Mazda Started Producing Rotary Engines 50 Years Ago, Now It’s Time For Another [w/40 Pics + Video]

Mazda has a long and proud history of doing things differently from other automakers – a spirit manifested, among other ways, by its embrace of the rotary engine. But that unusual powertrain technology isn’t just another unconventional choice for Mazda. It’s at the core of its history, and has been for 50 years now.

To hear Mazda tell the story, half a century ago it was known for little more than minuscule passenger cars and work trucks. It wanted to branch out, and knew it needed to do something different if it was going to challenge the established players.

So in 1961 it licensed an usual engine design from Wankel GmbH and NSU Motorenwerke. Unfortunately the design didn’t work and the engine seized, so Mazda’s chief engineer Kenichi Yamamoto put together a team called the “47 Samurai” who achieved what no other automaker could and made the rotary engine viable.

The resulting Mazda Cosmo Sport 110S became the first rotary-powered production car on May 30, 1967 – 50 years ago today. And while the engine is sadly no longer in production, it had a good run, with nearly 2 million built. Included among them were three generations of RX-7, another for the RX-8, and numerous other vehicles stretching from a 26-passenger bus to the quad-rotor 787B that won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1991. Now if only it’d bring it back.

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  • Howstar

    Yes yes yes yes….
    Come on Mazda you’ve got plenty of good everyday fade into the background cars now, time for a hero/ halo car again that makes little sense, those are the ones we remember.

    “ooh I ‘member” – Member Berries

  • Vanquish

    They should let the rotary go its more a good concept than a well executed idea…..and nothing but trouble hoping they don’t bring it back if they nake another RX

    • JimmyK

      If they make a new RX they have to bring the rotary back.Thats the R stands for…

      • Vanquish

        Just like e400 stands for a 4.0 liter eclass right… point still stands if they make another RX it should go without that engine

        • JimmyK

          Mate you dont have any point here…How can you name a Mazda car RX without Wankel rotary engine?But I dont blame you, a lot of people dont have any clue about automotive history.

      • KareKakk

        An electric motor is also a rotary… 😉

  • Infinite1

    They’re supposedly working on another and then changing their minds about it.

  • Bash

    Abviously they haven’t mastered the rotary engine yet!

  • Status

    Just like the Americans with their OHV engines, Mazda keeps an inferior engine technology around long past it usefulness to their detriment.

    • Six Thousand Times

      Like the rotary engines, there are still a few upsides to pushrod engines. Packaging and, believe it or not, fuel economy (not a rotary strength, mark you. )

  • Six Thousand Times

    I walked into a dealership with my dad and they had a Cosmo like the red one in picture 15 and I thought that was such a cool car. I really wanted one. Blue with blue velour interior – to die for.

  • PB

    The Roadpacer. What a crazy idea, though I’m sure Holden liked the extra volume.

    • KareKakk

      Had to Google that car, looked like an old Vauxhall, and it was close enough.

  • Giziclown

    I don’t care about the engine just release this car somehow, it has a far better design than anything on the market.