Four Decades of Mazda’s Great Engine by Dr Wankel…
Saturday, June 16, 2007.
By Karl Williams
My, oh my! The world is indeed a strange place! Back in 1920s, a young man decided he wanted to do things rather differently under our bonnets. It's a good thing as far as I'm concerned!
He believed engines could run smoother in the form of a triangle, as apposed to the vertical affair! So he set about creating what we know today as the " Wankel Rotary engine (RE) Genesis" symbolic of RENESIS.
This is the 40th anniversary of Mazda's first rotary engine powered vehicle. As of the end of April 2007, Mazda has manufactured approximately 1,970,000 Rotary vehicles since production first began.
On May 30, 1967, Mazda commenced sales of the world's first dual-rotor RE car, the Cosmo Sport. Following this, Mazda introduced other RE vehicles to the market, including the Familia Rotary Coupe, Savanna, Eunos Cosmo and the RX-7.
I've always had a love affair with the Dr Felix Wankel’s invention, ever since I first drove the original RX-7 back in the 1980s. And like most of my affairs at that time, my heart ruled my head!
The RX-7 behaved more like a temperamental Italian than dependable Japanese. And my own RX-7 is no exception!
It's this engine which has been so successfully re-invented and re-engineered by Mazda, primarily over the last two decade's, that power's the iconic RX-8.
Now if you haven't heard of this masterful piece of kit in the last few years, then you must've been doing the same as Mazda's opposition. You be burying your head in the sand uttering words such as 'why didn't we build this'.
Now the engine isn't nigh on perfect, she has an affliction to be treated with velvet gloves every now an then, more so on start-up.
But boy she loves to be driven; what's more, you're encouraged to do so. It redlines around 9000 Rpm!! That's where you need to be heading to hear, feel the full beauty of the RX-8 as it sprints to a credible 0-62 in 6.4 seconds and tops out at 146mph.
This compact rotary engine has always been essentially a racer. From its inception at Mazda back in the 60s, it's been chosen by many a salubrious racing club.
The Americans, the Japanese along with Britain's very own Tom Walkinshaw, all famously testing it to the limits. This lead to it wining many endurance races, including the 1991 24-hour Le Mans.
Those wonderful beaus from the land of the rising sun have wrapped the heart of the RX-8 in spectacular style. In the form of 'suicide doors'! You remember the scenes when Al Capone and his boys would kick bodies from moving cars and the doors would just fly open. Yeah!
Well being Japanese, the designers have re-invented the drive-by; there won't be any kicking to the curb from these rear doors. It's impossible to open the rear doors without first opening the fronts.
And it's such a wonderful way to ease into the back and slide into those figure hugging rear seats. The car seats four adults in comfort. It's those thought provoking, clever ideas and packaging, that 'out of the box' thinking that's got people buying the RX in such huge numbers.
Now there's a PZ version fêttled & tweaked by the Prodrive F1 motorsport division, owned by David Richards, who recently brought Aston Martin with a little help from Arabian oil money and whose racing outfit is soon to line up on the 2008 Formula1 Grand Prix grid.
They've fitted bespoke suspension which has been lowered by 15mm. To reduced roll and pitch for even flatter cornering attitude, specially tuned gas dampers give tighter body control; front bump stop is now 10mm shorter for better handling.
The anti-roll bars, rear bump stop and tyres are all standard RX-8 to maintain rear passenger comfort. However, those gorgeous graphite lightweight 18" 'OZ' alloys wheels are not!
The detailing on the RX-8 both inside and out is really infectious. But for one thing, the number plate!
Have you noticed the difference it makes to the front of any Alfa Romeo? Just a bit to the right please sir' if you don't mind! And no! It's not just to see that mouth, its make's for a cooler engine!
I have long waited for the day when Mazda would build a really, truly credible car to exploit the principle of Dr Wankel's engine. This RX– 8 for those of us with an appetite for cars engineered with a difference is it. Now with the RX-8 PZ, Thandie Newton or Halle Barry. It's sublime.
Mazda will be displaying an eclectic mix of 11 past, present and future vehicles at the Goodwood Festival of Speed (22-24 June).
Visitors to the retro-themed Mazda stand will see, smell and touch the cars that have helped make Mazda Britain’s favourite sports car brand– from the 1967 Mazda Cosmo Sport 110S, through to the Le Mans winning 787B and Mazda RX-7 as it celebrates the 40th Anniversary of the ground-breaking rotary engine.
“At Goodwood we will celebrate Mazda’s heritage and offer a unique perspective into our evolving model range, including yet-to-be-launched production models, exciting design and engineering concepts,” commented Rob Lindley, managing director of Mazda Motors UK.
For ticket info: www.goodwood.co.uk/fos/
Model tested: Mazda RX-8 231ps £22,900 with optional S/Roof,
DVD & Full Leather Co2:284. 25mpg
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Karl Williams is a London-based freelance journalist and motoring correspondent for The New Black Magazine.
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