Wednesday Want: Opel RAK2

Car Culture 12 May 17, 2017 by
Opel RAK2 Front

This week’s Want might be one of the oldest vehicles suggested so far. Unbelievably, the sleek bullet of a car you see above dates back to 1928 — and is powered by rockets.

As any student of history will know, Germany had a love affair with rockets in the inter-war period. Later this would develop into weapons and the knowledge learned there formed the basis of the space program.

Opel, meanwhile, used rocketry to power ordinary vehicles — even the name “RAK” is short for “rakete”, German for rocket.

The first stage of the scheme was the Opel-RAK. This was based on an Opel 7/34 factory race car, with a selection of Friedrich Wilhelm Sander’s rockets strapped to the back. After a series of tests, it reached 62 mph.

RAK 2 was based on an Opel 10/40. Taxed as a 10 hp car, but running almost 40 hp from its 2.6-liter 4-cylinder engine, the 10/40 is your typical 1920s saloon.

For conversion into the RAK 2, the Opel was stripped back, streamlined and equipped with 24 of Sander’s rockets. This amounted to 120 kg of black powder propellant — sufficient to demolish a city block.

Opel RAK2 Berlin-Avus

The RAK 2 produced 13,000 lbs of thrust and Fritz von Opel himself, grandson of company founder Adam Opel, drove it in an exhibition race at Berlin-Avus speedway. He could only turn the rockets on in pairs, and once started there was no way to stop them:

“I step on the ignition pedal and the rockets roar behind me, throwing me forward. It’s liberating. I step on the pedal again, then again and — it grips me like a rage — a fourth time. To my sides, everything disappears. All I see now is the track stretched out before me like a big ribbon. I step down four more times, quickly — now I’m traveling on eight rockets. The acceleration gives me a rush. I stop thinking. I’m acting on instinct alone, with uncontrollable forces raging behind me.”

Despite having no way of controlling the rockets, von Opel managed to keep the RAK 2 together for a speed of 148 mph.

RAK 2 wasn’t the end of the rocket program either. Later RAK vehicles ran on rails and crashed (RAK 3) or exploded (RAK 4). A RAK 1 rocket plane — the world’s first — was constructed in 1929. This also exploded and, when built into a new plane, crashed. Opel attempted to build a rocket motorcycle too, but authorities deemed that to be too dangerous…

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