15. February 2010 07:36
The Wankel Rotary engine is a controversial subject. To some it is one of the finest pieces of automotive engineering ever, others say its weak and over complicated while some just laugh at the name Wankel. However, whatever your opinion there is no denying that the lightweight Rotary has become a popular choice when it comes to picking a leftfield option for an engine conversion in the retro community. Thanks to its small physical size and aforementioned low weight coupled with the possibility for big power output the Rotary is perfectly suited to a massive selection of retro cars, and in this article I hope to show you just how wide that selection really is.
Having been made popular by Mazda, Rotary conversions have become most common within the Japanese retro community. One of the most famous is Bryan Feldman’s Datsun 510 which runs turbocharged 13B engine. Taking influences from both the Hot-Rod and Motorsport scenes in its styling, this 510 has become something of an internet icon since it was completed a few years ago. Pushing out roughly 350bhp and weighing it at just under 780kg’s Bryan’s mission was to build the quickest 510 he possibly could while maintaining the cars handling and driveability. With those figures it’s easy to believe that he has achieved just that.
It’s not just the Datsun boys getting in on the action though, Rotaries are a popular choice for Toyota owners especially in Australia and New Zealand where the Toyota tuning scene thrives. This is where this little Corolla comes in, looking every inch the sleeper, this little KE20 packs a punch thanks to its 13B motor running 10psi of boost. Despite looking pretty much standard that package gives the Corolla just over 280bhp at the rear wheels, impressive I think you’ll agree.
Away from the Japanese scene Rotaries are also becoming more prevalent within the Air-Cooled Volkswagen scene. The Drag Racing fraternity have become especially fond of the little motor having realised that even a lightly tinkered Rotary can match, if not beat the majority of Flat-Fours. This one here is known as Black Mamba and manages to wheelie down the strip in an incredible 8.83 secs at 150mph while the Rotary hangs on for dear life out of the boot lid.
However Beetles aren’t the only cars to have had a Rotary stuffed into the rear. A few years ago this unassuming looking Skoda Estelle was one of the most recognisable and respected cars on the UK retro scene. Based on an ultra rare 1985 105 Lux model it was powered by a naturally aspirated 13b Rotary motor mated up to a 4-Speed VW Type 2 gearbox which barked through the massive Honda Fireblade can. This little set up apparently made it ‘loud, noisy and nothing short of dangerous’ which sounds just fine to me. Unfortunately this Skoda is no more, after some problems getting it running properly it was sold on a couple of times and later broken for parts leaving the shell in Belgium of all places.
Nowadays one of the best known Rotary powered cars in the UK and Ireland is this evil looking Toyota Corolla AE86. It belongs to Formula Drift driver Darren ‘D-Mac’ McNamara and built by his tuning shop MCNSport. As you’ve probably guessed the AE86 has been built to be a dedicated drift car, completely stripped of any unnecessary weight or luxury it now weighs in at a featherweight 766Kg. This coupled with the high-spec 13B turbocharged engine pushing out approximately 220bhp makes the little Corolla a very capable machine, especially at the hands of D-Mac who can be seen putting the car through its paces at various Irish trackdays and drift events.
However if you’re looking for the ultimate in Rotary conversions you’re going to have to head further afield than Mondello Park. That place is Puerto Rico in the Caribbean Islands. I know, I wasn’t expecting it either. However when it comes to Rotaries these boys know what they talking about. Packing high-powered, fire-cracking, turbocharged engines into just about any shell they can get their hands on when these cars launch it is a sight to behold. We’re talking about Toyota Starlets doing sub 7-sec ¼ mile runs while spinning up their massively wide rear slicks all the way down the strip. It’s down to these impressive runs that they are now proud to boast the wholly believable claim that are the home to the World’s Fastest Compacts.