Mazda's Rotary Era Comes To An End

Derek Kreindler
by Derek Kreindler
mazda s rotary era comes to an end

Mazda is set to build the final RX-8, bringing a temporary end to the rotary engine, which powered its flagship sports cars for 45 years.

Mazda is all set to revive the rotary engine within the next year as a hydrogen-fueled range extender for an upcoming electric vehicle. But the future of Mazda has already been tied to their Skyactiv engineering and traditional piston engines.

In 2013, Mazda will return to LeMans and sports car racing with a Skyactiv diesel powered car. In 1991, the company famously won the race with a four-rotor powerplant.

Rather than wax eloquently about the RX-8 and the rotary engine, Bloomberg’s first quote manages to perfectly encapsulate the car

“Fuel efficiency is horrible,” said Meguro, a 41-year-old music producer in Tokyo, who drives a Mazda RX-8 sports coupe. “But I don’t know any car that beats this. I’m going to miss it.”

Well said, sir.

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6 of 44 comments
  • Imag Imag on Jun 26, 2012

    Umm... Mazda have said repeatedly that they are doing another rotary, possibly two. One is supposed to be the combustion part of a hybrid powertrain. The other is the one I want, the aluminum block (finally) 1600cc version. Their financial issues might cause an issue, but their hints have sounded pretty committed. Anyway, here's hoping it's only the temporary end of an era... again.

  • SunnyGL SunnyGL on Jun 26, 2012

    My first post after lurking here forever... I commend Mazda for making the rotary work when GM and Mercedes gave up. One wonders where the rotary would be today if several car manufacturers had been competing and pursuing it. Note that rotary engines were quickly banned from Le Mans after the 787B victory in 1991. Again what if... I came close to getting an RX-8 4 years ago, but using it as a commuter in the Boston region would have never exploited its virtues. Instead I got an Infiniti G35x, a nice drive, but hardly a paragon of fuel efficiency either. As others have said, those enthusiasts who have owned one mostly remember them fondly or they've still got it. Also, I really enjoyed Dr Karesh's series on the road trip with his dad even if the RX-8 involved didn't fair too well.

  • MRF 95 T-Bird MRF 95 T-Bird on Jun 26, 2012

    I always thought the rotary in either 1 or 2 rotor form would work well with a hybrid or extended range drivetrain. Not only is it simple but would offset the subpar fuel economy and emissions issues.

    • Highdesertcat Highdesertcat on Jun 26, 2012

      "....would offset the subpar fuel economy and emissions issues." Ever since the days of the NSU Ro80 and the VanVeen motorcycle, those have been the exact issues with rotaries because the rotor seals wear out too quickly, and rotaries are hard to rebuild.

  • Redshift Redshift on Jun 27, 2012

    highdesercat: Bonus points for name-dropping the NSU and the VanVeen (saw a VanVeen ar DGRR the other year. Very cool) but what do you mean rotaries are hard to rebuild? A stock rebuild on a Mazda rotary is simple as engine rebuilds go. How many other enthusiast cars have people successfully rebuild their own engines with a workbench, a few basic tools and a DIY DVD? We're in the middle of rebuilding my race engine right now with about an hour to tear down the other night to inventory parts needed, and should only take a couple hours to put it all back together. We've also got 2 DIY street rebuilds in our group. Heck, this 1 hour Youtube video gives you most of what you need to know:

    • Highdesertcat Highdesertcat on Jun 27, 2012

      Redshift, I ran the auto hobby shop at night on my off-duty time while stationed in Germany and we tried rebuilding my used Ro80 (donated to me by my wife's German uncle) there. It was easy to break down but not so easy to seat the seals to where they wouldn't leak. But it could have been the seal material too. It smoked a lot, even after putting in new rotor seals. I had that thing apart twice and had a lot of help. The walls were clean and we removed the varnish with a spinning brass brush, as recommended. The German mechanics, employees of the DoD who provided guidance and assistance for our troops at the hobby shop told me that the NSU Wankel was a bear to get right, but I wanted to try it myself anyway. I mistakenly thought Wankels would be the engine of the future and wanted to get a head start on them. Those German guys had been working on NSU, DKW and other pre- and postwar favorites for a lot longer than I had. Most of those guys were old enough to be my father or grandfather and ran successful automotive repair businesses on the economy, that they had restarted after the war. If YOU possess the knowledge and ability to successfully rebuild a Wankel Rotary, I commend you for it. But I'm am certain that rebuilding a piston engine with rings ensures a greater degree of success for most DIY mechanics, including myself. (I got my start rebuilding my dad's 426 Hemi race engines at age 12) I believe that the MTBF (mean time between failure) rate is lower on the seals of a rotary than it is on the rings of a piston engines. I don't know this for a fact but that's what I believe based on my own experience. The Ro80 I owned way back then started smoking at around 70,000 kilometers before I got it and was rebuilt by me at around 80,000 km. It started smoking again at around 91,000 km and I sold it off for parts at around 95,000 km, almost all of it to the German mechanics who knew the value of those parts and had outlets to sell them to. I never owned a VanVeen but I had a German friend who did. He also owned a Laverda and a Munch. I did ride the VanVeen on E36 in Germany with the owner following me on my R90S and it was the smoothest bike I ever rode. It made my BMW twin-opposed feel like a well-worn vibrator. A great vibrator, but still a vibrator. Good luck on your rebuild. It is my understanding that Mazda changed the seal material from that initially used by NSU and if true (I don't know for sure if they did) that may help the by-pass problem at lower rpm. That's where the problem with MY Ro80 was, at low rpm.