Around Paal-Beringen in the Belgian province of Limburg, people know the duo: Gerry Dirix and his Astra are local celebrities. The musician has been driving the dark grey Opel for over two decades. Every day. To music events, to church services – he is the organist in various parishes – or to an educational institution, where he accompanies children on their way to school. His appearance is not loud or flashy. On the contrary, the 46-year-old is known and appreciated for being down-to-earth, honest and reliable. All qualities that he and his Astra have in common. When the Astra’s odometer cracked the 500,000-kilometre mark nine years ago, there was a celebration. A priest blessed the guests – including the car. And The kilometre heroes even made it onto national television when the Opel passed the magic one million mark in May of this year.
That was the moment when Wim Verloy also became aware of the duo: “I contacted Gerry to congratulate him,” recalls the communications manager responsible for Opel’s PR in Belgium and Luxembourg. The long-time Astra driver expressed his wish to visit the headquarters in Rüsselsheim and show the Opel CEO his durable companion. “Okay, I’ll just ask,” Wim Verloy recalls his reaction. Today, on a Wednesday in mid-July, Gerry Dirix is standing in front of the Adam Opel Haus in Rüsselsheim with Opel CEO Florian Huettl . They are watching the Belgian TV programme on the smartphone and chatting about the quality of the 25-year-old bestseller.
Credit where credit is due
“The engine is original, just like the gearbox,” emphasises the Belgian guest. “Every 7,000 kilometres the oil is changed,” he adds, presenting the fourth service record book as proof. The CEO takes a seat in the kilometre hero, the musician in the new Astra Plug-in Hybrid. Together they record a video about the meeting. “It’s a very special day for me,” says Dirix before adding,” seeing that Opel appreciates my passion and has made this visit possible, is a great honour for me.” Florian Huettl also enjoys the meeting: “It’s nice to see how outstanding quality leads to satisfied customers.”
A meeting with the Opel CEO – why not? After all, approachability is at the core of the brand.
There are more exciting Opel vehicles than the Astra F. Although? Only at first glance.
And a visit to the headquarters naturally includes a trip to the hallowed halls: Opel Classic supremo Leif Rohwedder leads Gerry Dirix and his girlfriend Brigitte Fischer through the Opel Classic collection. The two are fascinated by the wax candles that serve as illuminants for the headlights of the Opel Lutzmann and are awestruck when they take a seat in the “Green Monster”. There are more exciting Opel vehicles in the hall than the Astra F. Although? Only at first glance. The guests listen with rapt attention. Because the model that Gerry Dirix bought from his neighbour 22 years ago has made history. “With 4.13 million units, it is the best-selling Opel model to date,” says Rohwedder. The reason: the Astra F is full of innovations. Just as it has become tradition in the 86-year history of the compact class bestseller.
Astra as a technology carrier
The safety features (double-tube reinforcements in the doors, full-size airbags as standard from 1994), the use of recycled materials (instrument panel, interior trim or centre stack) and the consistent use of catalytic converters set new standards in the compact class in the 1990s. Even the 1.7-litre compression-ignition engine that works so reliably in Dirix’s Astra has a specially developed diesel oxidation catalytic converter. Last but not least, Leif Rohwedder leads the guests to a special model of the series: “With the Astra Impuls III, Opel conducted the first large-scale electric car test in its history from 1993 to 1997.” Ten such battery-powered units reeled off a total of 350,000 test kilometres on the Baltic Sea island of Rügen.
It is a research project that has culminated in a production vehicle, not least the new Astra. A plug-in hybrid stands in front of the Classic Workshop. It is a brand-new example that came off the assembly line just a few metres away. “Next year, a fully electric model will follow,” says Jens Cooper, Opel’s Classic expert. Together with the guest, he inspects the cockpit, the so-called Opel Pure Panel. “It looks great – and shines just like my cockpit,” Dirix jokes. And indeed, no matter where you look: The dashboards in the Belgian Astra durability champion are impeccable, as are the door sill trims, the seat covers, even the steering wheel. “The Astra has never let me down – the quality is outstanding. And it still drives as smoothly as on the first day.”
“Never let me down”
Of course, the electric version would also appeal to him: “The new Astra is great to drive,” says Gerry Dirix, describing his impressions of the test drive, “but before I can think about a successor, I have to find out how long my Astra will continue to serve me faithfully.” Which brand his heart belongs to is beyond question: “It’s just like Mr Huettl said: Great quality leads to satisfied customers. My next one will be an Opel, of course.”
Before the succession can be clarified, the question is: What can the kilometre hero still achieve?