Mazda's Rotary Engine Celebrates 40th Anniversary

Mazda's Rotary Engine Celebrates 40th Anniversary image

Text: / Photos: | posted June 04, 2007 00:00

On May 30, 1967, Mazda launched the world's first twin-rotor rotary engined car, the Mazda Cosmo Sport. Today, 40 years to-the-date later, the company celebrates the 40th anniversary of the Mazda rotary engine. In the years between, Mazda has produced nearly two million vehicles powered by the rotary engine.

"Only Mazda -- a company with a laser-like focus on vehicle development and engineering success -- would have had the perseverance and unwavering spirit to pursue the rotary engine," said Jim O'Sullivan, president and CEO of Mazda North American Operations. "From humble beginnings in the 1950s to a very bright hydrogen-fueled future, the rotary engine represents Mazda as a company that follows the road less traveled, and makes its own successes where others have failed."

Through the years, automakers as diverse as General Motors, Daimler-Benz, Rolls-Royce and Citroen have experimented with the Wankel rotary engine, but only Mazda overcame the engineering challenges necessary to bring the engine to market in a mass-production vehicle.

The first vehicle Mazda sold in the United States was the 1970 R100, powered by the rotary engine. It was followed by the RX-2, RX-3, RX-4 and RX-5 Cosmo. The 1970s even saw Mazda install the rotary engine in its Rotary Pickup truck.

When Mazda launched the now-legendary RX-7 in 1979, it really shook up the sports-car establishment and set sales records never before seen with sports cars. Subsequent RX-7 generations were launched in 1986 and 1993, including the first production applications of turbocharging the rotary engine in the U.S. market. And when the company launched the innovative four-door sports car RX-8 in 2003, the rotary engine saw a dramatic update with the introduction of side porting, resulting in greatly reduced exhaust emissions and improved performance.

Mazda's rotary engine has been overwhelmingly successful in motorsports, too, powering the company's cars to over 100 professional sports car racing wins in the U.S. alone and enabling an overall win at the 1991 running of the famed 24-Hours of Le Mans. Mazda was the first -- and is still the only -- Japanese car company to ever win this grueling endurance race. So successful was Mazda's entry in the 1991 race that the rules for subsequent races were changed to ban the rotary engine.

The rotary continues to enjoy success in U.S. motorsports as it powers the SpeedSource team to victory in Grand Am Rolex GT competition in their specially prepared RX-8, as well as powering every vehicle in the ultra-competitive Star Mazda Championship for aspiring open-wheel racers.

Looking towards the future, Mazda remains committed to the rotary engine for the long run. After nearly five decades of development, the company has capitalized on the fact that rotary technology is uniquely suited to burning hydrogen as a fuel, especially as compared to conventional piston engines. Mazda has been experimenting with research and development into both hydrogen-fueled rotaries and hydrogen rotary hybrid-electric vehicles as well, and already has hydrogen-fueled rotary-powered RX-8s on the road in Japan.