The Future and History of Mazda’s Rotary Engines
Mazda built its last rotary engine when it closed the forty-year-old plant in Japan, the only remaining rotary engine production facility in the world. Mazda was one of the only companies to develop and produce an engine that uses an eccentric design to convert pressure from combustion into rotation as opposed to a piston design. Recently, Mazda has started production on a new type of rotary engine, which we at Cox Mazda are incredibly excited for. For now though, we’ll have to be satisfied with researching the past and future of the Mazda rotary engine.
A Legacy of Power
The rotary engine is also known as the Wankel engine after its German inventor Felix Wankel. Legend has it that Wankel invented the rotary engine in a dream. Apparently, as a boy, he dreamt that he had built his own car complete with a new type of engine that was “half-turbine, half-reciprocated engine” of his own invention. His dream didn’t become reality until years later when in 1957 a prototype super-charged rotary motor installed on an NSU motorcycle set a new speed record in the 50cc class.
Mazda’s founder Tsuneji Matsuda negotiated with the NSU motorcycle company to begin developing the Wankel engine for full-scale production. The initial development was fraught with problems, including unexpected rapid wear and unpredictable torque. Mazda’s engineers pioneered a two-rotor version with a thermal reactor system to solve these problems.
Over the course of Mazda’s development of the rotary engine, it has been a primary goal to reduce emissions and increase fuel economy. One feature of rotary engines is that they are inherently resistant to knock, a persistent problem in piston engines. In 1982, Mazda released the Cosmo RE Turbo, which was the first car equipped with a turbocharged rotary engine and an electronic fuel injection system. Later Mazda pioneered a twin-turbo configuration that provided improved low-speed torque. By 1990, a three rotor system was developed that could provide more power than any production engine in Japan and drove smoother than a V-8. By 2006 Mazda had developed a rotary engine that ran on Hydrogen that was leased to some government offices in Japan.
While the Rotary engine has great benefits, it has proven difficult to improve efficiency and reduce emissions. Mazda is currently developing it’s successor to the famed RX-8 centered around an new 16X rotary engine.