East Germany certainly built cars, but their particularily grey and grim brand of Communism wasn't really conducive to making them fun. Sure, I think a Trabant or a Wartburg is pretty cool now, but if that's all I had to pick from in 1970s East Berlin, I bet I'd sing a different tune. There was one big, weird exception, though: the Rovomobil.

The Rovomobil was designed and developed by a team led by Prof. Dr.-Ing. Eberhardt Scharnowski at (I believe — I'm not 100% sure about this) the school of Natural Sciences - Technical Basics in Dresden. It seems that the goal of the project was to create a highly aerodynamic car, and in that sense, they seem to have succeeded.

The project started in 1973, and the basis of the car was an ordinary VW Beetle. Based on pictures of the Rovomobil, details suggest that the Beetle they used was not a new one. In fact, the open-centered wheels would suggest the car was definitely pre-'67 and a picture of a Beetle undergoing aero tests looks to be a '62. This use of a probably 10+ year-old used car as the basis of their experiments suggests that they weren't exactly rolling in the deutchmarks.

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It's also interesting they didn't use a much more common to East Germany Trabant or even a Warburg for their project. There could be a number of reasons for this — Trabants had a long waiting list and used ones were very scarce — Wartburgs even more so. Still, not that many Beetles were exported to the DDR, so scarcity and cost may not be the reason.

A Beetle is a very easy car to re-body, and I suspect this may be the real reason. That's why so many kit cars used the Beetle's platform chassis and running gear. There's also the fact that a Beetle of the era was a four-stroke car that required no oil and gas mixing and had power outputs around double that of a Trabant. So it may simply have been the best platform they could get.

The car Scharnowski and his team designed was based on the classic aerodynamic ideal of the teardrop, and was dramatically swoopy and curvy. The body was built on a rotating buck so the underbody could be aero-cladded as well, and most of the car appears to have been custom hand-built.

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The windshield came from a Wartburg, and was a bit taller and more upright than I suspect they wanted, but they worked it in nevertheless. They did end up with a rather strange valley right in front of the windshield, though this may have been a deliberate feature to fit with some theories of aerodynamics. I'm really not sure.

The Rovomobil featured gull-wing doors and pop-up headlights and certainly had the feel of an exotic 1970s supercar. By the rest of the world's standards, this was by no means a supercar, just a strange, one-off Beetle-based kit. But I think by 1970s East German standards, we can safely call this bold experiment a supercar, at least with those qualifications.

The thing was, for it's original intent of being very aerodynamic, it was a smashing success. Wind tunnel tests gave it a coefficient of drag (Cd) of 0.23 — that's better than a Tesla Model S, and as good as a 2014 Mercedes CLA.

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That's pretty damn good for working without modern computers on an old Beetle pan.


That Cd was among the best in the world at the time, and is still really, really good today. In 1990, they modified the Rovomobil with what appears to be just cardboard and tape and tested it in VW's wind tunnel, getting a Cd of 0.196, good enough for a world record. To compare, the modern VW XL1 has a Cd of 0.19. So, damn, Rovomobil!

The Rovomobil was never put into production, and remained a one-off experiment, albeit one that was driven around East Germany as a regular car for six years because the waiting list for a car was still about 12 years.

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The Rovomobil is now in VW's museum in Wolfsburg, which seems like an honor that this mostly unknown aerodynamic superstar deserves.