Vision or Madness? The story of Opel RAK
Strapping some rockets on a car? What could possibly go wrong?
Can you imagine how courageous or rather insane you would have to be to put a few rockets on a car...in 1928? Well, the brave man I'm going to tell you about was Fritz von Opel, grandson of the company founder Adam Opel. He was aiming to break the land speed record, earning his nickname "Rocket Fritz".
Fritz von Opel
It all started when a writer, astronomer and a test pilot Max Valier came up with the idea of rocket cars. He then hired Opel car company to test his idea, and the man in charge would be the young Fritz. People in Opel started some serious research, and the rocket maker Sander supplied them with solid-fuel rockets, which were very revolutionary at the time.
Opel RAK 1
The first test car was called RAK (short from Rakettenwagen), and it was tested on 11th April 1928 in Rüsselsheim. The test drive went great and the car reached 125 km/h in just 10 seconds. People were amazed by this achievement, but Fritz wasn't so impressed. He believed that the car could be faster, but he needed to change some things on it first.
Since the track in Rüsselsheim wasn't long enough to achieve any higher speeds, they needed to find a more appropriate test ground. So, they went to Berlin to the famous Avus track. At the end of May 1928, over 3.000 people went there to see the new monster Fritz created-the RAK.2, which had 24 solid-fuel rockets generating 6 tons of thrust.
The 22-years-old Fritz sat behind the wheel of his latest creation and started to ignite the rockets one by one. He accelerated with an insane speed and the car was going faster and faster with every rocket he ignited. Despite having wings on the car, the front wheels lost the grip, but Fritz's fast maneuvering saved him, and he held the car on the track. When the test was finally over, Fritz entered history books having reached 238 km/h.
Opel RAK 2
The public was simply mind blown by this stunt and the company got a great reputation. People were quite intrigued by his test cars, and many were wondering if rocket-powered cars were the next chapter in automotive history. The young driver never gave up on that idea, and started doing more tests. Only a month after he achieved the land speed record, he broke another record with the RAK.3, which was a driverless rail-car. He wanted to make it even faster, but the new test car exploded during the top speed run. Still, it achieved an astonishing speed of 256 km/h.
After he was done with cars, Fritz von Opel started another project involving rocket power, this time on airplanes. The project didn't look very promising, but on 30th September 1929 Fritz gathered the media to show them his Opel-Sander RAK.1 plane. His first two attempts didn't go well, but his 3rd attempt went down in history as the first successful flight of a rocket-powered plane. His highest speed was 100 km/h, which was enough to pilot over 1.5 km in 75 seconds.
Opel-Sanders RAK.1 plane
That flight meant everything to him, and he wanted to continue applying rocket fuel to similar stuff. Unfortunately, his vision of rocket-powered vehicles was brought to end by the Great Depression. To celebrate this great visionary, Opel made a replica of Fritz's RAK.1 plane, and presented it on the 70th anniversary of his historic flight.