Legendary mechanical engineer Kenichi Yamamoto died on Dec. 20 near Tokyo at the age of 95. Yamamoto led the engineering team at Mazda that produced a commercially viable rotary engine in the 1960s – the rotary-powered Cosmo coupe debuted at the Tokyo Motor Show in 1963.
In the 1970s his focus increasing the fuel efficiency of rotary engines helped sales of the Mazda RX-7 skyrocket. He later became president and chairman of the Japanese automobile manufacturer. And in 1985 as company president, Yamamoto recommended that the board approve production of a new lightweight two-seater sports car, resulting in the birth of the Mazda Miata.