NEWS: So apparently Felix Wankel was a big fat Nazi

Felix Wankel
Today, August 13, is Felix Wankel‘s birthday. Mazdafarians might know him as the father of the rotary engine.

Until now, much of his history had been either unexplored or glossed over. On the official Mazda website, they describe him only as an inventor who conducted research with the German Aviation Ministry during World War II to “serve the national interest.”

But an article published today on Jalopnik contends that Herr Wankel was kicked out of the Nazi party twice for being “too radical” and was a member of Germany’s most anti-Semitic group. The piece references those who believe Wankel worked for the Nazis simply because they happened to be the biggest funder of his research at the time, but that argument is quickly dismissed.

There is no denying the rotary engine’s brilliance as a piece of technology. Even if Wankel’s politics were abhorrent, it only puts him in the company of other automotive luminaries of the time such as Henry Ford. Perhaps it is best to divorce the man from the machine.

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28 Responses to NEWS: So apparently Felix Wankel was a big fat Nazi

  1. pstar says:

    “Until now, much of his history had been either unexplored or glossed over.”

    ^Citation needed.

    Jalopnik is a joke and so are all of its buddysites. Seriously, none of those imbeciles know anything about anything, and reading Jalopnik is a dumber source for car information than Consumer Reports (which is shit-tier). Their editors seriously confuse or flat-out don’t recognize common cars (280ZX springs immediately to mind, when I saw those dumbasses puzzling over “what the mystery car appeared to be”). And its a regular thing with them.

    And, you’ll find that any number of groundbreaking physicists, chemists, and engineers made important discoveries/inventions under authoritarian scumbag regimes, and sometimes even with the goal of advancing said regimes. But guess what, chemicals, physics, math… they are artifacts of nature and don’t care about any of that.

    So if some anti-rotor derpster out there is trying to turn the rotary into a symbol of Naziism…LOL.

    • Kuroneko says:

      > Jalopnik is a joke…

      Glad someone said it! I am never quite sure how a website supposedly for car fanatics is run by, and written by people with absolutely no freaking clue about cars.

      Its bad enough they regurgitate messes as their own, try to be ‘cool’ about Japan and get it messed up and wrong, promote old stuff as new, and generally stuff arse about. But when I read a review of a kei-truck and the author complained of the ‘dashboard support rod’ getting in the way of his legs, when it was obviously the steering column, I giggled. When some truck driving wiener complained someone had keyed his truck, when the scratches were obviously someone’s bag (likely his) or jeans siting on the paint, I turned off. Laughable. Neko.

    • Tim says:

      Could you recommend some car-related sites to replace Jalopnik for those of us who read it?

      • dickie says:

        thetruthaboutcars comes to mind as a source of concrete fact packaged in an entertaining but somewhat more intelligent way. ray wert wishes he was jack baruth.

        hooniverse used to be better but seems to operate as an incredibly dumbed-down version of ttac and jalopnik.

        hemmings motor blog is an exceptional source for classic car information and news, i learn a lot by keeping up with them.

        i left jalopnik and gawker in general behind when it became apparent they were more concerned with generating pageviews by sensationalizing everything than providing information. their frequent site updates fucking everyone over really didn’t help either. being banned by the feminazis at their io9 scifi subsidiary was amusing for a while, but eventually that got boring too.

        • dickie says:

          oh also, when murilee jumped ship at jalopnik i was done. now i read his posts at any of the other sites he’s contracted with.

      • Tom Westmacott says:

        Pistonheads is a good general enthusiast site, has good Chris Harris vids, quite wide-ranging. Probably the best direct replacement.
        Evo (the magazine’s site) also has some good articles posted from the mag from time to time.
        Both the above have reasonable forums.

        Speedhunters are prolific and wide-ranging, have high production values, and cover quite a bit of the cool Japanese older and/or massively modified cars
        Noriyaro is quite idiosyncratic insider-ish coverage of the Japanese drift scene

        Autoextremist is very opinionated, but can be quite good.

        All of the above are written or contributed to by people much closer to the industry and/or scene(s) they cover than Jalopnik.

      • Kuroneko says:

        Petrolicious though sometimes self-important ain’t half bad. Motoring Con Brio covers a wide range of stuff accurately. Neko.

    • Troggie42 says:

      This is pretty much spot on. I used to frequent the site before about three redesigns ago (before they ruined their commenting system, so it was a few years at this point) I’ll poke my head in every once in a while and remember why I don’t go back there. I wouldn’t trust a Gawker Media article if it told me the sky was blue. Those guys are journalistic hacks nowadays. If somehow they went back to the old days of celebrating oddball stuff like russian cars and el camino-ed cars instead of posting 900 articles a day about the new corvette, then maybe they’d have something worthwhile.

  2. Ryan says:

    Todays rotary is a product of Yamamoto’s hard work and dedication (not to mention Mazdas yen), wankels visioned rotary wasnt even eccentric and was a pile of old turds.

    Wankel was as much a scam artist as John Delorean.

    I have a Mazda rotary, Ive never owned it a wankel…

    • Nakazoto says:

      Interestingly, you’re the first person I’ve seen to really touch on the most important aspect of the rotary engine here. Wankel’s design wasn’t very good.

      The rotor and rotor housing both rotated, necessitating the need for another housing around the rotor housing. I have absolutely no idea how he got air and and fuel into the combustion chamber and and even less of an idea on how he ignited it. It’s surprisingly difficult to find information on how this first prototype worked, but it looks maddeningly complicated and unreliable. It wasn’t until other companies, mainly Mazda, licensed the design and started pouring money into R&D that the design grew into what it is today.

      Saying that the rotary engine in a Mazda Cosmo Sports is the same as Felix Wankel’s design is like saying that the 2.0 liter, twin cam, four valve, fire breathing, straight six monster in Gan San’s GTR is the same as the 950cc, 0.6 hp,evaporative carburetor, drip oiling system, single cylinder engine in the Benz Patent Motorwagen. For that matter, saying that rotary engines are a Nazi design is like saying that all four stroke internal combustion engines are German design.

    • invinciblejets says:

      True good point

  3. ewokracing says:


    Join Nazi party and get money for research, or have life made very hard for you and possibly be sent to a death camp.

    Jalopnik, writing irrelevant automotive articles since X.

  4. Yobobjm says:

    Many things were invented by people who we’d consider to be undesirables. The V2 rocket program was the basis for almost all modern rockets and yet it’s mastermind Wernher von Braun was a member of the Nazi party (I don’t think we know much about his involvement in it though).

    • cesariojpn says:

      Not to mention Porsche created the VW Bug, which was asked for by Hitler.

      • Jefreeman says:

        I put who created it aside and look at what it actually is. I’ve always loved the old bugs even if they were Hitler’s idea.

      • Jim-Bob says:

        Well… Ferdinand Porsche actually stole the design from Tatra (mostly from the V570). He even told Hitler that they would need to pay licensing fees for Hans Ledwinka’s designs, but was told by Hitler that he would “take care of it”. A month later, Germany annexed Czechoslovakia and forced Tatra to stop production. If you can find a picture of the Tatra’s chassis without it’s body, and know what a Beetle chassis looks like, you will see they are almost exactly the same. Tatra sued VW after the war, and VW settled out of court in the early 60’s for an undisclosed amount of money.

  5. Dave says:

    Jalopnik is yellow journalism, nothing more. True to their form, it looks like they simply transposed text straight out of wikipedia and added snarky commentary. I’ve never been that interested in Wankel anyway; he came up with a concept and used patent to profit from it. Yet it was Mazda who made it work and, in doing so, their own thing. No other car was a bigger symbol of the source of WWII terribleness than the VW bug, but I think it was a triumph to turn it from the brainchild of evil into a symbol of peace and love. You don’t conquer evil by rallying hatred.

    • jkwade says:

      Well said!

    • Tyler says:

      Well, I would not consider the VW a “brainchild of evil”, since Mr. Porsche had been planning a people’s car long before Hitler made the idea possible. It was more about two men’s dreams coming together than it was about making an evil Nazi war machine family sedan of death.

      • Geoff says:

        No it was definitely about being an evil Nazi war machine family sedan of death.


        Honestly, as a rotorhead, it bugs me when people call it a “Wankel” (or even more when theyre smart arses and call it a wanker).

        No, its not a Wankel, not even an NSU who actually first put rotaries into production. It’s a Mazda 13b. Wankel had little to do with the design of these engines.

        Would be like looking at a Ford GT and saying “Ahh, Henry Ford’s tried and true engine design!”

        • j3wman says:

          didnt the 12a come out first?

          • Dave says:

            NSU put the first production rotary engine in a production car. It was a single rotor in the NSU Spider, and it was terrible. Mazda put the first two-rotor rotary engine in production, in the 10A in the Cosmo Sport. NSU Spider was 1964; Cosmo 1967. 12A didn’t make it to production until 1970, in the RX-2.

  6. Darryl says:

    ‘Hitler’s’ (not really his, of course) scientists were exploited, of course. We all have benefitted from many of their inventions and advancements. Use a cell phone, GPS, satelite tv, fly on and airliner, etc?

    Jalopnik is not a source for ANYTHING but time killing.

    The rotary in its most successful form is only very loosely related to Wankel. Mazda owns it, period. Plus, they put them in such a bitchin line of vehicles!

  7. Howdy All,

    I happen to be able to speak and read German and got this information on Wankel’s nazi past from the book Felix Wankel: More than an inventor’s life. This is the same source cited by the wiki article, so there are definitely going to be some similarities. My apologies if it sounds like I just ripped off the Wiki.

    It’s hard to say he was just in the Nazi party for work benefits, since he joined so early, once pulled a stunt of beaming a giant version of the old Imperial flag on the local Heidelberg castle like it was a bat-signal, maintained anti-semitic journals, and rejoined the party after being kicked out.

    That all being said, none of this really has to change anyone’s vision of rotary engines. I’m a big rotary fan and Wankel being a nazi isn’t going to change any of that. Ryan said it best – there’s a difference between Mazda rotaries and Wankel rotaries.

    Now I just have to figure out how to feel when I spot an Ro80 on the road.

  8. Diabloblanco918 says:

    Boy, you guys sure do hate Jalopnik a whole bunch.

  9. j3wman says:

    Nazis sucked but they made great stuff. I am jewish and even i have to say that they were the worst scurge to become of mankind since the catholic church in the medieval era and renissance. but without the 3rd reich we wouldnt have:
    -Wenkel Rotory Engines
    -Jet Engines (developed by BMW and Junkers)
    -Modern BMW
    -Audi’s Racing Pedigree (Auto Union given grant for Type D winning Le Mans)
    -V1 Rocket (responsible for modern rocketry)

  10. vballin says:

    Those are some nice glasses frames. Nazi or not, this guy had style!

  11. LabMonkey says:

    “And, you’ll find that any number of groundbreaking physicists, chemists, and engineers made important discoveries/inventions under authoritarian scumbag regimes”

    Couldn’t have said it any better. That’s the kind of species we are, period.

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