Milestone 5: Production of four stroke engines begins


The diversification of motorcycle engine production, brought about by Can-Am motorcycles, demonstrates that Rotax is adaptable and learns quickly. Investment in research and development also soon bear fruit in the form of the four stroke engine. Production of engines for this new segment begins in 1982 and later enjoys success under the Can-Am brand name. The Type 504/384 engine is particularly used in the offroad and Enduro sectors. The robust, straightforward, air cooled four valve engine is installed by many producers such as KTM, MuZ and Puch. But besides the market models, it is also used in Harley Davidson military vehicles, Jawa police motorcycles and flat track machines by Ron Wood. Collaboration with the young Italian firm, Aprilia, lead to larger sales volumes and racing success. As it had done when collaborating with Lohner and Bombardier, Rotax brings its expertise to motorcycle development and is in a position to meet its customer’s requirements. The Aprilia Tuareg and Pegaso models are among the best-loved and most successful. Rotax fulfils Aprilia’s requirement for a water cooled four stroke engine and begins series production of the 650cc Type 655 engine in 1982. But racing motorcyclists win a succession of world championship titles with smaller displacements and two stroke engines, initially with JJ Cobas and later with Aprilia.


From 1982, Rotax enjoys enormous racing success, above all through its collaboration with the then still young Italian firm, Aprilia. The 125cc two stroke engines in use at the time take Rotax drivers from success to success. The European titles for 1983, 1986, 1987 and 1989 are all won by Rotax drivers. The basic configuration of the Type 123 engine in use at the time, originally developed as a powertrain for offroad and road racer motorcycles, is still in use as a kart engine today. The Tuareg and Pegaso models make Aprilia one of Rotax’ biggest customers in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Dr. Heinz Lippitsch, formerly Head of Development at Rotax, recalls collaborating with the Italian motorcycle producer: “Aprilia was like a second family to us. The two management teams were very close. There was never any particular friction.” The successful collaboration is also “Italian” in nature. Teams sit down together at the weekends, exchange views over pasta and wine and develop new projects and ideas. Looking back, it was a very intense and exciting time – as Siegfried Lehner recalls: “Motorsports was always a big thing – particularly the collaboration with Aprilia, when we became world champions. Valentino Rossi used to drive our engines! The racing drivers came directly to us in Development and brought parts for us to tune!”


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