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Rotapower - The engine of the future

History of Rotapower


Dr. Felix Wankel first developed his working models of "rotary" engines in the 1950s.

Automobile manufacturers immediately recognized their tremendous promise - here was a powerful internal-combustion engine, smaller and lighter than prevailing piston engines that were also efficient and "vibration-free" because, unlike piston engines, its combustion force operated in the same rotational vector as its drive shaft!

The triangular rotor, revolving in a "figure-eight" pattern inside the oval housing, turns the drive shaft and functions as both piston and valves!

Here, too, was a powerful new engine with all the emissions benefits of the 4-stroke combustion process but with only a small fraction of the moving parts of a 4-stroke piston engine. Thus this new engine could greatly reduce their costs of manufacturing and maintenance.

So, in the 1960s and 1970s, virtually every major automobile manufacturer embarked on the race to try to adapt rotary engines to its own automobiles. Of these, only Mazda prevailed, creating an engine that is legendary in automobile racing circles even today. 2

2 In fact Mazda's rotary engine has a mystique of its own in the world of automobile racing - and was so successful in racing that it was banned from competing against piston engines! John Z. DeLorean's original plans for the iconic DMC-12 included a Citroen Wankel rotary engine, dubbed Comotar (developed by NSU and Citroën) Of course, that never happened and the DeLorean ended up with an underpowered 130 bhp V6 engine jointly developed by Renault, Peugeot and Volvo. However, some lads decided to hook on DeLorean's original vision and replace the ill-fated French V6 with a 300Hp strong, 2.0-liter 3-rotor rotary engine from the 1990 Mazda Eunos Cosmo.

But despite all this excitement and experimentation, rotary engines were not widely adopted by the automobile industry as a whole.

Why was this?

First, Wankel's rotary engines were somewhat less fuel-efficient than the best piston engines of the time. The Oil Crisis of 1973 made it clear for the first time that fuel efficiency would be a concern for manufacturers and consumers henceforth.

Second, early Mazda rotary engines had problems with their composite oil seals that were designed to prevent oil from migrating from the oil-cooled rotor into the combustion chamber, and this perception has been hard to erase even though Mazda redesigned its seals years ago.

Third, GM's Wankel engines did not comply with then-current emissions levels, and, in the 1970s, low emissions were just beginning to be recognized as a goal. GM cancelled further development of its rotary engines in 1974.

As a result, manufacturers and inventors returned to the task of trying to overcome the inherent inefficiencies of the piston engine's fundamental design. The resulting accretion of more and more add-ons has band-aided the fuel efficiency and emissions problems of piston engines, but have also rendered today's gasoline piston engines overly complex and overly expensive to manufacture and maintain.

For the past three decades, the tremendous potential of rotary engines has remained untapped.

Now, finally, with the advances and innovations being made by Freedom Motors, the rotary concept is poised for success in many industrial, commercial, recreational, power tool, military, and transportation applications.

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