THERE is a strong possibility that the world's largest pro. ducer of luxury cars will swing soon to Wankel power.
Engineers at Daimler- Benz in Stuttgart have solved many of the problems that plagued early rotary engines. 'Meanwhile. the company's business heads are attracted by the Wankel unit's possibilities in the face of stiffer-than-ever American pollution legislation,
On a recent visit to the Daimler Benz headquarters fact-finding we met a wall of silence where formerly the company had been particularly forthcoming. This indicates that Wankel engines are no longer a curious novelty. Said one Mercedes executive: 'This is a bad time to talk about rotaries, Major decisions are being taken right now and everybody is particularly sensitive.
If Daimler- Benz decides to invest heavily in the tooling needed to produce Wankel engines in quantity. it will probably herald the move by building a limited series of the existing Clll prototype. These cars offered at a subsidised price perhaps to 100 carefully chosen influential motorists in Germany and abroad will pave the way to public acceptability of the rotary engine as a luxury power unit. At the same time they will help to pinpoint any last-minute bugs that the engineers may have missed.
Assuming thaI such a test marketing exercise went well the company might then go on to produce a rotary-powered variant of one of its normal saloons probably in relatively low volume model such as the 300SEL. The cars in this larger range are in any case, according to rumour due for replacement perhaps even later this year. It would be relatively easy for Mercedes to plan for a supplementary model to be slotted in after a couple of years.
What is the reason for this sudden renewed interest in a power source that, after all, has been around for years? Initially, the Wankel concept attracted wide attention for its extreme smoothness, lightness and relative compactness by comparison with comparable reciprocating designs, but already there were misgivings about its high fuel consumption. Then came the first signs of an omissions scare in California and enginems despaired of meeting the new regulations because of the Wankel's relative inefficiency and the consequent incompleteness of its combustion process. At the same time there were doubts about whether by the time the necessary. auxiliaries were added it really saved much underbonnet space.
Now the wheel has turned full circle. The very - much tougher 1975 American anti-smog requirements have put a far higher premium on space and weight saving.
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