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Opel Rocket Car?


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#1 Buford

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Posted 11 April 2004 - 21:09

I am watching a History Channel show on rockets into space. They showed a film from the 1920s apparently of a rocket land speed record car. It went a whopping 112 MPH. The amazing thing is the car had big wings sticking out of both sides that look like the front wings on modern formula cars but without the end plates and they came out next to the cockpit. At the end they showed a quick closeup of the car and it said Opel on the side. Anybody know about this? First use of wings perhaps?

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#2 Buford

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Posted 11 April 2004 - 21:15

Wow now they showed another German rocket land speed record car from the 30s that later exploded and killed the driver. They gave his name but I didn't catch it. We may need that for the Ultimate Price thread.

#3 ensign14

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Posted 11 April 2004 - 21:41

There's a couple of pages in "Motor Racing Mavericks", that vade mecum of lost causes and occassionally successful oddities, by DCN.

There was a one-off prototype based on a racing chassis with 12 rockets in the tail that more or less failed (presumably Rak 1), as only half the rockets fired, but Fritz von Opel was encouraged enough to try a public experiment.

So he had a chassis built by Eugen Sander, rocket engine (24 rockets!) designed by Max Valier, and strapped himself in for a run at the AVUS. OPEL Rak 2 adorned its sides and it ran to 120mph+.

Raks 3 and 4 were railway vehicles and tested without passengers - as it turned out, tested to destruction...Rak 4 did get nearer to the moon though, unfortunately that was not planned. So Rak 5 was 'junked'.

DCN notes that Kurt Volkhart, who drove Rak 1, had his own rocket special in 1929 but no mention of him being killed in it; however Valier was killed when he blew up his lab in 1930.

#4 Buford

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Posted 11 April 2004 - 21:52

Originally posted by ensign14
There's a couple of pages in "Motor Racing Mavericks", that vade mecum of lost causes and occassionally successful oddities, by DCN.

There was a one-off prototype based on a racing chassis with 12 rockets in the tail that more or less failed (presumably Rak 1), as only half the rockets fired, but Fritz von Opel was encouraged enough to try a public experiment.

So he had a chassis built by Eugen Sander, rocket engine (24 rockets!) designed by Max Valier, and strapped himself in for a run at the AVUS. OPEL Rak 2 adorned its sides and it ran to 120mph+.

Raks 3 and 4 were railway vehicles and tested without passengers - as it turned out, tested to destruction...Rak 4 did get nearer to the moon though, unfortunately that was not planned. So Rak 5 was 'junked'.

DCN notes that Kurt Volkhart, who drove Rak 1, had his own rocket special in 1929 but no mention of him being killed in it; however Valier was killed when he blew up his lab in 1930.


Yeah that was the car. It had Opel Rak 2 on the side. I didn't really understand the Rak 2 as it was sideways but the Opel was large. The amazing thing was the car had wings as I described.

#5 D-Type

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Posted 11 April 2004 - 22:08

I think you're right in saying this was the first (successful) use of wings. The photos of the car that I have seen show the wings midway between the two axles which indicates that it was definitely engineered to keep the beast on the ground.

Incidentally in 1928 when Opel hit 120 mph the Land Speed Record was taken by Ray Keech in the Triplex at 207.552 mph from Cambell's Bluebird at 206.956 mph.

And in 1981 Sammy Miller did 247.3 mph in a rocket-powered sledge on Lake George, NY.

Brave men, all.

#6 robert dick

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Posted 13 April 2004 - 13:46

Short movie of the Opel-Raketenwagen at
http://www.rak2.opel.de/
Additional infos at
http://www.pilotenbu...enm/raketen.htm
and
http://portale.web.d...g_id=1054119306

#7 jondoe955

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Posted 13 April 2004 - 15:50

Don't forget Walt Arfon's rocket powered car of the late 60's. (see http://www.americanj....com/index.html ). It had 25 JATO booster rockets packed into it. It reached 580 mph, but never got close to the record. It sure looked like it had a lot more potential.
I knew him in my teens, and traveled with him a few times, almost once to Bonneville! Almost. (they had one less truck than they planned) He and his then-estranged brother lived on the same farm-area road (Pickle Road!) The last I saw of the rocket car was the week he received his tires from Goodyear (sponsor). I remember his shop as a barn with blueprints and hay strewn around, and a car from another planet in the middle.
Walt now lives in Florida, a survivor of the jet wars of the 60's. He was a great man and designer, who unfortunately had to witness his son's death as he tried to set the water speed record.
Long live the memory of these giants. :up: :up: :up:

#8 Buford

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Posted 13 April 2004 - 17:13

Originally posted by robert dick
Short movie of the Opel-Raketenwagen at
http://www.rak2.opel.de/
Additional infos at
http://www.pilotenbu...enm/raketen.htm
and
http://portale.web.d...g_id=1054119306


Pretty cool car. What really caught my attention though was the wings.

#9 ensign14

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Posted 13 April 2004 - 19:59

Originally posted by Buford


Pretty cool car. What really caught my attention though was the wings.

Must be the first use of wings as an aerodynamic aid. What is maybe a little curious is that Gabriel Voisin built aircraft-style GP cars but did not think to try with upside-down wings.

#10 Buford

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Posted 13 April 2004 - 20:54

People may have tried them in private testing but perhaps they just created drag and slowed the cars down. They had a lot more immediate things to figure out - for about 40 more years it seems.

#11 Eric McLoughlin

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Posted 14 April 2004 - 07:34

Because of the Treaty of Versailles, in the 1920s, convential engineering was very restricted in Germany. As a result, an intense interest in non-restricted technologies developed. This included rocket technology and gliding. There were rocket powered cars, rocket powered gliders and of course, rocket powered rockets.

As far as I'm aware, the Opel cars sem to be the first to deliberately use aerofoils to generate downforce. In addition. in the 1930s some of the record braking Auto Unions featured side mounted "blended" aeofoils and, in some instances, skirts as well. After the war, Mercedes fitted pop up air brakes to their Le Mans sports cars which were found to generate downforce when deployed. And of course, the Mays brothers tried a genuine strut mounted wing in testing for Le Mans in the 50s. However, the race organisers would not let them use the wing in the race. It seems it was the Germans who did most of the experimental work on downforce but it was the Americans (namely Jim Hall and his Can Am cars) who were are able to make it work, mainly because they were not hide bound by regulations.

What a pity the governing bodies ever allowed wings into car racing.

#12 Buford

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Posted 15 April 2004 - 07:19

Originally posted by Eric McLoughlin
Because of the Treaty of Versailles, in the 1920s, convential engineering was very restricted in Germany. As a result, an intense interest in non-restricted technologies developed. This included rocket technology and gliding. There were rocket powered cars, rocket powered gliders and of course, rocket powered rockets.

As far as I'm aware, the Opel cars sem to be the first to deliberately use aerofoils to generate downforce. In addition. in the 1930s some of the record braking Auto Unions featured side mounted "blended" aeofoils and, in some instances, skirts as well. After the war, Mercedes fitted pop up air brakes to their Le Mans sports cars which were found to generate downforce when deployed. And of course, the Mays brothers tried a genuine strut mounted wing in testing for Le Mans in the 50s. However, the race organisers would not let them use the wing in the race. It seems it was the Germans who did most of the experimental work on downforce but it was the Americans (namely Jim Hall and his Can Am cars) who were are able to make it work, mainly because they were not hide bound by regulations.

What a pity the governing bodies ever allowed wings into car racing.


Yes I saw a land speed record car in the Mercedes Museum in Germany in 1981 that had wings out the sides. It was late in the day and there was no English tour but a guy who spoke a little English went around with me. I pointed to the wings and asked about the car. He didn't speak much English but best I could figure what he was saying was the car had never run because the fighting came.

#13 hinnershitz

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Posted 15 April 2004 - 15:45

Posted Image

Without wings, but rocket powered - George Robson at Langhorne, August 11, 1946, going for a world record (whatever that was worth...) over one mile on dirt. He averaged 108,1 mph.

More on the Mercedes in this thread

#14 Buford

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Posted 15 April 2004 - 21:16

Thanks - I looked up Opel rocket car in the search before I opened this thread but those pics in the thread you have just identified did not come up. Never saw that Robson pic before. Must have been shortly before his death. Not in that car though.

#15 Ray Bell

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Posted 15 April 2004 - 21:57

Originally posted by Buford
.....Never saw that Robson pic before. Must have been shortly before his death. Not in that car though.


Me neither...

What a thing to do! Is that speed for straight line or the lap? And what size is that track?

#16 hinnershitz

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Posted 15 April 2004 - 23:06

The Robson picture is from my "ebay collection", gathered from 1998-2002, when everybody seemed to be cleaning out their attics - a great source for stuff that can't be found elsewhere (and never a discussion on Senna :clap: ). This was a cable/wire news photo. It came with a scan of the attached text, so small that it was barely readable. Full text was:

"xxx(unreadable)...New York Bureau"
Setting two new records in rocket car
Philadelphia, PA -- George Robson, 1946 winner
of the Indianapolis speedway classic,
releases his second rocket charge as he flashes
past the stands on the way to the world dirt
track record for one mile at Langhorne speedway,
Philadelphia, Aug. 11. Robson also set a new
standard for one-thirtieth of a mile, in the
course of his record-breaking mile performance,
during which he averaged 108,1 mph. He also
lowered the track record in winning the 20-mile
feature race.
xxx(unreadable)
credit(ACME)....8-12-46 (LG)"

I'm not 100% sure, but I think the lap distance was one mile. Looks like he took it through the corners...reading the original text again makes me a bit unsure about which of the two records the speed figure belongs to.
And yes, he was killed three weeks later, on September 2, at Lakewood.