March 15: Opel built the first rocket-powered car on this date in 1928
On this date 84 years ago, German automaker Opel launched the world's first rocket-propelled car. The vehicle, dubbed RAK.1, was conceived by Max Valier, a freelance science writer from Austria; produced by Opel publicity chief Fritz von Opel (grandson of company founder Adam Opel); and powered by Friedrich Sander's solid fuel rockets. The initial test was not a roaring success; test driver Kurt Volkhart, pictured above, piloted RAK.1 to a top speed of 47 mph. However, a subsequent prototype, RAK.2 (see video footage below), achieved 143 mph.
An evolutionary leap over RAK.1, RAK.2 featured 24 rockets and much larger wings, which eventually inspired Swiss racecar driver Michel May to affix an adjustable inverted wing to his Porsche 550 Spyder and improve cornering through the use of downforce — in 1956. Further evidence that building cars may not be rocket science, but in a way, it very much is.