How A German Rocket-Powered Monstrosity Somehow Predicted The Future

The 1920s were a crazy time. In America, jazz was everywhere, and so was illegal booze. In Japan, the Showa period was just beginning. And in Germany, Reichsmarks were being used as wallpaper and rockets were being strapped to cars. Even if it didn't make sense, everything was permitted.

In fairness to Weimar Republic-era Germany, the whole currency-as-wallpaper (and even toilet paper) actually made sense. After the Treaty of Versailles was signed, which forced Germany to accept blame and pay reparations for World War I, extreme hyperinflation beset the country. Yes, "extreme hyper" may seem redundant, but it really was extreme, and it really did move at hyper speeds.

So extreme, in fact, that a medical malady known as "zero stroke" began to rise in the early part of the decade, an affliction which caused its sufferers to start writing endless rows of zeros. A billion, then a trillion reichsmarks were soon worth nothing.

In between writing all those zeroes, however, a man named Rocket Fritz emerged, along with possibly the nuttiest creation of the decade, the Opel RAK.2.

How A German Rocket-Powered Monstrosity Somehow Predicted The Future

We've written about Rocket Fritz before, but it's important to re-state the insanity and the fearlessness of the man. Though it may be hard to believe "Rocket Fritz" was not actually the name his parents gave him.

Crazy, I know.

The name they actually gave him Fritz Adam Hermann Von Opel, and if that last "Von Opel" bit sounds familiar, that's because it's Opel is still an automotive brand today. Nowadays Opel more known for being a European division of General Motors, sort of a continental equivalent to Chevrolet.

But back in 1928, it still had deep ties to the Opel family. Fritz von Opel could've taken to the many leisurely pursuits that people with a "von" in their names like to enjoy, like kitesurfing or windsurfing or regular surfing or other things that involve surfing, but instead, he decided he was going to go into marketing.

Specifically, he was go into marketing his family's company products. And it seemed like the only way he knew how to market anything was to strap rockets to it.

The bonkers RAK.2 was actually part of a series of rocket vehicles, as the ".2" would imply. RAK.1 was von Opel's first attempt at strapping rockets to things, and it was actually the first rocket-powered car in the world. That's mostly because rocket-powered vehicles were entirely in their infancy, and Apollo 11 hadn't exactly rode a Saturn V to the moon yet.

The RAK.1 was driven by Kurt C. Volkhart to the blistering top speed of... 47 miles per hour.

The RAK.1 wasn't very impressive.

So for the RAK.2, Rocket Fritz decided he had to go big or go home. In this case, "going big" meant taking a regular Opel 10/40 PS luxury car chassis, and embedding 24 solid-fuel rockets in the back, powered by 264 pounds of propellant. Every step on the gas pedal ignited a new rocket.

How A German Rocket-Powered Monstrosity Somehow Predicted The Future

It was "enough to blow up a whole neighborhood," in Fritz's own estimation, as he recalled in the excellent Rocketing Into the Future.

He also didn't wear a helmet, because helmets are for wimps, or something.

The Opel RAK.2 managed to go quite a bit faster than the RAK.1, topping out at 148 MPH. Sadly, it wasn't enough to beat the world land speed record, which by May of 1928 (when the car was tested), already stood at more than 200 MPH.

It's entirely possible that the car was capable of more, but Fritz decided that 148 MPH was probably enough when the front end started to dangerously lift, despite the supposedly downforce-generating adjustable wings tacked onto the sides.

Most people hadn't entirely figured out the whole "aerodynamics" thing in 1928. Even still, it must've been quite a wild ride.

How A German Rocket-Powered Monstrosity Somehow Predicted The Future

While the RAK.2 only made one trip down a track, Rocket Fritz presciently realized it was only the beginning, and not of car travel, but of space travel.

After completing his run in the RAK.2, Opel hopped right out of the car and began to address the gathered crowd at the AVUS track in Berlin, again, via Rocketing Into the Future:

The adrenalin still pumping in his veins, von Opel announces that his next goal is to fly a rocket propelled airplane, and urges the spectators:

"Dream with us of the day in which the first spaceship can fly faster around the Earth than the Sun."

The German magazine Das Motorrad hailed it as "the first practical step toward the conquest of space."

By the time Fritz died in 1971, humans had already done taken a huge leap towards that goal.

Not only did the RAK.2 wow onlookers, it was part of a series of vehicles that served as a metaphorical launchpad for the future, paving the way for the rockets that would eventually take Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins to the Moon.

Fritz von Opel went on to design a rocket-powered train, which destroyed itself, another rocket-powered train, which also destroyed itself, and a rocket-powered glider, which also destroyed itself.

It's safe to say it's probably a good idea that he wasn't piloting any of those.

Fritz didn't get on so well with the whole Nazi business that followed in the ensuing decade, and by 1940 he made his way to New York, where he fathered a son, Rikky von Opel, who later became a Formula One driver.

Rikky wasn't too successful. He should've tried strapping rockets to his car.