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Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Wankel Wonders: Inside the Unique Curtiss-Wright Mustang Transformation

ONE-OFF - In a surprising twist to the legacy of the iconic American muscle car, the Ford Mustang underwent a radical transformation with the replacement of its traditional engine with a rotary engine for its drivetrain. The intriguing question remains: Who was behind this unexpected change? The answer lies shrouded in mystery, leaving enthusiasts and automotive historians speculating
Visitors to the National Auto & Truck Museum in Auburn, Indiana, can walk right up to the rotary-powered Mustang and give it a close inspection. (Picture from: Hemmings)
The origin of this unconventional modification traces back to the 1960s when the Curtiss-Wright Corporation, an American aircraft company, entered into a joint agreement with NSU, a German automotive company. Their collaboration aimed to develop a high-performance version of the Wankel engine, known for its unique rotary design. The Wankel engine, conceptualized by German engineer Felix Wankel in the 1920s, featured a revolutionary three-sided rotor spinning on a single shaft. Its patent was secured in 1929, coinciding with Wankel's employment at NSU, where further advancements were made.
The fan shroud is almost as long as the rotary engine itself and sits well back in the chassis. (Picture from: Hemmings)
Over the years, NSU licensed the Wankel engine design to several global car manufacturers, including AMC, Mercedes-Benz, Citroën, General Motors, Nissan, Suzuki, Toyota, and Mazda notably adopted the Wankel engine for its RX7 and RX8 cars, spanning from 1978 to 2011. The engine's appeal lay in its remarkable simplicity, utilizing 98 percent fewer moving components compared to conventional combustion engines with OHV or OHC configurations.
Notice the V-8 distributor cap with only two spark plug wires fitted. (Picture from: Hemmings)
The enigma surrounding the introduction of the Wankel engine into the Ford Mustang persists, but what is known is that a red Mustang fastback, acquired from Dockery Ford in Morristown, New Jersey, found its way into the hands of the Curtiss-Wright Corporation's Wright Aeronautical Division. This historic vehicle was officially registered on July 28, 1965.
Plenty of documentation is presented alongside the Mustang including the original registration and State of New Jersey Certificate of Ownership. (Picture from: Hemmings)
Powering this unique Mustang was a Curtiss-Wright-designed Twin-Rotor RC2-60 rotary engine, boasting a displacement of a modest 240 cubic inches and generating an impressive 185 horsepower at 5,000 rpm
Aside from the single exhaust emanating from the driver’s side, it’s impossible to tell that this rotary-powered Mustang is any different from a standard 1965 Mustang. (Picture from: Hemmings)
Weighing a mere 237 pounds and compactly measuring 18.5 inches in length, this rotary engine proved ideal for smaller cars, standing at just 21.5 inches tall. Surprisingly smaller than the 289 Ford small-block V-8, it seamlessly fit into the Mustang's engine compartment with ample space to spare.
Regrettably, like many innovative concepts that fail to materialize, the Wankel-powered Mustang remained a solitary creation. As indicated by a plaque at the National Auto & Truck Museum, where the car is currently showcased, "This project was dismissed when Ford decided not to pursue the Wankel engine." The Mustang, a symbol of American muscle, was generously donated to the museum by Steve Estes of Kalamazoo, Michigan, ensuring its preservation as a testament to an intriguing chapter in automotive history.

For the present that has entered the electrified vehicle era, Ford has also been built an electric-powered Mustang pony, wanna see it? Click me... *** [EKA [28122019] | FROM VARIOUS SOURCES | HEMMINGS | NATMUS]
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