Look up history books and you will find that on several occasions man has made phenomenal innovations which later became redundant. The story of the rotary Engine is somewhat similar. In the late 1940s, the automotive industry was in the need of a low-cost, lightweight engine that was small and demanded fewer repairs. German Engineer, Felix Wankel developed just that in the form of the rotary engine. This new type of engine replaced conventional pistons with triangular rotors and substituted the cylinder with an oval casing. While in a piston engine the same space performs four tasks (intake, compression, ignition and exhaust), in a rotary engine, the same tasks are performed but in different parts of the casing. This meant a considerable reduction in weight and an extremely rev-happy engine – two attributes that define a driver’s car.
Wankel completed development of this new form of engine in 1954 while he was working with NSU Motorenwerk AG and its testing began in 1957. As soon as the company announced the completion of the engine, manufacturers from across the globe wanted to get hold of this new technology. Mazda signed a deal with NSU in July 1961 and the rest as they say is history. Over the years the Japanese car maker went on to improve the rotary engine and giving us some of the most fun to drive cars ever. Take a look at some of the most legendary Mazda cars with rotary engines.
Mazda Cosmo Sport
After securing rights to Wankel’s rotary engine, Mazda suffered two big problems. Due to sheer speed at which the rotor turned, the apex seal wore out quickly and the sheer heat generated from the engine consumed heavy doses of oil. These were some issues that Mazda discovered when they developed their first prototype. To solve the issue, Mazda made use of a cross-hollow seal with a hole near the apex. The company then developed the Cosmo Sport but continued rigorously testing the engine to make it better and carried out a test distance of more than 7,00,000km from the time development began till its commercial launch in 1967. The production model, however, had a two-rotor rotary engine that developed 110PS from a 983cc engine. With a top-speed of 185km/h, the Mazda Cosmo Sport was among the fastest cars of its time. The same engine was further developed and plonked in the Mazda Savanna, in which it displaced 1,146cc. In 1972, the Savanna beat the legendary Nissan Skyline GT-R – the undefeated touring car champion at the time. The Savanna continued as the RX-7 later in its life.
In 1978, Mazda launched a new version of the Savanna and gave it the RX-7 suffix. Savanna would later be removed from the name and the subsequent models would just be called RX-7. The twin-rotor engine that was used in the Cosmo was further developed to displace 1,308cc. The same motor was used in all the RX-7 models in different states of tune ranging from a 150PS to over 250PS. Over the years, the RX-7 gained the reputation of being easy on the pocket and extremely versatile. For those who wanted more from their car, you could easily fit a larger turbo or even switch to the punchier three-rotor 20B engine. Aside from sheer performance, all of the RX-7 models have been absolutely stunning to look at.
Mazda 787 / 787B
To participate in prototype racing, Mazda developed a three-rotor motor (christened 13G/20B) and debuted it in the Mazda 757. This car was later replaced by the 767 which was plonked with a larger four-rotor engine. This engine was further developed and heavily modified to be fitted in the 787. This car not only went on to become the only rotary powered vehicle to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans ever but it also brought Japan its first victory at Circuit de la Sarthe.
Also Read: How Jaguar Won Le Mans With The XJR-9
1993 experimental Mazda MX-5 Miata
Those who don’t know what the Mazda MX-5 is and simply look at the spec sheet of any of its generations, chances are they might be utterly disappointed. But there was a lot to the Miata than numbers – so much so that even in a place like the United States, home to some of the most iconic V8 muscle cars, this cute little roadster gained a lot of popularity. While it couldn’t even fit more than two adults comfortably, it’s telepathic handling earned it a lot of fans.
Also Read: These Guys Will Turn Your Miata Into A Lightweight Track Car
Perfectly balanced, it drove like a go-kart making even the most mundane commutes fun. Not to mention it was extremely reliable and easy on the pocket. But Mazda never launched a Miata with a rotary engine, did it? Not they didn’t, at least not in production form. But they did develop an experimental model in 1993 that was fitted with the same 1.3-litre twin-rotor engine from the RX-7 but this one ran on hydrogen. Even with the alternative fuel Mazda managed to pull out 120PS and 164Nm. But to store hydrogen in the tank it had to be mixed with a metal which upon heating released the gas for the engine. This obviously added a lot of weight to the Miata which in turn stole some of its handling prowess. That being said, Mazda did plonk its most famous engine in its most famous car, albeit not the way you’d have imagined it!
Mazda discontinued the RX-7 in 2002 and launched its successor – the RX-8. In this car, Mazda plonked the Renesis 13B-MSP two-rotor naturally aspirated engine that displaced 1,308cc. This engine was essentially an evolution of the 13B but slightly less powerful due to the absence of a turbocharger. For its technological advancement and reduced fuel consumption and emission, the Renesis went on to become the International Engine of the year in 2003. This engine made its last appearance in the RX-8 in 2012 as it failed to comply to the stringent Euro V emission norms. In fact, it was also the last of the Wankel engine to be ever used in a Mazda.
Mazda used Wankel’s rotary engine for 45 years from 1967 to 2012, from the Cosmo Sport to the RX-8 and during this time overcame numerous challenges. More importantly, Mazda managed to hold its place against the sophistication that the piston engines brought along making them the biggest patrons of the rotary engine ever!
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