In our tribute to another automotive demise, the Wankel Rotary Engine has waved goodbye to the automotive world just few weeks ago on 22nd June 2012. This is when the final unit of Mazda RX-8 Spirit-R, powered by the Renesis Rotary engine, rolled off from Mazda’s Hiroshima plant in Japan. Small engine but double the power. That’s what I can sum up about the ingenious but environmentally hazardous Rotary Engine.
The Wankel Rotary engine
Invented by German engineer Felix Wankel in 1929, rotary engines are smooth and high revving engines thanks to a smartly designed spinning three-corner rotor. Its compact and lightweight construction meant the engine is able to produce double the power of a conventional engine. Let’s take an example of the Mazda’s famous 13B-RE engine which powered the iconic RX-7 cars. The small and compact engine with lesser parts than a conventional engine produces approx 260BHP from a mere 1.3cc engine, in which by normal standards a normal 1.3cc engine produces only 80-100BHP. It is used by some motorbikes, aircrafts and car manufacturers, notably Mazda as the most well known of all.
This is how the rotary engine works, ingenious!
However, the Wankel Rotary engine has a few weaknesses, the obvious one is the higher fuel consumption compared to normal engines, resulting to many manufacturers slowly walked away from rotary engines. However Mazda soldiered on to use rotary engines to power their sport cars from the RX-7, RX-8 and the 1991 24 hours Le Mans winning Rotary machine, 787B. Many enthusiasts loved the way the rotary engine powered their cars in the 90’s when the RX-7 was at its peak during the JDM sports cars invasion in many parts of the world.
One of the most familiar rotary powered cars is none other than the Mazda RX-7
This Mazda 787B is the only Japanese car and rotary engine car to win the Le Mans 24 Hours race
But the final blow came from Europe’s ever strict emissions regulation when the Euro 5 regulations came into effect in 2010, meaning the fuel economy unfriendly and high C02 producer car like the RX-8 failed to meet the regulations, hence must be stopped from selling. Dwindling sales due to the poorer world economy and more needs for fuel efficient vehicles further nails the rotary engines into the coffin for Mazda.
While we will mourn the departure of the Mazda Rotary engines, we may have to embrace that due to challenging world climate (both environmentally and economically) we must brace for more fuel efficient and environmental friendly cars. But that doesn’t mean we shall kiss goodbye the joy of driving by driving dull electric cars or hybrids. With Honda’s CRZ, Toyota’s recent alliance with BMW to produce sport cars which is environmental friendly, Audi new e-Tron technology and Mazda new direction towards fun hybrid cars, there is hope for fast and fun motoring. Just that the air will be much cleaner to breath rather than breathing air polluted from exhaust fumes from a passing GTR.