In the nineties, I leased the last generation Mazda RX-7 and it was an amazing car. The company touted it as “Lightning in a world of thunder.” It handled like almost nothing else and at 255 HP, you could push the car to its limits in every-day driving.
The technology powering the car was a rotary-engine… A single triangular rotor spins inside a small valveless barrel and two turbos make the spinning happen even faster.
Unlike a conventional engine with pistons which go up and down, the moving parts in this engine never change direction.
It was a far simpler approach to engine design.
Alas, the car did have some problems. Ed McMahon said the car was fragile and he was correct. The doors were easily dented and acorns dented the aluminum sunroof. The turbos were fragile as well – I blew a few turbo gaskets in the four years I drove the vehicle.
Although the RX-7 was criticized for polluting more than internal combustion engines, the flip-side was the large amount of power generated from the minimal displacement of 1.3 liters was unheard of. This meant the car was light which of course translated to better handling.
Another drawback – the car weighed under 3,000 pounds and if you pushed it hard enough, you got only 13 miles per gallon or so.
For rotary fans, the good news is the engine will make a comeback in the car shown below. I often read about how the “Wankel” engine worked and finally had a chance to check out this video which explains it in detail. It seems the Rotary engine is better suited to being a backup, range-extending engine for battery-powered vehicles… So we may see many more of them in a number of cars in the future. In addition, they can burn hydrogen or gas, which is a neat trick.
The Mazda RX-Vision is a concept for now but it’s gorgeous and I hope the company decides to produce it. To learn more check out this article on Wired.