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2012-06-27 14:24

END OF AN ERA: Above shows a rotary engine powered RX-8, the last of which will roll off the production line in June 2012.

If you were around the 1970s, you might’ve seen Mazda’s catchy adverts advocating the Japanese automaker’s rotary engines

"Piston engines go boing-boing.
Mazda goes hummmm.
There's nothing like it on the road today;
the rotary engine is here to stay."


Unfortunately the Mazda ad executives of yesteryear, were wrong. The last rotary engine-powered Mazda rolled off the production line in June 2012. The 45-year rise and fall of the engine can be highlighted by driver Shoji Meguro's feelings on his Mazda RX-8 sports coupe.

"Fuel efficiency is horrible," he said, "but I don't know any car that beats this. I'm going to miss it."


The only unprofitable Japanese automaker believes demand for more environmentally-friendly cars will continue to grow and help it to post its first profit in five years. President Takashi Yamanouchi told Bloomberg news: "Production of the RX-8 will end but the rotary engine will live on as an important part of Mazda's spirit."
The Wankel engine, originally developed by engineer Felix Wankel in Germany, was licensed by Mazda in 1961 from Audi. Consisting of a three-cornered rotor in an oval chamber, the engine is typically lighter and has fewer moving parts than a conventional engine.

The rotary engine in the current model RX-8 reaches 8200 rpm, compared to Toyota’s 86 sports car at 7000rpm.

After the debut of the Cosmo Sport in 1967, Mazda made almost two million vehicles with variations on the Wankel engine. The automaker’s rotary-powered 787B became the first Japanese-made car to win the Le Mans endurance race in 1991.

While the rotary was lighter than many piston engines, they weren't fuel-efficient.

Annual production peaked at 239 871 in 1973, the year of the Arab oil embargo, but tighter emissions standards and higher fuel prices hastened the engine’s demise. By 2003 only the RX-8 still featured the engine though Mazda faced a struggle to find buyers.

The RX-8 rotary failed diagnostics tests for Euro 5 emissions requirements which came into effect in 2010 and by the end of the same year the company was producing 2896 RX-8s.

The company said it will continue research on rotary engines to test cleaner technology.


Mazda is turning to its SkyActiv systems, is a collection of technologies based on diesel and petrol engines.

It is planning to introduce an electric car in 2013 which utilises hydrogen to fuel a rotary engine and generate power.

The CX-5 SUV, the automaker’s first vehicle to use SkyActiv and launched in South African in June 2012, is set to exceed initial sales forecasts of 160 000 units. The new Mazda6 will become the second model to integrate the technology and will be launched later in 2012.

Mazda announced that after two decades away from Le Mans, it will compete in the 2013 race with a SkyActiv vehicle.

News of the rotary's demise prompted Mazda to add 1000 cars to its final production run as devotees sought to secure an RX-8.

Find out how the Wankel engine works in the video below:


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