The Lands Down Under, Australia and New Zealand,
are filled with wide open spaces, natural wonders, crystal clear waters,
and Rotorheads! To Americans, Australians and their cousins New Zealanders
appear a little eccentric. Imports like Yahoo Serious (Young Einstein),
Paul Hogan (Crocodile Dundee), Men At Work (Down Under) make us up north
wonder if that hole in the ozone has scrambled the brains down there. One
thing is sure, Australians and New Zealanders have a unique tastes.
Conduct a quick search on the internet for
"Rotary Engine", "Mazda RX-7"(or RX-5, RX-4, RX-3, RX-2, R100,) "Cosmo"," 3 Rotor," or any other combination that will get results pertaining to this engine. The results of this search will contain a surprising number of URLs from down under. In the access logs of this server even, Australian based hits are
the second most frequently loged domain (.au), behind the US (.com, .net,
.org, .edu) and nearly three times more as many hits than Japan. So what
is the deal? I had the opportunity to talk with Bob Bilton and David Morris
about all things Rotary in Australian and New Zealand.
Bob Bilton, from Auckland NZ, worked for
Mazda for Many years. "In the years I worked with Mazda I found them a
great family to belong to, superb engineers but without marketing skills."
Today he has his own business as a marketing consultant and he also teaches
marketing part-time at the University of Auckland.
Dave Morris, from Sydney AU, has been
studying the Wankel Rotary since 1985. "Through extensive research,
personal interviews and hands-on experience, [David] has aquired the
most comprehensive information on all the world's rotary engine
machinery within Australia." Dave incorporated DMRH Special Vehicles after
writing about the rotary (freelance journalism) and watching others
try (in the wrond directions) to get these cars the reputation they
deserved. In addition, DMRH (David Morris Rotary Historian). "DMRH has
freelance contracted itself to various magazines throughout
Australasia and has experience with professional video production
xscrxipting. (Re: Motoring videos)
I have had a few Australian friends over
the years, exchange students in high school, and class mates in college,
but none of them were Rotorheads. They did, however, know about the rotary,
and loved the Mazda RX series. The opportunity these two gentelmen
presented me to ask about the rotary and Australia/New Zealand is unique.
I want to start by explaining the Australian
and New Zealand situation the way it was explained to me. Australia is
much further away from New Zealand than many Northern Hemisphere people
tend to perceive, as Bob explains. There is 1500 miles of wide, deep, wild
ocean between Australia and New Zealand. "We are Boston to their L.A.,
Oregon State to their Florida, the Rockies to their [Appalachians]."
Australia is a much bigger market, much more protected than New
Zealand. Due to this, Australia has a manufacturing industry to
protect and tegulate imports down to thess than 1% of the total
sales market (Industry Figures 1998). New Zealand gave up this
protection of their industry after years of trying to make their
unique situation work. Both Mazda Australia and New Zealand
used racing to promote Rotaries to a wider audience than the
racing buffs, so they have a large pool of enthusiasm as well.
In addition they have long distances to cover
where the rotary shines at ideal rpm, smooth and quiet. But Australia with
its image of the outback is in reality an urban country with the population
concentrated in the larger cities of Sydney,Perth, Brisbane, and Melbourne.
Bob explains: "I know that the proportion of rotaries sold to city dwellers
in Australia [is] much higher than in NZ. Rural vehicle[s] in Australia
are large cars or diesel four wheel drives as their long distance driving
is over flat straight roads demands comfort."
With all the websites out there, such as
3rotor.com you would think the whole
population of the down under were driving rotaries. In fact, they do drive
different cars than the US Detroit Irons. The styling of Aussie cars is
predominately influenced by Japan with very few American cars on the roads.
Dave comments "the European flavor denotes luxury and style. Cheapies are
associated with car companies from Korea and Maylasia." This is really
no shock, as Australia is a commonwealth of the United Kingdom. When asked,
Dave and Bob responded with the following:
"Australian's have always liked the "UnderDog" and that is what the rotary
is. As well as this, by nature there is always a certain percentage of
people that like to be different to the rest so that caters for some more
popularity. These cars provide cheap "Bang for your bucks" when compared
to some other types of engines & the noise sounds "Oh-so-sweet". Another
possability is that due to cars being more expensive here than in the US
(1995 RX-7, US=$35000, Aussie=$80000), we tend to keep them longer than
you guys would. As a result, RX-2's 3's 4's 5's etc manage to last on the
roads until the younger guys could get a hold of them & preserve them
with there attention to detail & modifications."
Zealand is an under populated (less than 4 million people) strip of islands
with extremely varied geography, containing some very good driving roads.
There are plenty of opportunities to stretch the rotary's legs on fast
and flowing rural roads. For example there is a wonderful high country
road near my hometown in the South Island highcountry, where it is possible
to maintain speeds more than 100 mph for extended periods because the traffic
is so light. The highway flows between the foothills under the shadow of
a mountain range, plenty of forward vision, very little other traffic.
Such roads provide opportunities to explore the rotary engines most favourable
characteristics and leaves the drivers trembling with excitement.
Dave can vouch for that. "New Zealand's
rural roads are excellent fot this thing. New Zealand is an
agricultrual country. While there is huge agriculture in Australia,
per captia, New Zealand is much more rural."
earned a wonderful reputation for the B-series trucks among the farming
community. The B1600 was capable of idling is 1st gear across farm fields
while the farmer feed his livestock hay while walking alongside or standing
on the rear tray. No other small truck would do this. They all required
a driver as well as someone to toss the feed to the animals. This quirk
provided Mazda with a strong rural base. This proved important for the
rotary, for people who drove on open roads were better able to appreciate
the rotary than urban dwellers who found the hesitant pickup from a trailing
throttle and thirst for fuel much more obvious Through this quirk, Mazda
developed a reputation for mechanical superiority.
Another unusual feature of the NZ car driver
is a high mechanical aptitude. Cars remained in short supply in NZ
from WW2 until 1985. We had no alternative but to keep old cars
running. Most of us spent our youth fixing the worn out cars, the only
ones we could afford. Scratch most motor-racing team's teams around
the world and you'll find New Zealanders handling wrenches - that is
one by-product of this circumstance. Another was an immediate
fascination with the concept of the rotary engine. We did not need
clever commercials that said the rotary goes Hummmmm when other
engines go Boing Boing.
Zealanders accepted the lovely mechanical simplicity of the rotary concept.
Many of the first rotaries to arrive in NZ where stripped down so interested
people and dealers staff could become familiar with their workings.
Because of this background, and good publicity
on rotaries coming from the USA I might add, we [sold]l all the rotaries
we could get until the first oil crisis... then we could not give them
In America, Rotaries never really caught
on. Save the few die hard Rotorheads. But down under, the rest of the world's
perception is they have so many different veriaties of Rotaries, they are
almost as common as the every day Mazdas. The Eunos Cosmo, (yes the one
with the 3 rotor 20B monster Rotary Engine) and a whole slew of other rotaries
have showed up on webpages. We never got these models up here in the States,
for that matter, most had never heard of a Cosmo before 3rotor.com. Dave
explains the real situation of rotary cars in Australia.
The US has it better than [Australia], believe me. You guys got extra versions
of the RX-3 and RX-4 such as the wagon plus the series III RX-4 (1976-1978).
You also got the Rotary Pickup [REPU]. We never got the HB (82-88) or the
JC (90-95) rotary version Cosmo's officially. They have all been privately
imported.I started up my business and I am trying to get as many [imported]
as customers will pay for.
Japan is a "throw away" society. They have
NO appreciation for the "different" rotaries such as the Cosmo & Luce
series. They will preserve the RX-7, but only when numbers have depleted
to a stage that there price soars. This is only just starting to happen
for the "series-I" RX-7 of 78-80.
So, Japan is the only place on the planet
that the 3 rotor 20B powered Cosmo was sold out of the dealer. The Right
Hand Drive, and comparatively lax import laws made it easier to import
a Cosmo and other Rotaries into Australia. The US has quite strict import
laws, not only would a Cosmo need to be crash tested, but it would also
need to be EPA certified for emmisions, and to top it all off, the stering
would need to be relocated onto the left hand side. For these reasons,
Australia has more Cosmos, Luces, and other varities of Mazda Rotaries
than here in the US. However, all of them were imported, so the number
is significantly less than if they were to be sold at Mazda dealerships.
New Zealand does not impose any unique regulations
on motor vehicles. They accept the Japanese standards for safety and exhaust
emission specifications, so no car is barred from entry to NZ. New Zealanders
are generally early adoptors of technology. From microwave ovens to computers,
cellphones and rotary engines we have a history of quickly adopting new
technology. So then why is the Rotary not sold at Mazda Dealers?
Bob, who was a marketing manager for Mazda
showed that the rotary was loved by a few, but the fall in demand had killed
the used car value, so the rotary lovers could not justify the trade-in
gap when they came to buy. Amplifying the difference was a penalty sales
tax that the government imposed on gas guzzlers to lower the demand for
we had address the used rotary situation to have any chance to improve
the ability to sell new rotary powered cars. More research indicated that
in spite of the pervading gloom surrounding driving in general there was
a group of people who loved to drive and that these people were used car
buyers. In addition the motor trade in general were relunctant to trade
used rotary engined cars.
impove the credibility for rotaries within the trade and to develop a positive
image for the rotary as an affordable performance car, Mazda New Zealand
turned to a young man called Rod Millen, who was enjoying some success
with an RX3 rally car. We put together a Mazda Dealer Rally team to challenge
for the New Zealand championship. Rallying is a high profile sport in New
Zealand, our country roads made ideal rally roads and huge crowds turn
out to spectate at major events. Also TV coverage was very good. Using
an RX-3 he developed without help from the factory Millen won the NZ Rally
Championship three years in a row. This was an amazing result as the prime
competition was a partially Ford factory backed team using the Ford Escort
rally car which was the World Champion at the time. This David verses Goliath
act was backed up with intense promotions to the used car trade.
did not take long for the demand for used rotaries picked up and we began
moving our constipated inventory of new cars. During the second year we
sent our service manager to England to inspect their inventory of unsold
RX3s with the view of replenishing stock, but unfortunately the condition
of the cars was not acceptable. After 3 years we had lifted demand for
used rotaries to the extent that the ratio of used to new price was the
highest in the world according to Hiroshima.
a result I was asked to make many presentations of our program to Mazda
distributors around the world and Rod Millen was tempted to rally in the
USA. Although Rod and I still maintain contact, the last worked together
was when I played a role with him the Mazda Asia Pacific Rally Team during
1979-82, but of course he is now aligned with Toyota.
manufacturer marketing is aimed at new car sales or brand awareness but.
Mazda NZ drilled down to all levels of the auto market to enhance the confidence
in rotaries while simaltaneously promoting to those segments of new and
used car market with a preference for performance. This left a lasting
positive percepetion of rotaries.
1984 car shortages have become a thing of the past. New Zealand has adopted
radical economic free market policies. Nowadays we may well have one of
the most open markets in the world, similar to Hong Kong and Singapore.
The NZ car market has become completely deregulated. Car assembly plants
that were once protected by tariffs and licensing have all been closed.
All our new cars are imported fully assembled and every manufacturer who
exports is represented here.
is also freedom to import used cars - so many of our used cars come from
Japan (steering wheels on the same side helps here) which is why we see
the odd Cosmos 20B on the roads. Used car values are very low because it
is cheaper to import a car from Japan than it is to buy trade-ins. Over
120,000 used cars from other countries arrive here annually. We enjoy auto
auto industry is hard pressed to cope with the huge variety of models,
especially rare models such as Cosmo because the electronics require special
diagonosis and the handbooks are all in Japanese! Once again the skills
and innovations of NZ auto service people are being tested, so I think
we shall continue to be a breeding ground for race mechanics for many years
Today, Mazda New Zealand not sold new RX7s
for some years now because the demand is being met with used cars at a
fraction of the price, so we can still see plenty of evidence of rotary
enthusiasm on the streets. There are some beautifully maintained RX3s and
RX7s about, there is a special racing classes for the original RX7s. So
the rotary has a firm reputation as being a big bang for the buck.
The future does look bright for Rotorheads
in the lands down under, and the rest of the world for that matter, with
the new RX-EVOLV concept and the Renesis Rotary Engine. Mazda says a new
Rotary engine car is on the way. They are pumping resources into development
and engineering for the Renesis and the RX-EVOLV. Hopefully, people all
over the world will be able to enjoy the new engine, in a smartly styled
I would like to thank Dave Morris and Bob Bilton for all the wonderful
information they provided. This story could not have taken off the ground
without their help. Also thanks to Lance Warren for 3rotor.com
ROTOR.COM belongs to Lance Warren.
All images in the story are
courtesy of Dave Morris