Export sales, racing success, and the addition of the sedan brought about a healthy increase in total Familia Rotary/Mazda R100 production, which climbed from around 28,000 in 1969 to a peak of 31,328 in 1970, representing around 14% of Toyo Kogyo’s total passenger car production that year. The rotary Familia received a number of minor updates late that year, but it was now overshadowed by newer models, and sales for 1971 and 1972 dropped off substantially. The Familia Rotary models were withdrawn from Australia in late 1971, from the U.S. after the 1972 model year, and from the home market in 1973. The redesigned Mazda Familia that bowed in October 1973 was not offered with a rotary engine. Total production of rotary-engined Familia models was 95,891 units.
ROTARY RARITY: THE LUCE R130
Alongside the RX-85 at the 1967 Tokyo Auto Show was another prototype, the Mazda RX-87, a hardtop coupe loosely based on the Bertone-styled Mazda Luce 1500, which had debuted in August 1966. The RX-87 was decidedly Italianate, looking rather like a cross between an Alfa Romeo Giulia coupe and a second-generation Chevrolet Corvair two-door hardtop.
Under the hood, the RX-87 traded the 1,490 cc (91 cu. in.) SOHC four of the Mazda Luce sedan for a new 1,310 cc (80 cu. in.) 13A rotary engine. (The 13A was not related to the later Mazda 13B engine; it had different internal dimensions, where the 13B was a straightforward development of the 10A/12A series.) Unlike the Luce, which had a conventional front-engine/rear-wheel-drive configuration, the RX-87 mounted the compact 13A longitudinally ahead of the front wheels, driving a four-speed transaxle: It was Toyo Kogyo’s first front-wheel-drive car.
Christened Mazda Luce Rotary Coupé, or R130, the production version of the RX-87 went on sale in October 1969. The R130 was the largest passenger car Toyo Kogyo had yet offered, significantly bigger than the Luce sedan on which it was nominally based. The Rotary Coupé’s 13A engine had less power than the smaller engine in the Cosmo Sport L10B, 126 PS (124 hp, 93 kW) at 6,000 rpm, but substantially more torque: 127 lb-ft (172 N-m) at 3,500 rpm.
Like the earlier Mazda Cosmo Sport, the R130 had double wishbone front suspension (albeit with unusual rubber torsion springs rather than coils), front disc brakes, and a standard vacuum servo, but the FWD Luce’s rear suspension was independent, with coil springs located by semi-trailing arms. In keeping with its price — ¥1,450,000 (a bit over $4,000) for the base Deluxe model, ¥1,750,000 (around $4,850) for the air-conditioned Super Deluxe — the R130 was well equipped and luxuriously trimmed, with a hefty dose of sound insulation. Toyo Kogyo marketed the R130 as a personal luxury coupe rather than a sports car, but it had brisk performance and a claimed top speed of 119 mph (190 km/h).
The Mazda R130 was offered only with right-hand drive, and we don’t believe it was officially exported, although some eventually ended up in markets like Australia and South Africa. At home, the big coupe’s size, thirst, and high prices made it very rare. Only 976 were built before production ended in 1971. In October 1972, the R130’s place in the lineup was taken by a somewhat smaller, RWD coupe version of the latest-generation Mazda Luce, sold in some markets as the RX-4.
Surprisingly, Toyo Kogyo never offered another rotary production car with front-wheel drive. The company’s next FWD Mazda model, the 1980 BD Familia (323 or GLC in other markets), was offered only with conventional four-cylinder engines.
By 1970, worldwide interest in the rotary engine had increased dramatically, with nearly every major automaker seriously considering rotary power. That November, General Motors signed a $50 million licensing agreement, joining a list of licensees that included not only Curtiss-Wright and Toyo Kogyo, but also Alfa Romeo; Daimler-Benz; Porsche; and the military vehicles arm of Rolls-Royce, which was developing an unusual rotary diesel for main battle tanks. The main attraction was no longer the rotary’s light weight, smoothness, or mechanical simplicity, but its exhaust emissions.
Photochemical smog had been a growing problem in major urban areas for years, particularly in areas like Los Angeles, which is prone to atmospheric inversion layers. In the early fifties, scientific studies had linked smog to unburned hydrocarbons (HC) and nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions from factories and motor vehicles. The state of California established the first limits on automotive emissions in 1959, followed in 1963 by the state of New York. In 1964, the U.S. Congress gave the federal government authority to regulate air pollution at a national level. The trend was not limited to the United States. Large Japanese cities had smog problems as well and there had been debate in the Japanese National Diet throughout the decade about the possibility of automotive emissions standards.
In December 1970, the United States enacted the Clean Air Act (sometimes known as the Muskie Act, after Sen. Edmund Muskie, D-Maine), which defined stringent national limits for automotive carbon monoxide (CO), HC, and NOx emissions, slated to take effect in 1975. (California had already implemented its own standards for NOx emissions, which took effect in 1971.) In response, Japan’s Environmental Agency proposed comparable regulations for Japanese vehicles along with a phase-out of leaded gasoline.
In both countries, the new standards triggered a political firestorm. Many automakers insisted that meeting the proposed standards was technologically impossible, particularly the new NOx limits. CO and HC emissions could be controlled by improving combustion efficiency or with add-on equipment like air injection, but NOx was a more difficult proposition, in part because some measures that reduced HC and CO (such as running very lean mixtures) actually increased nitrogen oxide emissions.
It was in this area that the rotary engine showed new promise. As a side effect of its combustion chamber shape, high surface-to-volume ratio, and relative low thermal efficiency, the rotary had greater HC emissions than did a comparable piston engine, but those same factors contributed to much lower NOx levels. (Nitrogen oxide emissions depend in large part on combustion temperatures, which are generally lower in a rotary than in a comparable reciprocating engine.) In fact, the Mazda rotaries were among the very few engines manufactured in 1970 that could meet the 1975 NOx standards without modifications. The rotary engine’s hydrocarbon emissions, meanwhile, could be brought under control with the use of a thermal reactor, which injected air into the exhaust stream to complete the combustion process. Toyo Kogyo had already developed that technology, which was included on all U.S.-bound rotaries.