Tuesday 20 February 2018

Rotary club: 50 years of a famous engine

Mazda RX8
Mazda RX8
Mazda RX7 Spirit
Mazda Cosmo Rotary engine
Eddie Cunningham

Eddie Cunningham

Not all that many years ago a thing called the Rotary or Wankel engine was still being hailed as having the potential to play a big role in how we powered our cars.

It was a most unusual internal-combustion engine. I remember being fascinated by the principle of its concept and design which, simply put, had the engine 'spinning' on itself. Hence the term 'rotary'.

Unlike conventional powerplants, its crankshaft was fixed while the entire crankcase and cylinders rotated around it.

And because of the way they were designed, such engines were about 30pc smaller than the ones we have known for so long.

It was patented in 1929 by Felix Wankel. Many companies licensed and developed it for a good while. However, over the years, only Mazda championed its cause.

The idea is simple but it never took off - partly because of emissions regulations and partly because it never quite cleared up some problems. These included unburnt fuel being sent through the exhaust; difficulty sealing off the different chambers of the engine etc. MPG wasn't good.

But it was different; really different and I'd love to think it might make a comeback in a more modern guise someday. But I doubt it.

There are still many, many devotees around the world including, of course, in Ireland.

Fittingly enough, as this year marks the 50th anniversary of the first production car to run the famous engine, celebrations are being planned.

The Irish club is planning a trip down memory lane. They will head up north where owners from the UK are running an appreciation and track day at Kirkistown, Co Down. It is expected that a large number of owners will travel with what are expected to include examples of stock and high-powered modified machines.

It should be fascinating to see cars ranging such as the rare RX-4, triple-rotor Cosmo, the three series of the RX-7 (FB, FC, FD) as well as the RX-8 (I remember test driving an RX-7).

I'm also told when there will be at least one race-built triple rotor 20B car.

The big Rotary day is July 9 so there is plenty of time to plan.

In a way it is a piece of automotive history that has been left behind as motoring charged down other highways. A pity but there you go.

Details on: www.irishrotary.com.

Indo Motoring

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