In 1967 the legendary Mazda Cosmo Sport, known outside Japan as Mazda 110S, appeared. It was the first sport car in Mazda’s history that set off a tradition of driving pleasurable and innovative cars such as the Mazda RX-7 and the MX-5. Moreover, the Mazda Cosmo Sport boasted the world’s first two-section rotary engine. However, the path to this model was not easy at all.
In the desire to remain independent, but also to distinguish itself from other Japanese manufacturers, in 1961 Mazda acquired the license for rotary engine technology from NSU Motorenwerke AG and Wankel GmbH. The development of the rotary engine was a real challenge for such a small manufacturer such as Mazda.
Even though several major manufacturers have tried to turn the rotary engine principle into a viable commercial unit, only Mazda succeeded in doing so. But the beginning was not a good one. In the first hour of testing the prototype in Hiroshima, the engine blocked. Mazda invested all hope and confidence in this technology and did not accept defeat.
Knowing the potential success Mazda could enjoy if they made the rotary engine work, Mazda’s chief engineer, Kenichi Yamamoto (the rotary engine’s father) created a team of the best engineers, known as “47 Samurai” to make the rotary engine viable. Already at the Tokyo Motor Show in 1964, the prototype of the forthcoming Mazda Cosmo Sport with a rotating engine under the hood was revealed.
Being an alternative to conventional engines, the Wankel engine is more compact, lightweight and delivers more power from a smaller displacement.
In total Mazda produced nearly two million vehicles with rotary propulsion, from sports cars and sedans to pick-ups and 26-seat passenger buses!
The apogee of these engines was the victory in the 24-hour Le Mans race in 1991, which was achieved by the legendary Mazda 787B, which still remains the only Japanese car that managed to win at Le Mans.
At the same time it is the only victorious prototype in this marathon, which was not equipped with a conventional engine, but with a rotating one. The Mazda 787B prototype was equipped with four 2.6-liter rotors which developed 710 hp. After the victory scored by Mazda in Le Mans, the race organizers banned rotary engines!
In contrast with 787B, the Mazda Cosmo Sport model, had an engine with two rotors, a displacement of 2.0 liters, only 130 hp and torque of 139 Nm.
The latest car with a rotary propulsion was the Mazda RX-8, whose production ended in 2012. Even after 50 years, Mazda continued to work on rotary propulsion. Thus, the Japanese engineers are constantly researching the rotary motors.
In the near future, the Japanese manufacturer will enjoy a new rotary propulsion that will appear on an electric vehicle as an energy generator and there is a great chance that it will also be housed under the hood of a future sports car prefigured by the RX concept -VISION, which will most likely be called the Mazda RX-9! We hope the history of the Wankel rotary engine is just at the beginning, and it will once again demonstrate its viability!