Georg von Opel had an unusual problem in the 1930s. His family had recently sold its car factory to General Motors for $50 million and he had inherited a sizeable proportion of the proceeds.
The problem was, GM didn't need his family's involvement in the business. So Georg did the next best thing. He decided to capitalize on his name by selling Opels.
At the time of his death at 59 in 1971, he had opened 17 dealerships - and a public zoo - and gained a reputation as the Opel who sold Opels. Not many of his buyers knew Georg had little to do with the cars that ended up in his showroom.
But the car business was different back then, says his 31-year-old son Gregor, who got the business when he turned 19. His three brothers didn't want the dealerships.
Gregor, whose great-grandfather was Adam Opel, has more than doubled the sales outlets to 40 and today sells 17,000 new and 13,000 used cars a year.
'During my father's time, it was easier to sell cars,' says Gregor. 'It was a seller's market. Now it's a buyer's market and there is a lot of pressure from the company.'
Still, his business is profitable. A lot of his customers still don't know Gregor is not part of the automaker which carries his name. 'They just think it's good to buy an Opel from an Opel,' says Gregor.
But Gregor says he does have 'good links' to the manufacturer.
About 10 years ago, Gregor met Louis Hughes, Opel's chairman at the time, at an auto show. 'Hughes was surprised, and said he didn't know there were any Opels in the business,' he says.
The interaction continued, especially as Gregor set off on a buying spree. 'I figured I'd buy dealerships that were up for sale before someone else did. That's the only reason we grew so fast.'
The first car Gregor sold wasn't an Opel. At 19, he was put on the showroom floor to learn the business from the bottom up. Young Gregor sold a Cadillac to a German buyer. 'I knew it had the largest profit margin, about 20 percent, and I would get a bigger bonus,' he says.
That kind of entrepreneurial thinking has grown his business. Gregor even went to the USA two years ago and toured GM dealerships there, bringing back ideas for his own dealerships. The trip also confirmed in Gregor's mind that there's a vast difference between buyers and cars on both continents.
'German cars are still the best,' he says. 'Here, everything has to be perfect. The quality is now as good, or better, than its reputation.'
Gregor is optimistic that Opel is finally going in the right direction. He has met Robert Hendry, Opel's new chairman, and says: 'The change was good. Hendry is very European-minded. He's very open and he can make the right changes. It would be good if General Motors kept him here for more than the usual three years.'
Would his great-grandfather be surprised at how Opel has evolved?
'Yes, because an Opel can now be driven by everyone. Because of technological developments, it's not just a car for rich people.'
Even the Opel name isn't always enough. GM turned down Gregor's request for more dealerships in 1994. Since there was no possibility of expansion in Germany, Gregor tried Greece, his wife's birthplace. GM again said no. Gregor finally defected. Two years ago, he bought a Fiat, Lancia and Alfa Romeo dealership from Fiat.
For the first time, an Opel isn't selling just Opels.