Three cycles per revolution: Rotary engine

The legendary inventor of engines never received a higher education

The anniversary was marked by representatives of all technologically advanced countries - the USA, France, England, Japan. There was not only a Russian delegation. But our country has the most direct relation to a unique engine.

The world's first production car with a rotary piston engine (RPD) left the gate of the West German company NSU in 1964. But even three years before this event, the Minavtoprom and the Ministry of Defense of the USSR set up the task of creating domestic RPDs for industry research institutes. And not only delivered, but also helped with detailed drawings. To be completely precise, the documentation was supplied not by ministries, but by the GRU. Since Wankel himself did not buy patents, it was not accepted.

The first working rotary engine was presented in 1957 at a conference of the Society of German Engineers (VDI) Felix Wankel and Walter Freude. During his life, Wankel tried a lot of professions: from a student of a typesetter in a publishing house of scientific literature to a junior seller, but he never bothered to get a higher education. In the end, he settled on the invention of mechanical devices.

The manufacture of rotary pumps and compressors was interspersed with prison sentences: first for criticizing the financial abuses of the Nazi regional elite, and then for collaborating with the same Nazis (during World War II, Wankel successfully addressed issues of gaskets for German torpedoes and aircraft engines). Released in 1946, the inventor restored his laboratory at Lin Dau, on the shores of Lake Constance (it was destroyed by French troops in 1945), and resumed work on the engine. Five years later, Wankel managed to interest the German company NSU with his project. Each year, its engines worked longer and longer: if in 1957 one of the prototypes worked for 2 hours and developed a power of 21 hp, then in a year - 100 hours with a power of 29 hp Apparently, these parameters turned out to be enough to start “wankelomania” in the world - first, the Curtiss-Wright corporation acquires engine licenses, a year later by Daimler-Benz, MAN, Friedrich Krupp and Mazda. By the beginning of the 70s, almost all the engine-building and automotive giants of the world had bought licenses, including Rolls-Royce, Porsche, Ford, GM and many Japanese companies. The obvious advantages of RPD over traditional reciprocating engines (it has several times fewer moving parts, its weight and dimensions are 1.5–2 times less, its vibration level is very low and its excellent dynamic characteristics) seemed to make this engine a bestseller. After the NSU Spyder, released in 1964, the legendary NSU Ro 80 model followed (there are still many clubs for the owners of these cars in the world), Citroen M35 (1970), Mercedes C-111 (1969), Corvette XP (1973). But the only mass manufacturer of rotary vehicles was the Japanese Mazda, which since 1967 has sometimes produced 23 new models with RPDs. Rotary engines were put on boats, snowmobiles and light aircraft. The end of euphoria came in 1973, at the height of the oil crisis. It was then that the main disadvantage of rotary engines was manifested - inefficiency. With the exception of Mazda, all automakers curtailed rotor programs, while the Japanese company sales in America fell from 104, 960 cars sold in 1973 to 61, 192 - in 1974 m.

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Motor for special services

But it was in the failed 1974 that the Soviet government created a special design bureau of the RPD (SKB RPD) at the Volga Automobile Plant — the socialist economy is unpredictable. In Togliatti, work began on the construction of workshops for the mass production of “wankels”. Since VAZ was originally planned as a simple copier of Western technologies (in particular, Fiat technology), factory specialists decided to reproduce the Mazda engine, completely discarding all ten-year developments of domestic engine-building institutes.

Soviet officials held negotiations with Felix Wankel for a long time regarding the purchase of licenses, some of which took place directly in Moscow. Money, however, was not found, and therefore it was not possible to use some proprietary technologies. In 1976, the first VAZ-311 single-engine Volga engine with 65 hp was launched, another five years were spent on fine-tuning the design, after which an experimental batch of 50 pieces of rotary “units” VAZ-21018, instantly sold out to VAZ workers, was released. It was immediately found out that the engine only resembled Japanese in appearance - it began to crumble very Soviet-style.

The plant management was forced to replace all engines with serial piston engines in half a year, cut the staff of the design bureau of RPD by half and suspend the construction of workshops. The salvation of the domestic rotary engine building came from the special services: they were not very interested in fuel consumption and engine life, but they were very dynamic. A two-section RPD with a capacity of 120 hp was immediately made of two VAZ-311 engines, which began to be installed on the “special unit” - VAZ-21019. It is this model, which received the informal name "Arkan", that we owe countless tales about the police "Cossacks", catching up with fancy "Mercedes", and many law enforcement officers - with orders and medals. Until the 90s, the seemingly unpretentious "Arkan" really easily caught up with all the cars. Revived at special orders SKB RPD began to make engines for water and motorsport, where cars with rotary engines began to win prizes so often that sports officials were forced to ban the use of RPD.

"Ugly duck"

Having no complete technical education, at the end of his life, Felix Wankel achieved worldwide recognition in the field of engine building and sealing technology, having won a lot of awards and titles. The streets and squares of German cities (Felix-Wankel-Strasse, Felix-Wankel-Ring) are named after him. In addition to engines, Wankel developed a new concept for high-speed vessels and independently built several boats. The most interesting thing is that the rotary engine, which made him a millionaire and brought him worldwide fame, Wankel did not like, considering him an "ugly duckling." The real operational RPDs were made according to the so-called “KKM concept”, which provides for planetary rotation of the rotor and requiring the introduction of external counterweights. A significant role was also played by the fact that this scheme was not proposed by Wankel, but by NSU engineer Walter Freude. Until the last days, Wankel himself considered the engine design “with rotating pistons without unevenly rotating parts” (Drehkolbenmasine - DKM), conceptually much more beautiful, but technically complex, requiring, in particular, the installation of spark plugs on a rotating rotor. Nevertheless, rotary engines around the world are associated precisely with the name of Wankel, since everyone who knew the inventor unanimously claimed that without the irrepressible energy of a German engineer, the world would never have seen this amazing device. Felix Wankel passed away in 1988.

A curious story with the Mercedes 350 SL. Wankel really wanted to have a rotary Mercedes C-111. But Mercedes did not meet him. Then the inventor took the serial 350 SL, threw out the “native” engine and installed a rotor from the C-111, which was 60 kg lighter than the previous 8-cylinder, but developed significantly more power (320 hp at 6500 rpm) . In 1972, when the engineering genius finished work on his next miracle, he could have been driving the fastest Mercedes SL-class at that time. The irony was that Wankel never got a driver’s license until the end of his life.

The article was published in the journal Popular Mechanics (No. 11, November 2002). Do you like the article?

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