Mazda’s first production car with a rotary engine, the Cosmo Sport, arrived in showrooms in 1967, three years after its debut as a concept at the Tokyo Motor Show.
At that time, Mazda, like the rest of Japan’s major automakers, was determined to show it could build more than economy cars.
That same year, Toyota introduced the 2000GT, which became the first Japanese car to be featured in a James Bond film with its inclusion in the Japan-themed You Only Live Twice. Nissan followed suit in 1969 with its legendary Z coupe, sold in Japan as the Fairlady Z and in the U.S. as the Datsun 240Z.
Mazda sold just 1,519 units of the Cosmo Sport by the end of production in 1972, but the car paved the way for the rotary-powered RX-7, one of Mazda’s biggest successes.
Its successor, the RX-8, was discontinued in 2012. Mazda sold just 759 units of the RX-8 in the U.S. in 2011, down from a high of 23,690 units in 2004, as the rotary engine’s poor fuel economy and high emissions became a larger handicap.
Mazda continued its research into a next-generation rotary, mainly as a compact range extender. In 2013, the company showed a prototype of a hybrid Mazda2 with a 0.33-liter rotary engine to recharge the batteries on the fly. However, Mazda has disavowed plans to build a rotary-powered successor to the low-volume RX-8.