When the first Mazda cars came to the United States in 1970, they were fitted with rotary engines. The company even did a rotary-powered pickup truck and a rotary powered station wagon—the only applications of this powerplant ever for those two platforms.
Smooth running, extremely compact, exceptionally powerful for their size, reliable, and very easy to work on, those engines were highly prized by the cognoscenti. Further, they had the added benefit of making the lightweight automobiles Mazda powered with them a lot of fun to drive.
The 1978 Mazda RX-7 was born of this realization and went on to become one of the best selling sports cars of all time. With the relatively tiny engine mounted behind the centerline of the front wheels, the RX-7 was essentially a lightweight mid-engine, rear drive sports car.Blessed with exceptional handling, it went on to become a major success in motorsports. A rotary-powered Mazda RX-7 prototype even won LeMans—outright. Sales of the RX-7 ran through three generations from 1978 to 2002.
Thus known for building interesting cars, Mazda then introduced a small two-seat rear-drive roadster fitted with a twin-cam four-cylinder engine. The 1989 Mazda Miata MX-5 also took the sports car world by storm. While today’s Mazda lineup is without a rotary-powered model, the Miata lives on as the brand’s halo car.
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