(1902-1988) German engineer who developed by 1956 the rotary engine that bears his name.
Wankel was born in Luhran. In 1927 he became a partner in an engineering works before opening his own research establishment. Later he carried out work for the German Air Ministry. At the end of World War II he began to work for a number of German motor manufacturers at the Technische Entwicklungstelle in Lindow; he was made its director 1960.
During the 1930s Wankel carried out a systematic investigation of internal-combustion engines, particularly rotary engines. The German motor firm NSU sponsored the development of his engine with a view to its possible use in motorcycles. Eventually he rearranged his early designs and produced a successful prototype of a practical engine in 1956.
Wankel engines are easily connected together in pairs. They have few moving parts compared with an ordinary automobile engine; there are no piston rods or camshafts. The saving in engine weight means that slightly less power is required from engines of this type when they are used in automobiles. Companies throughout the world have bought the rights to manufacture and use the Wankel engine.