Rumpler’s ‚Tropfenwagen‘ – Science-Fiction in Streamlining
Certain cars just succumb to oblivion because they were produced in low numbers or because only a handful of them survived. These cars seldom get a chance to become sought after classics. Such a car is the Rumpler ‚Tropfenwagen‘, developed and built amidst the distress of post-war Germany during the 1920s. The suffering of that period led to the development of this peculiar car.
Out of the Air onto the roads – The Rumpler ‚Tropfenwagen‘
Austrian engineer Edmund Rumpler successfully built aircrafts before WWI. Having the license to build the so called ‚Taube‘, or ‚pidgeon‘, a model that became the most successful training aircraft in Germany before the war. During WWI the need for aircrafts went up – so did Rumpler’s business and new models appeared.
Fast forward to the 1920s: The Treaty of Versailles prohibited Germany from building engine powered aircrafts but the technical know-how was still present in Edmund Rumpler. Making use of this knowledge he started developing cars. Already in September 1921 he presented his ‚Tropfenwagen‘ as the world’s first streamlined car long before both the Chrysler Ariflow and the Tatra 77 were presented in 1934. Even by today’s standards the construction of the car followed strong aerodynamic principles that gave it its futuristic look. Shaped like the eponymous raindrop, the car’s drag coefficient read 0.28 which radically distinguished it from its competitors.
To enable this technical innovation the windscreen and side windows of the Tropfenwagen were significantly curved – a world premiere, curved windows in a car. Another technical innovation was the water-cooled six cylinder W shaped engine which was unreliable and complicated to maintain. Noteworthy is that the engine was mounted just ahead of the rear axle, making it the world’s first mid-engine car. Unfortunately this layout led to cooling issues as well.
the Rumpler ‚tropfenwagen‘ as movie Star
Able to seat five people, while the driver sat alone in the front, the ‚Tropfenwagen‘ was very well appreciated as a taxi. Easy boarding thanks to its high ceiling was another advantage. Most of the models sold as taxis and were driven in Berlin. To make the car more usable, a luggage compartment was added in later models. Placed directly over the engine this added to the cooling issues.
In order to make the car more reliable, an inline-four-cylinder engine by Benz was added in later models. What all cars still had in common was the poorly constructed steering. These construction flaws and the futuristic appearance turned the car into a slow seller. Just about a hundred cars were built until 1925 in Berlin. The manufacturing plant was located at the airport Johannisthal. In 1926 the “Rumpler Werke AG Berlin” went bankrupt and were liquidated. At just about the same time Fritz Lang produced his futuristic film “Metropolis” in Potsdam-Babelsberg. Due to the geographical proximity and the bankruptcy of Rumpler the unsold ‚Tropfenwagen‘ were cheap to buy and therefore perfectly fitted Lang’s needs for filming his science-fiction drama. The UFA bought the remaining cars and burned them in one of the final scenes of “Metropolis”. This is one of the many reasons why today only two remaining ‚Trofenwagen‘ exist.
Early on the performance figures of the Rumpler ‚Tropfenwagen‘ caught the attention of Mercedes-Benz engineer Hans Nibel. Being capable of 70 mph (110 km/h), weighing nearly 3000 lb (1,361 kg) and all that with just 36 hp (27 kw) available, was quite impressive. This led Nibel to the development of the Mercedes-Benz ‚Tropfenwagen‘ in 1923 using the same mid-engine layout and a virtually unchanged Rumpler chassis. Even later Auto Union racers resembled the Rumpler and were built in part by Rumpler engineers.
Although being bankrupt in 1926 Rumplers entrepreneurship did not stop there. In 1930 he developed a truck for newspaper publisher Ullstein in Berlin.
Only two units were ever produced using different engines. One had an inline-six-cylinder engine with 100 hp produced by Maybach. One was fitted with a 200 hp V12 reaching a top speed of 100 km/h. Unfortunately 1943 an air strike destroyed both iconic streamlined trucks in Berlin.
The only two remaining ‚Tropfenwagen‘ are part of a museum collection – One in Munichs “Deutsches Museum München” which was a personal gift from Edmund Rumpler, the other one in Berlins „Museum für Verkehr und Technik“ as part of their aircraft exhibition.
Text Ralf Hintze Fotos Deutsches Museum München, Clemens Kirchner / SDTB
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