At 10 o'clock in the morning of May 23 1928, a futuristic side-winged race car got ready to whiz around the Avus circuit in Berlin. Fritz von opel, 29, grandson of company founder Adam Opel, successively launched the 24 solid-fuel rockets located at the back of your Opel RAK 2 and it streaked past the crowded stands, leaving a trail of fire.
The 3.000 viewers They went berserk when the shiny black car bearing the Opel name stopped: Fritz von Opel, also known as "The Rüsselsheim Rocket," set the new speed record that day by reaching the 238 km / h. In addition, it demonstrated to the world the power of rocket propulsion and the ability to control it.
The history of the Opel RAK 2 dates back to the autumn of 1927. Fritz von Opel decided to actively participate in the rocket research project of the publicist and astronomer Max valier when he met the Austrian.
The skilled racing driver, entrepreneur and engineer brought his own commitment together with Opel's innovative strength and financial strength. First because he was personally fascinated by rocket technology and second because he hoped the visionary plan would have a positive effect on the brand.
Von Opel invited Friedrich Sander to participate in the project to achieve a rapid implementation of the rocket motor as Sander's company manufactured signal rockets with solid fuel.
The cooperation between Valier, Sander and von Opel began to bear fruit in March 1928. The first rocket-powered prototypes were tested at the Opel test track in Rüsselsheim. On April 11 the Opel RAK 1, with Opel engineer and racing driver Kurt volkhart behind the wheel, it reached 100 km / h in eight seconds.
The vehicle, which already had small wings on the sides, was based on the Opel 4/12. It was powered by twelve Sander rockets with about 40 kilograms of explosives. Thus, the viability of the use of rockets was proven. The team agreed to test at higher speeds, especially in light of the enthusiastic response from the press. As the Rüsselsheim test track was not suitable for such tests, the team opted for the Avus test track in Berlin, with its two long straights.
The Opel RAK 2 was specially designed to try to break the speed record at Avus. It was based on the chassis of the Opel 10/40 and it was a perfected version of the RAK 1 in many respects. It was longer than its predecessor, at 4,88 meters in length, aerodynamics had been improved, the upper wings were larger, and it carried 24 solid-fuel rockets developing a six-ton thrust. Otherwise, the sequential electrical ignition of the charges was maintained by a foot pedal on the ground. The futuristic-looking, 560kg racing car lacked an engine and transmission.
Fritz von Opel decided to be the driver and meticulously planned, from a technical and organizational point of view, the show to break the record in Berlin. Some 3.000 guests, including journalists, celebrities, athletes and politicians, attended the event en masse.
Film artists attended Lilian harvey y Thea von Harbou, the director of Metropolis, Fritz Lang; popular racing drivers Hanni kohler y Carl Jörns, and the boxing legend Max schmeling.
Before the start, the teacher Johann Schütte, president of the Aviation Scientific Society, and Fritz von Opel delivered prophetic speeches. The Opel team then got ready for the test. Mechanics August Becker and Karl Treber removed the canvas covering the Opel RAK 2 and carefully pushed it to the exit. It was then that the rockets were installed and connected to the ignition mechanism.
The police cleared the circuit and Fritz von Opel got behind the large wooden steering wheel. This was followed by an eloquent handshake with Friedrich Sander. The excited onlookers were suddenly silent. Afterwards, everything happened very fast.
“I stepped on the ignition pedal and the rockets roared behind me and sent me forward. I stepped on the pedal again and a kind of fury seized me and everything on either side of me disappeared. The acceleration gave me a great excitement and I let myself think. I acted solely on instinct, while uncontrollable forces roared behind me ”, Fritz said after his experience.
The Rüsselsheim-born entrepreneur took the north turn well and managed to prevent the car from lifting off the ground, as the wings did not provide enough aerodynamic grip for the breakneck speed. In just three minutes it was all over.
The RAK 2 rolled slowly to a stop, the great plume of white smoke dissipating into the Berlin sky and giving way to thunderous applause from the onlookers. The utopia came true and the triumph was spectacular. Von Opel reached a speed of 238 km / h and his name became known throughout Germany overnight. The Opel brand quickly received recognition for the most advanced and innovative car of the day. The era of rockets had begun.
Spurred on by success in Berlin, Fritz von Opel and Friedrich Sander continued to experiment. On June 23, 1928 they set a new record for rail vehicles by reaching 256 km / h with the Opel RAK 3 rocket-powered wagon.
After testing a motorcycle, the legendary Opel Motoclub, they turned their attention to aviation. On September 30, 1929, they accomplished another pioneering feat: the first rocket-powered flight of the high-wing aircraft Opel-Sander RAK 1, made by Julius Hatry.
Soon after, the Great Depression put an end to Opel's rocket experiments and the company focused its capabilities on vehicle development.