Rotary Rocket: 1991 Maxton Rollerskate

Josh MortensenBy Josh Mortensen

Ever since I bought my first car, a beat up Mazda RX-7, I’ve been a fan of the rotary engine. While they don’t produce that much torque, aren’t terribly efficient and sound a bit like a chainsaw, there is just something so novel about them that makes them appealing. I can understand perfectly, why Bob Sutherland felt his sports car the Maxton Rollerskate needed to be powered by a rotary engine. They only built 50 of these interesting machines and this one is said to be the very first one sold to the public. The seller purchased it new and requested that it be numbered with 8 instead of 2 for metaphorical reasons. What those reasons are, we don’t know, but this is a very special car! You can find it here on eBay in Atlanta, Georgia with a BIN of $30k or best offer.

The story of how the Maxton Rollerskate came to be is an interesting one. Bob Sutherland decided he wanted a sports car that herald back to the days of Lotus Seven and the Bugeye Sprite, but he wanted a lightweight and powerful modern powertrain. And that’s where the 13B rotary engine enters the picture. It’s relatively low weight and decent power output made it the perfect engine for a lightweight sports car.

To make his idea happen, Sutherland assembled a small team to design, develop and fine tune the car. It took several years of development, but in 1990 they had a running and driving car to show off to the press and the world. And by 1991, they were ready to start manufacturing cars for customers. If this car really is the very first production car built, it’s an important piece of automotive history. It’s 13B engine was built by a Rotary specialist in Colorado and is said to produce 265 horsepower. The seller has only driven the car 264 miles since it arrived from Maxton, but recently had the brakes and fuel system serviced. It runs and drives great, it just needs a new home.

Maxton only built 50 Rollerskates before closing their doors. Bob Sutherland also founded the Colorado Grand and made the very first attempt at the 1,000 mile drive in the first prototype Rollerskate. He went on to run the race a number of times in his production car (#003). While $30k is a lot to pay for what is essentially a kit car, it’s still one of the cheapest cars that is eligible to run at the prestigious event. I only wish I could afford to own this pristine example, I bet the rotary engine sounds incredible in this open top rocket!

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Comments

  1. michael streuly

    That car is not worth 30k 10k maybe

    3+
    • Steve Visek

      Good examples have been changing hands in the $15-20K range recently. I know as I have helped facilitate sales. I don’t even think you could pick up a used up basic 12A car anymore for anywhere close to your guess. But let me know if you come across one; I’d be interested in making a handsome profit.

      This car would carry a significant premium given its as-new condition. Whether that gets it to $25K or all the way to $30K is debatable. As with anything, it is worth whatever someone is willing to pay for it. This unique car requires waiting for the right buyer.

      1+
  2. Howard A Member

    I just don’t get it. They wonder why these things fail. I think a modern Bugeye is a great idea, looks really cool,,, I mean a ton of engineering ( and money, I’m sure) then they put that kind of motor in it. The rotary is a neat motor, plenty of oomph, but the general public just doesn’t know enough about them, and will generally stay clear of them. I would. Some conventional piston engine or even a hybrid, would seem to be a better choice. These people make these cars with what they think should power it, when that’s not always what the public wants. Sure looks neat, tho.

    3+
    • Andy

      I’d guess they weren’t expecting more than a few hundred sales a year anyway, and you can easily scrounge up that many people who know about and like rotaries. Mazda managed to sell a few hundred thousand over the years.

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  3. lawyer George

    My only experience with a Madza rotary was riding in one circa 1970. It was small about the size of a Datsun B210 but went very fast and quickly. I was pleasantly surprised until his answer to my question about fuel economy was “about 15 hwy,” I smiled and patted my pocket containing the keys to my 1966 Dodge 383 4 speed Charger which would deliver 21 equipped as it was with 2.90 rear end provided I kept my right foot in the car and not in the carburetor.

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  4. CitroenManiac

    Anyone that has driven an RX anything knows why this car is worth the asking price. Friend of mine restored a Daimler SP250 and put Mazda rotary engine and trans in it. Blast to drive !! I would buy this car if there was any room left in the garage.

    3+
  5. Rx7turboII

    Choice of engine for this, perfect. But Howard is right, the Wankel engine is just way too finicky for the general public as far as flooding goes and maintenance and even though the Wankel engine is the most perfectly balanced engine ever made, I doubt it will go into mass production again because of the emissions, fuel economy, and just overall longevity of the rotary design. I might be wrong, they might make an RX-9…hmmmmmm?

    1+
  6. Jubjub

    I don’t think these were intended for just any old John Q. Public car buyer! The Rotary is fine here and it was plentiful in junkyards when this was built.

    Awesome. Loved these when I saw them on Motorweek back in the day. They’re like a Super 7 for those who visit the occasional buffet.

    I wonder how it’s overall build quality compares to the Barn Finds TVR Tasmin in my garage.

    1+
  7. carbuzzard Member

    The rotary is perfect for a car this size. One of the big advantages of the rotary is its overall small size, about the size of a beer keg before you start hanging all the peripherals on it. Power output per cubic foot is impressive, so it’s perfect for an ultracompact sports car like this.

    2+
  8. Steve Visek

    I remember seeing the Maxton build on MotorWeek and even entered the giveaway. Though I did not win, I always thought I’d like to own own someday.

    That day came in 2007 when I found one for sale near Dallas. My Rollerskate is #19 built and is one of only a handful of the long-wheelbase cars.

    It barely ran due to the carbs. I firmly believe Dell’Orto is Italian for “runs like sh*t” so I had them banished and replaced with fuel injection. I also had a later RX-7 rear installed that came with rear discs and a limited slip diff. And recently I had the computer replaced with a new MicroTech LT-9c.

    With 200+ hp and less than 1700 lbs it is a blast, revving to 9000 rpm and having no issue leaving two strips of black on the pavement upon launch. It’s like 4-wheeled therapy after a long day! It is a very happy little car.

    Official site of the Maxton Rollerskate: http://www.maxtonrollerskate.com/

    The MotorWeek segments and others can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLdIuzc1xif3_PmJVy5YG1F70go_X-g_QC

    7+
  9. Steve Visek

    BTW most Maxtons were provided to their new owners as completed cars. You could buy it in kit form if you wanted (just like Lotus did many decades ago with the original Seven as a CKD tax special). To skirt emissions and crash testing requirements, Maxton Components built the kits and Maxton Concessionaires assembled them.

    Pictured is #19 in my driveway.

    9+
  10. Steve Visek

    Rollerskates feature 12A or 13B engines. Mine is a ported 13B (pic).

    7+
  11. Steve Visek

    I have spoken in the past with the owner of the car being auctioned. His car is a time capsule. Absolutely the most original Maxton you will ever find. Museum quality, though too much fun not to drive.

    Here’s a pic of mine with the hood up.

    6+
  12. Steve Visek

    And here it is with the 4-piece snap-in tonneau.

    2+
    • Howard A Member

      Wow, folks, there you have it, one satisfied customer,,apparently. I’m not saying it isn’t a cool car, it’s just, if you want to make money with a new concept, it had better be John Q. Public compliant. That’s how you make money, not by investing a ton of money and sell 50. Reminds me of another well known automotive situation like this.

      0
      • carbuzzard Member

        The automotive world is littered with passionate builders who made special automobiles but failed in business. Maybe they needed to make SUVs. Porsche was struggling financially until they did, but I wouldn’t kick a 911 out of bed for eating crackers.

        1+
      • Steve Visek

        Sadly the Maxton fell victim to a double whammy: a recession and the Miata. When they were developing the car the was really nothing else around that hearkened back to the classic ’60s sports roadsters, except the Alfa. By the time it was ready, the economy had sunk and everyone was in love with the Miata.

        0
      • Andy

        Maybe you should jump in a time machine and tell that to Ettore Bugatti and W.O. Bentley. I’m sure they went to their graves thinking they should have built Corollas.

        0

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