|Dr. Felix Wankel with the first prototype of his rotary engine in 1957, which had a rotating inner chamber, unlike all later Wankels|
|The world's first Wankel-engined motorcycle, the 1960 IFA/MZ 'KKM 175W'|
The first motorcycle application of the Wankel engine emerged from the IFA/MZ factory, from 1960. MZ took out a license from NSU in 1960, to develop Wankel engines as possible replacements for their two-stroke engines in both motorcycles and the 'Trabant' 3-cylinder two-stroke car. Within 3 months, a single-rotor, watercooled engine (using the thermosyphon principle rather than a water pump?) of 175cc, was installed in an IFA chassis (the 'BK 351' of 1959) which formerly housed a flat-twin two-stroke engine. The development team included engineer Anton Lupei, designer Erich Machus, research engineer Roland Schuster, plus machinists Hans Hofer and Walter Ehnert, who deserve credit as the first to build a Wankel motorcycle.
|Details of the water-cooled MZ engine; twin spark plugs, single (tiny) carb, radiator, neatly mated gearbox.|
|The second prototype MZ, using an air-cooled 175cc Wankel motor; the KKM 175 L|
|The KKM 175L used an extremely compact Wankel engine.|
|The 1972 Yamaha RZ201|
Yamaha licensed the Wankel design in 1972 and quickly built a prototype, showing the 'RZ201' at that year's Tokyo Motor Show. With a 660cc twin-rotor water-cooled engine, it gave a respectable 66hp @6,000rpm, and weighed 220kg. While the prototype looks clean and tidy, the lack of heat shielding on the exhaust reveals the Yamaha was nowhere near production-ready, given the searing heat of the Wankel exhaust gases, and subsequent huge, double-skinned, and shielded exhaust systems on production rotaries.
|The Yamaha rotary in exposed display|
|The original 1974 RE5, with futuristic touches|
One year after Yamaha introduced, but never manufactured, their rotary, Suzuki introduced the RE5 Rotary at the 1973 Tokyo Motor Show. Suzuki licensed the Wankel engine on Nov.24, 1970, and spent 3 years developing their own 497cc single-rotor, water-cooled engine, which pumped out 62hp @ 6500rpm. Styling of the machine was reportedly entrusted to Giorgietto Guigiaro, a celebrated automotive stylist and advocate of the 'wedge' trend in cars, who leaked into the motorcycle world via several projects, notoriously the 1975 Ducati 860GT. Guigiaro's touch extended only to the cylindrical taillamp and special instrument binnacle for the RE5; a cylindrical case with novel sliding cover, meant to echo the futuristic rotary engine... the rest of the machine looked nearly the same as Suzuki's GT750 'Water Buffalo'.
|The more 'conventional' 1975 RE5|
|The 1974 Hercules W-2000|
Fitchel and Sachs were the second licensee of the Wankel engine, on Dec 29, 1960, and the first with a motorcycle connection, with 'Sachs' the largest European maker of two-stroke engines. Sachs built their rotary as a small, light accessory motor for applications as diverse as lawnmowers, chainsaws, and personal watercraft.
|The W-2000 Sachs air-cooled engine|
|Hercules also built an Enduro using a rotary engine|
|The original BSA test mule, with A65 cycle parts; note the compact motor, and doubled-up 'cigar' silencers - rotaries are Loud!|
BSA felt, in common with most of the automotive industry, that the Wankel was the engine of the future, and in 1969, hired David Garside, a gifted young engineer, to begin exploration of Wankel engines for a motorcycle. Market research indicated the motorcycling public would accept the Wankel engine on fast sports machines, and Garside's small team began experimenting with a Fitchel and Sachs single-rotor engine, and with significant changes to the intake system, gained a staggering 85% more power, to 32hp. Suddenly the experimental engine looked appealing.
|David Garside in his kitchen, explaining the function of his air-cooled Wankel motor, which he is still developing for aircraft use. Many Norton-based rotaries are used in military drones!|
|Fan-cooled Sachs motor in BSA Starfire running gear|
|Norton-built twin-rotor, air-cooled engine, installed in a Triumph 'Bandit' chassis|
|Norton rotary, Norton Commando chassis...the compact rotary engine looks tiny compared to the original 750cc vertical twin. Note plenum chamber above the engine.|
|The 1973 'spine' frame with Triumph Trident tank; this machine has been restored, and can be found at the Hockenheim Motorsport Museum|
|The Norton 'P42' prototype of 1978|
|The Norton Interpol II police motorcycle|
|The 'Classic' of 1987, air-cooled, a naked Interpol II.|
|The water-cooled Commander tourer, with Krauser bags|
|The discreet Norton F1 ad campaign...|
|The last Norton F1 Sport of 1992, in rare blue|
|Henk van Veen with his OCR 1000|
In 1976, Henk vanVeen, the Dutch Kriedler importer, saw potential in the new rotary Comotor engines, which were compact and developed good power. Comotor was a joint venture of NSU and Citroen, who invested huge sums developing a new Wankel engine for the Citroen GS Birotor. The prototype of this engine had been extensively tested between 1969 and '71 in the Citroen M35, which was never officially sold, but 267 were given to loyal customers for beta-testing. The M35 engine used a single rotor rated at 47hp, whereas the later GS engine had two rotors, and produced 107hp from a 1,000cc. Van Veen saw this powerful and compact engine as the basis of a new superbike, and created the VanVeen OCR 1000.
|The Comotor twin-rotor, watercooled rotary, rated at 107hp|
Housed in a CB125 chassis, with a 125cc air-cooled single-rotor Wankel engine. Clearly a test-bed to see if Honda was missing out on the Next Big Thing, this prototype looks to have been built between 1971-73, given the paint job and spec of the CB125 'mule'. Honda never bought a license to build Wankels, and also never 'bought in' engines, so this little motor is curious indeed...
The 'X99' prototype had a twin-rotor engine, water-cooled, which purportedly developed 85hp. Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Ltd, purchased a license to built Wankels on Oct. 4, 1971; the chassis of the X99 appears to be based on Kawasaki's Z650, introduced in 1976, which suggests the date of this prototype.
|The Motoprom RD501B, with Sachs-derived fan-cooled rotary in the venerable BMW R71-clone chassis|
The Soviets are coming! The city of Serpukhov, 100km from Moscow, was one of many 'secret' towns in the Soviet Union, where research into new technology was conducted (plus manufacture of the AK-47), far from prying eyes. VNII-Motoprom was an auto and motorcycle research institute, which created quite a few interesting machines, most notably Soviet racers such as the Vostok-4, and a few Wankel-engined bikes, completely unlicensed. The story of the Soviet motorcycle industry is little known in the West (and the East!), and deserves exploration...
|The fan-cooled engine of the RD-501B|
|The RD-660 with air-cooled twin-rotor engine|
|The RD-515 with a water-cooled version of the Sachs engine|
Little-known outside the Eastern Bloc, Izh is the oldest Soviet/Russian motorcycle manufacturer, founded in 1929 in Izhevsk (on the banks of the Izh river) as part of Stalin's enforced industrialization of the agrarian economy, begun in 1927 with the rejection of Lenin's 'New Economic Policy', which allowed producers of grain or goods to sell their surplus at a profit - very similar to China's first moves toward Capitalism in the 1990s. Stalin's successful effort at creating an industrial power, where none existed previously, actually decreased the standard of living, caused widespread famine, and meant imprisonment or death for millions...although it did create an automotive and motorcycle industry. Not that 95% of Soviet citizens could afford it in those early days, although Izh sold something like 11 Million motorcycles before 1990.
Izh is still in business, making inexpensive small-capacity motorcycles.
[If any reader has more information or photos of these obscure machines, please contact me!]
Some of my sources: