VIDEO: 50 years of Mazda rotary engine development

Compared with compatriots Toyota, Honda and Nissan, Mazda hasn’t had the sheer amounts of resource the others have had at their disposal for the development of their cars. With its early years of manufacture focused upon small cars, vans and work trucks, its breakthrough with mass-producing a new engine design came nearly 50 years after the company’s founding.

Mazda’s first rotary engine-powered model, the Cosmo Sport 110S was unveiled on May 30, 1967. However, it was in 1961 that Mazda licensed the then-new engine design from NSU Motorenwerke – the Wankel engine was named after German engineer Felix Wankel, who was an engineer at NSU.

Motorsports fans may remember the quad-rotor 26B engine-powered Mazda 787B which, at the hands of Volker Weidler, Johnny Herbert, and Bertrand Gachot, won the Le Mans 24 Hours race in 1991. Following the 787B’s success, regulations were changed to limit entries to reciprocating (piston) engines of up to 3.5 litres, effectively ruling out further rotary engine participation in what was then the IMSA-GTP category.

VIDEO: 50 years of Mazda rotary engine development

The rotary-engined Mazda sports prototype racer actually dated further back to 1983, when development for the then-newly defined Group C Junior (later Group C2 in 1984) category, which resulted in the 717C. Two were entered in Group C Junior, and took a one-two finish at Le Mans.

The production turbocharged Mazda rotary 13B units started in the 1982 Cosmo RE Turbo with 187 hp, peaking at 280 hp in the 2002 FD3S RX-7 (Efini). With the arrival of the RX-8 along came the naturally-aspirated Renesis rotary engine, which was Mazda’s approach towards squeezing more efficiency from the rotary engine.

Fast forward to the present day, and the rotary engine endures in enthusiast circles, perhaps most well publicised by ‘Mad Mike’ Whiddett and his – among others – tri- and quad-rotor beasts, Badbul and Radbul – the latter packing a twin-turbo 1,500 hp four-rotor engine in an MX-5 chassis.

The Hiroshima-based Japanese manufacturer has experimented with alternative fuel rotary engines, too. Mazda trialled a hydrogen internal combustion rotary engine in the RX-8 Hydrogen RE, which was temporarily leased to government bodies, energy-related businesses and organisations in Japan.

VIDEO: 50 years of Mazda rotary engine development

The RX-8 Hydrogen RE produced 109 PS in hydrogen mode and 210 PS in petrol mode with 100 km and 549 km of hydrogen and petrol range respectively, and could run petrol once its hydrogen stores have depleted. There was also the Premacy Hydrogen RE Hybrid, which paired an electric motor with the dual fuel-capable hydrogen rotary engine.

A generator converted the engine’s output to electricity, which then drove an electric motor to drive the wheels. This series hybrid system grew the hydrogen fuel range to 200 km, while maximum output grew by 40%, according to Mazda. Like the RX-8 Hydrogen RE before it, the Premacy Hydrogen RE Hybrid was also leased to government bodies and energy companies, in 2009. This would also later spawn a range extender EV model, which added a high-voltage battery in place of petrol.

Mazda isn’t counting on past glory and legacy models such as these to keep the rotary engine alive, though. A patent filing for a new rotary engine design was sighted following the unveiling of the RX-Vision concept at the 2015 Tokyo Motor Show. However, the new rotary engine has been rumoured to assume a range extender role for a future, unspecified electrified model.

GALLERY: Mazda RX-Vision concept at Tokyo 2015

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Mick Chan

Open roads and closed circuits hold great allure for Mick Chan. Driving heaven to him is exercising a playful chassis on twisty paths; prizes ergonomics and involvement over gadgetry. Spent three years at a motoring newspaper and short stint with a magazine prior to joining this website.



  • Either they r reviving it or they just bringing nostalgia back.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0
  • David on Jun 09, 2017 at 5:53 pm

    Too bad Mazda does not have resources to get this to a new level.

    RX-8 is a failure.

    Hope to see the legendary rotary again.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 11
    • 4G63T DSM on Jun 10, 2017 at 6:53 am

      Why would you deem the RX8 a failure?

      It was unique in its own way. Mazda was brave enough to launch a 2+2 that had usable rear seats and a boot that had an engine that would rev to 9000rpm and out handle any 4 door at the same price range.

      If you understood how a rotary engine works then you would have appreciated the monumental efforts done to bring the rotary to meet modern emmisions standards.

      I’d say credit is due.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 25 Thumb down 0
      • samelordupe on Jun 11, 2017 at 4:54 pm

        Mazda 3,5,6, cx3, cx4, cx5, cx9 are failure
        Explain with detail why they are not

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 15
  • Rotaryftw on Jun 09, 2017 at 6:25 pm

    Eargasmic rotary engine that goes braappp braappp!!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 0
  • C. P. MOHAN on Jun 09, 2017 at 6:38 pm

    In secondary school in the mid-70’s, my disciplinary teacher who was also a part-time undercover cop drove a Mazda RE with many bells and whistles.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1
  • Fenix on Jun 09, 2017 at 6:39 pm

    Meanwhile 30 years fanbois proudings Campro tech

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 15 Thumb down 0
  • YB Kunta Kinte on Jun 09, 2017 at 6:42 pm

    I admit Mazda is full of tech and their skyactive is amazing besides the rotary advancement.

    But… Malaysia….its dead.

    Nobody is buying Mazda anymore in Malaysia. Malaysians are doing this on ethical grounds. Cars maybe good but…

    Cause last year, despite Malaysians suffering with high cost of living, Bermaz increased their prices 3 times.

    Bermaz totally have no feelings of empathy and understanding towards Malaysians who are suffering.

    Now all Bermaz showrooms are empty. Nobody goes in. Gone are the glory of CX5 days. Those days are over for Bermaz.

    Now they will see Mazda like the 90s. Totally dead.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 35 Thumb down 10
    • demio121 on Jun 09, 2017 at 11:05 pm

      Bermaz can’t do nothing. Can only blame the RM free falling like durian.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 22 Thumb down 2
      • Really? Then what about Honda?

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 3
      • YB Kunta Kinte on Jun 10, 2017 at 8:59 am

        You sure they cannot do anything? If only you knew how much their profit margin per car is. Bermaz get their cars at country distributor prices. Even after paying Msian gomen taxes, their profit margin is nothing less than tens of thousands per car.

        Don’t forget, when you CKD, your profit margin is even higher

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1
        • Tepi Federal on Jun 10, 2017 at 4:34 pm

          And Mazda full 3year free service package. Best in class

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0
  • Semi-Value (Member) on Jun 09, 2017 at 11:09 pm

    are they or are they not gonna launch a rotary?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0
  • pengayuhbasikal on Jun 13, 2017 at 9:37 am

    have a look at the AP document…and calculate how much they’re making per car…not even 100%

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0
  • Mazda is premium level already la kawan..they have always been a bit more expensive to buy and run compared to other japs…they not chasing volume anymore..their interiors now all a step above the rest..go compare and see first la before more than half here jizz at anything honda and toyota….enjoy your sheep cars..those of us that know cars will enjoy mazda and subaru etc..

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

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