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This page tells the history of one of the first permanent race tracks in Germany. The Opel-Rennbahn, also known as Opel Test Track. Original intended for testing only, but later also used for competition. Read the complete story from the prior history, the glory years and the remained abandoned circuit.
The prior history of the Opel-Rennbahn
In 1886, Adam Opel founded in his native city Rüsselheim (Germany) the Opel bicycle factory. He became Germany’s largest bicycle manufacturer. In 1895 Adam Opel died at the age of 58 due to typhoid. His widow and five sons continued the factory.
When at the end of the nineteenth century the automobile had made its appearance, the Opel company also start producing cars in 1898. These cars were initially tested on public roads, which led to complaints about noise and damaged roads.
Under pressure of the landgraves the Opel company decided to build a test track. In 1917, during the First World War, they start with the construction of the test oval.
The Opel Test Track
In 1919 the works were finished and on 24 October 1920, the track was officially opened under the name Opel-Rennbahn, which is actually German for Opel Race Track. The oval circuit was inspired by the Indianapolis Motor Speedway who opened in 1909.
The length of the track was 1.5 km (0.9 Mile) with a width of 12 meters. The corners had a 32 degree bank. The circuit was designed for a top speed of 140 km per hour (88 Mph.) , at that time a tremendous speed, which made it one of the fastest circuits in Europe.
Racing at the Opel-Rennbahn
Soon they saw the commercial potential of a motor racing circuit, resulting that the Opel-Rennbahn was not only used for testing purposes. On weekends, all kinds of car and motorcycle races where organized and even cycling races. For these occasions they built five grandstands around the circuit who could accommodate 50.000 spectators. Beside motor racing, the large proving ground was also used for markets, exhibitions and performances of Opels own music chapel.
The rocket car
One of the most spectacular event on the Opel-Rennbahn was without a doubt the testing of the RAK1, a rocket engine powered car, on the 12th of March 1928. Because the circuit was actually too short for this occasion, the experiment continued on the much faster AVUS in Berlin.
The end of the Opel-Rennbahn
Due to the opening of the Nurburgring (1927) and the Hockenheimring (1932), who had the most modern facilities of that time, less races where organized on the Opel-Rennbahn in the thirties. When the Second World War broke out in 1939, the normal car production stopped in favour of the war industry.
After the war, the circuit was used by the U.S. military to test their repaired military vehicles. However, since 1946 the circuit was not used anymore.
When in 1949 the rent agreement for the ground between Opel and the city of Mainz ends, the Opel-Rennbahn was definitively closed. To give the ground back to nature, holes where made in the surface to plant trees. In the 60s, the Start/Finish area was completely demolished to make way for a new road between the cities of Rüsselsheim and Trebur.
The Opel-Rennbahn today
In 1987 the abandoned circuit get the status of Monument of Industry and Technology. This meant in practice that the the remains of the track would not be demolshed. But the downfall of the former test track continued…
But a few years ago they cleared a part of the surcace and a viewing platform was built. This seems to be the final destination for the ruin of one of the oldest permanent circuits in Germany. An interesting object for walkers and motorsports enthusiasts.
© Text & photos: Herman Liesemeijer
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