The first of the Mazda models to come the United States was the rotary-powered 1970 Mazda RX-2. In 1963, Mazda had started experimenting with the rotary engine designed by Felix Wankel. A relatively simple design, the basic rotary engine has but three principal moving parts and two valves. A number of car companies had tried to get the rotary engine to work, but Mazda was the only concern to successfully put the engine into series production.
Thus, when the first new Mazda cars came to the United States in 1970, they were fitted with rotary engines. Smooth-running, exceptionally powerful for their size, reliable, and very easy to work on, Mazda’s RX cars were highly prized by the cognoscenti. The company even did a rotary-powered pickup truck and a rotary powered station wagon—the only applications of this powerplant to those two platforms. Further, the eclectic engine had the added benefit of making the lightweight automobiles Mazda used it to power a lot of fun to drive.
Mazda’s product team realized if the powerplant was fitted to a sports car, fuel economy wouldn’t matter so much and they’d have something altogether unique in the marketplace. 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.
Configured with rear-wheel drive, and the 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, bringing a lot of attention to the Mazda brand. A rotary-powered Mazda prototype even won LeMans—outright. Sales of the RX-7 ran through three generations from 1978 to 2002.
With the RX-7 steadily creeping up in price over its lifetime as the model skewed more and more towards Grand Touring, a hole opened in the lineup of new Mazda automobiles for a small two-seat rear-drive roadster. Fitted with a twin-cam four-cylinder engine, the 1989 Mazda MX-5 Miata took the world by storm and solidified Mazda’s reputation for building fun to drive automobiles.
Today’s line of new Mazda cars, while devoid of a rotary powered model, continues to emphasize driving dynamics. In addition to the MX-5 sports car, the company offers an exciting range of sedans, hatchbacks, and crossovers.