New motto: more power

Sparked by the development of high-performance motorcycle engines

Specialization and focus on engine production

At the start of the 1970s, Rotax has 900 employees in Gunskirchen. The takeover by the Canadian Bombardier Group sees the plant undergo significant modernization, and the Rotax product range develops in parallel with the company’s historical portfolio. As well as engine production - where Rotax is increasingly focused on dynamic powertrains for motorcycles and snowmobiles - special orders for other sectors, such as die clamping systems, are gradually reduced.

But engine production is changing, too: While ownership by Bombardier initially brings a primary focus on snowmobile engines, in the middle of the decade this is joined by another area of production, namely motorcycles, which have established themselves as an alternative mode of transport during the economic miracle of the preceding decades and are now enjoying a renaissance as sports and leisure vehicles. And this is the place where the desire for performance, speed and more power takes root. Demands that the Gunskirchen engineers are only too happy to meet. And the first opportunity soon presents itself: Bombardier motorcycle brand Can-Am presents the perfect opportunity to develop these new, high-performance engines.

Peak performance with Can-Am motorcycles

Involvement with the motorcycle scene is imminent in any case. In the mid-1970s, Rotax’ Canadian parent group is looking for an alternative to its traditional Ski-Doo business. The realignment is prompted by mild winters, the oil crisis and increasing environmental awareness, and aims to provide dealers with Can-Am motorcycles powered by high-performance Rotax engines as a product for the warmer months. Pop culture highlights such as the Easy Rider film lead a whole generation to yearn to cruise the highway, thirst for freedom and independence, and experience the adrenaline rush of speed on two wheels.

Rotax swiftly demonstrates its enormous capacity for innovation. The commitment of individuals - Heinz Lippitsch, Johan Bayerl and Hans Holzleitner are the masterminds behind the move into motorcycles - sees production successfully refocused onto the new engines. The “old” stationary engine business takes a back seat.

And the efforts pay off: The two-stroke engines with a new oil injection system and rotary valve control initially see success in small volume 125-cc and 175-cc models, with 250-cc and 280-cc variants coming later. Success on the US motocross scene - including the 250 cc championship – is followed by victories in Europe, for instance in road races, now with water cooled Rotax engines. Rotax-powered motorcycles hold their own against overwhelming competition from Asian countries. And all with simple(r) methods, and lots of dedication and hard work! “We often worked until 10 in the evening on the test stand. It was such a fantastic team! Back then ‘Trials’ was just an adjunct to the design department. Design played a leading role in developing Rotax engines - we designed our own engines on the drawing board,” explains Heinz Lippitsch, former Development Manager at Rotax.

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