New Zealand Classic Car - - FEATURE CAR -

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.

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