Mazda has built some great cars in the last century, and we Stan hard for ‘em.
It seems like all the Japanese automakers were doing something completely off-the-wall before making cars—things like creating weaving looms, making piston rings, or even producing cork are among the interesting backstories to be found. Mazda did the latter—starting its business as Toyo Cork Kogyo Co., Ltd. in 1920. The company branched out quickly to produce a motorized three-wheeler called the Mazda-Go, and after World War II the company started producing proper cars. Things, uh, escalated quickly.
The earliest cars—the R360 and Carol—were fiddly, baroque little things with minuscule engines. Really minuscule—the DA-series inline-four displaced just 0.4 liter and is one of the smallest four-cylinder engines ever to be put in a series-production car. The company’s first tries were microcars typical of the postwar era, although by the early 1960s tastes were gravitating more toward “normal”-sized cars. Mazda’s next cars—the Familia and the beautiful Luce—were actually styled by Giorgetto Giugiaro at Bertone. Yes, that Giugiaro, the guy who designed, among other cars, the DeLorean DMC-12 and the Lotus Esprit S1.
And then the company discovered the Wankel rotary engine, a tiny and powerful engine that ran exceptionally smoothly. Mazda, looking for a little edge in the market and something to distinguish itself from more established players, jumped on it, licensing the design from a German company struggling to smooth the engine’s rough edges. The engineering challenge that Mazda faced was vast, and the tiny company had limited resources. Mazda put 47 engineers on the job to solve the problem.
The company’s reworked rotary went into one of the loveliest and most unusual cars of the 1960s-the Cosmo Sport. It was the granddaddy of all the rotary-powered Mazdas to come: The RX-2, RX-3, RX-7, and the last one to date, the RX-8. Even that lovely Giugiaro-penned Luce got a rotary version; the R130.
From there, Mazda’s legend among enthusiasts wrote itself. The MX-5 Miata turned the entire roadster genre on its head; the FD RX-7 pushed the bounds of extravagant sports car engineering with its 13B-REW rotary with sequential twin-turbocharging. The rotary line died with the controversial RX-8, but Mazda hasn’t stopped building cars we love to drive. Take a look at this gallery of stunning and important Mazdas through the years.