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Swear By Them or Swear at Them

There are two venues where Wankel engines are either loved or hated the customer and the repair facilities. I will briefly shed some light on how this dynamic and very real attitude towards Wankel engines came from.


During the early years 1969-1973 water seal problems plagued the RX-2 coupe, RX-2 Sedan, Rx-3 Coupe, RX-3 Sedan and RX-3 Wagon. This was a problem Mazda corrected with the triple tie housing , but the stigma of “bad seals” was birthed. By 1974 water seals, apex seals and oil seals had all been improved and the original owners of the 1974-1991 cars had a product that would perform the same at 90K miles as it would at 0 miles. The engine did not deteriorate performance wise as a piston engine did, in fact an engine with 90K would often out perform a new engine due to the parts being seat as well as oil use increased, both would improve performance, unfortunately the engines above 100k are “ripe” for rebuild Engine failure between 110 and 150K miles is the norm and most often catastrophic, located in the rear chamber and the average cost is $3000.00. Mazda dealers know this and high mileage trades are still wholesaled across auctions nationwide where either unscrupulous or unknowing used car lots will buy a ripe RX, detail it, put tires on it, fancy wheels, stereo and would sell a car that performed as new for retail. The second owner or fall guy, would buy it and it unceremoniously pitches due to being “ripe” as well as the new owner having a different driving pattern-

Thus the original owners swore by it and the second owner swore at it

Repair Facilities and Mechanics

Often change evokes fear, frustration and anger and the rotary engine necessitated a complete change in thinking and evoked all thee emotions in the automotive technicians. Not only are the basic principles of internal combustion engines different, the service, rebuild, startup and maintenance are critically different than that of a piston engine and require a “learning curve”. The investment in learning is slow , trying and costly. The low numbers of cars fosters a lack of concern to learn about them and the idea that you lose money, sometimes thousands of dollars and very seldom under seven hundred dollars is a commitment very few people were are willing to make. Rebuilding a rotary engine is likened to rebuilding a carburetor. Even if you’ve rebuilt hundreds of Thermo quad carburetors, out of 100 you will have 10 that give you fits and the Mazda Rotary acts the same. Unfortunately when a rotary has an internal problem it is not as simple as pulling the air horn off a Thermo Quad, it is a fix thatcosts a minimum of twelve man hours at $40/hr to get to with a seal kit price in excess of $200 . That spells $700 of no profit.

Thus mechanics and repair facilities swear by rotaries or swear at them

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