2017 Oregonian article: - Kurt Robertson is hosting his fifth annual Wankel Workshop on Friday and Saturday to share his knowledge of rotary engines with other rotary enthusiasts.Kurt Robertson has been rebuilding rotary engines at his shop in Molalla for more than 30 years.
During that time, he has developed a reputation as one of the West Coast’s foremost authorities on rotary engines, and he has a warehouse filled with parts and accessories, and the largest collection of antique rotary cars in the Northwest to show for it. “My first love has always been for the Mazda rotary,” said Robertson, whose Robertson Enterprises shop is located at 17766 S. Highway 211, midway between Meadowbrook and Colton. “For me, it’s not just about building engines. “There are dozens of other builders on the West Coast, but they don’t put the engines back in, and that leaves a gaping hole in education and the learning curve is steep.” Robertson hopes to bridge that gap and share some of his knowledge of rotary engines with other enthusiasts during his fifth annual Wankel Workshop on June 17-18 at his warehouse at 34414 S. Highway 211. The workshop in limited to 40 students from Oregon, Washington and Northern California, who will not only gets a hands-on experience with rebuilding a rotary engine, but one of them also will leave the workshop with the rebuilt engine, estimated value: $3,000. Rotarys on display In conjunction with the workshop, Robertson has planned a rotary-only car show on Friday at 4 p.m. outside O’Reilly Auto Parts, 500 W. Main St., in Molalla, next to Bi-Mart. Robertson is expected to have his Hercules Wankel motorcycle on display, but he was undecided about showing one his three 1964 German-made NSU Spiders — cars that Robertson and his wife, Roberta, refer to as “our 401k." “The Wankel engine, if you’re banking on it, has let down a lot of people and a lot of businesses,” Robertson said. “The thing is, my love for all things rotary is the fundamental reason why I stay in it. And then I haven’t put it all into a brick-and-mortar storefront, and that’s how I maintain reasonable costs. “You can make a life out of rebuilding rotary engines, but you can’t make a living. To make a living, you have to treat your business like a dealer and charge $7,000 to $9,000 an engine, and that makes the cars into dinosaurs — an extinct breed.” Robertson’s speciality is almost anything built by Mazda between 1963 and 2012, in particular the R-100, RX2, RX3, RX4, Cosmo, REPU, RX7 and RX8. He also had the foresight in the ‘80s to buy up the inventory of several failing Portland-area rotary businesses, including Mazda Center of Tualatin, Rotarys Plus in Milwaukie, and Jim Miller Mazda Repair in Beaverton, figuring those parts and accessories might come in handy some day. Now, if there is a buyer in need of a lighter receptacle for the backseat of a 1974 RX2, Roberston said the question isn’t whether he has one or not, the question is “how many do you want?” “After everybody laughed at me for many years, I am literally selling to Puerto Rico, Australia, New Zealand … and I’m shipping every day,” he said. “At this point, the stuff that sat in Sandy’s Mini Storage for 25 years is now gold. “There’s not a week that goes by that I don’t have somebody call me and say, ‘I just bought this car and I don’t know what to do. The dealer is saying he can fix it for $7,500, but … is there anything you can do?’” Market value Robertson recently found a 1974 rotary truck in Estacada that he refurbished and sold to a buyer in Orange County, California. He then he found another in Salem, and that one is going to a buyer in Pennsylvania. “What I’m doing is I’m making them complete,” said Robertson, who got his start in the automotive industry working for legendary Indy Car innovator Rolla Vollstedt. “If I’ve got the parts, I’m going to make a car complete, and then post it and sell it.” As for the workshop, Robertson figures anything he can do to help prop up the infrastructure that ties rotary enthusiasts together is a good thing. “I want to be very candid in my communication when I teach,” Robertson said. “In other words, I’m not going to tell somebody that the rotary engine is the best thing since sliced bread. I’m there to tell them about the pitfalls and the problems, and this is what we do to correct them, and this is what we can’t correct.”