Journal: Remember When The Rotary Was Going To Rule The World?

Remember When The Rotary Was Going To Rule The World?

Michael Banovsky By Michael Banovsky
June 16, 2016

Don’t get me wrong: I’ve loved every second of my time behind the wheel of rotary-engined cars. My dad had two before my time, in the ’70s, an RX-3 and Cosmo. To this day, he speaks of their ungodly initial acceleration…plus the startling ability for an after-fire to tear open a muffler like there was Jiffy Pop inside, in between having the engine replaced a few times under warranty. That’s not something that endears you to the masses.

But did companies ever try to harness the rotary engine: Cars, trucks, boats, airplanes, and motorcycles were all fitted with and designed to accommodate the Wankel or a rotary of another design.

From Mercedes-Benz’ record-setting test bed prototypes to the Luigi Colani-designed Flugbericht Rhein-Flugzeugbau (RFB) Fanliner aircraft, it’s helped to power some of the most stunning what-could-have-been machines.

For reasons too numerous to count, the rotary engine has, since its conception by Dr. Felix Wankel at NSU in 1951 and introduction in the 1964 NSU Spider, failed to revolutionize the way we burn fossil fuels. Mazda is still working on a solution to its reliability and fuel consumption problems and hopes the smooth and powerful Wankel will one day be more widely used.

Until then, these are some of the awesome vintage machines the little Wankel found itself in.

Image sources: Mike P. Banovsky,

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Peter J Smith
Peter J Smith

Wankels are wonderful, for their intended purpose, performance. Unfortunately, they’re not good at efficiency, or, longevity. They still make for a great race engine.

Kr Ashwin

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Douglas Anderson
Douglas Anderson

I had the pleasure of owning a late 80’s RX 7 cabriolet . I loved everything about that car. It was fast , reliable, comfortable to cruise in and a crowd pleaser.
Never had a bit of trouble out of the rotary engine, it was a bit thirsty for fuel and did use more oil than some SBPB cars in my past, but I enjoyed driving it.