Carole Nash
Content Writer
Published: 2nd October 2017

Mazda has a history of creating some brilliant motors, like the MX-5, but one of the company’s greatest achievements was incorporating the Wankel engine into their manufacturing process. This started with the 1967 Mazda Cosmo, yet the origin of the Wankel engine dates back much further.

Creation of the Wankel engine

Felix Wankel, a German engineer, came up with the concept for the Wankel engine in 1919. He believed his half-turbine, half-reciprocating engine could revolutionise the car industry. Wankel received his first patent in 1929, though development started after WW2.

In 1951, Wankel secured a partnership with motorbike manufacturer NSU. This lead to a prototype engine called the DKM being created in 1957. Then, NSU licensed the design to companies all over the world.

The Wankel engine has several advantages, including its compact size and lightweight design. The engine has been used in various vehicles and devices, such as planes, go-karts, snowmobiles and chainsaws.

Relationship with Mazda

After the Wankel engine was created, Tsuneji Matsuda, President of Mazda, recognised its potential. He signed a deal with NSU in 1961 with plans to use the engine in a future car. This happened in 1967, with the creation of the Mazda Cosmo. It was the first dual-rotor rotary-engined car, which set it apart from other vehicles of the 1960s.

The car had a futuristic design and was named ‘Cosmo’ to reflect the cultural fascination with space. Each engine rotor displaced 491 cc, giving it a full power of 982 cc. The Cosmo was able to reach a top speed of 115 mph.

Mazda was eager to prove the reliability of the Wankel engine, so it entered the Cosmo into the 1968 84-hour Marathon de la Route In Germany. Two Cosmos were selected and they ran together in fourth and fifth place, though the cars were retired with axle damage in the 82nd hour.

The Cosmo Series II was brought out in July 1968 with an upgraded 128 hp engine. Visual changes included a larger grille under the front bumper additional vents on each side of the ‘mouth.’

The most recent version is the 1990 Eunos Cosmo and it’s the only Mazda to use a triple-rotor engine. It was considered a luxury vehicle ahead of its time, as it featured a Car Control System, a CRT colour touch-screen and GPS car navigation