Cutout of a rotary engine.
The 1978 Mazda 323.
Mazda is no stranger to unconventianal thinking as proven by its long running rotary engines.
The Skyactiv-X promises a massive leap forward for petrol engines.

THE first Japanese car my father bought was the Mazda 323 and the year was 1978. Before that, we ran around in an orange Volkswagen Beetle.

The twice-yearly drive to Johor from Penang and Kedah in an air-cooled Beetle with no air-conditioning and no highways was memorable, but boy, I was glad to see the 323.

Since then, Mazda has had a special spot in my heart and when I learnt about how they doggedly pursued the rotary engine, they gained not just my admiration, but also my respect.

Mazda never became a huge company like Nissan, Toyota or Honda; it remained as a mid-sized car company, sometimes hitching on to other bigger companies to share costs and keep up with the pace of life.

Today, Mazda remains as one of the more interesting Japanese carmakers, producing some of the best looking cars on the road.

Of late, we know that it has gone out on its own and produced one of the earliest versions of the Miller-cycle engines that improves efficiency without sacrificing performance.

The Miller-cycle engines are basically very high compression petrol engines, pushing the boundary of technology because the system requires extremely precise fuel management system and for the system to deliver fuel in several stages during the induction and compression cycle to produce a very lean and uniformed charge.

So what has the Miller cycle got to do with classic cars?

Well, nothing really, but what I want to talk about today is the internal combustion engine and how it may be on the verge of extinction with the rapid pace of battery technology and autonomous vehicles.

Mazda stepped in this week to extend the life of the conventional petrol engine with some unconventional thinking.

It announced that it has cracked a very difficult code, producing a compression ignition petrol engine with a technology it called Skyactiv X.

If nothing else, it proves that silly names are s not a hindrance to quick technological progress.

Daimler announced its intent for building what it called the “Diesotto” engine more than a decade ago and as far as most people can understand from the explanation, the engine would rely on spark ignition at times and run on compression ignition under certain circumstances.

Diesel engines are good at producing low-end torque and they are also fuel misers, whereas petrol engines are high revving and have faster responses. Now, imagine an engine that combines all these characteristics.

No details were released but technologists speculate that the system must have some sort of variable compression technology to allow for selective compression ignition and some think that this would be achieved through a system of adjustable offset crankshaft.

Mazda has not released details of the engine other than the fact that it will hit the market some time in 2019, which means that it has successfully brought the technology to market maturity and is right now running endurance ad validation tests to sniff out any bugs or potential glitches while refining the production process.

So why should we care about this new engine technology?

Firstly, if you are a true motorhead, you wouldn’t even ask the question but if you are asking, then it’s because this new technology will probably see the petrol engine enjoy a massive leap in efficiency.

Mazda claims a leap of between 20 and 30 per cent, which is as good as saying you get an extra one-third tank of fuel every time you fill it to the top. That is simply a staggering claim.

This may mark the decline of diesel engine sales and trigger a research and development boost as other companies try to come up with similar technologies to compete.

The net effect is that petrol engines may enjoy a few extra decades of use before electric motors take over. Why? Because electric technology is supposed to help us save the environment but if the current petrol engines can be super clean and efficient, they are likely to remain as the main choice because we are familiar with them. Besides, who doesn’t want a petrol car that can travel over 1,000km on a single tank of fuel?

Which means that people who love classic cars will also get an extension of the petrol era and we should use this extra time wisely. Start collecting.

But, why do I bother? You guys are classic car fans and you collect anyway.

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