Living Barn Find! 1956 Opel Olympia Caravan

The Opel Olympia was a German compact car built across several iterations from 1935-70, with gaps along the way, such as during World War II. Most of these cars have faded away due to being worn out, but there is one 1956 edition that refuses to die. This is the interesting story of one such Caravan (aka station wagon) whose owner has even fought the government to keep it out of the clutches of the junkman. We hope you’ll enjoy this fascinating read here on Hagerty.

A German engineer and professor bought this used Caravan from its original owner in 1976. He drove it for a while and – after several unsuccessful attempts to resell it – decided to keep it. And that started a 45-year odyssey to thwart the efforts of others to get it off the road. It’s far from pretty today, having spent most of its life out on the streets, but Hanns-Lüdecke Rodewald (the owner) doesn’t care – he hasn’t even washed the wagon since 1977. No matter how rough it looks, we’re told it still runs, but seldom performs that task now.

The survival of this car has become an experiment for the owner. He decided long ago to see how long the Caravan could stick around with only those limited repairs needed to pass inspection and keep license plates on it. But he didn’t baby it along the way, adding a roof rack to haul stuff and a hitch to pull double-axle trailers. Paint and sheet metal began to be replaced by rust, but the 45 hp motor continues to chug along.

At 105,000 miles, several sets of consumables have been substituted along with more critical items like the camshaft gear, exhaust valve. and the clutch. The car has become a common sight on the streets of Berlin, which has come to the dismay of government officials. It and Rodewald have been cited more than a dozen times for various violations that the stalwart owner has managed to come out of unscathed. He has circumvented much of this by registering it as a historical vehicle, which has helped some in his quest, but not entirely.

Besides being seen on the streets where he lives, the car has had the opportunity to become famous in other ways. For example, last year he was asked to display it, rough and all, at the 2021 German International Motor Show where it sat next to a fully restored Olympia sedan. Rodewald doesn’t know when his experiment to keep the car alive will end. He’s getting more and more concerned about driving it because of its 1950s technology – no seatbelts, no airbags, and the steering column isn’t collapsible, should he get into an accident. And there are increasingly stringent emissions standards that the owner must work around. We hope the experiment goes on well past Rodewald’s own lifetime!


  1. angliagt angliagt Member

    Great story! I’d love to see him park this next to a
    trailer queen 911 at a car show,just to drive them crazy.

    Like 13
  2. Rex Kahrs Member

    Like this, only a car!

    Like 32
    • Will Fox

      PIG PEN!!!!! lol

      Like 4
  3. buck neccid

    In the 70’s the Polizei would ticket us for having a dirty car. I guess that’s part of the problems they are speaking of. Historic dirt… he has an imagination lol

    Like 4
    • Bill McCoskey Bill McCoskey Member

      A number of years ago, the German government, in an attempt to stop detergent and oil residue pollution, made it illegal to wash a vehicle except in authorized car wash locations. You will get a citation if you wash your own vehicle at home. So today there are huge car wash facilities all over the country, and these places recycle all the water and detergent, with special filters for sediment and oils.

      I’ve seen videos of modern German car wash facilities as large as a US supermarket, where 20 meter wide moving floors take the car from station to station, where it’s cleaned inside and out.

      A German gearhead friend of mine told me the actual reason why they passed the law was to rid the country of all the unwashed east German vehicles still on the road. He said in the former DDR it was difficult to find ways of washing a car, and access to car wash items like a garden hose or detergent was difficult, so east Germans lucky enough to own a car would find a shallow stream or a road that forded a stream, and they would wash the car in the stream.

      Like 1
  4. Ward William

    Wow. When I was 13 back in 1974, I did weekend work for a lovely German guy who had emigrated to Australia with his family in the early 60s and he loved his Opel Olympia so much, he brought it with him and it was his daily driver. I rode with him in it many times. Back then it was probably the only one in Australia. Foot starter. Wonderful memories. I still remember his name, Max Gistinger.

    Like 6
  5. jimbunte jimbunte Member

    As far as I’m concerned, he’s mistreated this vehicle incredibly – never washed it? Come on.

    Like 3
    • Ward William

      These things were built like tanks. Like this guy, my friend Max used to tow heavy trailers with it and load it to the gunnels with stuff and he also had a big roof rack on it. You could not kill it with a big stick and I would not be surprised if it is still around somewhere. They really were a very utilitarian vehicle.

      Like 1
  6. Steve Clinton

    More dead than alive.

  7. MikeH

    I had a ‘53 Olympia (could have been a Rekord) with a three speed. Worst design ever. Second was too low and third was too high. It cried for a four speed. I sold it quickly at a profit. I only paid $12.50 for it.

    Like 1
  8. Michael Berkemeier

    I expected it to have far more miles on it.105K? That’s nothing. I think it’s sad what he’s done to the car. Too bad. No car deserves to be mistreated like that.

    Like 3
  9. Gerard Frederick

    This guy is a certified fruit cake.

  10. Wayne from Oz

    It has the equivalent to modern day safety standards. It has crumple zones. Commonly referred to as rust.

    Like 2
  11. Rod Cherokee

    Very silly and disrespectful « experiment »

  12. chrlsful

    might B ‘right-sized’. Like to see a man beside for scale.

    1st vehicle I’d do cosmetics 1st (after safety ck/maintenance) if owned. I’d consider if right priced, sized (& more) if I didn’t just but an ’85 fox bodied waggy.

  13. jwaltb

    IMO the guy’s a lunatic to have pulled a trailer with small tractor/ backhoe behind that. They must have been built like tanks.

Leave a Reply to Rod Cherokee Cancel reply

RULES: No profanity, politics, or personal attacks.

Become a member to add images to your comments.


Keep me in the conversation via email. Or subscribe without commenting.