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Name: Opel Insignia

Debuted: 2003 Frankfurt Motor Show

Specs: rear-wheel drive, V8 engine with 344 horsepower, seven-speed automatic gearbox, hydropneumatic suspension

Why We Remember It Now:

With the official debut of the Insignia Grand Sport scheduled for later today, we though that it would be appropriate to dial our time machine to the year 2003 when the spectacular Insignia concept was unveiled.

It came out at a time when Opel had the Vectra and the larger Signum on sale, both of which were retired in 2008 when the production-ready Insignia was launched after being previewed a year earlier by the sporty GTC. The namesake concept was significantly more interesting as it had an unconventional exterior with sliding rear doors suspended on a pantograph. The driver had to press a button on the door handle to open the front doors and automatically slide the rear ones to ease access inside the cabin.

2003 Opel Insignia concept
2003 Opel Insignia concept

Up front it had a prominent grille milled from solid aluminum flanked by a pair of LED headlights, which were quite impressive 13 years ago. As a matter of fact, Opel used a total of 405 light-emitting diodes installed in the headlights, taillights, fog lights, as well as to light up the luxurious interior. The Insignia concept was a technological tour de force, packing electric motors to open the tailgate and rear window at the touch of a button.

With a full panoramic glass roof, massive 21-inch wheels, quad exhaust tips, and lacking B pillars, it’s no wonder the concept made a big splash at the 2003 Frankfurt Motor Show. From a mechanical point of view, it was significantly different than the road-going model launched five years later. Opel actually implemented a rear-wheel drive layout derived from the Holden Commodore and installed an LS1 V8 engine from the Corvette with 344 horsepower (256 kilowatts) delivered to the road via a seven-speed automatic gearbox. It was enough American muscle to enable the Insignia concept run to 62 mph (100 kph) in less than six seconds before topping out at an electronically-capped 155 mph (250 kph).

2003 Opel Insignia concept
2003 Opel Insignia concept

Not only that, but Opel engineered the car with a hydropneumatic suspension enabling a silky smooth ride as one would expect from a large sedan with premium aspirations. The sense of luxury continued on the inside where the folks from Rüsselsheim pulled out all the stops: tobacco-brown leather upholstery, turquoise decorative seams, dark ebony wood trim, and numerous glossy surfaces. In addition, some of the areas received a satin-finished aluminum finish, while the use of LEDs and a DVD player with a folding screen gave the cabin a high-tech look.

2003 Opel Insignia concept
2003 Opel Insignia concept
2003 Opel Insignia concept

Interestingly, the Insignia concept was conceived to be easily transformed into a four-seater by electrically folding the central seat into the trunk floor. Passengers sitting in the back on those comfy individual seats had access to a cool box capable of holding two bottles of champagne. As a final touch, a humidor for storing fine cigars made the Insignia concept feel more like a proper limousine.

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Gallery: 2003 Opel Insignia concept

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Ambassador of Brand Confidence: The New Opel Insignia

  • Progressively styled design study with dynamic coupé lines
  • Driver-oriented concept car with variable rear seat space
  • Innovative doors, tailgate and lights

Rüsselsheim. Opel will present the Insignia, an automotive vision of the future and a design study with a new formal concept, for the first time at the Frankfurt International Motor Show (September 13 to 21, 2003). In addition to its progressive, elegant and dynamic design, the Insignia features numerous innovations including extensive use of LED lighting technology and unique pantograph-action doors and tailgate.

Further highlights include the versatile interior layout and excellent driving dynamics. Says Opel's Chairman and Managing Director, Carl-Peter Forster: "The Insignia is not an expensive luxury car but an ambassador of Opel's new confidence. It emphasizes our message of the past few months, that 'Opel is back', and it also demonstrates the innovative ideas we come up with when we think about a 'big Opel'."

The driver-oriented, rear-wheel drive concept car can be transformed from a comfortable four-seater for day-to-day business purposes, into a sporty five-seat transport vehicle for weekend activities, family and recreation. The 344-hp aluminum V8 engine gives it a top speed of 250 km/h (electronically controlled), with acceleration from zero to 100 km/h in under six seconds.

Carl-Peter Forster: "With its excellent driving dynamics, exceptional versatility and expressive styling, the Insignia embodies three of the Opel brand's core characteristics."

Premiere: New Opel design language in large format for first time

With its well-balanced proportions and its progressive, elegant and dynamic lines, "the Insignia shows how Opel's new design language translates to a large sized car for the very first time," explains Opel's Executive Director of Design, Martin Smith. "With its many creative ideas, this study is a vision reaching far into the future, showing how Opel defines such a new concept."

This departure from a conservative notchback silhouette is evident in the coupé-style body lines and design details such as the long engine hood with sweeping A-pillars and the inward-tapering front and rear ends. The Insignia's short overhangs and balanced proportions (length/width/height: 4803/1914/1414 millimeters) and the long 2915-mm wheelbase are just as striking. The wide track (1666 mm) emphasizes the Insignia's dynamics even further.

The impressive radiator grille represents pride in the brand in three-dimensional form – a reference to the big cars that have always been part of Opel's tradition. It is milled from solid aluminum and flanked by large air intakes, thus dominating the front end and conveying an unmistakable sense of confidence. This is an Opel with genuine power under the boldly styled hood, accentuated by a characteristic crease down the middle and a V-shape that flows from the A-pillars, thus creating a strong link to the honeycomb-grille. Four sturdy crossbars (the top one carrying the prominent Opel emblem) emphasize the grille's significance in the front-end design.


Eye-catchers: Striking shoulder profile and 21-inch aluminum wheels

Seen from the side, the surfaces and lines are equally dynamic. The striking shoulder lines grow out of the front and rear fenders like muscles. Says Stefan Lamm, Designer: "This is a new interpretation of the 'wedge' theme. Strong emphasis on the contours makes the Insignia look powerful from this perspective, too."

Discreet chrome frames accentuate the clear, elegant window graphics with no disturbing B-pillars. The design of the large 21-inch aluminum wheels, satin-finished with polished elements, echoes the body's styling cues and provides an eye-catching finale to the Insignia's silhouette.
The door handles are flush with the body and therefore a nearly invisible element in the side outline. They are activated automatically, but only when the Insignia's owner approaches the car. The "Open & Start" transponder system, installed in the new Astra for the first time on a production model, identifies the owner by means of coded, theft-secure, radio remote-control that replaces the conventional car key. At the touch of a button, the rear window and tailgate are opened or closed by electric motors. A button hidden away in the door handle provides yet another "open Sesame" experience. If it is pressed after the front doors have been unlocked, the rear doors slide backwards smoothly, suspended on an innovative pantograph, as if moved by an invisible hand.

The Insignia's rear end is also a study formal harmony: Clear accents are provided by a chrome strip and two twin exhaust tailpipes integrated into the bumper. The large, V-shaped, three-dimensionally tapering tailgate dominates this view of the car and conceals plenty of exceptionally variable space underneath. According to the VDA standard test method, the trunk capacity is 410 liters when the Insignia is being driven as a four- or five-seater. Folding the complete rear seat forward yields an absolutely level surface with up to 970 liters of load-carrying capacity.

In harmony: High-tech and craftsmanship in the interior

The Insignia comes in even more guises. Continuing the long tradition of innovative interiors at Opel, for instance the Zafira's Flex7 system with fully retractable third-row seats or the multiple configurations of the Meriva and Signum FlexSpace concepts, the Insignia features yet another new idea: The section of the center tunnel that separates the two individual rear seats can be moved back under the trunk-floor to reveal a folded seat that can be raised electrically to make the Insignia a five-seater. The tunnel, covered with fine leather with exclusive Macassar ebony wood inlays conceals even more secrets: The designers have integrated a DVD player with folding screen, a cool-box large enough for two bottles of champagne and a humidor for storing fine cigars.

Despite these luxury accessories in the rear, there's never a doubt in the Insignia as to who's in charge: The cockpit, with its three-dimensional instruments and control satellites for the most important functions made of satin-finished and polished aluminum, is perfectly matched to the driver's needs so he or she can concentrate on the essentials.
All secondary control panels such as the infotainment system or the air-conditioning are hidden away under ingenious sliding covers in the center console. As Stefan Lamm explains: "The high standards we set are evident in even the smallest detail."

This becomes clear everywhere in the interior, including the instruments. The classic round shapes have been re-interpreted progressively using high-tech materials. Thanks to the reversed layout – the dials are positioned in front of the needles – the numerals are not hidden as the needle moves past them. This is made possible by the use of transparent dials that are easy to read in any light conditions, thanks to the use of modern light-emitting diodes (LED).

Light source: 405 diodes replace conventional bulbs

The styling tension between state-of-the-art technology and classic craftsmanship is one of the most exciting features of the Insignia's interior. Finest tobacco-brown leather contrasts with turquoise decorative seams and inlays made of dark Macassar ebony wood, with dark-brown, high-gloss lacquer surfaces combined with satin-finished aluminum. All this is illuminated in stylish, indirect blue and green light emitted mysteriously by diodes located in invisible slots in the doors and ceiling.

The Opel Insignia demonstrates how light will be generated in future cars, but not only in the interior: Deflected in various directions by prisms, it comes from no fewer than 405 light emitting diodes in the headlamps, rear lights, fog lights, brake lights, instruments and the car's interior. They open up entirely new opportunities in car design, since they last for practically the car's life-time and take up very little space. Headlamps and other lights can be made smaller and there is no need to provide for bulb replacement. The compact LEDs become quite hot though, so that efficient cooling is one of the main tasks for the developers of future lighting systems.

Parallel sliding action: Pantographs for the doors and tailgate

The future potential of the pantograph mounting and lever principle used for the two rear doors is also obvious. With its help, even large doors can be opened in small parking spaces or garages. Like a sliding door but without the sliding rails, the doors move parallel to the body rather than swinging outwards.
Because of their advantages, pantograph hinges with two pivot points have often been tried in automobiles, but this is the first time that the door has been successfully realized without multiple levers and without destroying the harmonious styling.

This is how the dictionary explains the mechanism: "Pantograph – an instrument ... consisting of four ...bars jointed in parallelogram form." Now that the Insignia has appeared, this definition will have to be re-written, as the Opel's engineers in the team led by Gerhard Mathes, have succeeded in designing a sophisticated but simple mechanism inside the pantograph support arm. When the door is closed, the aluminum support lever disappears elegantly into the door trim. "The kinematics of the Insignia's rear doors will puzzle many observers," says Mathes with a smile. How it works will, for the time being, remain Opel's secret, as Hans H. Demant, Executive Director, Engineering, is positive that "the pantograph has revolutionary potential".

Observers can also study the advantages of the pantograph system at the rear of the Insignia, even though this is a conventional design, with articulated parallelograms. Both the large tailgate and its rear window can be opened parallel to the roof by remote control, which means that they can open even if the car has been reversed up to a wall – especially since they open with the aid of electric motors. A total of 45 electric motors are installed on the concept car. They not only open and close the doors at the touch of a button, for example, but also move the seats forward automatically to make access to the rear easier.

Power pack: Rear-wheel drive and V8 engine

Opel's engineers chose an all-new GM rear-wheel drive architecture being developed for future global products as the basis for the Insignia's dynamic concept. With double wishbones and coil springs at the front and a five-link axle at the rear (decoupled for refinement), the Insignia delivers exemplary cornering behavior and high directional stability. Hydraulic load-leveling control compensates for changes in payload. In line with the dynamic character, the Insignia is powered by the Corvette's 344-hp aluminum V8 engine, which gives it a maximum speed of 250 km/h (electronically controlled), with acceleration from zero to 100 km/h in under six seconds.

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