Richard Dredge

Richard Dredge

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Richard Dredge

Richard Dredge

Opel Maxx

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In the mid-1990s, the Maxx was GM's vision of the future of urban motoring

As the 20th century drew to a close, environmental concerns over the car’s impact on the planet were becoming increasingly prominent. Whereas most people aspired to own something bigger and more luxurious than what they already had, few could afford to keep upgrading to something more cosseting with ever greater performance. And as roads became increasingly congested it made sense to look carefully at how personal transport could be made more efficient without sacrificing comfort altogether. To that end General Motors came up with a pair of Maxx concepts, which were first shown at the 1995 Geneva motor show and which showed the GM vision of the future of urban motoring.

There were short (two-door) and long-wheelbase (four-door) versions of the Maxx on display, both of which were powered by the then-new 973cc cast-iron three-cylinder petrol engine that would become the standard entry-level powerplant for the Corsa. In short-wheelbase form the Maxx was 750mm shorter than the Corsa, and by using aluminium extensively in its construction the fuel efficiency and manouevrability of the car was superb.

The two-door Maxx was three inches (75mm) shorter than the original Mini, but despite its compact dimensions there were two rows of seats, giving enough space to house four people because of the high roof line. Thanks to the slippery shape of the Maxx, the low rolling resistance of the tyres and the lightweight construction, the car could supposedly achieve up to 72 miles per gallon, although such figures are normally arrived at in a laboratory rather than the real world…

The concept of the Maxx was very similar to that of the Smart, in that its outer panels clipped on to a central monocoque, which was what gave the car its strength. But whereas the Smart’s engine was mounted in the rear, the Maxx’s was positioned more conventionally, at the front. The front wheels were driven via a five-speed electrically actuated sequential gearbox, with the ratios selected by a rocker switch on the steering wheel. But if the driver didn’t want to have to change gears manually, there was also the option of moving the transmission to fully automatic mode.

Perhaps the most important aspect of the Maxx was its modular design; GM envisaged being able to offer a whole family of cars without having to invest in new tooling for each one. To that end it would be possible to turn the two-door Maxx into a saloon, convertible, pick-up, off-roader or sports car.

Meanwhile the four-door version would be the space-efficient people carrier or load lugger, capable of carrying up to six people and up to 500 litres of cargo. While the project was still on the drawing board there were even thoughts of Maxx-based taxis and ice cream vans being built on a bespoke basis.

Inside the Maxx things were equally space efficient, with very thinly padded seats and a completely flat floor to minimise cabin intrusions. The simple dash featured a large digital display for most of the instrumentation (which was basically the rev counter and speedometer and little else) and the small amount of switchgear that was fitted was grouped together in the centre of the fascia. Unusually for such a small economy car, there was also a telephone integrated into the dashboard, but other than that there were relatively few gadgets fitted; lightness and simplicity were key to this concept.

Interestingly, the literature given away to promote the Maxx at the time of its launch stated quite categorically the concept was “a technology study only” and that there were “no production plans for the Maxx, nor is it proposed as a replacement for any current Vauxhall/Opel product”. Perhaps the company was merely trying to maintain interest in its then-current product range, or maybe it really did believe the Maxx wasn’t the way forward.


Vital statistics
Debut Geneva, 1995
Engine Front-mounted, 973cc, 3-cylinder
Transmission 5-speed sequential, front-wheel drive
Power 50bhp
Top speed 95mph

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