Continuing The Legacy Of Felix Wankel

The development of the rotary engine began with the German inventor Felix Wankel. The man without an engineering degree, or even a driver’s licence, wrote automobile history and has taken his place alongside other automotive engineers like Nicolaus August Otto, Carl Benz, Gottlieb Daimler, Wilhelm Maybach and Rudolf Diesel.

Wankel was fascinated throughout his entire life with machines, even though he did not possess a technical education. He was never an abstract thinker, but an inventor who had a different view of, and kept a certain distance from, mathematics. "I don’t like the formulas," he said. Despite this, he is recognised as the father of the rotary engine.

No one formulated Wankel’s importance to the automotive industry better than Kenichi Yamamoto, Director of Research and Development, and later Chairman of the Mazda Motor Corporation. "The automotive world lost one of its greatest thinkers," Yamamoto said upon hearing of the death of Felix Wankel on 9 October, 1988. On that day, Mazda Motor Corporation announced that it would continue to develop engines without valves and connecting rods according to the Wankel principle. Mazda kept its word and, since first starting to work on Wankel’s engine in 1961, has built over 1.8 million rotary engines – most of them for the Mazda RX-7.

Today Mazda is the only major carmaker to continue the legacy of Felix Wankel’s rotary engine concept with the latest rotary engine, RENESIS, under the bonnet of the Mazda RX-8. Constructed with twin rotors it is available in two power versions. The entry-level engine produces 192ps of power and the flagship engine 231ps, making RENESIS the most powerful non-turbo Mazda rotary engine.

Published 21 June 2003 Melanie Carter

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