Mazda yesterday celebrated 40 years of making rotary engines. It remains the only mainstream manufacturer persisting with this type of motor and has built 1.97 million of them since 1967.
Rotary engines came to prominence in the 1950s as manufacturers experimented with turbine engines, but most admitted defeat in the face of technical difficulties and the inherent thirst of rotary units. On 30 May 1967, Mazda launched the twin-rotor Cosmo Sport, which has been followed by the Familia Rotary Coupe, Savanna, RX-7, Eunos Cosmo and today's RX-8 coupe. Although the brand has had some success racing rotary models, including 1991's 787B which was the only Japanese car ever to claim victory at Le Mans, they have always remained a niche product. Advantages include turbine-like smoothness and eager throttle response, but rotary engines have always suffered low torque, heavy oil use and high fuel consumption - problems that persist with today's quirky RX-8. However, Mazda has been developing a hydrogen rotary engine since 1991, which emits no carbon dioxide. For a drive of the RX-8 Hydrogen RE, click here. The company began leasing this car in February and there are seven examples on the road in Japan today.