Former boss died at 95.
Kenichi Yamamoto, the engineer credited as the father of Mazda’s rotary engine program, has died at the age of 95. Born in Hiroshima, Japan, in 1922 he graduated from Tokyo Imperial University in 1944, and returned to his home city right after the end of World War II, only to find his home completely destroyed and his younger sister dead.
To help his family and build his life, he started a work at a local truck company, Toyo Kogyo, one of the few manufacturers to survive the bombing of Hiroshima. In only two years, he was promoted from a factory worker to management and started a project for a new engine, set to power a new small three-wheel truck with a Mazda badge.
In the next couple of years, Yamamoto was promoted to lead a team of Mazda engineers, which worked on a family of rotary engines. In 1964, the Japanese automaker presented one of its most important models in its whole history – the Cosmo Sport, powered by a twin-rotor engine. The vehicle was used by Yamamoto to convince the Japan's Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) that Mazda is an important manufacturer for the country and has to continue its existence. As a result, the Cosmo Sport finally reached production in 1967 and became the first production vehicle in the world with twin-rotor power.
As rotary engines were becoming the fundamental power for Mazda models during the 1970s, Yamamoto rose up the brand’s ranks and was named head of research and development late in the same decade. He became president of Mazda in 1985 and chairman two years later. Under his leadership, the automaker also recorded its greatest motorsport triumph, the LeMans victory in 1991. A year later, he retired from the company.