Thursday, 24 May 2018

90 Years ago: Opel Sounds in the Era of Rockets

  • World premiere: First rocket-propelled appearance on the Avus in Berlin in May 1928
  • World-wide star: Fritz von Opel behind the wheel of the legendary RAK 2
  • World record: “Rocket Fritz” fires 24 solid fuel rockets and reaches 238 km/h

Hats off to an outstanding display: Fritz von Opel is celebrated after his wild ride in the RAK 2. Opel reworked the original black and white photograph from 1928 based on historical facts to celebrate to 90th anniversary of the record-breaking run.

10 o’clock in the morning on May 23, 1928: A futuristic racing car with lateral wings storms along the Avus in Berlin while hissing sharply. 29-year-old Fritz von Opel, grandson of company founder Adam Opel, had successively fired the 24 solid fuel rockets in the rear of his RAK 2 and shot past the packed stands with a fire trail in his wake. The 3,000 spectators go crazy when the glossy black car with the Opel writing comes to a standstill: “Rocket Fritz” from Rüsselsheim has just set a new course speed record with 238 km/h. On top of that he has just proved to the general public that rocket propulsion is powerful and controllable. Opel sounds in the era of rockets in front of the television cameras – and lays the foundations for manned space flight.

Futuristic design:  Opel RAK 2 already displayed the aerodynamic design adopted by the Grand Prix racing cars or the late 1930s in 1928.

Carmaker as rocket pioneer

The history of the Opel RAK 2 dates back to the autumn of 1927. Fritz von Opel decides to get actively involved in the rocket research project of publicist and astronomer Max Valier (1895-1930) after meeting the Austrian. The racing driver, entrepreneur and the qualified engineer brings his own commitment along with the innovative and financial strength of Opel to the table. On the one hand, because he is personally fascinated by rocket technology and on the other, because he hopes that the visionary plan will have a positive impact on the Opel brand. Opel asks Friedrich Sander (1885-1938) to join the project for a fast implementation of the rocket motor as Sander’s company makes solid fuel signal rockets.

Last touches: Opel mechanics Becker and Treber (right) have pushed Opel RAK 2 to its starting position. The engineers of Friedrich Sander wire the rocket charges to the ignition pedal. In the background film star Lilian Harvey and Avus director Hellmuth Reiners pose for the cameras.

First drives in Rüsselsheim

The cooperation between Valier, Sander and von Opel started to bear fruits as early as March 1928. The first rocket-propelled prototypes are launched on the Opel test track in Rüsselsheim – obviously behind closed doors. On April 11, the Opel RAK 1 with Opel engineer and racing driver Kurt Volkhart behind the wheel reaches 100 km/h within eight seconds. The vehicle, which already has small lateral wings, is based on an Opel 4/12. It is propelled by twelve Sander rockets with around 40 kilogrammes of explosives. The proof of the usability of rockets is done. The team agrees that tests with higher speeds should be conducted, not least based on the overwhelming response in the press. As the test track in Rüsselsheim is not suitable for such tests, the team choses the Avus in Berlin – it has two long straights.

Spectacular: Opel RAK 2 races past the stands of the Avus trailing a white plume of smoke.

Futuristic design with 24 rockets

The Opel RAK 2 is especially designed for the record-breaking attempt on the Avus. It is based on the chassis of an Opel 10/40 and is an enhancement of the RAK 1 in many areas. It is longer than its predecessor with a length of 4.88 metres, the aerodynamics have been fine-tuned, the lateral wings are larger and it has 24 solid fuel rockets that develop six tonnes of thrust. Elsewhere, the sequential electric ignition of the charges via a pedal in the footwell was maintained. The 560 kg futuristic-looking race car neither had an engine nor a transmission.

Utopia become reality

Don’t try this at home: Fritz von Opel did not wear a helmet for his record-breaking run in the Opel RAK 2.

Fritz von Opel names himself as the pilot – and he plans his record-breaking show in Berlin meticulously both from a technical as from an organisational perspective. Around 3,000 people including journalists, celebrities, athletes and politicians are invited. And the guests flocked to the event. Film stars Lilian Harvey and Thea von Harbou, Metropolis director Fritz Lang, popular racing drivers Hanni Köhler and Carl Jörns along with boxing legend Max Schmeling were all in attendance. Prior to the start Professor Johann Schütte, Chairman of the Scientific Society of Aviation, and Fritz von Opel held prophetic speeches. Then the Opel team gets ready. Mechanics August Becker and Karl Treber take the tarpaulin off the Opel RAK 2 and carefully push it to the start. Only then are the rockets installed and connected to the ignition mechanism. Police clear the track and Fritz von Opel gets behind the large wooden steering wheel. A handshake pregnant with meaning with Friedrich Sander follows. The excited spectators suddenly fall silent. Then everything happens really fast. “I step on the ignition pedal and the rockets roar behind me, throwing me forward. … I step on the pedal again, then again and – it grips me like a rage – a fourth time. To my sides, everything disappears. ... The acceleration gives me a rush. I stop thinking. I’m acting on instinct alone, with uncontrollable forces raging behind me,” said “Rocket Fritz” when looking back.

Across the line: Fritz von Opel is congratulated by motorcycle racer Hanni Köhler. Next to her, Max Valier looks straight into the camera. Opel racing legend Carl Jörns is on the far left, Lilian Harvey in the right foreground

The Rüsselsheim-born entrepreneur masters the Nordkurve and successfully prevents the car from taking off – the wings do not deliver enough downforce for the breakneck speed. Everything is over after just three minutes. Opel RAK 2 slowly taxis to a standstill, the large white plume of smokes disappear into the Berlin sky and are replace by the thunderous applause from the spectators. A utopia has become reality and results in a spectacular triumph. Von Opel reaches a speed of 238 km/h becomes a household name in Germany overnight. The Opel brand is immediately recognized at the more progressive and innovative car. The era of rockets has begun.

Innovative spirit and technical competence

Spurred by their success in Berlin, Fritz von Opel and Friedrich Sander continue their experiments. On June 23, 1928, they set a new record for rail vehicles when they reach 256 km/h with the Opel RAK 3 rocket handcar. After also conducted tests with a motorbike, the legendary Opel Motoclub, they turn their attention to aviation. 

World record for rail vehicle: Opel RAK 3 rocket handcar reached 256 km/h.

And on September 30, 1929, they are responsible for yet another pioneering feat – the first ever public rocket-powered flight in the Opel-Sander RAK 1 high wing aircraft built by Julius Hatry. 

First ever rocket car: Opel RAK 1 with Opel engineer and racing driver Kurt Volkhart at the wheel.

Shortly after this, the Opel rocket experiments were brought to an end by the Great Depression and the company focused its development capacities on vehicle development. However, innovative spirit and technical competence are still key pillars of Opel until this very day. And research and development of new propulsion technologies is still one of the most important goals of the company – maybe now more than ever before.

On rail, on the road and in the air: The top speeds of the Opel RAK experiments.


Tuesday, 22 May 2018

“Nidec-PSA emotors” Joint Venture created by Groupe PSA and Nidec starts the design of its future electric motors

MM Shigenobu Nagamori and Carlos Tavares, respectively Chief Executive Officer of Nidec and Groupe PSA (Paris:UG), endorsed today the establishment of Nidec-PSA emotors – the new Nidec Leroy-Somer and Groupe PSA Joint Venture dedicated to the design, development, manufacture and sale of electric traction motors.

Forty engineers have already been recruited and joined the JV headquarters in Carrières sous Poissy, near Paris. By end of summer, thirty more engineers are expecting to join this site where a dedicated R&D area has been created. They will design new traction electric motors to be produced in Tremery plant, Moselle area, in France, and integrated in Mild-hybrid (“MHEV”), Electric Vehicles (“EV”) and Plug-in Hybrid (“PHEV”) vehicles.

Both CEOs recognized the strategic importance of high-performance traction motor for electrified vehicles, and the two groups will invest 220 million euros to set-up this JV. This will support the electrification push, as 100% of Groupe PSA vehicle range will include an electrified offering by 2025.

Thursday, 17 May 2018

New Opel Corsa GSi Powertrain Promises Great Driving Fun

  • 1.4-liter turbo engine with six-speed manual gearbox optimised for winding roads
  • Pure driving precision thanks to the OPC sports chassis
  • Recaro seats and sports steering wheel on inside, carbon elements on the outside
  • Opel Corsa GSi follows in high-performance wheel tracks of dynamic Opel Insignia GSi

In search of the next corner: Dynamic sports chassis adopted from the OPC version makes the new Opel Corsa GSi ideal for tackling winding roads

When the new Opel Corsa GSi follows the Insignia GSi onto the market this summer, it will be powered by the brand’s punchy 1.4-liter turbo engine with 110 kW/150 hp and 220 Nm of torque (fuel consumption l/100 km[1]: 7.9-7.8 urban, 5.4-5.2 extra-urban, 6.3-6.2 combined, CO2 g/km 147-143 combined). Thus 

Opel’s “hot hatchback” is not only quick off the mark (zero to 100 km/h is covered in only 8.9 seconds), it also impresses with great elasticity – on its way to the maximum speed of 207 km/h, the Corsa GSi takes just 9.9 seconds to accelerate from 80 to 120 km/h in fifth gear. The “pocket-rocket” from Rüsselsheim is also part of Opel’s Euro 6d-TEMP rollout.

When configuring the engine, which delivers a specific power output of more than 100 hp/litre, engineers specifically optimised responsiveness for great driving fun on winding country roads. Thus, the turbocharged engine with short-ratio, six-speed gearbox impresses with outstanding punch in second and third gears as well as a maximum torque plateau of 3,000 to 4,500 rpm tailor-made for spirited driving.

The Corsa GSi also emits pure precision: The sport chassis known from the OPC version and the brakes with red calipers ensure precise athleticism, outstanding handling and short braking distances also when combined with the optional 18-inch light alloy wheels with high-grip 215/40 R18 tyres.

The high performance of the new Opel Corsa GSi is matched by the athletic exterior looks. It has a characteristic design with large air intakes, sculptured bonnet, prominent rear spoiler and precisely modelled side sills.

From the front, the cheeky Opel GSi fascia with large honeycomb grille and the central Opel Blitz supported by two wings, along with the exterior rear view mirror housings in carbon racing-look become visible. The large chrome-ringed design elements that are visually connected in a horizontal line via black crosspieces running across the front, along with the black traverse cleat on the bonnet support the impression of road-clinging athlete. The vibrant styling is also present when viewed from the rear. The prominent spoiler on the edge of the roof creates additional downforce, the sporty chrome tailpipe is framed by the vibrant design of the rear apron in body colour.

The pure feeling of sportiness is also conveyed by the interior. Opel Corsa GSi driver sits on the optional Recaro performance seat and puts his hands on the sports steering wheel. Select the gear via the leather gearshift knob, put your foot on the aluminium sport pedal and pure driving pleasure commences.

[1] Values measured according to WLTP and converted to NEDC for comparison.