The Father Of Mazda’s Rotary Engine Has Passed Away At 95

Courtesy: Koki Nagahama/Getty Images for Mazda Motor Corporation
Courtesy: Koki Nagahama/Getty Images for Mazda Motor Corporation /

Kenichi Yamamoto, the former Mazda Motor Corp. president and chairman who fathered the rotary engine, has passed away at 95.

The New York Times reports that Kenichi Yamamoto died on December 20th in Kanagawa Prefecture, near Tokyo. He was the man who led the engineering team that produced the rotary engine for what was formerly known as Toyo Kogyo. He later held the title of president and chairman for Mazda Motor Company. The story of how he became a boss after commercializing the rotary engine is a fascinating one in the automotive world.

Yamamoto greatly transformed the Mazda Corp., which was called Toyo Kogyo until 1984, as well as himself.

The company went from being a small Japanese carmaker to a global brand. He also grew, starting off as an engineer and moving up the ranks to an executive role. In 1963, a sports car prototype with the rotary engine was shown at the Tokyo Motor Show. The car was called the Cosmo.

Rotary engines were being mass produced and put inside the brand’s compact sports cars; however, they contained a major flaw. The poor fuel economy of these engines became a huge liability when energy crises rose in the early 1970’s. As sales began to plummet, so did the future of the company. It was about a hair’s length to becoming bankrupt.

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Kenichi Yamamoto became the head of Toyo Kogyo in 1974. He was determined to find fuel-effiecient solutions for the rotary engine. He knew that the company could not just abandon such innovative technology, especially since it set them apart from the other brands. Through an extensive engine overhaul, the engine’s fuel economy drastically increased. The rotary-powered Mazda RX-7 consequently saw heightened sales.

It is plain to see that Kenichi Yamamoto helped save the Mazda Motor Company and create a vision for what it would be known for.

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To commemorate his legend, check out the video below highlighting five decades of Mazda rotary engine cars.

Which was your favorite Mazda rotary engine vehicle? Comment below and let us know!