Face It, A Mazda Rotary Sports Car Just Isn't Meant To Be

Illustration for article titled Face It, A Mazda Rotary Sports Car Just Isn't Meant To Be

Last night, Mazda CEO Masamichi Kogai abruptly shut down any notion that his company was currently working on a sports car larger than the existing Miata. This may in fact be the last word on the subject. Surprised? You should not be.

That headline was called out with two comments quickly rising to stardom from Datsun73 and General Purpose intelligently and accurately arguing that this is definitely the smart move for Mazda to make, logistically and financially.


That may be the case, but Mazda went through a lot of trouble creating a Ferrari-esque coupe concept with an RX moniker and a promise of backdoor engineering on a new rotary engine just to remind us all of their need for careful budgeting to keep them credible as an independent automaker. All we got was this stupid t-shirt.

As the envy of my eye for historical knowledge and resident automotive nerd Raphael Orlove pointed out, the original Mazda RX-7 was a masterpiece built from spare parts and a rotary engine that kept the company in the Japanese auto industry back in the early 1960s. To use the man’s words, the RX-7 was “an incredible car, strange but ordinary, fast but not quick, cheap but difficult to maintain, a success and a failure.”

The last RX-7 ran the streets alongside the now-iconic Toyota Supra in the 1990s, and it’s worth investing in a clean example when you find one, as our resident bounty hunter Tavarish pointed out. This rotary was amazingly the prefect compilation of the original molded into the bubble styling of its time, flawless in its looks and deserving of stubborn desire. (If you are contemplating a V8 swap, you are hardly alone.)


The RX-8 was less of a styling icon, but by the time I was getting my license it was already infiltrating the ranks of the high school parking lot and the first car wish-lists of everyone I knew. It was also the first time someone explained to me the concept of reliability issues with a car and making responsible investments. My first car ended up being a Honda Civic Coupe.


But that’s not to take away from the RX-8 or its owners. Just recently I lived vicariously through my roommate who was interested in the car, having firmly told myself to just let him live his life. He didn’t go with it. But every time I come across one I stop to enjoy it. I still think you buy the car just to talk about it, and for the wise words of an owner, look no further than Opponaut AkursedX.


And that was supposed to bring us to the RX-9. We’ve been convincing ourselves that Mazda was working on a new rotary sports car for years, and if things worked a certain way it would have been wished into existence by now. It almost was with the RX-Vision concept.

With the RX-Vision concept came a sleek, piercing red expression of Mazda’s rotary powered lineage with the promise that top men were working on making the rotary engine something more than a weak emissions nightmare. Top. Men.


And maybe they still are! In the same interview where he killed hope for an RX-9 or any such thing, Kogai didn’t kill the rotary. Instead, he agreed that—if it did return—it would likely be as a range-extending generator motor for a hybrid model, just apparently not a sports car.

But where does that leave us? We have Mazda to blame for introducing such a striking a hype-generating concept in the first place. Hype only further reinforced through a subconscious connection to the near certainty that a new Toyota Supra is just around the corner. Hype that will now go unanswered.


And it was perhaps irresponsible of Mazda to introduce the concept of a rotary return in such an appealing, albeit misleading package, but at the end of the day it’s a business that needs to operate. As an independent automaker in a sea of companies that can afford multi-billion dollar government settlements and still manage the increasingly-challenging technical requirements of the future, Mazda can’t afford the time, resources or cash to back up a low-volume, expensive sports car with an engine that has never been emissions-friendly.


I think we all have trouble facing the possibility that Mazda will never return to the like of anything larger than the Miata for a sports car.

I think Mazda had trouble facing that too. It gave it one last go with the RX-Vision. Something beautiful. Something reflective. Something inspirational to prove its identity as it goes nose-down into the future, and it was something to show us that it’s with us. Mazda wants to do it.


But right now, we all have to accept it as a dream. They could have let the rumors die down, but instead they chose to disappoint us. Not to be menacing or to be cruel, but to share an impossible dream they knew we all wanted to see.

And we should accept it as a gift and as a sign of hope from them that one day we all may be able to return to it.

Reviews Editor, Jalopnik

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La Mia Ferrari

The Japanese car companies have really lost the plot on enthusiast cars. Nissan has no clear plans after the aging 370z below the GT-R, which is also rapidly aging and without a clear heir. Toyota has the FR-S, but is for some reason reluctant to make more iterations of it (turbo?) that would cost little, but dramatically improve sales. Lexus has a few lackluster options when it needs to produce game-changers to capture market share from M and AMG. Subaru’s BRZ is literally the same as the FR-S and the WRX STi has been about the same for over a decade. Mitsubishi just killed its most interesting car in the Evo. Acura just brought out the new NSX after over a decade and it’s a more complicated (and overpriced) GT-R if you look at the stats, when it also needed to be a game-changer. Don’t even get me started on Honda or Mazda.

And to think that now all the brand cachet these companies built over the 1990s and early 2000s among young enthusiasts who are just starting to making enough money to buy more frivolous transportation, but find that the only options are hot dogs or bratwurst, is being wasted. Porsche could teach the Japanese a thing or two about selling crossovers and sedans thanks to sports car superiority. The Japanese used to understand this. How could they forget their Supra, RX-7, 3000GT, 300ZX mojo?