
The sides were heavily sculpted and flared out at the rear wheel, giving the Monza an aggressive, lunging or sprinting stance. The sculpture continues at the glasshouse, where the lower side glass curves out to meet the shoulder line in a seamless transition.
The doors were enormous gullwings, which allowed for nearly seamless flanks on the car. The gullwings were operated by a touch panel at the C-pillar.
Step under those enormous gullwing doors and it was easy settle into any one of the four bucket seats that created a lounge effect in the spacious interior. The generous glass and absence of a B-pillar gave everyone a panoramic view of the landscape.
If the view of the passing landscape wasn’t sufficiently entertaining, the LED projections on the instrument panel were enough to keep one mesmerised for hours. The panel contained screens that spanned door-to-door in a flowing composition of panel and screen that was an artistic rebuke to the rectangular monitors seen in most cars.
A total of 18 LED projectors displayed information and infotainment of all types, and could the customised by the driver. Naturally, the car’s infotainment systems connected to a smartphone, so that various apps could be displayed and selected on screen.
The system had three modes for operation. The ‘ME’ mode, which limited the system, disconnected the smartphone, and prioritised instrumentation and route guidance. The ‘US’ mode allowed a selected group (onboard or not) to interact with the system and exchange information, pictures, etc. Finally, ‘ALL’ expanded on the ‘US’ mode to open the system to allow shared routing, music, photos, and more to virtually anyone. One could connect or chat with others travelling to the same destination, or enjoying the same music, or share travel tips along the way.
The Monza also had onboard V2V and V2X communications that linked into the infotainment system.
It was a fascinating concept, especially given that the Monza did not employ any autonomous technology and was a driver’s car (literally, in fact, as the concept was actually operational).
The Monza employed the same ‘extended-range electric’ powertrain layout as the Chevrolet Volt/Opel Ampera. However, it employed a next generation one-litre compressed natural gas (CNG)-fuelled three-cylinder turbo engine as the range extender for the car, instead of the Volt’s 1.4-litre naturally-aspirated petrol four.
“We have a clear vision of how Opel cars will be in the future, and we have a clear strategy of how we will achieve this goal. The Monza Concept gives this strategy an unmistakable identity,” said Opel CEO Dr. Karl-Thomas Neumann.
“It embodies what our customers can expect from us within the next years; not only in terms of design, but also in terms of efficiency and connectivity between drivers and the internet community. So it already anticipates future everyday automotive life, and serves as an important source of inspiration on the road to that destination – and not just for Opel.”
Unfortunately, while there was enough time for the Monza’s vision to shape the second-generation Insignia sedan and estate, its direct influence was short-lived. Within four years, GM would rid itself of most of its European operations. Opel is now part of the PSA Groupe, and PSA has promised to maintain the technical heritage of the brand. With regards to styling, it remains a largely open question. But the Monza and the GT certainly pointed to a way forward for the marque.
Are they still part of the future for Opel? Time will tell.