“The dream bike doesn’t end with a dream,” Mazda said. Although the Mazda RX-8 has been out of production for nearly a decade, ten loyal Mazda employees are still producing parts for the Wankel engine in a dimly lit factory in Hiroshima. Almost every part of the special motor can still be ordered new, from the housing to the rotor itself. For converted 6,500 euros you can even buy a completely new Wankel engine (also known as a rotary engine) with two discs in Japan.
The factory where the parts for the Wankel engine are produced has been in operation since 1973. Almost all equipment in the factory dates from the same period. The machines are analog and can only perform one operation each. Each part therefore has to go through several machines before it is ready. It is then measured by hand to ensure that all dimensions are within the tight margins.
What exactly is a Wankel engine?
In the Wankel engine – an invention of Felix Wankel – a triangle rotates in an oval chamber to provide the movement. This slow motion video (just click) shows perfectly how the Wankel engine works. Other terms for the Wankel motor are rotary motor or rotary. Mazda usually used a Wankel engine with two of these ‘rotors’ (also called Doritos by fans). Wankel engines are often high revving and have a very specific sound.
Ten types of Wankel engines
“The 13B rotary engine actually has as many as ten variations, depending on the model and specifications of the vehicle installed. The finish of the parts used is different with each version. The parts can be ordered from all over the world,” the factory foreman said. Some factory employees have been building Wankel engines for more than 35 years.
The future of the rotary engine
All parts currently produced at the Hiroshima plant are spare parts. For example, customers who break the engine of their RX-8 (and let’s be honest, that happens sometimes) can still order new parts of the engine. Mazda is also working on a new Wankel engine that will be used as a range extender for electric vehicles. The compact motor then charges the battery.