The boom in global motorcycle sales in the 1970’s allowed manufacturers ample opportunity to experiment and diverge from traditional two and four stroke machines in an effort to expand both their brand reputation and sales.
In 1974, from this creative industrial vortex emerged the suzuki RE-5, the first and only production motorcycle from a Japanese manufacturer with a Wankel engine. Developed under licence from car maker, NSU – who developed the concept alongside inventor, Felix Wankel – the RE-5 lasted between 1974 and 1976 and is recognised as a bold attempt to embrace alternative technology that was, frankly, too complex to succeed and riddled with problems.
With only one major moving part (a triangular rotor spinning eccentrically in an eptrochoidal chamber) and an impressive power to weight ratio, the idea seemed promising… on paper. Sadly the RE-5 (unlike the later air-cooled Norton rotary) was mind-numbingly complex with a weird combination of ECU and points, three cooling systems (water, oil and air) and a seriously complex carburation and choke set up that was troublesome when new and only got worse with wear.
Initial models 'benefited' from a circular instrument panel with a curved Perspex cover that flipped up to reveal the meters, an equally circular rear light assembly and spherical indicators, all intended to reinforce the rotary theme and from the pen of famous Italian automotive designer Giorgetto Giugiaro. suzuki even engaged astronaut Edgar Mitchell to help with the launch!
Sadly the RE-5 did not rocket to success and became somewhat of a corporate embarrassment to suzuki who restyled the second iteration more along the lines of the more successful (more powerful... and cheaper) GT750.
The RE-5 still has a small but loyal following today but, be warned, if you wish to own one, get the most complete example possible, be ready for “issues” and join as many owner and dedicated forums as possible… oh, and buy some Aspirin – good luck!
issued: Wednesday, December 28, 2022
updated: Wednesday, January 11, 2023
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