“If you’re not going to finish the job, there’s no point even starting.”
It would be hard to find someone better qualified to become an expert car restorer. Hermann Elbert learned his automobile trade at ‘Auto-Kraft’ in ‘Binger Schlag’ in Mainz, Germany. As a young father, he moved to the development center in Rüsselsheim, Germany, where, for 35 years, he had the opportunity to co-develop and rotate through almost all vehicle components Opel had to offer. His most influential teacher, however, was his father, who once imparted him a crucial lesson: “If you’re not going to finish the job, there’s no point even starting.” He has held this advice dear ever since. And quite possibly cursed it a little in secret, too, as he surrendered himself to the biggest challenge of his mechanic’s career: the restoration of a 1939 Opel Kapitän.
“I thought back to my childhood and which cars were most solidified in my memory. ”
He’s always enjoyed getting Opel classics up-and-running again. Pre-war models didn’t interest him too much at first, until one day, he headed to a classic car meetup. From then on, he also wanted to try out a vintage car.
Tempo or the Kapitän
Which one should he choose? “I thought back to my childhood and which cars were most solidified in my memory. I remembered the three-wheeled Tempo, of course, but this wasn’t an option,” recalled the 70-year-old. “Then I thought of our old butcher from Gosenheim in Mainz. He had an old Kapitän parked in his courtyard. On Saturdays, his mechanic would sometimes pass by to carry out an inspection, where he would adjust the valves while the engine was still running, for instance. Us kids would just sit on the fence in awe.”
Ergo: The Kapitän it is.
The opportunity arose in 1989 when a work colleague told him about his Kapitän; he had actually wanted to restore it himself, but had lost the drive to do so. Taking in the sight of the wreck before him, Hermann Elbert could see why: completely rusted, parts missing, nowhere near ready to drive, and it would take a lot of money and time to repair – oldie mechanics classify this with a score of 5.
“There was no Internet back in the 1990s. I had to search for parts across the whole of Germany.”
That’s why it was exactly the right challenge for a man who only starts projects he plans on finishing. In this case, it was going to be the most challenging task he would ever take on. “There was no Internet back in the 1990s and I had to search for parts across the whole of Germany. I would never have managed this without the old Opel IG and its model expert Alfred Kling.”
It took Hermann Elbert ten years to restore the Kapitän to its original grandeur. “I worked on it almost every weekend and in the evenings after work,” he recalls. “I am extremely happy and appreciative that my family came along for the ride.” In particular, he’s referring to his wife Waltraud, who goes by the name ‘Usch.’
“To tell you the truth, buying the first Kapitän model was a mistake,” the 70-year-old admits today. There aren’t many parts available from the first model anymore. Elbert managed to get hold of an original passenger cabin from the Netherlands and a new front section from Rennerod, and pieced his Kapitän together again using parts from three different wrecks. Paging Dr. Frankenstein. But Frankenstein’s monster, as most people know, was no feast for the eyes – in contrast to Hermann Elbert’s Kapitän.
“To tell you the truth, buying the first Kapitän model was a mistake.”
Today, this oldie sports a royal-blue finish with shining chrome parts – it’s in tip-top condition. Elbert used a modern, robust artificial material for the impeccable white buttons, in their original Bakelite. This car would be the showpiece in any trader’s showroom. The seats are made of leather, although this wasn’t standard with this model back then, “but I’m convinced anyone who really wanted it would have gotten it.” The 2.5-liter engine with six valves and 55 HP gives the impression that the Kapitän previously had only completed as many miles as a relay race might require.
Elbert is often out and about with his pride and joy. Since 1999, he’s clocked up nearly 60,000 kilometers with his Opel – mostly travelling to meetups or on classic car trips. He’s ready to go as soon as classics are requested at regional meetups, whether it’s to Opel country residences for classic meetups, to Waldthausen Castle, or at F40 in Rüsselsheim, where the former Opel communications expert Heinz Zettl invites people over every two months. And Usch always sits alongside him in the passenger seat. She’s happy to take part in the sociable side of the ‘oldtimery,’ as Hermann Elbert like to call it.
What does he know about his Kapitän’s previous life? No much, as the car’s papers don’t exist anymore. It must have been constructed in Rüsselsheim in early 1939, as only a few were built in 1938. In March 1939, the Kapitän celebrated its official release at the Geneva Motor Show in Switzerland.
in the Czech Republic
During the war, it could have been used in military operations. This is evidenced by the remnants of an additional battery in the original model, which could have been intended for a radio, as well as a few holes, which could have been caused by bullets. After the war – and this much is known – the Kapitän was based in the Czech Republic, before an Opel trader from Nierstein, Germany, took it home with them.
But who’s interested in the past anyway? This Kapitän still has a grand future ahead of it. Thanks to Hermann Elbert.
Opel Flagship Turns 80: Happy Birthday Kapitän!
1938 Manufacturing of the Kapitän ‘39 began at the Rüsselsheim plant
March 1939 The Opel Kapitän celebrated its public premiere at the Geneva Motor Show
1940 Wartime conditions meant that production was halted
5 July 1946 Start of the post-war production in the Rüsselsheim plant
October 1948 Production of the first post-war Opel Kapitän in the Rüsselsheim plant: The Kapitän ‘48 was a four-doored sedan with portal doors and round headlights
1950–1951 Kapitän ‘50 with modern steering wheel gearshift and reworked interior
1951–1953 Kapitän ‘51 with adapted chassis, undivided rear window, and more chrome. Engine with 58 HP/43 kW
1953–1955 Kapitän ‘54 in a modern, pontoon shape, with striking, ‘shark teeth’ radiator grill. Engine with 68 HP/50 kW
1955–1958 Kapitän ‘56/‘57 with perpendicular bars instead of the ‘shark teeth’ and ‘fins’ as rear fenders. Engine with 75 HP/55 kW
9 November 1956 The second millionth Opel vehicle was manufactured in Rüsselsheim: It was an Opel Kapitän with a gold-colored roof and golden decorative parts
1958–1959 Kapitän P1/Kapitän P2.5: Dubbed the ‘keyhole’ Kapitän because of the keyhole-shaped rear lights. Engine with 80 HP/59 kW
1959–1963 Kapitän P2/Kapitän P2.6 with three-geared ‘hydramatic’ transmission (from 1960) and power steering (from 1962). Engine with 90 HP/66 kW. The Kapitän P2/PLV was delivered with a 2.5-liter engine with 85 HP
1964–1968 Kapitän A engine with 100 HP/74 kW and 125 HP/92 kW (from 1965)
1969–1970 Kapitän B
May 1970 The production of the Kapitän B was discontinued