Kenichi Yamamoto, the man chiefly known for perfecting the workings of the Mazda Rotary Engine, passes away at the age of 95. Having passed away in his home in Kanagawa prefecture, Yamamoto’s foray into developing the odd pistonless motor began when he led a team of engineers at Toyo Kogyo to work on perfecting Felix Wankel’s powerplant for commercial use. Toyo Kogyo soon became known as Mazda in 1984, and Yamamoto eventually played a key role as its president and chairman.
A slim yet energetic mechanical engineer, Mr. Yamamoto entered Toyo Kogyo following the second world war. Having made the shift into engine development, he soon rose the ranks in the company. Some time at around 1961, Yamamoto was requested by his superiors to supervise the development of a new powerplant that was founded by a German engineer. With its compact dimension and few moving parts, Yamamoto then began research into perfecting the Wankel Rotary engine and make it commercially viable.
While manufacturers at the time were busy working on conventional piston engines, the rotary represented change and distinction for Mazda at the time. Considering they were being pressured by Japan’s Ministry of International Trade and Industry to merge with other companies in the interest of global competitiveness, they had to prove that they had something new to bring to the table to maintain their identity amongst the Japanese manufacturers.
The fruits of their labor were soon evident, as Yamamoto finally pushed Mazda’s first rotary sports coupe into production. The Mazda Cosmo 110S debuted at the Tokyo Motor Show in 1963, and he was there to patiently explain their new creation to the show’s attendees. Once the show was over, Yamamoto and the president of Toyo Kogyo took the Cosmo across Japan over two weeks to prove its reliability to consumers.
Soon afterwards Yamamoto’s work can be seen across the whole range of Mazda vehicles. From sedans like the RX-2, the odd Rotary Engine Pickup (REPU), and their pioneering sports car, the RX-7, the Rotary instantly became Mazda’s distinction in the automotive world. The Mazda Rotary Engine continued to power over 1.8 million vehicles and to this day still holds a special place among dedicated enthusiasts.
Mazda will not be Mazda without the rotary engine, and it was thanks to Mr. Yamamoto that a unique piece of engineering has been truly introduced to the world. May he rest in peace.