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No More Rotary Engine Cars

By Steven S. Brooks Published: September 29, 2011

Felix Wankel is one of my heroes. The longtime chief engineer of the extinct auto manufacturer NSU was an amazing automotive pioneer. His greatest contribution to the the industry is the invention of the rotary internal combustion engine, appropriately called the Wankel.

 The very first rotary engine car produced was the NSU Wankel Spyder. This interesting little convertible was made between 1965 and 1967, with a total of 2500 examples being built. Unfortunately, the rear mounted, single rotor, 500cc engine suffered from reliability problems, including many engine failures at under 10,000 miles. NSU reworked the engine and introduced a new rotary sedan, the Ro80, in 1967. Despite modern styling and many advanced features, the problems with the initial cars did terminal damage to NSU and they were soon absorbed by Volkswagen.

 In the United States, when we talk about rotary engine cars we automatically think of Mazda. Toyo Kogyo, the maker of Mazda automobiles, became a Wankel licensee in the early sixties. Their first rotary car, the Cosmo Sport 110S, was introduced in 1965 and went into very limited production in 1967. These cars were basically hand built and only about 1200 were made in their production run between 1967 and 1971. They are extremely rare and highly coveted by collectors today, with only six known in to be in our country.

 Since then, Mazda has continually developed the rotary engine and produced numerous models featuring it. The modern rotary engines have two and three rotors and make prodigious power for their size. Reliability issues are a thing of the past but poor fuel mileage has always plagued the Wankel. As a result, sales have never met Mazda's expectations. They just announced that they will not be selling anymore rotary engine cars in the United States once the current stock of RX8's (estiamted at 200 cars) have been sold off the dealer's lots. As a Wankel fan, it's sad to see but I'm obvioulsy in the minority. Do you have any rotary experiences to share?

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