Sometimes It Has to Be X-Treme

Rüsselsheim, Classic workshop, stocktaking: nothing is normal about this Astra. Not the pizza-sized carbon-fibre brake discs. Not the 530 Nm of torque that fall upon the rear axle. Not the six-speed gearbox that shifts under load. And certainly not the fact that this racing car has been cultivated for the road. The Astra OPC X-treme is the most extreme Astra ever built by Opel.

“In 2001, when Opel presented this study, I had just freshly got my driving licence,” recalls Carl Lehmann. At the time, he was cruising around in his Vectra and “dreamed of sitting in this super sports car from Opel one day.” Today, a good 20 years later, the time has come. The automotive journalist kicks off his trainers, climbs under the gullwing door over suitcase-thick side sills into the narrow seat pan. His grin – is about as wide as the wings of the red-painted carbon body.

Even after more than 20 years, the Astra OPC X-treme has lost none of its appeal.
Father of the super sports car: We wanted to make racing technology usable for the road,” says Volker Strycek.

“It’s been 18, 19 years since the
Astra OPC X-treme has been driven –
it’s high time!”

– Volker Strycek – 

Carl Lehmann is on site at the headquarters with a camera team to present the sporty side of the compact class bestseller from Rüsselsheim. After all, Opel has just unveiled its latest sporty top model, the Astra GSe. When the journalist takes the opportunity to ask if he can explore the extreme 2001 Astra, he knocks down open doors. Gullwing doors, to be precise.

No X-treme without Strycek

As can be expected, a static inventory of the super sports car is only the beginning. They make a second appointment at a workshop to get the car ready to go again. “It’s been 18, 19 years,” estimates Volker Strycek, “since the X-treme has been driven – it’s high time!” The former Opel sports boss is the father of the Astra OPC X-treme. Actually also mother, brother-in-law, great cousin and everything else – without him, the super sports car would not exist.

Journey by low-loader: The super sports car was flown halfway around the world to presentations at the time. All the fluids had to be drained for this.
Precious cargo: The advised purchase price for the Astra OPC X-treme was one million D-marks. Today’s one-off is priceless.
Oil, petrol, new starter battery: accompanied by the VOX camera team, the super sports car is made ready to go again.
Expertise: Martin “Alesi” Rose from Phoenix Racing was part of the team that built the super sports car at the time.
And Strycek had no doubt that they would get the X-treme running again after almost 20 years without much effort.

“Trust me: all the Astra OPC
X-treme needs is a little affection,
petrol and oil.”

– Volker Strycek – 

Under his direction, the Opel Performance Center GmbH had already put the Astra OPC on fast wheels by the beginning of the 2000s and built the world’s fastest van, the Zafira OPC. The next project: the super sports car, the unfiltered Opel performance philosophy, the Astra OPC X-treme. “And it turned out that we were not the only ones who had imagined a super sports car in exactly this way,” says Strycek. The Astra OPC X-treme appeared on front pages worldwide, flew to presentations in Detroit and Japan.

The purchase price: one million D-marks

After the premiere at the Geneva Motor Show, there were ten blind orders. The car was supposed to cost one million D-marks – including lifetime maintenance. But things turned out differently. Global events also played a role: while the Rüsselsheim racer was celebrating its world premiere at the IAA in Frankfurt in September, planes crashed into the Twin Towers in New York. The world was a different place. And the super sports car disappeared under a shroud. Until today.

How Opel gave the Astra wings

Despite various luxury attributes, the X-treme weighs in at a slim 1,150 kilograms, just 50 kilos more than the racing version.
It descends from Joachim Winkelhock’s 460 hp Astra V8 Coupé.

It is the year 2000. Opel returns to the newly launched German Touring Car Masters. And Joachim “Jockel” Winkelhock promptly puts the Astra V8 Coupé on pole position at his favourite race at the Norisring. As a result, the Opel team equips the car with gullwing doors until the start of the race. “As a thank you. But also, to annoy the competitors from Stuttgart a little,” recalls Volker Strycek, Opel’s head of motorsport at the time. And the doors inspire Winkelhock so much that he wins the first race. That winning car became the basis for a project that the then still young Opel Performance GmbH started shortly afterwards: namely, to make highly developed racing technology usable on the road. The Astra OPC X-treme, which is presented at the Geneva Motor Show in 2001, differs in about half of its components from its DTM sibling. The powerful nature of the four-litre V8 heart is cultivated in such a way that the X-treme can be driven at low revs – yet with 444 hp it almost packs the same punch as the original from the competition front.

By enthusiasts for enthusiasts: stylish precision, Alcantara leather, brushed aluminium also in the interior.

More than a few look sceptical as the Astra OPC X-treme is rolled into the Phoenix Racing workshop near the Nürburgring in the morning. “Trust me: all the Astra OPC X-treme needs is a little affection, petrol and oil,” says Volker Strycek confidently. In the end, a new fuel pump and a starter battery are also needed. But already in the afternoon, Strycek presses the start button. There is a deafening roar and the rattling of the straight-toothed gearbox. Strycek comments: “The beast runs – awesome!”

The driving dynamics: “Brutal.”

They arrange to meet Carl Lehmann and the film crew at the disused Mendig airfield for the final day of filming. It should be in the week before Christmas. Before the Astra OPC X-treme can be let off the leash, various checks have to be carried out, for example on the brakes. Driving the X-treme, says Volker Strycek, is not without its challenges: “The driving dynamics are brutal. You have to get used to the steering, the carbon-fibre brakes.” Not many people have driven the Opel super sports car, “a dozen people. At the most.” At a driving event in June 2001 on the high-speed track in Dudenhofen, even some motorsport journalists would have preferred to be chauffeured by him instead of driving themselves, the former Opel motorsport boss recalls – there was too much respect.

The final day of shooting: Even the static shots inspire.
Off the leash: The super sports car returns to its purpose.
First-hand experience: Carl Lehmann talking shop with Volker Strycek.
Unmistakable: the V8 coupés from the racing series were the inspiration here.

“A dozen people at the most have ever driven the Opel supercar.”

– Volker Strycek–

Carl Lehmann is not discouraged. He is confident: the seat test in the Classic workshop is to become a test drive on the racetrack. The presenter of the programme, Lance David Arnold, an experienced racing driver, is already eager to test the power-to-weight ratio of 2.59 kg per horsepower. On a cloudy Wednesday, the time has come. The Astra OPC X-treme and the Astra GSe are both ready. Volker Strycek’s fingers are itching. He first climbs into the top-of-the-line model and chases the plug-in hybrid with a system output of 165 kW/225 hp around the test track. “What super driving dynamics! Sporty – Rüsselsheim still has what it take!” he comments on the lap.

Speed beyond 300 km/h

The gullwing doors are opened, final instructions exchanged. How does acceleration to 100 km/h in four seconds and a top speed beyond 300 km/h feel in the Astra OPC X-treme? The answers will be revealed on 29 January in the VOX programme “auto mobil”. After all, we don’t want to give everything away yet. Just this much: It’s worth tuning in when the most extreme Astra Opel has ever built is let off the leash.

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The TV report about the Astra GSe and the Astra OPC X-treme can be seen on 29 January 2023, in the programme “auto mobil” on VOX, the most successful car magazine on German television.

January 2023

Photos: Claudia Weingart (superclose), Opel, Opel Archive