The rotary engine and Mazda have had a tumultuus, on-and-off relationship that rivals an Old Hollywood marriage. Market conditions and government regulations have made mass production of the rotary a constant challenge, and the death of the Mazda RX-8 looked like the final nail in the Wankel’s coffin.
Back when I reviewed the final Mazda RX-8, I ranted on at some length about my envy of my RX-7-driving college classmates who were the rich sons of high-ranking South Vietnamese military officers and government officials. Still, except when I was shopping for a Mazda rear end for my 20R Sprite Hell Project, I haven’t paid much attention to the many RX-7s I’ve seen in wrecking yards over the years. First-gen examples aren’t uncommon even today; here’s an ’85 I found in a Denver yard last week. (Read More…)
Mazda confirmed what the world had known for more than a year: Its iconic, Wankel-powered RX8 is going to die. “Mazda RX-8 production will end in June 2012 ,” says a Mazda statement. Mazda celebrates the end of an era in style. The Hiroshima company lays on a Mazda RX-8 SPIRIT R special edition that will keep the spirit alive after the RX8 has given up its ghost.
Whither the Wankel? (Read More…)
Though the next-generation of Mazda’s rotary engine has been in development since 2007, and has been the subject of several TTAC Wild-Ass Rumors, WardsAuto reports that the unique engine design could well be reaching the end of its life.
Kiyoshi Fujiwara, Mazda executive officer-product planning and powertrain development, says there is “huge discussion” within the Hiroshima, Japan-based company whether to continue on with a rotary engine.
Fujiwara says economic hardship has some top brass looking for programs to cut, and that the engine program is on the list.
Continuing development of the rotary has been halted for now, but he hopes it will resume in the future, noting the technology is a part of Mazda’s DNA.
Without identifying what exactly they are, Fujiwara says three major problems were identified with the current generation of rotary engine, but that two of the three have been overcome. Still, Mazda says that only one thing will save the rotary engine at this point: success with Mazda’s new suite of SKYACTIV technologies. If these fuel-saving measures spark new interest in the Mazda brand, says Fujiwara, then Mazda might have enough cash to invest in its rotary engine. Alternatively, a Mazda-developed Wankel engine could be used as an electric range-extender. In any case, don’t expect a new Mazda rotary before 2017… if ever. Here’s hoping Mazda is able to keep this unique, distinctive drivetrain alive for future generations of enthusiast drivers.
Having seen its RX-8 banned from Europe for flunking emissions tests, Mazda may be going to extreme lengths to improve the efficiency of its next-gen rotary engine (codenamed 16x) which has been in development since 2007. Autocar reports
The 16X’s capacity has been raised from 1304cc to 1600cc, and it is also physically smaller and partly built from aluminium. The changes are designed to improve two of the biggest issues with rotary engine performance: fuel economy and torque delivery.
The Mazda source said the new engine “needed a smaller hole on the wall [of the combustion chamber]” as a result of eliminating the space-hungry normal spark plug. He also admitted to Autocar that the use of laser ignition “was absolutely possible”.
Recent advances in Japan have created high-power lasers made from ceramics that measure just 9mm in diameter and 11mm in length, easily small enough to fit into a car engine.
Not only would laser ignition allow the 16x to burn leaner, it would also allow more precise control of ignition points and timing. More importantly, it would cement the Wankel rotary’s status as the least-necessary, most overly-complex and thoroughly awesome engine ever created. And they say emissions standards always make cars less interesting…
You’d think that the zilch-o-torque characteristics of a Wankel engine wouldn’t be so great for hauling heavy loads, and you’d be right! Adding an automatic transmission to the mix, as is the case with this ’75 Mazda pickup, no doubt made for some interesting driving experiences when hauling, say, a dozen sacks of concrete mix in the back. (Read More…)
TTAC’s Michael Karesh inspired a good deal of jealousy in his Editor-in-Chief a few nights ago by describing his forthcoming RX-8 roadtrip into the hill country along the Blue Ridge Parkway. A zinging rotary engine in a legendarily well-sorted chassis simply screams (literally) for these kinds of driving adventures, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t briefly donsider ditching my editorial responsibilities and inviting myself along. After all, the RX-8 has been marked for death in Europe and the USA, thanks to the glorious amounts of C02 emitted by its rev-happy rotary mill. This, I thought, is a truly unique car with an engine that might well never be seen again in civilized auto markets. Best to enjoy one while you can, right?
Maybe not. Mazda says that even though its latest 1.6 liter rotary engine is years away from hitting its emissions goals, the brand will never stop trying to bring it to market. Because when it comes to rotary engines, drivetrain boss Mitsuo Hitomi tells Automotive News [sub],
We will never give up
It may not be the most pragmatic approach for a tiny automaker facing independence in a scary-competitive global market, but dammit, you have to respect Mazda’s dedication.
The Wankel rotary engine returns to its native land at last. Since the NSU Ro 80 went out of production in 1977, Mazda has been the keeper of the flame. But Audi has announced that it will show an A1 e-tron concept at the Geneva show this week, and the pug-in will feature a single-rotor Wankel range extender (gen set). Rotaries and micro-turbines have often been suggested as the ultimate range extenders due to their compact size and low weight. (Read More…)
Zing! That word encapsulates the RX-7. The only vocabulary the little coffee-can rotary had was zing! (snick) zing! (snick) and zing again! Sooner rather than later, it zinged you for a couple of Gs when its rotor seals gave up the zing! But that didn’t come as a surprise, and it never zinged you for anything else. That is, unless you got a little too frisky in certain corners, and the live rear axle might toss you a nasty little over-zing. As long as you could live on a torque-free diet, the RX-7 was one of the best friends an enthusiast driver could hope for in its day. And there are still loyal devotees of Zing-Buddhism today. (Read More…)