Have you stopped drooling like one of Pavlov’s dogs? I sure haven’t. But watching that video of Mazda’s brilliantly wild 787 running Le Mans conveys just a small portion of the rotary’s racing pedigree. 

Throughout the years, Mazda dropped two-, three-, and four-rotor rotary engines into a number of different applications, including top-tier IMSA sports car racing, prototypes like the 767 and 787 cars, open-wheel cars, and a secret Group B rally prototype with an 11,000-RPM two-rotor RX-7. Mazda’s first rotary win came in 1972 when a two-rotor RX-2 sports car won an IMSA RS race at Lime Rock Park. 

Mazda found success in its RX series, winning races with the RX-2, RX-3, and RX-7. And with the introduction of the RX-7, it went on a winning streak snatching its class podium for 10 years at the 24 Hours of Daytona. It also won the IMSA Grand Touring Championship Under Two Liters every year between 1980-1987. 

The rotary’s biggest claim to fame in racing, however, came in 1991 when a four-rotor 787B prototype racer, the one in the video above, won the 24 Hours of Le Mans outright. It not only became the first and only rotary engine to win the famed race, Mazda became the first-ever Japanese constructor to win, too. Neat!

What Models Currently Feature a Rotary?

None. Mazda kept it alive for as long as it could, but it was dropped from the lineup in 2012 when the RX-8 was retired. Mazda says it’s bringing back a rotary engine, though it will be used as a range extender in one of the company’s forthcoming hybrid cars. Not exactly the triumphant return of the legendary engine. 

Learn How To Drive Your Rotary With Skip Barber Racing School

Learning your car’s behavior, quirks and personality can be done on your own, but you’re not exactly doing so in a vacuum. A missed braking point or target fixating on that tree over there could mean a bent bumper or some serious medical bills. Why take the chance when you can learn safely how to drive your rotary from the professionals at Skip Barber Race Car Driving School?

The Drive has partnered with Skip Barber, the legendary racing school, to ensure that when you first prime your rotary ignition, you won’t fly off into a ditch. 

FAQs About Rotary Engine

You’ve got questions, The Drive has answers!

Q: Why Does Jesus Hate Rotaries?

A: They’re exclusively used by sinners. Praise Satan! 

Q: Ok, But Can a Rotary Engine Run on Diesel?

A: A rotary engine can be run on a few different fuels, including diesel, ethanol, methanol, alcohol, and regular-old gasoline. It won’t run on your tears collected after a trip to the mechanic’s. 

Q: So How Many RPMs Can a Rotary Engine Turn?

A: All of them. 

Q: But Really.

A: Most street-use rotaries pull to about 8,000-8,500 RPM. However, race engines, like the ones mentioned above, will rev past 10,000 RPM. 

Q: Then How Many Apex Seals Does a Rotary Engine Have?

A: Three per rotor. 

Q: I’m Afraid to Ask, But How Much Does It Cost to Fix Apex Seals?

A: Start by giving the mechanic $2,000 and then be prepared to fork over many thousands after that until your destitute and living in a van down by the river. 

Rotary Fun Facts

You know you want more rotary facts!

  • Someone built a tiny, transparent rotary that spun up to 18,000 RPM.
  • Mazda once built a rotary-powered NA Miata that used hydrogen as its fuel source! It, obviously, failed to take off.
  • The RX-7 had the first sequential twin-turbocharger setup for a production car.
  • Someone once took a rotary engine and swapped it into a Ferrari 456 GT. 
  • Suzuki once built AND sold a rotary-powered motorcycle called the RE5, and it was given a style upgrade by legendary designer Giorgetto Giugiaro.

Let’s Talk, Comment Below To Talk With The Drive’s Editors!

We’re here to be expert guides in everything How-To related. Use us, compliment us, yell at us. Comment below and let’s talk! You can also shout at us on Twitter or Instagram, here are our profiles.

Jonathon Klein: Twitter (@jonathon.klein), Instagram (@jonathon_klein)

Tony Markovich: Twitter (@T_Marko), Instagram (@t_marko)

Chris Teague: Twitter (@TeagueDrives), Instagram (@TeagueDrives)

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