Alternative Go
Classic Car Buyer|November 20, 2019
As the internal combustion engine’s fate seems in question, we look back at its past challengers
Sam Skelton

The electric revolution may one day replace the crankshaft, but it hasn’t happened quite yet. And yet the reciprocating piston Otto cycle internal combustion engine has not enjoyed the monopoly over the market that many amateur historians would like to assume. History is littered with several attempts to usurp the status quo – some of which were more successful than others.

Arguably the best remembered of these is the rotary engine – originally developed by Felix Wankel and named after him, but heavily revised in subsequent years by Mazda. Unlike a conventional engine, the rotary lacks pistons – combustion chambers feature a rotor which in its movement allows combustion to occur and expand. The rotary has many advantages over the standard piston engine – it is inherently smoother, higher-revving and has greater potential power to weight ratio. However, its success is dependent upon assiduous maintenance and the quality of its rotor tips, the repeated failures of which were what prompted scores of NSU Ro80 owners in the 1970s to abandon the technology completely and fit a Ford V4 in its place.

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