The rotary couldabeens - the Dorito-powered cars which never made it

The rotary couldabeens - the Dorito-powered cars which never made it

If you have see the LATEST EPISODE (click HERE) then you'll know about the piston-less shenanigans which have entered the MCM shed. 

The rotary engine has a long and varied life outside Mazda's famous performance models. The dorty little triangle engines (latin name, Brapsalotyl Noisemaximus) have been used in all sorts of vehicles, including planes, but most people link them to Mazda. 

Quite a few other manufacturers have had a tilt at triangle motors, and here are some cool cars that were maybe a little too advanced for their time or didn't get the support they maybe should have. 

 NSU Ro80

While Skoda were the first car company to put a rotary in a car, German brand NSU beat Mazda to the market with the first production rotary car; the Wankel Spider of 1964. However, NSU's biggest triangle hit was their Ro80 executive four-door sedan, sold from 1967 until 1977, using a twin-rotor Wankel rotary engine and semi-automatic transmission. The aerodynamically advanced front-wheel-drive four-door had some rad features like an audio warning for when the engine approaced redline, though reliability issues plagued the Ro80 as the wear on the tips of the rotors was exacerbated by the engine running at high-RPM. NSU was bought by Volkswagen in 1969 and merged with Auto Union to create modern day Audi.

Mercedes C111

Technically the C111 is actually a series of three models starting from 1969, but which never entered series production. Mercedes used these experimental prototypes to develop advanced tech like multi-link rear-suspension, air conditioning, and gull-wing doors... as well as being the test-beds for Mercedes' R&D into the Wankel rotary. 

The original 1969 C111 had a fuel-injected triple-rotor, but the 1970 C111/II update saw this upgraded to a 257kW quad-rotor engine that reportedly gave the mid-engined supercar a top-speed of 300km/h. This was much faster than any other supercars of the day, though concerns over reliability and fuel-consumption ultimately killed any hope of a rotary Mercedes production car. 

Chevrolet Vega & Corvettes 

General Motors did a lot of experimenting with rotary engines in the early 1970s, as they eyed a smooth-revving, compact, horsepower-rich engine. In late 1970 they spent $US50 million to licence the Wankel rotary engine for use in the 1973 Vega compact car, but the 3.4-litre twin-rotor engine struggled with poor reliability and fuel economy. After spending another $US10 million on licencing GM killed the project by 1974. 

However, this dalliance with Dorito Power saw GM experiment with a mid-engined rotary Corvette sports car! The XP-895 (aka the Reynolds Aluminum Car) used two Vega twin-rotor engines put together as a thundering 420hp quad-rotor, and broke cover in late 1973. Another concept, the XP-897GT (below), also popped up in 1973 with a twin-rotor engine. 

Mazda Roadpacer AP

The darling of the Internet, the Mazda Roadpacer AP came about because Mazda wanted a large sedan they could use as a luxury model, while General Motors (owners of Chevrolet and Holden) needed information on how to make the triangle engines work. Taking a mid-1970s Holden HJ-series Premier Mazda removed the torquey (but unrefined) five-litre Holden V8 in place of a naturally aspirated 13B, and slapped a price tag twice as large as a top-of-the-line Cosmo on it. While the rotary engine is great in small sports cars, and they are very smooth, they don't have enough torque to move a large, heavy luxury car and the Roadpacer was quickly canned.


Citroen Birotor

Citroen's first attempt at a rotary model came with the tiny 35kW M35 in 1969, and they followed it up with the GS Birotor in 1973. Using a two-rotor 79kW engine developed by NSU it was incredibly smooth to drive... but it was as expensive as a top-of-the-line Citroen DS and had horrendously bad fuel economy. It was launched right at the start of the 1973 oil crisis, when fuel-guzzling cars instantly dropped out of fashion. Citroen stopped production after only 847 were built. 



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