History of the Rotary Engine in Mazda Cars

July 27th, 2018 by

Mazda Cars For Sale

All car manufacturers strive to create advanced technology and stay ahead of their competitors. Mazda cars for sale in the US have been pioneering innovative technology since the company’s inception. They continue to push the boundaries of modern technology to provide increased efficiency, as well as sleek designs that provide a lower environmental impact. The Japanese company continually shows ingenuity, perseverance, and invention, and the production of the rotary engine is one of their crowning achievements.

A German inventor by the name of Felix Wankel began researching the rotary engine, an early type of internal combustion engine, in 1924. Wankel completed his rotary-piston engine design in 1954 while working for NSU, a motorcycle company. NSU announced the completion of the design in late 1959 and many companies were eager to utilize the technology. The rotary engine was sought after for its lightweight, compact, low-cost design. It had fewer moving parts than other engines and, therefore, required fewer repairs.

Mazda signed with NSU in July 1961 after receiving the necessary approval from the Japanese government. Mazda then formed the Rotary Engine Research Department in 1963, employing 47 engineers to improve performance utilizing the rotary engine in their cars. The RE Research Department encountered some bumps along the way but never gave up on the possibilities of the rotary engine.

The first issue they encountered was that of “chatter marks,” or “Devil’s nail marks,” which were caused by the triangular shaped rotor wearing on the chrome plating and leaving deep grooves. After several attempts and claims that the department was a waste of money by other members of the Mazda team, the engineers had a breakthrough. They modified the shape of the rotor, using an A-cross hollow seal with a cross-shaped hole near the apex and aluminum-carbon composite in place of the chrome plating. This eliminated the “chatter marks.”

It took four more years to work out all the kinks in order to utilize the rotary engine effectively in cars, but in May of 1967, Mazda introduced the first two-rotor rotary engine with their Cosmo Sport. Japan was in an era of high economic growth and Mazda was primed for expansion, which they attempted with the introduction of the 1968 Familia Rotary Coupe. The Familia was intended for global distribution but regrettably was put on hold due to the United States’ implementation of exhaust gas regulations.

In 1970, the U.S. also put into effect the Clean Air Act or the Muskie Act. The Clean Air Act called for a reduction of over 90% of hydrocarbon in exhaust gas from all cars that would be available in the 1975 market and moving forward. Unfortunately for Mazda, the rotary engine emitted a fairly large amount of hydrocarbon in the exhaust gas. The engineers in the RE Research Department got to work and improved efficiency even further.

By 1973, Mazda had developed a rotary engine that passed requirements for the Clean Air Act. They designed a thermal reactor system which burns hydrocarbon residue in exhaust gases. The newly updated Familia Rotary Coupe was also certified in Japan as the first car eligible for preferential tax credit for low pollution.

Mazda encountered another hurdle in 1974 due to the low fuel efficiency of the rotary engine. The Phoenix Project was initiated to help improve fuel efficiency by at least 40% in the following five years. After initial adjustments, fuel efficiency improved by about 20%. The Mazda research team then developed and introduced the heat exchange system in which the engine was able to reuse heat generated by the thermal reactor. This improvement helped Mazda achieve a more than 50% increase in the fuel efficiency of the rotary engine.

These strides in technology allowed Mazda to premiere the RX-7 sports car in Las Vegas in 1978. The RX-7 was entered into races to showcase its capabilities and innovation. Over the next 18 years, Mazda competed with the RX-7 and attained several victories, including winning the Le Mans race in Japan. However, by 1991, the Japanese economy encountered a major recession and, combined with the devaluation of the Yen, the demand for sports cars decreased drastically.

Production was suspended again in 2002 after another economic downturn. At the time, Mazda was working on further improving the fuel efficiency of the rotary engine, as well as its acceleration abilities.

In 2003, the Rotary Engine Research Department introduced the RENESIS engine, a tricky wordplay on the words restart and genesis. This new rotary engine was presented in the RX-8 sports car. The RX-8 was a four-door, four-seat sports car with a hydrogen rotary engine. The first practical use RX-8 was released in 2006.  While not offering a rotary engine in the US as of 2018, there have been recent rumblings of a 2019 rotary engine update being introduced.

Mazda has a long history of delivering advanced technology via their rotary engine systems. They continue to research ways to extend distances for electric cars, as well as options for decreasing the environmental impact of Mazda cars in the future. The potential for rotary engines as environmentally friendly is high, especially with Mazda at the helm of research and development. Based on their eagerness to meet the needs of the consumer in conjunction with the needs of the environment, Mazda cars are an excellent choice when deciding on a new vehicle.