Automotive

This Is The Rumpler Drop, The World’s First Streamlined Car


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Rare is the day when both a car’s looks and its name can stop you dead in your tracks — and that’s why I want to take this day to introduce you all to the delightful Rumpler Drop, also called the Rumpler Tropfenwagen.

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Designed by Austrian engineer Edmund Rumpler in 1921, the Rumpler Drop is one of those machines from the era of automotive design where just about anything went. The 1920s was still early enough that we, as a society, weren’t totally locked into a single conception of how a car should look, which opened the door for a ton of innovation, exploration, and experimentation.

And one of experiments was the Rumpler Drop, so named because of its teardrop-shaped body. Edmund Rumpler was an aircraft engineer, and his design for the Drop was obviously inspired by the aerodynamic principles that governed flight, and it was the very first streamlined car, coming well before the Chrysler Airflow and the Tatra 77. The Drop’s drag coefficient was a mere 0.28 — a frankly remarkable number for a vehicle even today and something that was practically unheard of then.

To achieve that number, Rumpler introduced a host of unique features. The Drop, which debuted at the 1921 Berlin auto show, featured the world’s first panes of curved glass in the windshield and side windows, which mimicked the sloping curves of the Drop’s body.

With a 157 cu-in engine paired to a manual transmission, the Drop made about 36 horsepower and could hit a top speed of 70 mph — but the real interesting stuff came in the suspension. The Drop is the first-ever vehicle to feature the swing axle, which was designed and patented by Rumpler back in 1903, in the rear of the car.

Sadly, Rumpler’s Tropfenwagen wasn’t exactly a commercial success. Even though Mercedes-Benz saw the promise of the Drop in motorsport applications, Rumpler only sold about 100 cars during the 1921-1925 production run. It smaller problems — overheating, difficult steering — were compounded by the lack of any luggage space and the fact that the car just looked weird.

The Tropfenwagens did achieve some notoriety with the release of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, where a pile of Drops was set on fire. Because of that, few examples of the car remain today. We just get to bask in the memories of this odd-looking car and its equally delightful name.

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