Rotary-Swapped MX-5 Miata RF Is the Wankel Revival Mazda Never Gave Us

After a hiatus of over a decade, Mazda officially brought back the rotary engine earlier this month when it introduced the MX-30 e-Skyactiv R-EV. Never mind the long name, the gripe we have with this is that the Wankel returend as a range extender for an electric crossover, whereas so many of us long for the engine to power the rear wheels of a sports car! Fortunately, a shop over in Japan is keeping that dream alive by rotary swapping the current ND-generation Mazda MX-5 Miata.

The cult of the rotary engine, which no carmaker developed further than Mazda, is built around attributes like the smooth power delivery, the need for high revs and, of course, the awesome brap-brap soundtrack.

However, rotaries are not without their drawbacks. And while the RX-8 was retired back in 2012 due to emission standards, these modified machines face less pressure in this area. Even so, a Wankel engine’s weak points involve its modest torque, as well as the fact that it needs to be driven and maintained in very specific ways to stay reliable.

Since Wankels guzzle quite a bit of oil, the best way to keep such an engine in good condition is to rev the hell out of it, so more oil flows into the combustion chamber. That will reduce the wear of the apex seals—these play the same role as piston rings in reciprocating engines. To make a long story short, this is how the Mazda 787B race car won the 24 Hours of Le Mans, as it didn’t neccesarily outrun its rivals, beating them in the long game instead.

However, doing things that wouldn’t upset a car with a reciprocating engine that much (e.g., starting the engine for a short while to move the vehicle in a parking lot and then shuting it off) means a Wankel might quickly clog. And if your driving scenarios involves plenty of partial trhottle operation, you can expect those apex seals to give up over time.

Mazda has addressed these issues for the new 830cc single-rotor engine of the range-extended MX-30. However, even if such a crossover, which also features tiny suicidy rear doors a la RX-8, ended up becoming a parts car, we wouldn’t expect enthusiasts to start a bidding war over it—unless they want it for a motorcycle or a go-kart. You see, the engine was designed to charge a battery instead of burning rubber, which means it only makes 73 hp.

Garage-I fits RX-8 rotaries in ND Miatas

The powerplants that JDM developer Garage-I uses for its ND Miata conversions are plucked from Mazda RX-8s( ah, the twin-rotor, naturally aspirated 13B-MSP). So far, we’ve seen two projects of the sort.

The first is a blue MX-5 Roadster the specialist converted last year, which kept its atmoshperic form, but was slightly pushed to 250 hp. Compared to the N/A 1.5L four-cylinder base engine of the ND Miata, which makes 129 hp, this nearly doubles the muscle. Heck, it still makes for a serious improvement over the most potent factory spec ND (N/A 2.0L four-cylinder with 181 hp.

Then there’s the Miata RF that Garage-I rotary-swapped for the insane event that was the recent Tokyo Auto Salon 2023—the retractable metal top makes it both a coupe and a convertible. This still sports an RX-8 unit, but, at least judging by the images the tuner posted on Instagram, the engine could be in the process of getting turbocharged. And, if this is the case, expecting around 400 streetable horsepower seems only natural.

That Racing Orage hue, which is borrowed from the Miata RF 30th Anniversary, was a last-minute complete respray and we have to admit it works like magic!

The handling is also upgraded via custom aero, suspension, wheels and tires

Both the MX-5 Roadster and the RF feature aero parts sourced from a bouquet of JDM aftermarket developers, while having been lowered on the infamous Rays TE37 wheels. Even their mufflers were meant for the RX-8, albeit with these coming from by RE Amemiya.

Of course, the stopping power has also been increased, with those Toyo tires now being tortured by brakes supplied by Endless (yes, this is the Japanese tuner whos 9s S15 Silvia drag car became a stanced ride with a Liberty Walk kit for Auto Finesse UK).

And while Americans love shoehorning V8s into Miatas—stricter emissions rules may ruin that soon—the rotary-swapped MX-5s of Garage-I easily stand out thanks to their shriek. Speaking of which, you can see Japanese outlet Option putting that 250 hp Roadster though its paces in the YouTube video at the bottom of the page.

Oh, and as mentioned in the vid, the shop had also given a Wankel transplant to an ex-gen NC Mazda Miata—apparently, the motivation for building these current-generation cars involved a void of rotary-swapped ND Miatas, and we salute that!



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