MAZDA AND THE RO­TARY EN­GINE

THIS YEAR MARKS THE 50 TH AN­NIVER­SARY OF MAZDA’ S FIRST PRO­DUC­TION CAR TO USE THE RO­TARY EN­GINE. THE NOW-ICONIC MAZDA COSMOS PORT WAS THE VE­HI­CLE FROM WHICH MAZDA PRO­PELLED ITS ON­GO­ING USE OF THE WAN K EL RO­TARY

New Zealand Classic Car - - CONTENTS - Words: Brad Lord Pho­tos: Mazda/ New zealand clas­sic car archive

CEL­E­BRAT­ING 50 YEARS

Al­though the ba­sic prin­ci­ples behind ro­taryengine dy­nam­ics can be traced as far back as the 16th cen­tury, it was a 17-year-old Ger­man teenager named Felix Wankel who made the dream a re­al­ity. Wankel first started toy­ing with the idea of build­ing a dif­fer­ent type of en­gine in 1919. Al­though he didn’t know much about in­ter­nal-com­bus­tion en­gines, his de­ter­mi­na­tion and fas­ci­na­tion led him to con­tinue his stud­ies to de­velop what would even­tu­ally be­come the ro­tary power plant.

In 1924, when Wankel was just 22 years old, he es­tab­lished a small engi­neer­ing lab­o­ra­tory where he was able to fur­ther his re­search and de­vel­op­ment. Dur­ing World War II, he man­aged to con­tinue his work and was sup­ported by the Ger­man Min­istry of Avi­a­tion and other large cor­po­ra­tions that saw real prom­ise in his dream.

Wankel formed the Tech­ni­cal In­sti­tute of Engi­neer­ing Study (TES) af­ter the war’s end. There, he con­tin­ued re­search on ro­tary en­gines and a ro­tary com­pres­sor that was be­ing de­vel­oped for a wide range of com­mer­cial pur­poses.

It was at this time that a prom­i­nent Ger­man mo­tor­cy­cle man­u­fac­turer — NSU Mo­toren­werke AG, or NSU — started to take an in­ter­est in Wankel’s work. NSU had also had deal­ings with ro­tary-en­gine de­sign, and, in 1957, NSU and Wankel to­gether de­vel­oped a pro­to­type of the Type DKM, which of­fered a co­coon-shaped hous­ing that

con­tained a tri­an­gu­lar ro­tor. This was the birth of the ro­tary en­gine as we know it to­day.

A year later, in 1958, a Type KKM ver­sion was built with a fixed hous­ing (the DKM used a ro­tat­ing hous­ing), which was more prac­ti­cal. The DKM also used a com­plex wa­ter-cool­ing sys­tem on the tro­choid hous­ing, and an oil-cooled ro­tor — NSU was ready to take the ro­tary en­gine to the world.

In 1959, af­ter patent­ing the de­sign, NSU of­fi­cially an­nounced the en­gine in the pub­lic do­main, and started to look for man­u­fac­tur­ers to sell li­cens­ing agree­ments to. It re­ceived around 100 sub­mis­sions from com­pa­nies such as GM Holden, Ford, and Daim­ler-benz, all of which were in­ter­ested in fur­ther­ing the ro­tary-en­gine de­sign. A num­ber of Ja­panese com­pa­nies were also keen, in­clud­ing Toy­ota; Nis­san; and a small com­pany called Mazda, which, at that time, was only pro­duc­ing three-wheeled mo­tor­cy­cles.

In all, 26 com­pa­nies ob­tained man­u­fac­tur­ing li­cences with Nsu/wankel, in­clud­ing Mazda. At that time, its pres­i­dent was Tsuneji Mat­suda (the com­pany name ‘Mazda’ be­ing de­rived from his sur­name). He ne­go­ti­ated an agree­ment that joined the two com­pa­nies by con­tract in July 1961. Mazda was now in the ro­tary game and, within only four months, would pro­duce its first pro­to­type ro­tary en­gine.

Mazda’s first pro­duc­tion ro­tary en­gine

Kenichi Ya­mamoto was the man ap­pointed by Mat­suda to head Mazda’s Ro­tary En­gine (RE) Re­search De­part­ment, and start fur­ther­ing Nsu/wankel’s de­sign. NSU had by now al­ready put a sin­gle-ro­tor en­gine into pro­duc­tion, which, by 1964, had found its way into NSU’S (and the world’s) first ro­tary­pow­ered pro­duc­tion car, the Wankel Spy­der.

Mazda’s idea was to ex­per­i­ment with other types of ro­tary en­gine that used not one, but two, three, or even four ro­tors in an ef­fort to in­crease low-end torque and make the en­gines per­form much like the big six-cylin­der pro­duc­tion-car units of the day. Mazda’s firstever twin-ro­tor test en­gine, the Type L8A (yes, that’s an 8A), fea­tured a 399cc sin­glecham­ber vol­ume (times two for the 800cc). It was fit­ted into a pro­to­type sports ve­hi­cle named ‘L402A’ — a car which turned out to be an early pro­to­type for the Cosmo Sport, which would go on sale in 1967.

Af­ter suc­cesses with that en­gine, in De­cem­ber 1964, Mazda built its sec­ond two-ro­tor test en­gine, the Type 3820, which car­ried ex­tra dis­place­ment to take each cham­ber out to 491cc. This mo­tor would soon be known as the ‘L10A’, and was fit­ted to 60 Cosmo Sport pro­to­type ve­hi­cles to eval­u­ate its re­li­a­bil­ity, dura­bil­ity, and per­for­mance. All 60 ve­hi­cles cov­ered more than 600,000km each.

It wasn’t long be­fore Mazda started think­ing it was on to some­thing good and in­vest­ing heav­ily in cus­tom-made ma­chin­ery. It be­gan de­vel­op­ment of three- and four-ro­tor en­gines, with the Mazda R16A mid-en­gined sports car used as the test bed for most of them.

Mazda’s first two-ro­tor ro­tary-en­gined car went on sale on May 30, 1967, with the power plant pack­aged in­side the 110S, or Cosmo Sport. The 10A en­gine de­vel­oped 81kw through a side port in­take and a twostage four-bar­rel car­bu­ret­tor. Each ro­tor was equipped with dual spark plugs for sta­ble com­bus­tion. This early tech­nol­ogy paved the way for Mazda’s ro­tary-en­gine cam­paign

Right: Kenichi Ya­mamoto, head of Mazda’s RE Re­search De­part­ment

Type 10A Mazda ro­tary en­gine pack­aged in­side the 1967 110S/cosmo

Be­low: Fa­ther of the Wankel ro­tary en­gine, Felix Wankel

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