Hiroshima’s Toyo Kogyo Cork company was founded in 1920, but it didn’t build its first car – under the Mazda name, in tribute to founder Jujiro Matsuda as well as the Zoroastrian god – until 1960. The company soon became known for being forward looking, and its experiments in rotary engine technology, with the RX-7 its best known and biggest-selling exponent of the type, and one of the few cars to ever make the Wankel work well.
It was also applauded for the introduction of the MX-5 in 1989, which represented no less than the reinvention of the small sports car. After operating in a partnership since 1979, Ford acquired a controlling stake in 1997, leading to several joint projects and shared resources. Despite this Mazda maintains an admirable spirit of independence, even though it built its last rotary engined car in 2011.