Fritz Hermann von Opel or "Rocket Fritz" as he was popularly known, was the grandson of Adam Opel (founder of Adam Opel A.G). Born in Germany, he completed his engineering and joined as the Director of Design in his grandfather's company. Right from start, he showed interest in making transportation vehicles that ran fast. He knew that this would be possible only by the use of rockets and so incorporated several designs of rockets in his creations.
During his short stint at Opel, he designed several breathtaking vehicles that covered land, sea and air.
He began by building the world's first rocket-propelled car by collaborating with the German pyrotechnics specialist Friedrich Sanders. The Opel RAK 1 ran at a top speed of 75 km/h on 15th March,1928. Fritz von Opel was not satisfied and he knew that the car driven by Kurt Volkhart with the help of 12 rockets can go at higher speeds.
He along with Freidrich Sanders designed his next car Opel Sanders RAK 2 which carried 120 kg. of explosives packed in to 24 solid fuel rockets. The rockets would fire two at a time with every push of the pedal. This would allow the driver, Fritz von Opel himself to increase the speed with every push of the pedal, until the desired speed was achieved. On the afternoon of 23rd May, 1928 in front of 3000 invited guests, he broke another record at the AVUS (Automobil Verkehrs und Übungsstraße) race track by driving his cigar-shaped car at 238 km/hr.
Not yet satisfied with his new record, Fritz von Opel designed another machine with the help of 30 solid fuel rockets and placed them on rails. It was the Opel RAK 3. Somewhere in the month of October, this rail mounted car ran at a top speed of 256 km/hr.
It was in the same year i.e. 1928, he built a rocket powered motorcycle and called it Monster. This time he took assistance from the owner of NEANDER motorcycles, Ernst Neander (Opel, used to make motorcycles under license from Neander Motorfahrzeug GmbH). His aim was to break the then motorcycle world speed record of 210 km/hr.
Using the existing frame of the Opel Neander 500 cc motorcycle that could do a maximum speed of 120 km/hr, 6 solid rocket boosters each with a power thrust of 5kg. were mounted at the rear. Unfortunately, the German authorities did not grant him the permission to complete a full test drive and so this bike could only be demonstrated in the presence of few employees.
Fritz von Opel could not sit idle. He demonstrated that rockets can be used to power, boats too. This he did, when he got a chance to take his motorboat and race it among international contestants during Germany’s first Regatta Championships held between 15-18 June, 1928. Opel RAK was the clear winner after its nearest competitor, a French owned boat dropped out of the race, after completing just 3 laps.
Fritz von Opel and Freidrich Sanders used a sail plane to install their rockets. Two rockets that were fixed could be fired from a switch located inside the cockpit. To adjust the centre of gravity at high speed, a counterweight system was placed under the cockpit. The rockets would fire one after another that would provide continuous thrust, with a burn time of half minute. So, on 11th June, 1928 this experimental plane Opel Sander RAK 1 took off and flew to a distance of 1.5 kms.
During its second attempt, Fritz & Freidrich decided to use both the rockets at the same time. However, something went horribly wrong and the rockets just exploded. The plane after lifting to height of 20 metres dropped down and burnt beyond recognition. The pilot however could be rescued. His plane speed record was the slowest at just 100 km/hr and so decided to drop the idea of attaching rockets on planes.
Fritz von Opel proved one thing, that not only could he break records, but better them.
In 1929, after General Motors took over his grandfather's company after buying a majority stake, Fritz von Opel decided to leave Germany. He retired to Switzerland where he lived until 1971.
Now, one can perhaps see his creations if you visit abroad.
Alternatively, you may possess one by buying the Opel RAK 2 as a collectible in either 1:18 (resin) or 1:43 scale (metal diecast). The same will be available next week only @ Scale Model Cart.
Opel - beyond cars and Fritz von Opel – the Rocket man.