Felix Wankel

Felix Wankel bigraphy, stories - German engineer

Felix Wankel : biography

August 13, 1902 – October 9, 1988

Felix Heinrich Wankel (August 13, 1902 – October 9, 1988) was a German mechanical engineer and inventor after whom the Wankel engine was named. He is the only twentieth century engineer to have designed an internal combustion engine which went into production.

Honors and awards

  • Honorary doctorate degree from Technische Universität München, December 5, 1969.
  • The Federation of German Engineers (VDI) Gold Medal, 1969.
  • The Grand Federal Service Cross, Germany’s highest civilian honor, 1970
  • John Price Wetherill Medal, Philadelphia, 1971.
  • The Bavarian Service Medal, 1973.
  • The "Honour Citizen" of Lahr,1981, and the title of Professor in 1987.
  • The Soichiro Honda Medal, 1987.
  • Honorary citizenship of Lindau (declined)

Early life

Wankel was born in Lahr, Baden, in the upper Rhine Valley. He was the only son of Gerty Wankel (née Heidlauff) and Rudolf Wankel, a forest assessor. His father fell in World War I. Thereafter, the family moved to Heidelberg. He went to high schools in Donaueschingen, Heidelberg, and Weinheim, and left school without Abitur in 1921. He learned the trade of purchaser at the Carl Winter Press in Heidelberg and worked for the publishing house until June 1926. He and some friends had already run an unofficial afterwork machine shop in a backyard shed in Heidelberg since 1924. Wankel now determined to receive unemployment benefits and to focus on the machine shop. One of his friends, who had graduated from university, gave his name and transformed the shop into an official garage for DKW and Cleveland motor bikes in 1927, where Wankel worked from time to time until his arrest in 1933.Marcus Popplow: Felix Wankel. Mehr als ein Erfinderleben., Sutton, Erfurt 2011, 32-36, 51f.

Wankel was gifted since childhood with an ingenious spatial imagination, and became interested in the world of machines, especially combustion engines. After his mother was widowed, Wankel could not afford university education or even an apprenticeship; however, he was able to teach himself technical subjects. At age 17, he told friends that he had dreamt of constructing a car with "a new type of engine, half turbine, half reciprocating. It is my invention!". True to this prediction, he conceived the Wankel engine in 1924 and won his first patent in 1929.

Personal information

Since 1936, Wankel was married for life to Emma "Mi" Kirn. They had no children. His grave may be found in the Bergfriedhof of Heidelberg.

He never had a driver’s license, because he was extremely near-sighted. He was, however, the owner of an NSU Ro 80 with a Wankel engine, which was chauffeured for him.

In 1969, Wankel was granted an honorary Doctorate of Engineering from Technical University Munich. He was known for his championing of animal rights and opposition to the use of animals in testing.

Wankel died in Heidelberg, aged 86. After his death, the Felix Wankel Foundation sold its real estate property to Volkswagen AG. The Heidelberg Fire Department showcases his last workshop. Wankel’s papers are archived in the Technomuseum in Mannheim. Furthermore, there is an exhibition "AUTOVISION · Tradition & Forum" in Altlußheim, a permanent showing of over 80 rotary engines and many cars equipped with Wankel motors.


Licensing date Company Country Licensed for
21.10.1958 Curtiss-Wright Corp. USA Without restriction, no series
29.12.1960 Fichtel & Sachs AG Germany Industrial engine and boat, 0.5-30 PS
25.02.1961 Yanmar Diesel Co. Ltd Japan Gasoline and Diesel engine, 1-100 PS, 1-300 PS
27.02.1961 Toyo Kogyo, Co. Ltd. Japan Gasoline 1-200 PS land vehicles
04.10.1961 Klöckner-Humboldt-Deutz AG Germany Diesel engine without restriction
26.10.1961 Daimler-Benz AG Germany Gasoline 50 PS upwards
30.10.1961 MAN AG Germany Diesel engine without restriction
02.11.1961 Friedrich Krupp AG Germany Diesel engine without restriction
12.03.1964 Daimler-Benz AG Germany Diesel engine without restriction
15.04.1964 S.p.A Alfa Romeo Italy Gasoline engine 50-300 PS or Passenger car
17.02.1965 Rolls-Royce Motors Ltd. UK Diesel and hybrid engines 100-850 Ps
18.02.1965 IFA VEB GermanyDDR Gasoline engine 0.5-25 PS and 50-150 PS
02.03.1965 Dr.Ing. h.c. Porsche KG Germany Gasoline engine 50-1000 Ps
01.03.1966 Outboard Marine Corp. USA Gasoline engine 50-400 Ps
11.05.1967 Comotor S.A. Luxembourg Gasoline and Diesel engine 40-200 PS
12.09.1967 Graupner Germany 0,1-3 PS model engines
28.08.1969 Savkel Ltd. Israel Gasoline 0.5-30 PS industrial engines
01.10.1970 Nissan Japan Gasoline engines 80-120 Ps
10.11.1970 General Motors USA Everything, except aircraft engines
24.11.1970 Suzuki Japan Gasoline engines 20-60 PS for motorcycle
25.05.1971 Toyota Japan Gasoline engines 75-150 PS
29.11.1971 Ford-Werke AG, Köln Germany Gasoline engines 80-200 PS (1974 quit)
25.07.1972 BSA Ltd. UK Gasoline engines 35-60 PS for motorcycle
29.09.1972 Yamaha Japan Gasoline engines 20-80 PS for motorcycle
04.10.1971 Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd. Japan Gasoline engines 20-80 PS for motorcycle
03.02.1973 American Motors (AMC) USA Gasoline engines 20-200 PS