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.