Opel Diplomat V8 Coupe: Europe's Forgotten Chevy Small-Block-Powered Muscle Car

During the 1960s, American carmakers were involved in a horsepower war that led to what we now call muscle cars, while in Europe, compacts like the VW Beetle were ruling the streets. However, from 1965 to 1967, GM's Opel division brought a taste of American muscle to the Old Continent.
Opel Diplomat V8 Coupe 13 photos
Photo: Opel Automobile GmbH
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Part of the Stellantis corporation since 2021, Opel is a German automobile manufacturer with a long history.

It was established in 1862 as a sewing machine builder, after which it expanded to producing bicycles, and finally, in the early 1920s, it became one of Germany's leading carmakers.

Opel's history as an independent carmaker didn't last long. By 1929, General Motors acquired the company's controlling stake. Two years later, the American corporation took complete control, turning the German brand into its European division.

After WWII ended, Opel's facilities were rebuilt with help from former employees and GM. Its civilian model lines were steadily reintroduced and improved, with the large Kapitän (Capitan) sedan being the company's flagship.

Becoming more American

Opel Diplomat V8 Coupe
Photo: Opel Automobile GmbH
After five successful generations, the Kapitän was completely redesigned and brought to modern standards in 1965 when Opel introduced a new range of three Mercedes-Benz-rivaling sedans, abbreviated KAD.

Essentially, three distinct versions of the same model, the luxurious series included the Kapitän, which was now an entry-level offering, the mid-range Admiral, and the new range-topping Diplomat.

Since Opel's design and engineering departments were busy developing the B-series Kadett and the all-new Rekord C, the KADs were conceived with a lot of help from GM, which lent its RWD X-body platform and drivetrain components.

Therefore, the Kapitän, Admiral, and Diplomat were more or less European-bodied Chevy IIs (Novas).

Apart from the platform and drivetrains, the KAD series borrowed the popular luxury coupe recipe from the US in 1965, applying it to the newest and sexiest member of the model line: the Diplomat V8 Coupe.

Oozing muscle car vibes

Opel Diplomat V8 Coupe
Photo: Opel Automobile GmbH
Built on a slightly longer X-body platform than the Chevy II's, the Diplomant V8 Coupe was slotted between a compact and an intermediate - by American standards. However, in Europe, the model was imposing enough to fit into the continent's equivalent of the full-size segment.

Furthermore, it was equipped as standard with all the premium features available in a KAD model, making it the European counterpart to a US-built personal luxury car.

But, to European enthusiasts, it looked like a muscle car that had just crossed the Atlantic.

Almost twice as long as a Beetle, the imposing two-door Opel resembled a combination of the Chevy II Nova and Chevelle Sport Coupes.

Inside, however, the Diplomat V8 Coupe was more like a Buick Riviera, thanks to the plushy leather-upholstered bucket seats (front and rear) or the abundance of genuine woodgrain trims.

Chevy small-block power

Opel Diplomat V8 Coupe
Photo: Opel Automobile GmbH
Under the hood, which, to Europeans, seemed more like a landing strip, the Coupe hid an All-American engine.

Shared with the four-door Diplomat, the standard motor was a genuine 4.6-liter (283-ci) Chevrolet small-block V8 mated to a two-speed Powerglide automatic, both imported from across the pond.

At the time, the engine was listed with an output of 220 hp, according to the US gross ratings, but by the stricter German ratings, it made 187 hp.

In either case, the small block was by no means a muscle car engine, but it did help the Diplomat Coupe reach a top speed of almost 200 kph (124 mph). Better yet, it sang a beautiful tune that was unmistakably American.

However, legend has it that on the Opel test track and German autobahns (with no speed limits), the engine showed signs of premature wear after prolonged high-speed use due to inadequate cooling.

GM didn't want to tarnish the bombproof reliability image of its engine, so it instructed Opel to equip the Diplomat sedans and coupes with the performance-oriented 5.4-liter (327-ci) version of the small-block from 1966 onwards.

With this version, rated at 227 hp in Europe, the Diplomat could comfortably speed past the 200 kph (124 mph) mark, and, more importantly, the cooling issues disappeared.

A failed experiment

Opel Diplomat V8 Coupe
Photo: Opel Automobile GmbH
Despite its muscle car looks, V8 power, and lavish interior, the Diplomat V8 coupe was ultimately too much for European buyers.

For starters, its sticker price stood in the same price range as a Mercedes-Benz flagship. Then, it was too big for European parking lots, gobbled up too much fuel, and its comfortable yet boat-like maneuverability seemed decades behind how a similar Merc handled.

Last but not least, there were the 4.6-liter's reliability issues, so when they put all those things together, potential buyers often opted for a proven, fully German Mercedes over what was essentially an American Opel.

Extremely rare and expensive today

Opel Diplomat V8 Coupe
Photo: Opel Automobile GmbH
The Opel Diplomat V8 Coupe only survived on the market from 1965 to 1967. During that period, the German carmaker only produced 347 units of what became the most American German car ever.

Today, enthusiasts of this failed yet iconic model estimate that around 60 are still in excellent, road-worthy condition.

Because of its rarity and cult following, one of these surviving examples currently demands well over €100,000 ($107,613.50). To put it into perspective, a first-generation Diplomat four-door sedan in excellent shape usually goes for €30,000 ($32,275.65).

Even for that outrageous sum, most owners are reluctant to part ways with their V8 Coupes, so the chances of one popping up at an auction are slim to none.

Although it was a complete failure for Opel back in the 1960s, the Diplomat V8 Coupe is now one of the rarest, most sought-after European classic cars of its kind and one of the fewest that was developed using a genuine American recipe.

For a virtual tour of this captivating ride, we recommend the YouTube video below by Automobile Classics.

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About the author: Vlad Radu
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Vlad's first car was custom coach built: an exotic he made out of wood, cardboard and a borrowed steering wheel at the age of five. Combining his previous experience in writing and car dealership years, his articles focus in depth on special cars of past and present times.
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