did accomplish was spectacular. While major European and US car-makers such as GM, Mercedes-benz, Citroën, Rolls-royce, AMC, Alfa Romeo and Porsche — not to mention fellow Japanese firms Suzuki, Toyota and Nissan — never got to grips with Wankel’s concept, Mazda would be the only company to build, develop and successfully sell rotary-powered cars.
Alas, the difficulties in cleaning up the rotary engine’s emissions would finally lead to Mazda removing the RX-8 from the European market in 2010, and by 2012 it ceased production altogether. However, Mazda isn’t finished with the rotary engine yet, and is already at work on the next generation rotor-motor.
Road and Track
Eager to prove the reliability of its rotary engines, from the beginning Mazda was quick to get examples of the RX-3 onto race tracks throughout the world — eventually scooping up trophies and awards wherever they competed.
In Australia, after the early entry of an R100 at Bathurst in 1969, RX-3S went on to score several class wins at that famous circuit. Racing RX-3S also appeared in New Zealand, competing for honours in the B&H 500 — while the late Bill Shiells (now recognized as New Zealand’s first rotary guru) took to rally stages in an RX-3, inspiring many others to follow suit.
RX-3 coupés continued to be successful in motor sport until supplanted by the RX-7. Eventually, of course, a Mazda rotary-engined car — the 787B — became the first Japanese car and the first rotarypowered one to win outright at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, in 1991.
Rotary-engined Mazdas also became an integral part of the import-car scene — as immortalized in movies such as — and modifications were the name of the game. The cars were eminently tuneable, and young performance-car enthusiasts soon discovered the noisy thrills of hard-tuned rotor-motors — along with massive alloy wheels, spoilers aplenty, fully customized interiors and garish paint jobs.
However the tide has turned for the RX-3 in recent years, as it has with the market for other Japanese cars of the ’70s, and originality is now becoming a much more prized factor as later Gen Xers rediscover their youth.