Patriarch Augusto Passos gladly takes a break from his vacation to speak to Opel Post. With a smile on his face, he cordially greets his guests with a firm handshake at the company headquarters. Passos heads the longest-standing Opel car dealership in Portugal, which is located in Viseu, an important transportation hub with 100,000 inhabitants southeast of Porto. The Spanish border is only 100 kilometers away.
The company can look back on a long and fascinating history. Augusto Passos’ father-in-law, Lino da Costa Lemos, and his brother (irmão in Portuguese) founded the company on 15 January 1947, which still bears the name today. It was originally situated in Esmoriz, a seaboard town in the northern part of Portugal. Initially, it was only a Shell service station until the brothers eventually shifted to selling farming vehicles. Since 1956 and after the move to the Viseu town center, Lemos & Irmão has been affiliated with Opel and General Motors (GM).
The focus has remained on the farming business to this day. Lemos & Irmão has a wide selection of Kioti and Massey Ferguson tractors. In addition, the dealership sells Husquarna motorcycles and trucks from Isuzu, a GM partner. What’s more, there are also new and used cars from car makers such as Opel and Chevrolet, two authorized repair shops on the outskirts of town, and two Repsol service stations (a Spain-based energy company).
Augusto’s daughters Sara and Clara, his son César, and his son-in-law Rui Reis and daughter-in-law Paula all work for the family-owned and -operated company. Sara earned a degree in economics and is in charge of accounting, IT, and company training. When her brother César, the Vehicle Service Manager, takes his vacation leave, she heads the second site. Clara is responsible for sales, and her husband Rui manages the used car business in Viseu, the third site.
The Passos family took over the business in the 1990s. They kept the company’s name, Lemos & Irmão, in remembrance of its founder, who had spread the brand’s name from Porto to Lisbon. The company currently employs 62 people, with 16 of them working at the authorized repair shop, six in the paint shop, and several in the spare parts department.
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“Opel is our only choice of car, without a doubt,” emphasizes Augusto’s daughter Sara, who incidentally has “always driven an Opel” and, if given the choice, would only drive her Astra Kombi (a 1991 model). Lemos & Irmão further shows it enthusiasm for the brand with the lightning bolt by participating in the Opel Classic Car meet-up. Augusto Passos follows in the footsteps of founder Lino and regularly settles down behind the wheel of his model 1931 1.8-liter Opel car with a Spanish greyhound hood ornament for the Classic Car parades. “The engine has been running for over 80 years like a Swiss watch, thanks to perfect regular tuning,” states Augusto Passos. He knows that reliability is one of the brand’s major selling points – something that he impresses on his customers, as well. Opel áte à eternidade, or ‘Opel until the end of time’ is the claim of the company presented on the doors of the 1.8-liter Opel.
The Passos’ antique car collection includes an Opel Rekord and a very popular light truck called the Blitz, or ‘lightning bolt,’ which was omnipresent in the wine-growing region of the 1940s and 50s, in addition to Lino’s priceless model 1931 car, several sewing machines, and a bicycle dating back to the turn of the 20th century. “These sturdy cars were often the only viable alternatives to pack animals on the steep, unpaved roads of the Duoro Valley with all their switchbacks,” recounts Augusto Passos.
It comes as no surprise that the CEO’s conference room looks more like a museum, with so much history in the air. The room is filled with medals and awards praising the company, like one for a national ‘Top 5’ honor presented by Opel-GM as best dealership of 2015. In addition, there are numerous mementos from Classic Car meet-ups and the company’s amateur soccer team, which for years garnered many trophies. They even had a lightning bolt gracing their jerseys. More than 60 years of dedication to the brand.
“I extensively test-drive every single car before I put it up for sale.”
– Rui Reis –
“There are two big loves in our lives,” quips Rui Reis, Augusto’s son-in-law and Clara’s husband: “The two of us and Opel.” He met Clara in 1991 and was quickly absorbed into the Opel family dynasty. Rui was lucky to have also personally met founder Lino da Costa. “He was an entrepreneur through and through, a no-nonsense type of guy with a good sense of humor, intelligent, and esteemed by everyone,” recalls Rui. In particular, the older generations in Greater Viseu still remember ‘Senhor Lino’ well. “Opel was his great passion during his lifetime.”
Rui can feel that passion as manager of the used car business. “I extensively test-drive every single car before I put it up for sale,” he stresses. Opel has gained a good reputation in Portugal, especially in the used car business, he adds. “You can rely on them to simply drive well.”
Augusto bemoans the current situation: “The country has overcome the crisis. It is more campaigns and more intensive ones at that.” Opel has a tradition in Europe spanning nearly 120 years and it has established a good image with virtues like reliability and long service life, according to Augusto. “It’s a great deal closer, so to speak, for the brand and for Lemos & Irmão. In a certain way, we are the handymen of the car business. It’s very important for customers who have remained true to the company for several generations.”