Fifty years ago, a small car company in Japan took a big risk on a technology that had never been put into a production vehicle. The dual-rotor rotary engine under the hood of the 1968 Mazda Cosmo Sport now listed on eBay was a big step up from the rough-running single-rotor design introduced by Germany’s NSU Motorenwerke in 1964.It proved that automakers wanting a balance of lightweight design and ample horsepower could look to the Wankel engine design—which uses the spinning motion of a rotor to generate power rather than the traditional up-and-down motion of a piston engine.
The 1968 Mazda Cosmo Sport offered in the eBay listing is a member of the first class (or Series I) of Mazda rotary sports cars outfitted with the classic 10A engine. Fewer than 350 were produced. Only a handful of these cars ever made it to American shores, meaning that most enthusiasts have never seen a Cosmo Sport in the flesh.
The Cosmo Sport, which was only available in white until 1970, is gorgeous—but it’s just as appealing from the driver’s seat. With a tachometer that redlines at 9,000 rpm and a low-mass design that encourages you through every corner, the Mazda is one of the rare 1960s-era sports cars that doesn’t disappoint once you take off the rose-colored glasses. The 10A’s 110 horsepower are more than adequate given the Cosmo Sport’s modest size, gearing, and suspension setup. The sound it makes at full throttle is unlike anything offered by its contemporaries.
The interior of the Cosmo Sport mixes serious business with styling cues that remind you why it was Mazda’s very first halo car. There’s a large wooden steering wheel, easy-to-read-gauges, and tastefully appointed seats, albeit with no real adjustments that can be made to customize driving position or comfort. Interior accommodations are tight, but not claustrophobic, and offer a direct connection with the road, the car, and the scenery whizzing by—thanks to generous glass throughout the two-seater’s cockpit.
The Mazda Cosmo Sport kept a much lower profile than other semi-exotic Japanese classics like the Toyota 2000GT, in part because its media appearances were limited to Japan’s Ultraman television series, rather than the use of the Toyota 2000GT as Bond’s getaway car in 1967’s You Only Live Twice.
The particular example now listed on eBay was only recently imported to the United States. Your chances of seeing another one out on the road are next to zero. As a historical artifact, the Cosmo Sport has no peer in Mazda history as it kicked off the brand’s enduring love affair with the Wankel rotary engine and led to strong-selling sports cars like the RX-7. More than that, the Cosmo Sport is one of the few classics that lives up to its hype when you put it on the street and let it run.