Mazda’s rotary years, forgettable and triumphant

If you get into road-less-traveled kind of reminiscing, try this: Back in the early 1970s, the father of a high school classmate was the owner of a Mazda dealership, a rare commodity in those days. And I was sponging up prose from Motor Trend, et al, that was gushing about what Mazda was accomplishing by sticking something very radical, the rotary-cycle engine designed by Dr. Ing. Felix Wankel, into a host of relatively cheap cars. All of a sudden, you could honestly buy a car you could zing past 8,000 rpm on every upshift for comparatively short money. The story of what happened next is told in the 192 softcover pages of Mazda Rotary Engine Cars, a definitive look at this entertaining and highly individualistic cars, which has never been told in this much detail before.

The author, Marc Cranswick, is a British engineer and author with a special grounding in postwar American cars, a market in which Mazda made an outwardly loud impact out of all proportion to its sales numbers in an effort that culminated with Le Mans triumph in 1991, which erased the competition so thoroughly that the Wankel-powered sports prototype was summarily banned. This work focuses on basic Wankel technology and its applications in road Mazdas from the Cosmo – priced one of those at auction lately? – to the shrieking RX-8. In my adolescence, the Mazda cars that everyone got jazzed over were the little rear-drive RX-2 and RX-3 sedans – the RX-7 came later – cars that you’re unlikely to spot anywhere today other than an all-Japanese car show in Southern California or just maybe, the show field at Hershey. Cranswick’s book is the only Mazda, or Wankel, history that addresses these memorable cars at all, to say nothing of the RX-4 station wagon (the Luce, to the rest of the world), or the outrageous Rotary Power pickup, which just might have convinced Dodge a few years later that a high-performance truck wasn’t a nutty idea after all. Just pointing it out. As of yesterday, you could order this intriguing book for $37.31 from the website of Veloce Publishing Ltd., as above, which does the currency conversion for you.

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