When one thinks of the Mazda Rotary, its hard not to immediately associate it with immortal modern classics like the FD and FC RX-7s. Think back even further, and the racing heritage of cars like the Savanna RX3 and the first-generation (SA22C) RX-7 come to mind too. And if you really know your JDM history, you may be able to even add the Mazda Cosmo to that list: the very first Mazda rotary production car with its swoopy, Ford Thunderbird inspired styling and powered by the dimunitive 10A rotary.
However, there are many more Mazda rotary models which have escaped the limelight. They lurk in hidden corners of history as forgotten curios of Mazda’s obsession with the Wankel engine. In this article, we’ll share some of the more obscure ones with you.
The first cab off the rank is the prettiest. It’s the R130 Luce Coupe Rotary. The sleek 60s coupe lines you can plainly see. It was powered by a unique 13A engine: the only Mazda model to ever use the 13A.
The 13A is essentially a “stroked” version of the smaller 12A rotary, and produced a lazy 125hp, more or less the same as the 12A, but with more torque.
The 13A is also unusual amongst Mazda production rotaries, in that it has bigger-diameter rotor housings: when Mazda needed to increase the capacity of the 10A to the 12A and then to the 13B, the rotors were only widened and the outer diameter remained the same (in piston engine terms it’s like increasing the bore and not the stroke). The 13A is the only rotary to break from this rule, and is the only Mazda rotary car to be FWD. That’s right. FWD.
The next rotary oddity is the Parkway bus. A 14 seater people carrier, it was powered by a normally aspirated 13B. The low-torque characteristics of the rotary would have made a poor match for the weight of the bus (2800kg unladen), and the quoted top speed is a paltry 120km/h. Fuel consumption figures are not quoted.
Next, is the REPU.
That stands for Rotary Engined Pickup Truck. No further description is necessary, so I’ll let the pictures do the talking.
For the last oddball rotary car in this entry, we go back to the luxury Luce nameplate. Mazda’s biggest car, right up until 1991 was always badged Luce, and until 1991, was always available with the rotary engine. So for the 1970s, we are talking about the Luce Legato:
These sold to conservative businessmen (hence the formal styling) but that didn’t stop Mazda from offering the 13B as an option. And while these heavy old school JDM limos weren’t as fast as an RX-7, the smooth and quiet nature of the rotary made it a very refined ride indeed for the person lounging in the back seat.
The Luce Legato was then facelifted and renamed as the Luce Gentle, and still available with the 13B.
Another piece of Luce Gentle trivia is that in Greece, the Luce Gentle was sold with a 10A instead of the JDM 13B, and marketed as the RX-9!
Sadly, today the rotary Luces tend to be a forgotten part of JDM history, being overshadowed by their more glamorous racing cousins. And so 13B Luces are quite hard to find, although you do find the occasional one given the full bozo treatment:
Which is a real damn shame, since rotary engined limos are a pretty unique combination at any time, and a sign of Mazda’s pride in its rotary engine that it felt that it was appropriate to insert it into their best, most expensive cars, at least until 1991.