24 September 2015

1973 Mazda RX-3 (Rotary Engine) Commercial

'Piston engine goes boing, boing, boing, boing boing, boing..
but the Mazda goes hmmmmmmm.'

If you've ever driven a car with a rotary engine like a Mazda, it really is a lot of fun, very torquey and revs like crazy, always super smooth (except most from the 70s tend to backfire)- it's a shame the couldn't make them work out in a more substantial way. Besides smoothness of operation, the motor is compact, light, and simple, with only two moving parts.

But in an example of epic bad timing, Mazda launched the Wankel-engined RX series just was the first oil crisis was about to hit... when the rotary-type engine was still going through development challenges, using substantially more fuel than a comparable piston-engined car. Alas, you could get a Honda with 50% better gas milage for less money.

Worse yet was how the apex seals at the tips of the tri-rotor(s) wore-out to quickly, it was a materials issue that was not fully solved until the 1980s by Mazda. These hard-to-resolve challenges had GM, Citroen, and others pulling the plug on their own Wankel rotary engine programs (before they hit the market) in the mid 1970s as well.

In fact, not only did R+D costs/recalls almost bankrupt Mazda by 1975, but the original developer of the Wankel engine -Germany's NSU- was itself wrecked by trials and tribulations involving the company's way-ahead-of-its-time Ro80 and it's troublesome rotary engine (partial engine rebuild required every 10K miles to replace apex seals!). 

NSU Ro80

I used to know a guy who had a cherry NSU Ro80 in California, but even he had replaced the original NSU engine with a Mazda rotary in the name of more power, dependability, and access to parts. If you look at the (front-wheel-drive) Ro80, it's pretty hard to believe the car came out in 1967, the styling is 10-15 years ahead of it's time... clean, aerodynamic, great visibility. 

By 1977 NSU had been broken by the Wankel rotary engine that was supposed to spring the Neckarsrulm motorcycle/auto maker into the Big Leagues, and the remains of the company was absorbed by Audi, which continues to be paid royalties on the Wankel design from Mazda to this day. And clearly new parent company Audi absorbed more than a little bit of the NSU look for their own cars, starting with the first aero-look Audi 5000 in 1983.

If you ever have a chance to drive a rotary-engined automobile -Mazda, NSU, whatever- by all means give it a go... especially if you can find a stick shift,
like my college girlfriend's RX-7! I love 'em-

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