TOKYO -- Many people of a certain age remember Mazda Motor Corp.'s catchy ads from the 1970s.
"Piston engines go boing-boing," they said. "Mazda goes hummmm."
The voiceover sang: "There's nothing like it on the road today; the rotary engine is here to stay."
The last Mazda using the rotary, which won fans with its ability to generate more power than traditional power plants of the same size, rolled off the assembly line last Friday at the company's Hiroshima factory and headquarters.
The 45-year rise and fall of the engine tells a broader story of the past, present and -- Mazda is betting -- future of automaking.
Shoji Meguro's very mixed feelings give a window into the reasons.
"Fuel efficiency is horrible," said Meguro, a 41-year-old music producer in Tokyo, who drives a Mazda RX-8 sports coupe. "But I don't know any car that beats this. I'm going to miss it."
The only unprofitable Japanese automaker said it believes demand for more environmentally friendly cars will continue to grow and help it post its first profit in five years.
"Production of the RX-8 will end, but the rotary engine will live on as an important part of Mazda's spirit," said Takashi Yamanouchi, Mazda's president.
Originally developed by engineer Felix Wankel in Germany after World War II -- it was also called the Wankel engine -- the technology was licensed by Mazda in 1961 from Audi NSU Auto Union AG, which is now a unit of Volkswagen AG.
Consisting of a three-cornered rotor in an oval chamber, the engine is typically lighter than piston power plants, with fewer moving parts.
That enables additional power and acceleration without the bulk of traditional engines.
The rotary engine in the current model RX-8 reaches 8,200 revolutions per minute before hitting the maximum level at which it's designed to operate without causing damage.
That compares with 7,000 rpm for Toyota Motor Corp.'s 86 sports car, sold as the FR-S under the carmaker's Scion brand in the United States.
It's that sort of performance than won over Kenichi Tsunoda, who joined a Mazda dealership in 1992 as a mechanic after graduating from school and bought an RX-7 two-door sports coupe with the rotary shortly after.
Tsunoda's dream was to "touch and play with rotary engines every day," he said at the Mazda showroom he now manages in Chiba, adjacent to Tokyo.