Mazda's Legendary Wankel Revolution

Let's take a look at each of Mazda's legendary rotary-powered cars and trucks.

6w ago

So today, we'll be looking at some of the most interesting, iconic, and obscure rotary-powered Mazdas ever made. There might even be a couple you've never heard of. Enjoy the article!

1965-1968 Mazda Cosmo

The first-gen Cosmo was powered by the 0810 two-rotor Wankel engine with 982 cc of displacement and produced 110 horsepower and 103 lb-ft of torque. It also used a four-barrel Hitachi carburetor and had an out-of-the ordinary ignition setup-two spark plugs per chamber with dual distributors. A four speed manual transmission and 14-inch wheels were standard options. Rotary engines were a huge financial advantage to owners when they had to pay the road tax because the car is more powerful than a standard inline engine, yet no penalty for have an engine over 1 liter.

The front suspension was a coil-sprung double-wishbone design with an anti-roll bar, and the rear used a leaf-spring de Dion tube. The Cosmo is stopped by disk brakes in the front, and drums in the rear. Performance is mediocre by 2021 standards, doing the quarter mile in 16.4 seconds, and a top speed of 115 miles per hour. The price was pretty attractive, priced at 1.48 million yen ($4,100 USD).

1967-1970 Mazda Familia Rotary/R100

In July of 1968 Mazda added a Familia Rotary model to the lineup. Also called the R100 outside of Japan, the Familia was offered in sedan and coupe models, with the sedan version having an additional "SS" badge. The Familia Rotary is powered by a 982 cc 10A rotary engine, producing just 100 horsepower due to a small carburetor. The R100 also featured a more unique design, with a more prominent pointed hood, grille, and bumper. The rear also had its own design with twin round tail lights, which became a signature design element for the rotary engined versions of Mazda's cars. On the interior, the R100 had more plush seats and chrome accents, full interior door trim panels, a floor mounted handbrake lever, and more. Mazda considered upgrading the Familia to the 12A engine, but that would cost the car its tax advantage. Mazda decided to drop the car altogether, with production ceasing in 1970.

1971-1978 Mazda RX-3/Savanna

In Japan, the RX-3 is known as the Savanna. The RX-3 is sportier and smaller than it's brother in the lineup, the Mazda RX-2, and similar to the conventional Grand Familia. It was available from 1971 to 1978 in Super Deluxe coupe, Deluxe sedan, and station wagon variants. The Super Deluxe coupe was heavier than the other models and had an optional body stripe, clock, rear defogger and the center console/high armrest and collapsible steering column. Sold from 1972 through 1978 in the United States, the RX-3 proved extremely successful.

It originally used a 10A rotary engine like the Mazda R100, but US cars shared the larger 12A engine from the RX-2. The RX-3 can muster 110 horsepower, and is mated to a 4-speed manual transmission. The RX-3 reaches 60 in 10.9 seconds and has a top speed of 115 miles per hour.

1974-1977 Mazda Parkway

The Mazda Parkway was based on the Mazda Titan platform, and was manufactured at the Hiroshima Factory exclusively for the Japanese market. In 1974, the Parkway was fitted with Mazda's 13B rotary engine, but could be fitted with a gasoline or diesel engine as well. It also offered an ordinary transmission approach added to the manual transmission installed, called a sub-transmission to cope with the load carrying requirements, and a fluid coupling to preventing engine stalling, knocking and oscillation. The Parkway could accommodate 26 passengers, and even though it weighed 6,250 lb, and could achieve a maximum speed of 75 mph. The Parkway's Rotary engine was replaced by a more conventional diesel variant in 1977.

1974-1977 Mazda REPU

The Mazda REPU was the world's first and only Wankel-engined pickup truck. It was sold from 1974 to 1977 and was only offered in the US and Canada. The REPU had a 1.3-liter 13B four-barrel carbureted engine, flared fenders, a battery mounted under the bed, a different dash, a front grille, and round taillights, which differed from the normal Mazda B-Series pickup. It is estimated that just over 15,000 units were built. Most were made for the 1974 model year, but the effect of the energy crisis on sales caused Mazda to rebadge many of the 1974 models with a prefix "S", designating them as 1975 models. Approximately 700 units were built for the 1976 model year, when the four-speed manual transmission was upgraded to a five-speed manual. Mazda had a moderate redesign for the 1977 model, updating its electrical systems and adding a 3 in cab stretch for increased comfort. About 3,000 units were manufactured, after which the REPU was discontinued due to poor sales.

1978-1986 Mazda RX-7 (FB)

The first-gen RX-7 is commonly referred to as the "SA22C" from the first alphanumerics of the vehicle identification number (VIN). In Japan the RX-7 was introduced in 1978, replacing other rotary products such as the RX-3/Savanna, and joining Mazda's only other rotary products, the Cosmo, Luce, and REPU pickup.

The lead designer at Mazda was Matasaburo Maeda whose son Ikuo, would go on to design the Mazda2 and the RX-8. The transition of the Savanna to a sports car appearance reflected products from other Japanese manufacturers. The advantage the RX-7 had was its minimal size and weight, and the compact rotary engine installed right behind the front axle, which helped balance the front and rear weight distribution, and help to provide a low center of gravity. In Japan, sales were enhanced by the fact that the RX-7 complied with Japanese Government dimension regulations, and Japanese buyers were not responsible for yearly taxes for driving a larger car. The FB RX-7 is powered by 1.1 liter 12A rotary unit producing 100 HP, reaching a top speed of 120 MPH.

1986-1990 Mazda RX-7 (FC)

The FC3S generation RX-7 was produced from 1986–1988, and was available with a naturally aspirated, fuel injected 13B-VDEI producing 179 horsepower. An optional turbocharged model, known as the Turbo II in the American market, was rated at 182 hp. 1989–1990 models featured updated styling and better engine management, as well as lighter rotors and a higher compression ratio for the naturally aspirated model. The naturally aspirated Series 5 FC was rated at 159 horsepower, while the Series 5 Turbo was rated at 200 horsepower at 6,500 rpm and 195 lb-ft of torque at 3,500 rpm.

The second generation of the RX-7, still known as the Mazda Savanna RX-7 in Japan, featured a complete restyling which was reminiscent of the Porsche 924 and 944. Mazda's stylists, led by Chief Project Engineer Akio Uchiyama, focused on the Porsche 924 for their inspiration in designing the FC because the new car was being designed primarily for the American market, where the majority of first-generation of the RX-7 models had been sold. The second-gen Rx-7 also came as a convertible, and had a special edition, the 10th anniversary edition to celebrate the RX-7s birthday.

1990-1996 Mazda-Eunos Cosmo

The Eunos Cosmo, which was loosely based on the 1985 MX-03 concept car started production in 1990 on the new JC platform. The Eunos Cosmo was the top-line touring flagship of the Eunos luxury subbrand. It is the only Mazda to ever use a triple-rotor engine. The car was a 2+2 coupé and was loaded with power amenities. Following the Japanese luxury theme, only an electronically controlled 4-speed automatic transmission was available.

In Japan, its sole market, sales were affected by the fact that this series Cosmo no longer complied with Japanese government dimension regulations, and Japanese buyers were responsible for yearly taxes for driving a larger car compared to previous generations. Two engines were available, the twin turbo 13B-RE and the 20B-REW. The triple rotor 20B had 2 liters of displacement, making it the largest capacity rotary offered for sale by Mazda. It produced 300 hp and 297 lb-ft of torque with twin turbochargers. The JC series Cosmo set several firsts in automotive history. Its 13B-RE and 20B-REW engines were the first Japanese built, series production twin sequential turbo systems to be offered for sale on a rotary-engined car. The internationally known FD RX-7 didn't receive the twin turbo 13B-REW engine until early 1992. The Eunos Cosmo was the first production car to have a built-in GPS navigation system, and the first in Japan to use the "Palmnet" serial data communication system for ECU-to-ECAT operation.

1990-1991 Mazda 787B

The Mazda 787 and its derivative 787B are Group C sports prototype racing cars that were developed by Japanese automobile manufacturer Mazda for use in the World Sportscar Championship, All Japan Sports Prototype Championship, and the 24 Hours of Le Mans from 1990 to 1991. Designed to combine a mixture of the FISA Group C regulations with the IMSA GTP regulations, the 787s were the last Wankel rotary-powered racing cars to compete in the World and Japanese championships, using Mazda's R26B engine.

Although the 787 and 787B lacked the single lap pace of World Championship competitors such as Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar, and Porsche, as well as Japanese competitors Nissan and Toyota, the 787s had reliability that allowed them to contend for their respective championships. The reliability of the cars eventually paid off in 1991 when a 787B driven by Johnny Herbert, Volker Weidler, and Bertrand Gachot went on to victory in the 1991 24 Hours of Le Mans. As of the time of the writing of this article, the 787B remains the only victory by a car not using a reciprocating engine design, a record likely to never be repeated due to regulation changes until recently. For the 2020–2021 season, the FIA will now allow a Rotary engine under the NSU Wankel patents. It was the first victory by a Japanese manufacturer, and the only such victory until Toyota won the 2018 24 Hours of Le Mans.

A total of two 787s were built in 1990, while three newer specification 787Bs were built in 1991. Each one is powered by the R26B engine, and it produces 930 horsepower and can reach a top speed of 210 miles per hour.

1992-2002 Mazda RX-7 (FD)

The third generation RX-7 featured an updated body design. The 13B-REW was the first-ever mass-produced sequential twin-turbocharger system to be exported from Japan, boosting power to 252 horsepower in 1993 and finally 276 horsepower by the time production ended in Japan in 2002. In Japan, sales were affected by this series' non-compliance with Japanese dimension regulations and Japanese buyers paid annual taxes for the car's non-compliant width. As the RX-7 was now considered an upper-level luxury sports car due to the increased width dimensions.

The sequential twin turbocharging system, introduced in 1992, was extremely complex and was developed with the aid of Hitachi. It was previously used on the exclusive-to-Japan Cosmo JC Series. The system used two turbochargers, one to provide 10 psi of boost from 1,800 rpm. The second turbocharger activated in the upper half of the rpm range, during full throttle acceleration — at 4,000 rpm to maintain 10 psi until redline, which was north of 9,000 rpm. The changeover process occurred at 4,500 rpm, with a momentary dip in pressure to 8 psi, and provided semi-linear acceleration from a wide torque curve throughout the entire rev range under normal operation.

Under high speed driving conditions, the changeover process produced a significant increase in power output and forced technical drivers to adjust their driving style to anticipate and mitigate any over-steer during cornering. The standard turbo control system used 4 control solenoids, 4 actuators, both a vacuum and pressure chamber, and several feet of preformed vacuum/pressure hoses, all of which were prone to failure in part due to complexity and the inherent high temperatures of the rotary engine.

2003-2012 Mazda RX-8

Mazda introduced the RX-8 in February 2003, and like most of the RX-8’s predecessors, they were equipped with rotary engines. The RX-8 is powered by the RENESIS 13B-MSP Wankel engine displacing 1.3 liters, and can muster 191 horsepower and coupled to a 5-speed manual or a 4-speed automatic transmission. The 6-port high-power RENESIS was only available with a 6-speed manual transmission, and making 238 horsepower. Mazda introduced a limited-edition model called the Spirit R in 2011. Only 1,000 Spirit Rs were made, all exclusive to Japan. The car had two transmission choices: a 6-speed manual transmission and a 6-speed automatic with paddle shifters. Features exclusive to the RX-8 Spirit R were bi-xenon headlamps, 4 piston front and rear red brake calipers, and high performance Bridgestone Potenza summer tires.

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Comments (2)

  • Great piece but maybe the RX4/ Luce should have been included as well?

      1 month ago
    • thank you for the constructive criticism! Usually, people tell me that the article was awful because I didn't add a car that they liked.

        1 month ago