DRIVERS: RIKKY VON OPEL

Name: Rikky von Opel
Nationality: Lichtenstein
Date of birth: October 14, 1947 - New York

Adam Opel began producing high quality sewing machines in his Russelheim factory in Germany in 1862. Shortly afterwards he branched out into the production of bicycles and the company soon joined the gold rush into the automobile industry in 1898. After making cars under licence for the first few years Opel began making their own machinery and used competition to promote their products. Opel had a team at the first Grand Prix in 1906. The company grew rapidly and in 1929 was acquired by General Motors, leaving the Opel family extraordinarily wealthy.

In 1947 Rikky Von Opel was born in New York, one of the heirs to the Adam Opel fortune. He grew up wanting nothing and like many young men from wealthy backgrounds felt the need to prove himself in anonymity. He began racing using the pseudonym "Antonio Bronco". It was only after he had established a reputation as a decent driver that he reverted to his real name and in 1972, in search of a competitive car, became a customer of Mo Nunn's Ensign company in decidedly unglamorous Walsall in the industrial heartland of Britain.

Von Opel was signed up as a driver for Team Ensign and both he and his team mate Mike Walker won races. Towards the end of that year Von Opel commissioned Nunn to build a Formula 1 car for him in 1973. Nunn agreed and the Ensign N173 made its first appearance at the French GP. Von Opel drove the car with great enthusiasm but failed to score any major results. The Opel Family fortune made Von Opel an attractive target for the buccaneering F1 team bosses of the day and in 1974 he was lured away from Ensign by the new owner of Brabham, Bernie Ecclestone, to drive one of Gordon Murray's BT44s alongside Carlos Reutemann. He finished ninth in the Swedish and Dutch Grands Prix but soon realised that he was never going to be a match for the really fast men and decided that it was time to retire from the sport at the age of 27.

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