Search ads by make

Previous Features

The Rumpler-Metropolis car: Burning drops


Even if I´m a big fan of old movies, some classics still are missing in my collection. One of those movies was Fritz Langs "METROPOLIS", one of the most fantastic movies of the 1920s, but last week I finally bought....

a Fritz Lang DVD-Compilation, including this marvellous classic. The movie is German expressionism at its best. The plot is about Metropolis, a futuristic urban dystopia and follows the attempts of Freder, the wealthy son of the city's ruler, and Maria, a poor worker, to overcome the enormous gulf separating the classes of their city. Metropolis is an ultra-modern, futuristic city and so the cars seen in the movie had of course also to be as futuristic, as possible. The perfect car was the "Rumpler-Tropfenwagen", an early streamlined attempt, developed and built by the Austrian engineer Edmund Rumpler.
Rumpler, born in Vienna in 1872, had worked with Hans Ledwinka on the very first Tatra, worked for Adler and Daimler and in 1910 he became the first aircraft manufacturer in Germany, building the famous "Etrich-Rumpler-Taube" After World War One, he returned to automobiles and in 1921, he built the first "drop car" (Tropfenwagen). This prototype and a small number of "Series 1" cars were powerd by a 2,5L ohv W6-cylinder engine, mounted just in front of the rear axle. Three banks of two cylinders worked on a common crancshaft gave an output of 36HP and with a weight of 1300kg, the car was ready for a highspeed of up to 100km/h. For a good view, the drivers position was alone in the front, with seats for four/five passengers behind him, all located between the axles. Streamlining was not only a modern pseudo-streamlining design. The car for example had a complete cased floor (Rumpler wanted to reduce dust formations on the streets to a minimum) and in 1979 one of the two survivors was tested in the Volkswagen wind tunnel with the sensational result of a drag coefficient of only 0,28. And that in the early twenties! Not even my daily-driving Baby-Benz, built about 60 years later with big efforts on the drag coefficient is that faired!
But despite of all its advantages, the car was no success, and in 1924, Rumpler made a second attempt with the modell 4A106. Power (now 50hp by a more conventional inline four-cylinder engine) and wheelbase increased, so now six up to seven passengers could be carried with a speed of 115km/h. But still the car was not a succes. Disadvantages of the car were no space for luggage, the uncommon appearance and minor problems with the cooling and steering impeded the sales, and so inbetween of 1924 and 1925 only about a hundred of the fantasic cars were built. Most of the cars were used as taxis in and around Berlin, but like the DeLorean in Back to the Future, the Rumpler got most attention after the closing of the manufacturers company. Fritz Lang bought the stock remainders for his movie in 1925. I wasn?t able to examine how many cars Lang bought, but it must have been around ten examples of which some even were Series-1 cars. Some more cars were used for filming, but they were "modernised" with fake bodies to get a suitable look and it is impossible to recognice the brands. Interesting is, that the only "classic-look" car is the one of the city?s ruler Joh Fredersen. A French appearing white Coupé de Ville. But I?m still not sure, what it is. A Panhard? A Farman? Or something totally different?
Back to the Rumpler cars: In the final scenes of the movie, with teardrops in your eyes, you can see two other drops burn: A pyre is built for the Robot-Maria (the "Mensch-Maschine") and you can see two of the Tropfenwagen in this pyre. Sadly also all the other Rumplers were destroyed during the filming and the sole survivors of this remarkably brand are two cars, one in the "Deutsches Museum" in Munic (a present to the museum by Edmund Rumpler himself) and one in the "Deutsches Technikmuseum" in Berlin.#

Words and pictures: Hubertus Hansmann 



#5 2017-06-20 03:06
As I recall, there is a Rumpler in Florida in a collection unless that is the one now in Berlin. I've seen the Deutsches Museum car in Munich in the 1970s and then again 5 years ago.
#4 2017-06-15 12:45
Michael Schlenger:
What a fantastic film !
Thank you so much.
#3 2017-06-15 10:30
most of the Rumpler cars had been used as Taxi`s in Berlin. These had been the one`s used in the film. Two examples survived, one in the technical museum in Berlin, the other original exported to the US, returned to Germany some years ago
#2 2017-06-15 09:41
Excellent article, Hubertus!

I particularly liked the fact that you mentioned the "Etrich-Taube" aeroplane which Rumpler hadn't developed himself but built under licence from Igo Etrich (like many other manufacturers did).

As for the Rumpler "Tropfenwagen", there is also a short film showing one of these eccentric vehicles driving in dense traffic (not sure where):

In my opinion, the lack of commercial succcess was due to the fact that the car had been developed from an engineer's perspective completely ignoring the needs of potential buyers on the German market.

What was required in the first place in the mid-1920s was an inexpensive and reliable car. German manufacturers at that time often continued to build outdated prewar models or developed upmarket cars which could't be sold in sufficient numbers to make serious money.

Rumpler belonged to a third group of German car makers who excelled with brilliant technical ideas but did not care about the customer and failed to meet the requirements of efficient production (another example would be Hans-Gustav Röhr).

The result were often outstanding but ill-fated products. For example, no one needed a car with a low drag coefficient at that time, since average speed was too low.

The enormous success of cheap mass-produced cars from the U.S. in Germany during the late 1920s and the fact that once well-established manufacturers like Opel and Dixi (later: BMW) turned to copying small cars of foreign car makers reflects the inability (or unwillingness) of German engineers to find simple, market-oriented solutions...
#1 2017-06-15 07:55
I don't disagree with what you say, but think that the most important reason for the non acceptance of the design was that it was just too different too soon. Think also of the Burney Streamline, that was unacceptable for the same reason. At that period it seemed a car could look odd, or have an odd mechanical layout, but not both together.

It took the VW to break through, and then the Mini.

Add comment