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The Misinformation of the Rotary Engine PT.1 – The Overarching Cause of the Misunderstanding

FORWARD:  In this series of posts I will attempt to de-mystify the rotary engine, from my perspective.  I’ve been an enthusiast of the rotary platforms for around 25 years now.  I do not consider myself an expert in engine building, tuning, or anything like that; so this series will be more focused on how the spread of misinformation through word of mouth, the internet, and ultimately social medial has skewed the general understanding of the rotary engine.

Let me preface this entire series by saying:  yes, I am a rotary enthusiast….but I am NOT a rotary apologist.  As this little project moves along, I think you’ll see a lot of the fallacies put forth by the general car enthusiast are actually based in facts.  They have just been twisted throughout the years to the point where we have lost the narrative.  So, within this multi-part breakdown of this phenomenon, I’d like to hit on a few bullet points in the future articles:

-Oversimplification of important and necessary requirements to healthy rotary engines

-The ‘old-head’ mechanics setting future rotary enthusiasts off on the wrong foot

-The death of the forums

-The meme-ification of the rotary engine

-Social media’s hand in all of this

-The RX-8…..oh, the RX-8

-yOu’Ll BloW YOuR ApeX sEaLs

These probably won’t be the only topics in this series, and this list is in no particular order.  I have no real timeline for writing these articles.  For right now, I’m just using this space as a stream of consciousness, and a way to remind myself in the future to discuss these points.  Also, many of these issues involved in this subject will cross over and intersect with each other, so I will do my best to keep things easy to follow.  I’m probably already talking in circles and am being hard to understand…..so let’s start with what I believe is the simple concept that has gotten us where we are:

Do you remember in elementary school playing the game of Telephone?  The game where a classmate or teacher would whisper a topic, and each subsequent classmate would whisper to the next.  Then when it had been passed through everyone, the whole class would laugh at how convoluted the message had gotten.  Yep, I believe this simple game can be used as an analogy as to how so much bad information has, not only gotten out about the rotary engine, but has actually become “facts” passed on by both the educated and uneducated alike.

How does this pertain to rotary engines?  We will use a hypothetical situation to illustrate.  Let’s imagine a very knowledgeable, very respected member of the community makes a post or video or something with finds some new fix for some issue.  They go through the causes, the technical aspect of the fix, the drawbacks of the fix, when to use it and when not, etc.  This next person to reiterate this fix to someone is very thorough in their explanation of the fix, but they leave out the technical bit.  This person leaves the technical portion out simply because they don’t fully understand it.  So, instead of giving bad info, they just don’t relay that portion.  This process continues, and the information continuously gets watered down throughout the years.  Eventually, a couple engines start to blow after doing this fix.  Why?  Well, because through the trickle down, drawbacks ad the when not to use portion of the original post have been completely left out.  People have told others to use this fix without understanding that this particular fix is not appropriate for every situation.  This legitimate fix has gone from something that could help to elevate the unreliability of the rotary engine, to now being another cause of the unreliability.

As we can see though the use of this example, the information doesn’t always get diluted in a malicious way.  Sometimes people are leaving info out for altruistic reasons, and actively not trying to spread misinformation.  But what inevitably happens is, some guy who’s father’s, brother’s, sister’s former roommate had an RX-7 and he overheard him talking about this fix.  Well, that guy has no experience with the cars/engines at all.  So when he relays this information, the details are completely left out, and people just take the advise on face value.  This end of the spectrum is very damaging to the community.

I chose to discuss this phenomenon first, not because I consider this to be the basis for the misinformation, quite the contrary, rather I believe this concept to be more of an overarching theme.  This idea has the ability to compound ANY misinformation, no matter what the source.  Making it the most destructive force in the tarnishing of the rotary engine.  And don’t get me wrong, this little game happens, not only in all aspects of the car community, but throughout almost every aspect of our day-to-day lives.  So, what do we do?

Well, I don’t really think there is anything we can do about this.  I think it’s simply human nature to do.  What we can do, is simply not take something some random person days on the internet as gospel.  This is admittedly very difficult, especially as a new person to the platform.  It’s hard not to trust someone’s answer to a question when they speak with a lot of certainty and confidence.  There’s no way for this new person to know that that “authority” is only speaking with such conviction because he’s just parroting something that they’ve seen written a dozen times before.  That “expert” has no real experience to speak from, rather just hearsay from others.  It’s also difficult when your favorite youtuber is “getting you up to speed” on the subject….but really all they are doing is rewording a Wikipedia page, or some other poorly written/poorly researched article.  Hopefully this article wasn’t too poorly written, and readers are able to follow my weird theory.  I promise the other articles in this series won’t be so abstract and hard to follow.

Goober Goalie

Just an old guy who's into rotaries and all things 90s Japanese. Been involved in the rotary community for over 20 years now, and have dabbled in other platforms over that timeframe as well. I'm so old, I took a modified FC RX-7 to see the original FnF in theaters. I'm looking forward to sharing my experiences and learning some new things from this community.