By on October 22, 2010

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.

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45 Comments on “Quote Of The Day: From Our Cold, Dead Hands Edition...”

  • avatar

    Never say ‘never’!

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in NA,
      we shall fight on the seas and oceans,
      we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our rotary, whatever the cost may be,
      we shall fight on the beaches,
      we shall fight on the landing grounds,
      we shall fight in the fields and in the streets,
      we shall fight in the hills;
      we shall never surrender, there will always be a Wankel.

    • 0 avatar

      Ditto. Let’s see how direct injection goes, before we say adieu to this special powerplant in vehicle applications. Audi, Curtiss-Wright/Ingersoll-Rand, Arctic Cat, Suzuki, Norton, Mazda and now Sikorsky, all saw potential. I doubt Mr. Wankel’s creation will ever go away entirely.

  • avatar
    M 1

    Silly. An interesting idea that has far outlived its usefulness.

  • avatar

    Did any car companies similarly stick to their guns on square wheels?
    Maybe the rotary is just a bad idea for passenger cars . . .

  • avatar

    “but dammit, you have to respect Mazda’s dedication.”

    And you have to respect the dedication of Crockett and Bowie, but that doesn’t make the outcome at the Alamo any better for them.

    • 0 avatar

      Concerning the Alamo, the Texans lost that battle but won the war. The Battle of San Jacinto turned out much differently.
      From Wikipedia:
      Texas Army engaged and defeated General Antonio López de Santa Anna’s Mexican forces in a fight that lasted just eighteen minutes. About 700 of the Mexican soldiers were killed and 730 captured, while only nine Texans died. Santa Anna, the President of Mexico, was captured the following day and held as a prisoner of war. Three weeks later, he signed the peace treaties that dictated that the Mexican army leave the region, paving the way for the Republic of Texas to become an independent country.
      BTW, President General Antonio López de Santa Anna eventually moved to California, where he died.

    • 0 avatar


      Yep, I read that same post. While the final result went better for the Texian army than for the Mexican army, the stand at the Alamo was not a very good tactical decision, resulting in the massacre that followed. It was Santa Ana’s brutality that created the emotional rallying point for the Texian army, and though it ultimately inspired their fellow Texians, the deaths of the Alamo defenders can only be viewed as a success in hindsight. While Mazda’s dedication to the rotary engine may ultimately result in a more successful implementation of the technology, it’s a dubious tactical decision for a small auto mfr that’s been cut off from their partnership with the global mfr that helps them stay competitive.

      Edit: But if you prefer a different military analogy, perhaps the French Maginot line would serve; an dogged investment in a defense that ultimately proved worthless.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s a shame regarding Texas – ever since statehood  they’ve been a whining drain on the federal treasury.
      But as a former Senators fan,  (you go Frank Howard!) I’m happy to see the rangers in the world series.

  • avatar

    In terms of true brand value the rotary is Mazda’s Hemi and the motor has many many advantages for sports cars namely light weight, compactness, incredibly free revving, silly reliable(at least on NA ones and when things start to go bad they go bad slowly not in one big BANG) not to mention they simply fun to drive with the linear power. Its a shame they can’t seem to get it to meet emissions. A proper RX-7 successor(not the RX-8) is as important to Mazda in brand identity as the Mustang, Camaro, Challenger, F-150, etc….as all of those cars are to their respected manufacturers. If they ever make it work I’ll be the first in line.

    • 0 avatar

      is it really that reliable? I heard otherwise. but I’m no expert on that.
      You also have to consider that most of those cars are 3rd cars and only driven on weekends etc. (like Porsche) and never have to endure real usage like a Corolla. So even if the stats speak for the Wankel, none of those really gets driven over 100,000 miles in 5 years.

    • 0 avatar

      The RX-8 has several issues, some of them concerning the Wankel.  I’ve heard that the problems became much worse when Mazda tried to cut down on the amount of oil that it burned in the earlier model years.

    • 0 avatar
      SVX pearlie

      If Mazda had Rotary Power in more of their line, it’d be their Hemi, or Subaru’s Boxer.

      Right now, it’s becoming more like Ford’s Flathead.

    • 0 avatar

      The rotary engine is not reliable.  My wife’s RX-7 averaged a trip to the garage every 750 miles in the last few years before we dumped it at 75K miles.  Flooding is a problem (and unlike piston enignes it can’t be cleared by waiting), and the apex seals are a major and frequent failure point if the car isn’t driven regularly enough.

  • avatar

    I recommend waiting another week or two for the best fall colors along the Blue Ridge Parkway.  Also, nobody screams along the BRP no matter what they are driving. The maximum speed limit is 45 mph and in many places it is 30 or less.  Most of it has little or no shoulder, and you have to watch our for sightseers slowing down and stopping suddenly to capture a view or brake for wildlife (saw a black bear last time I was up there).
    Best car for a fall colors tour of the BRP would be a large, comfortable convertible.

    • 0 avatar

      Less than a tenth of the loop will actually be on the BRP.

      Tonight I’m in Bridgeport, WV. Infiniti agreed to lend me a G37 coupe as long as I kept the miles around 800, and so here I am 400 miles from Detroit. The car will now sit while we we a big loop in the RX-8s.

      The fall colors are looking fine. And there are hardly any leaves on the road itself–which I was concerned about. Perhaps in two weeks they’d pose more of a hazard?

      Got a great story from today, but I’m saving it for the write-up.

    • 0 avatar

      Also, nobody screams along the BRP no matter what they are driving.

      I live right off of the BRP.

      I can assure you through frequent direct experience that is is both highly possible and highly fun to “scream” along the Parkway.

      The speed limits there were set generations ago, in the days of 4-wheel drum brakes and bias-ply tires, and they are extremely conservative.  A modern car with an attentive and reasonably competent driver can easily run well over the limit on most sections of the Parkway without undue additional risk.

    • 0 avatar

      Now is great for colors along the BRP as long as you go west of Asheville. I was flying in that area yesterday and at Asheville it’s very little color and spectacular at Murphy, so there’s the approximate dividing line.

  • avatar

    “We will not give up”
    This is why I’m a fan of Mazda’s cars ( and own one ).

  • avatar

    Damn the torpedoes….

    Yes, I agree.
    Give it up for a company that still follows its guts and not the almighty dollar…or yen.

    We here on TTAC talk a lot about what went wrong with American auto makers in the late sixties.
    Many of us believe the decisions were made more for the share holders and returns, NOT the future or R&D.

    Well, here we still have a company where design, engineers and corp. execs work together to follow a company dream and vision.

    You go, Mazda!

  • avatar

    I promise to respect Mazda all the way into bankrupcy.

  • avatar

    I can’t help wondering if Mazda really doesn’t mean it ,but is just making noise. Some things are inefficient by virtue of their topology, and there is no way the Wankel will ever approach the piston engine in efficiency. None. I wrote about that in ’04. At the time, I badly wanted to buy an RX-8. But when I realized the engine was a dead end, I lost interest, although I, too, would love to drive that thing on the Blue Ridge.
    Several of my best drives have been on the Blue Ridge, roughly between Charlottesville and ’66. Between the driving and the views, it’s just awesome. I think I did it all three times either in early spring or fall, so the traffic was light. which brings me to my good friend Findude’s comments: I know I did 50 up there, and it was plenty fun at that speed. Although now that I think about it, you probably need higher speeds to get the most out of an RX-8. I did it in my first gen Saturn (5speed stick), a Legacy my brother had (wonderful steering an dhandling, but a slushbox), and my Accord (5speed stick).

    • 0 avatar

      Several of my best drives have been on the Blue Ridge, roughly between Charlottesville and ’66.
      That’s Skyline Drive, also a very beautiful stretch of parkway. The Blue Ridge Parkway starts farther south, though they are effectively continuations of one another. Still, during fall colors it’s all about the scenery so I still think a convertible is the way to go (and I hate open cars as a rule).

    • 0 avatar

      A gas engine isn’t as efficient as a diesel, either, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a place.

      The Wankel is free-revving, packs a nice punch for its size, and allows for nice weight distribution. To me it seems like it has a niche in sports cars.

      My 800cc V4 isn’t likely to last 200k miles and it could certainly never pull around a 3,000+ lbs car, but I’ll be damned if it isn’t a hoot in my 550 lbs bike.

      Different engine choices for different applications, and I say: the more variety the better. Long live the Wankel!

  • avatar

    ” …but dammit, you have to respect Mazda’s dedication”
    Epic Fail.
    I don’t have to respect Mazda’s dedication at all – I mean, I will respect their right to do what they want as a corporation, but repect the decision itself? Not at all, it is foolish, bad business, a bad idea, and pointless. Those of you Mazda fans who think this is some “noble battle” are delusional. It’s stupid arrogance and ego, and though this one decision in and of itself may not be the downfall of Mazda, a few like it in a row will be.

  • avatar

    The Wankel has some great benefits in design, but in current incarnations, some major limitations.  When the RX-8 came out the power output out of a NA engine of its size was nothing short of phenomenal, of course, since then, piston engines have somewhat closed the gap.
    I’m sure ten years ago there would have been plenty of people saying you could never make a 305hp V6 that gets 31mpg, but Ford has it out in a car that retails in the low $20s.
    A lot of people called Nissan crazy for their devotion to the CVT early on, but now they have mastered it.
    Give Mazda time and money and I’m sure they can make the rotary both more efficient and more powerful.

    • 0 avatar

      Give Mazda time and money and I’m sure they can make the rotary both more efficient and more powerful.
      The resources devoted to perfecting the rotary are spread over too little production. And rotaries were always tougher than piston engines for emissions. As the regs become more and more freakin’ insane stringent, the rotary becomes even more difficult to pass.

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      The “phenomenal” specific output of rotaries is a quirk of the method for measuring their displacement. Rotaries are measured by the equivalent of their power strokes, while conventional 4-cycle piston engines also count the “dead” strokes in the Otto cycle.

    • 0 avatar

      >>> Give Mazda time and money and I’m sure they can make the rotary both more efficient and more powerful.
      No. See my earlier post. There are several flaws that cannot be remedied. The worst is the combustion chamber. The most efficient shape for a combustion chamber would be a sphere, partly because it has the lowest heat loss, and partly because it enables more even combustion. The Wankel combustion chamber is shaped more like a pancake–the least efficient shape. The way the rotary works doesn’t allow anything else. Email me at [email protected] and I’ll send you my article on this subject.

  • avatar

    It speaks volumes about the degenerate US regulatory environment that there’s not a place for a niche rotary. Exactly how much more does the Mazda rotary pollute than a piston V8??? (millions of which haul nothing more than a single passenger who likes to “feel safe”). Or a new I4 from 10 years ago?
    The RX8 is a unique experience. I wish Mazda the best of luck, but I think they’re going to get squashed by the air quality sociopaths at the EPA and CARB…

  • avatar

    Go, Mazda, go! This isn’t the first time they have had to ‘revive’ the Wankel, it probably won’t be the last. Every car company needs something that makes their engineers want to go to work in the morning.

  • avatar

    Thank you Mazda long live the rotary. I was obssed with the roatary in high school, While taking apart a lawn mower engine and thinking about how it worked I thought this i crazy you were causing huge amounts of inefficiency bu having reciprocating assemblies (think of it this way would you rather pedal a bike or punch a pad to make the bike move) These constant back and forth movements cause strain and loss of efficiency. So I studied up on the wankel. I love the engine design and having driven an RX8 I love the feel (they accelerate in the mid high range wonderfully) Years ago I was having dinner with an engineer who was a little eccentric and the ICE engine came up and we decided that a wankel would be wonderful if they could direct inject the engine and figure out a better oiling system. I would say they should try to copy BRP Evinrude with their Etec outboards, these are two strokes with cleaner emissions then 4 strokes and way better midrange power.

  • avatar

    The greatest flaw of the rotary design was that the engine can’t operate efficiently at low-mid loads relative to its compression ratio.  This has resulted in an low-mileage car.  Mazda sees direct-injection as a solution to this, and has demonstrated it with the 16X.
    The final design should be two generation off from the unreleased 16X, and Mazda seems to be making incredible progress with direct-injection.  The new Sky-G has a compression ratio of 14:1, which is the same as their new Sky-D diesel engines.  Mazda is attaining near HCCI levels in their DI technology, and this should benefit the rotary more then anything (a Sky-R perhaps)

    • 0 avatar

      The greatest flaw of the rotary design was that the engine can’t operate efficiently at low-mid loads relative to its compression ratio.

      If this is the case, then wouldn’t it be great as something to power a generator that supply electricity to an electric motor, a-la Volt? Its compact size would also benefit here. Come to think of it, a small gas turbine engine would seemingly be perfect for this as well, they suffer from the same problem (efficient at small range of RPM only). I wonder what would be better for such application…

    • 0 avatar

      That’s a good catch, and yes, the wankel engine would be an ideal range-extender engine.  Both GM and Audi have talked of the possibility, Audi’s A1 e-tron concept is suppose to use a wankel exactly the way you describe it:
      The turbine concept is also old, GM showed a concept with an EV1 turbine, and Toyota even showed a turbine-powered EV back in the 70s as the Toyota Sport-800 Gas turbine hybrid.  Not to mention already being in practical use in large vehicles like Abrams M1 tanks.  However, it would be manufacturing cost issue since turbines use many exotic metals.
      This all hasn’t been lost to Mazda, they have already showed off an RX8 hybrid, and have licensed hybrid-tech from Toyota.  Mazda is world’s ahead of anyone else in wankel technology, as long as they can keep the wankel engine operating in its narrow load that produces an stoichiometric air-fuel mixture it can be more efficient then any 4-stroke piston engine.  Technology may finally be allowing wankel engines to achieve this.
      Mazda also is rumored to be making a PHEV with a wankel as the range-extender as you have suggested.

    • 0 avatar


      This is exactly what I was referring to in my post below.
      I knew I read it somewhere!

      This is why naysayers should hold off because they don’t
      know what is going on behind the scenes.

      I would guess lots of companies have spoken to Mazda.
      Not only for this roto engine/hybrid combo…but their SkyD engine with hybrid as well.

    • 0 avatar

      The second biggest design flaw is the apex seals that fail often.
      The third biggest design flaw is the tendency to flood and the difficulty in remedying that situation.   Here is some text explaining why it happens and how to fix it, though when my wife owned an RX-7 it was nearly impossible to fix and we usually had to end up having it towed to our Mazda mechanic to get started again:
      the below is from:
      The reason why the rotary is easier to flood than a piston engine has everything to do with total chamber surface area and the distance that the fuel needs to travel before it gets ignited. In a rotary, we have an awful lot of surface area that the air and fuel see. In a piston engine, for the most part the air and fuel stay in the same place and just get compressed there. This is minimal surface area and hardly any distance traveled before combustion. Since air and fuel have to travel to the opposite side of the engine in a rotary before it gets ignited, this is a lot of contact with a cold surface. The fuel will stick to the sides easier. It is harder to ignite and there is lots of waste that didn’t get completely burned. This is why cars run rich until they are warmed up. They need to in order to get enough fuel into suspension long enough to get burned.

      Since we have the possibility of more fuel getting unburned and falling out of suspension, this means that we have seals pulling the fuel along the walls. The shape of the apex seals is rounded slightly. This means that this liquid can get underneath the edges of the apex seal tips. Cold temperatures and slow engine rotation don’t help compression at all. Some of this small amount of fuel under the apex seal can cause the seal to move up just slightly. This causes a pressure leak which further reduces compression. It does not take much fluid at all to make this happen. When we don’t make compression, the engine doesn’t want to start and we keep cranking it. This dumps more fuel into the engine which makes the problem worse and so forth and so on.

      Once a rotary gets flooded, it is extremely hard to unflood it. You can not just wait long enough for it to dry out. You’ll be waiting a VERY long time. A flooded rotary might not start after months or even years of waiting! You need to get the fuel out. The factory recommendation is to hold your foot to the floor while cranking. This shuts off fuel delivery and allows the fuel to escape through the exhaust. At least it’s supposed to. This too is hit or miss as just enough fuel may continuously stay in the engine as opposed to getting out of it and this will keep compression low. You need to get the engine spinning fast enough to overcome the compression loss. You also need to pray that your plugs will still fire as they may be all gummed up and wet. You can pull start any flooded rotary engine and get it to run. If it can’t be done with a simple push start and popping the clutch, pull it behind another car. It will start. Depending on the severity of the flooding, it might take a few feet, it might take a few blocks but it will start.

  • avatar

    Well, let’s see:

    No low-end torque
    Poor fuel mileage
    Sucks oil
    High emissions

    Sounds like a dead-end adventure to me. However, I’d like to see MB release an updated


  • avatar

    Rather a busy day today so I don’t want to go searching the past auto notes, but isn’t there a BIG name manufacturer doing some work with the Mazda engine along side a hybrid system?
    I saw MrWhopee comment and it reminded me that perhaps Mazda is not as silly as the B&B bloggers above.

    I think this is another example of us voicing opinion without any indepth knowledge or information.
    I say let them go forward.

    But then again I thought the Dave Clark band would be bigger than the Beatles!

  • avatar

    Excellent car for excellent roads.
    I was at the Deals Gap Rotary Rally last year and drove my RX8 down from Nova Scotia to get there. Some incredible roads that really let this car shine.
    Hope to make it down again next year and might have to do a side trip over to the BRP.
    Worth the trip just to see the wonderful collection of all vintages of rotary powered cars, trucks and motorcycles.
    All respect to Mazda for continuing to develop this wonderful and unique power plant, and as long as they keep it up, I’ll have Mazda’s in the garage.

  • avatar

    Mazda had done more than anybody else, at the time NSU RO 80 gave up we think we’ll see no more of rotaries, but lo & behold it came back, then oil embargo happens, 78 the RX 7 came back too.
    one gal i knew she drove hers for 280 km then the compression slowly fades away she dropped a new rot engine in it again.
    I am impressed with the vibration free engine.
    or modified the rotary as a stationary engine to do generating on a hybrid EV

    • 0 avatar

      or modified the rotary as a stationary engine to do generating on a hybrid EV
      Or use compact rotary engine for electricity generation in range extended electric vehicles.  Should be more efficient and reliable than a small piston engine.

  • avatar
    Kevin L. Copple

    I drove my 1979 RX-7 100,000 miles before I sold it in 1982.  When I sold it, the engine seemed as strong as new.  It was at red-line a lot through curving mountain roads in East Tennessee.  I used full synthetics in the engine and transmission–that could have made a difference on longentivity.  The only major problem I recall was a water pump replacement.

    I loved that car. I want another RX-7.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      What I love about the Wankel is the harder you drive it the longer it seems to live.  Got to love any car with a “drive it like you stole it” sport-bike mentality.

  • avatar

    They do. You have to live by “A redline a day keeps the carbon away.”  The carbon builds up and can damage the seals and/or cause a loss of compression.  A well maintained by hard-driven rotary will last a very long time.
    General ignorance of the population at large, and some issues with the turbo models has given the NA rotaries and undeserved reputation for unreliability.  There are huge numbers of them out there with big mileage on them.  And, when they go, it’s usually a slow decline, not a sudden catastrophic failure.
    I have a 1990 RX7 sitting beside my garage as a parts car for my race car.  Started parting it out (to get it out of the yard) and pulled the motor out. It’s been in my yard for almost 2 years.  We towed it out of a guys field where he claimed it “ran when parked” a year or two before.  For fun, we stripped the engine down to the keg, bolted on a Weber carb with best-guess jetting and Racing Beat conversion manifold, stabbed a 12A distributor in it and dropped it in the car.  Stabbed the starter button and on the second rotation of the engine it fired up and purred like a kitten.  Showing 295,000km on the odometer of the parts car.
    Probably will run it for some track days while I rebuild my race motor. (Needs rebuild due to a non-rotary specific issue.)

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