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.