This has been Opel Week for me; so far, we’ve seen a “Social Mini-Brute” Kadett magazine ad, a 1967 Kadett Junkyard Treasure, and a bunch of classic Opel television advertisements. Today we’ll be looking at one of my most treasured automotive possessions: a Kienzle electromechanical analog clock pulled from a 1966 Opel Kadett.
Clocks sometimes (but not always) can be removed easily from junkyard vehicles, and I have been collecting interesting ones — both analog and digital — for a decade or so now. My collection is up to about 100 clocks now, most of which are tested and functioning. We have seen a few of my favorites here, including the Ford Five Hundred/Mercury Montego clock, the 1981 Honda Accord Sankyo mechanical-digital clock, and the 1976 Jaguar XJ-S Kienzle clock. Today’s Opel-badged Kienzle is the first car clock I ever pulled, and it has been in my possession since 1982.
Opel sold the Kadett A in the United States, but it was the model-year-1966 introduction of the Kadett B that changed the Opel brand from something hardly any Americans recognized to an uncommon-but-identifiable marque. One of the big selling points of the very affordable 1966-1970 Kadett was the fact that you got a nice big dash-mounted clock as standard equipment; back then, stuff like clocks and AM radios were considered costly luxurious options.
In 1982, I was 16, driving a beige 1969 Toyota Corona sedan, and spending a lot of time crawling around in the wrecking yards of Oakland and Hayward, California. A friend lived in the very rough Fruitvale neighborhood of East Oakland, and a stripped 1966 Kadett got dumped in front of his house. Someone stole the wheels and doors right away, so it spent a few weeks on cinder blocks and getting rained in before I realized that the dash clock was still there. Back then, scrap value for cars was negligible, and so a heap like this in an industrial neighborhood by the train tracks might linger in the same spot for years. Eventually, figured the original owner wouldn’t be claiming it, so I reached around to the clock’s rear, unthreaded the two thumbscrews holding it in place, and took it home.
Not long after I obtained my first car clock (my Corona had no clock, though it did have an 8-track player and an AM radio with CONELRAD frequencies marked), I bought the world’s worst 1958 Volkswagen Beetle from a small junkyard just down the street from the abandoned Kadett’s carcass. A previous owner had applied a Sawzall to make it a hideous parody of a Baja Bug, then swapped in a Type 3 VW engine; I called this car Hubert the Hatred Bug, and it very much wanted to kill me. Naturally, one of the first things I did with this car was to build a homemade instrument cluster full of switches and gauges, and the Kadett clock went right in the middle.
This clock uses a mechanism that was very common for vehicle timepieces from the end of World War II until about 1980. There’s a regular spring-powered mechanism that goes tick-tick-tick and moves the hands, and a switch that closes when the spring winds down and activates a solenoid that rewinds the clock; this winding event takes place about every five minutes and makes a distinctive “clack” sound. With all the delicate moving parts, it’s unusual for this type of clock to keep functioning beyond about a decade, but the Kienzle (and, later, VDO) design was much more reliable than its Detroit counterparts. My Opel clock kept perfect time during the few years I had it in Hubert the Hatred Bug, and I came to enjoy the regular sound of the wind-up function in action.
Eventually, I went off to college in Southern California, and I left Hubert in my long-suffering parents’ back yard, 430 miles to the north. During one trip home, I pulled out my custom-built instrument panel for some reason, and that was all the motivation my parents needed to push Hubert into the street and call for the junkyard tow truck to take it away (it’s OK, they paid for my college tuition, and in any case I had a more rock-n-roll car by then). The instrument panel, with Opel clock still in place, sat in the Parental Garage until 1991.
In 1990, I bought a 1965 Chevrolet Impala sedan, with the intent of building it into a performance/installation art piece. This I did, but the car also became my daily driver for a full decade, and I racked up over 100,000 miles on it during that period. The story of my most significant motor vehicle has too many weird twists and turns to tell here, so go read the complete Impala Hell Project saga if you’re curious.
In 1991, I realized that my Impala needed a custom instrument panel packed with switches, gauges, and lights, just as I’d made for Hubert the Hatred Bug. I found an old DIP street sign, cut out an Impala-dash-shaped piece, and got to work.
The Impala’s new instrument panel boasted a circular speedometer out of a random 1960s GM car (I think it’s a Buick), a VDO voltmeter from an early-1980s Volkswagen Scirocco, a swap-meet Mallory tachometer… and the Opel Kadett clock.
For ten years, the sound of the Kienzle clock rewinding every five minutes accompanied me on my drives, around the block or across the country. It always kept accurate time (for a mechanical clock), needing only occasional corrections. Heat, cold, rough roads— nothing perturbed my Kienzle.
I removed the Opel clock from my Impala when I put the car on a radical weight-loss diet for dragstrip purposes (it ran a 13.67 in the quarter-mile, eventually). When I sold the car, I kept the clock. 18 years later, I spotted another battered Kadett, this time in a Denver wrecking yard.
The Kienzle clock was still there, so I pulled it and paid $5.74 for it. It doesn’t work, but I think disassembly and lubrication should get it ticking again.
Someday, I’ll install my original Opel Kienzle clock in another car, or perhaps it will go into an elaborate car-parts boombox for a while. For now, it sits on a shelf in my office.