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Mazda’s Rotary Engine Turns 50!

1967 Mazda Cosmo Sport 110S with rotary engine | Photo: Mazda
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Guillaume Rivard
A tradition of innovation launched with the 1967 Cosmo Sport 110S

At the dawn of the 1960s, Mazda bet its independence and just about its very existence on a new technology, the rotary engine, after it had acquired the rights to the technology from NSU Motorenwerke AG and Wankel GmbH.

The development process for the new engine proved a rough ride, to say the least, but the work and persistence of the company’s engineering team (the so-called 47 Samurai) led by Chief Engineer Kenichi Yamamoto paid off with the launch of the Mazda Cosmo Sport 110S, the world’s first twin-rotor, rotary-engine production car. Until that time, Mazda had been known only for its small touring cars and utility trucks. The low stance of the new sports car made it a perfect fit for the compact rotary engine.

The culminating point in the development of Mazda’s rotary engine, however, came in 1991, when a quad-rotor-engined Mazda 787B won the 24 Hours of Le Mans race. In all, the company produced 1.99 million vehicles fitted with a rotary engine, ranging from sports cars and sedans to 26-passenger buses.

The rotary engine was finally abandoned in 2012, the victim of anemic torque and too-plentiful polluting emissions. Mazda turned its attention and resources to its new SKYACTIV technology. And yet, research aimed at improving the rotary engine never ceased, and the company’s passion for the technology has never diminished. In the fall of 2015 Mazda presented the RX-Vision concept featuring a rotary engine, and early in 2016 the manufacturer announced it was busy developing a new generation, which would be both cleaner and more powerful than before. We’ll be watching for it!

Pictures of the 50th Anniversary of the Mazda Rotary Engine
Guillaume Rivard
Guillaume Rivard
Automotive expert