In 1959, Tsuneji Matsuda, a former Mazda manager, first heard of a strange new powertrain that immediately piqued his interest and tried to license the Wankel engine from NSU. At first NSU was suspicious of the Japanese, but Matsuda was completely captivated by the new technology. Finally, in 1961, he succeeds in obtaining a licence allowing Mazda to sell Wankel-powered cars in Japan.
The technology is far from perfect (oil consumption, smoking, frequent servicing), but Mazda was confident of the success. A separate research centre is being built to develop the rotary disc engine, which will be headed by Kenichi Yamamoto. All this at a time when every other factory that has bought a licence from NSU is abandoning its plans for the engine.
The explanation is simple: the Japanese government at the time wanted to bring together all the companies involved in the car industry. Mazda (or Toyo Kogyo as it was then known) concluded that if they could come up with something special, they might avoid being merged with other companies.
Mazda launched its first Wankel-powered car in 1967, the Cosmo. Although it overcame the unreliability of rotary engines, fuel consumption was still staggeringly high. Despite this, the coupé was a resounding success, immediately winning over American buyers. The twin-engined, 982 cc engine with a Hitachi carburettor produces 110 bhp, which is later increased to 128 and codenamed 10A.
More models are then designed, but few of them ever leave the drawing board. One of these is the Rx2, and later the Rx3. These models are now powered by the improved 1.5-litre 12A engine, rated at 135bhp (while a 2.1-litre version is being developed, which will push the magic 200bhp mark!) By 1971, Mazda sells its 200,000th rotary disc car.
Then, at one day, everything changed. The 1973 oil crisis ruins Mazda’s success. Cars with high-consumption rotary engines become unsellable. The company went through a serious crisis at that time, from which it emerged with the 323 series (with the otto engine). Despite all this, the Rx4 is announced with the latest engine, codenamed 13B, which again greatly improves the reliability of the under-performing 12A. The Rx3 and Rx4 was a complete failure.

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