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June 7th, 2017

In a world dominated by piston-powered cylinder engines, the rotary engine provides an unique take on internal combustion engines. The rotary engine has been around since 1951 when it was first developed by Felix Wankel in Germany also giving it the name “Wankel Engine”.

Mazda licensed the technology from Felix Wankel and his company NSU Motorenwerke AG and Wankel GmbH’s. At this point of time, Mazda was trying to find its footing in the mushrooming Japanese automobile industry. They needed a distinguishing factor to have a distinct recall in the consumer’s mind. The Wankel engine was going to be Mazda’s differentiator, although a number of other automobile companies had already tried to implement this idea and failed. Things didn’t begin too well for Mazda either. The first test with the imported Wankel engine from NSU Motorenwerke AG and Wankel GmbH’s ended up with the engine seizing within its first hour of testing itself. Far from accepting defeat, the chief engineer at Mazda, Kenichi Yamamoto, assembled a team of Mazda’s most talented engineers also known as the 47 Samurais’ to troubleshoot the problem and build reliability into the rotary engine.

Mazda 50 Years Rotary Engine

The Wankel Engine

Mazda’s first rotary engined car was launched in 1967 and it was named the Mazda Cosmo Sport 110S. The Cosmo Sport would go on to be the world’s first production engine sporting twin-rotor rotary engine. Mazda believed that the best way of advertising their rotary engines was by competing in motorsports. They entered the most marketing relevant motorsport events, which would help strengthen the image of the company’s engine reliability. They first entered the 84-hour Marathon de la Route in 1968 but the most significant impact for the company came when they entered the 1991 24-hours of LeMans endurance race with their quad rotor 787B. The Mazda 787B obliterated its competition and won the race. This win was probably the best marketing campaign for the company, with consumers from Europe getting a first hand glimpse of the reliability of the rotary engine.

The success of Mazda in endurance racing saw them building not just passenger cars but also buses powered by rotary engines. The added benefits of rotary engine were facts that they were highly compact and weighed much lesser compared to their piston engined counterparts. This made rotary cars impeccably light and sporty. The rotary engine also had the inherent characteristic of revving freely and could easily hit revs well above 10,000rpm. Even today, a well maintained rotary engine could last you as long as a conventional piston engine. The only drawback with rotary engines being their inherent characteristic of sipping too much oil. The engine design makes it prone to sip oil but all it needs is for the oil to be topped up at regular intervals. The problem occurs when the oil is not topped up regularly and the rotary motor is run on low or no oil, which leads to disastrous results including frequent engine rebuilds.

Mazda 50 Years Rotary Engine 2

The internals

Mazda has been at the forefront with regards to development of vehicles sporting cutting edge technology. The current SKYACTIV technology used in all Mazda cars not only ensures spirited performance but also ensures in keeping a low carbon footprint. The SKYACTIV engines on modern Mazda cars have been able to achieve functioning at the compression ratio of 14:4:1 – the lowest in the world for any diesel car engine. The chassis is also developed with SKYACTIV technology ensuring lightweight mass as well as offering maximum passenger safety. Mazda has therefore been at the helm of pushing technological capabilities and ensuring in delivering the best balance of driving pleasure and environmental protection. It was quite a feat (and necessity) to develop such new-age tech since Mazda no more could continue building their rotary engines with increasing emission norms. Although, Mazda hasn’t been intimidated by its competition and have stayed true to their philosophy of building cars with ethos based on technological brilliance, a trait that has seen the company attain many accolades in the form of their loyal customer following.

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