The Mazda Cosmos was produced by Mazda from 1967 to 1995; it was the first production car to use a rotary engine with two rotors
The first Mazda rotary engines were derived from experiments conducted in the 1960's
The Mazda Familia was introduced in 1968 to support a growing Japanese economy; production ran in various forms until 2003
The 1970's saw the introduction of the RX-3, intended to provide a smaller and sportier alternative to its RX-2 sibling
The Luce series was launched in 1969; early coupe models are ultra-rare collector's cars
Rotary-engined models of the Mazda RX-2 received twin headlamps rather than the standard rectangular units
The two-door RX-5, also sold under the Cosmo name, was produced between 1975 and 1981
The Mazda Luce Regard was a rotary-engined four-door saloon
Mazda's iconic RX-7 name was first introduced in 1978 and lasted until 2002
The RX-7 featured in motorsport many times, including racing at Le Mans
Mazda rotary engines have found their way into production saloons, coupés and even a pick-up truck
This RX-7 raced at Spa in 1981
The RX-7 quickly became a popular choice for tuners and racers
Mazda's rotary was generally reliable if cared for, but could suffer from rotor tip failures that would necessitate a rebuild
The first turbocharged version of the RX-7 arrived in 1983
With turbo power, the RX-7 saw a renewed use in motorsport
The first generation of turbocharged RX-7's was short lived, as the second generation of the car arrived in 1986
The RX-7 also enjoyed success in rallying
Mazda introduced a convertible version of the RX-7 in 1988
The Eunos Cosmo was a range-topping model, available with the 20B-REW triple-rotor engine
The Mazda 787B participated in the Group C Sports Prototype Championship in 1991
The second generation of the RX-7 lasted until 1991; this is a third-generation 'FD3', introduced in 1992
The final series of the RX-7, the series 8, went into production in 1999
This RX-7 took part in the American Grand Am series in 2000
Many special editions of the RX-7 have come and gone in its lifetime, including this Type RZ from 2000
Because of its lightweight, rear-wheel drive layout, the RX-7 has become a firm favourite for drifters
In 2007 Mazda revealed this rotary-engined concept, called the Taiki
The Mazda RX-8 started production in 2003 and lasted until 2012
The RX-8 was, like its predecessors in the RX range, powered by a Wankel engine
It too enjoyed regular use in motorsport around the world
Mazda has confirmed that it is still developing a new production version of the rotary engine
A rotary-powered successor to the RX-7 isn't confirmed, but it is being considered
Early Autocar rendering suggested what the new RX-9 could look like
In the summer of 1919 a young, impressionable German called Felix Wankel had a dream; he drove to a concert in his own handmade car while boasting to friends “My car has a new type of engine: a half-turbine, half-reciprocated engine. I invented it!”
Upon awakening, Wankel was convinced the dream was a premonition and despite having no fundamental knowledge of internal combustion engines, he believed the engine could achieve four strokes – intake, compression, combustion and exhaust – while rotating.
Dream was fast becoming reality. After his first patent in 1929, it wasn’t until after the Second World War that development started, thanks to a deal struck with German motorcycle manufacturer NSU in 1951.
In 1957, Felix Wankel and NSU completed a prototype called the DKM. Fast-forward to July 1961 and Mazda’s President Tsuneji Matsuda instantly recognised the potential of the rotary engine - putting pen-to-paper on a technical cooperation deal with NSU.
In May 1967, Mazda launched the world’s first dual-rotor rotary-engined car – the Cosmo Sport. With each rotor displacing 491cc for a total of 982cc, the Type 10A motor produced 110bhp at 7000rpm and 96lb ft of torque at 3500rpm, enabling the Cosmo Sport to dispatch the quarter-mile in 16.4sec and romp on to a top speed of 115mph.
After starting mass production of the Type 10A dual-rotor motor with the Cosmo Sport, Mazda began to expand beyond the limited sports car market in 1968. That year, the Model R100 two-door coupé was launched in Japan. The first Mazda model to be exported to the United States in 1971, it proved to be a surprising hit with the American public.
In 1969, Mazda was seemingly growing in confidence and took a punt, launching its first Luce model with a rotary unit – the Luce R130 coupé Penned by legendary designer Giorgetto Giugiaro, it was equipped with a 1.3-litre 13A engine producing 126bhp and 127lb ft of torque. With this model being Mazda’s only front-wheel-drive rotary, the Luce R130 is now seen as an ultra-rare collector’s car.
In 1971, the Mazda RX-3 arrived. Available in coupé or four-door saloon form and following in the footsteps of the Cosmo Sport, the RX-3 proved to be a precocious performer, with power still supplied by the 982cc (2x 491cc) 10A motor. Zero to 60mph was dispatched in 10.8sec and the quarter-mile mark passed in 17.6sec. Of all the pre-RX-7 rotary cars Mazda built, the RX-3 was comfortably the most popular and was a success right up to its demise in 1978.
The sporty-looking Mazda RX-7 arrived shortly after. The Series 1 RX-7 featured a two-rotor 573cc (total 1146cc) 12A engine, putting out 105bhp at a lowly 4000rpm and 105lb ft at 4000rpm. Come 1984, the RX-7 was upgraded to a more potent 13B 1.3-litre rotary lump – with power up to 135bhp and torque increasing to 135lb ft.
During the 1980s, Mazda brought the might of forced induction to the Wankel forefront. The second-generation (FC) Mazda RX-7 was unleashed with the Type 13B engine mated to a twin-scroll turbocharger.
Power was now up to a stout 200bhp and the RX-7s acceleration improved to 0-60mph in 6.5sec. Despite being 363kg heavier than its predecessor, the second generation RX-7 continued to win accolades from the press.
In 1988, Mazda tried its hand with a four-rotor engine for the first time at Le Mans, with the 767 prototype racing car. Kicking out nearly 600bhp, the two 767s that year finished 17th and 19th overall.
However, the most prominent four-rotor engine from Mazda, the 2622cc 700bhp 26B, fired their 787B to victory at the 1991 Le Mans 24 Hours, becoming the first Japanese car and the first car with anything other than a reciprocating piston engine to win the prestigious race outright. It is still the only car to hold these distinctions to this day.
The Mazda Eunos Cosmo debuted in 1990, being the first and only production Mazda to use a triple-rotor engine. The triple rotor 20B-REW had a displacement of 2.0-litres, making it the largest capacity rotor for sale by the company, producing 300bhp and 300lb ft. Despite the Cosmo being reigned in by Japanese law to 112mph, de-restricted it could crack 158mph. Only 8,875 examples were sold, however.
In 1993, Mazda unveiled arguably its most sought-after RX-7 – the third-generation FD. Dubbed by enthusiasts as the ‘Batmobile’ for its striking looks, the 13B-REW engine was the first-ever mass-produced sequential twin-turbocharger system to be exported from Japan, with power ranging from 252bhp in 1993 to 276bhp by the time production ended in 2002.
The sequential twin-turbo system was a complex piece of kit. Developed with the aid of Hitachi, the system comprised two small turbochargers; one to provide boost at low rpm and the other to provide the upper-half of the rpm range during full throttle. Handling in the third-generation RX-7 was regarded as world-class and to this day is still recognised as one of the best balanced cars of all time.
In 2001, Mazda pulled the wraps off the RX-8 at the North American International Auto Show, the first-generation RX-8 rolling off the production line in 2003. Powered by the Renesis 13B-MSP 1.3-litre (654cc twin-rotor) naturally aspirated unit, it was available in two power forms – the standard 191bhp and 228bhp ‘high power’ versions.
The Renesis engine took home coveted titles of International Engine of the Year and Best New Engine in 2003. Production of the last rotary engine ceased on 21 June 2012.
Despite the rotary not currently being offered in any production models, Mazda is still continuing to develop the engine and new technologies to improve its efficiency.