Mike Stevens | Mar 14, 2012

Rotorheads will remember the the surprise and delight the first time they stepped into a Mazda that made that distinctive gurp-gurp-gurp noise; the sound of Mazda's rotary engine.

The rotary, also known as 'the rotor', was retired from the innovative Mazda RX-8 after a long, distinguished and high-revving career in the nose of some of the world's iconic affordable sports cars.

The 1970 RX-2 spun out a then-impressive 130hp (97kW) with a slightly less impressive 156Nm of torque. The smooth, capable engine would then go on in twin and triple rotor guises for the best part of forty years.

The rotary hit the racetrack in several guises, most notably in Australia in the nose of the all-conquering Mazda RX-7s of Bathurst 12 Hour fame, blitzing the race from 1992 to 1995.

The car's success attracted big names such as Alan Jones, Neil Crompton and the V8 Supercar pairing of Dick Johnson and John Bowe - all of them outright winners in the curvaceous FD-series RX-7 SP.

The rotary even conquered Le Mans in the striking Mazda 787B, piloted by Johnny Herbert.

The rotary's Achilles heel - apart from its low torque numbers - was its thirst, and therefore its emissions. Despite its popularity, the numbers no longer stacked up and the rotary went to the great engine workshop in the sky.

Recently however, a glimmer of hope has appeared in the form of an interview with Mazda's general manager of power train development, Mitsuo Hitomi.

Speaking with Wards Auto, Hitomi-san has hinted that the Mazda engineers have "found a way to make dramatic improvements" to the rotary. This means cleaner and more importantly greener.

It's unlikely we'll ever see another RX-anything but the rotary's power delivery, compactness and ability to push out lots of kilowatts from a small displacement means a rotary supported SKYACTIV hybrid may not be too far away.

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