West Germany: The Wankel Wager

The German carmaker NSU Motorenwerke last week displayed an ultra-utilitarian sedan that will, it hopes, sire a new generation of automobiles. Called RO 80, the new car has a strange engine under the hood, one that increasingly intrigues the automotive industry.

A mechanical wizard named Felix Wankel invented it in 1954, but it took NSU 13 years of tinkering to bring the "Wankel engine" to its present stage. It is a non-piston gas engine consisting of a three-cornered rotor that swirls in a combustion chamber shaped like a fat-waisted figure eight. Doing...

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