If you're a committed moto-fiddler, where motorcycle or otherwise, prepare for multiple mindgasms.

This highly weird story dating back to the '70s, is about a lone engineer geniusing up an ultra-radical, comically simple two-stroke engine that by rights should be powering a hefty chunk of the world's cars, trucks, bikes and generators today.

If the claims of the Rotary Vee's American inventor (Frank Turner or Robert Sullivan, depending on which of several available accounts you buy into) were to bear out - and there seems nothing to indicate that they didn't - his motor was one of the great missed opportunities in engineering history.

I read this Popular Science article in '79, never forgot about it, and got serious a few nights ago about tracking it down. After fruitless hours, I finally located the piece on Google Books: http://bit.ly/uDm3PR. (I'd been searching 'Rotary-V' and 'Popular Mechanics' - close, but still off).

Then YouTube coughed up an outstandingly low-quality but nonetheless fascinating video series about a guy who, like me, wondered what had happened to this technology and, unlike me, actually hit the road looking for answers.

He found them in a dusty old machine shop in 1996, in Snyder, Oklahoma, as you'll see here: http://bit.ly/sHxEXa. It gets good at 1:18. There are several others to the series, but the above links adequately convey the general insanity.

It needs to be stated that the racket this engine puts out with no exhaust system attached is pure lunacy. I got goosebumps. And there's no mistaking it: This is two-stroke opera of the highest order.

A few rough specs (depending on version; apparently three Rotary Vee engines were made):

  • 8-cylinder, two-stroke, air-cooled, non-reciprocating V-block
  • No crankshaft, connecting rods, valves or fuel pump
  • 9 moving parts in all
  • 75 lbs.
  • 400 hp
  • RPM range between 75-24,000
  • Torque curve is even throughout entire RPM range
  • Can be assembled from knocked-down to operational in under 10 min.
  • Built using a conventional lathe, milling machine and band saw

A smaller version of the Rotary Vee could easily be built for motorcycles. Just imagine what that kind of power-to-weight ratio could do for your wheelies.

We will bring you more on the Rotary Vee in coming months as we strive to unpack this curious piece of forgotten history.

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