Kenichi Yamamoto, the father of Mazda's rotary engine who later became the boss of the company, has died at the age of 95.
As Japanese classic car enthusiast website Japanese Nostalgic Car recounts, Yamamoto lived an incredible life. Born in 1922, Yamamoto entered adulthood in the midst of World War II. He earned his degree in mechanical engineering in 1944 and began working for the Kawanishi Aircraft Company. In 1945, he was recruited by the Japanese navy just before the end of the war. Afterward, he returned to his hometown of Hiroshima, which was all but completely obliterated by the atomic bomb. He lost his sister in the attack, but his mother survived and needed him to take care of her.
Yamamoto found work at Toyo Kogyo, the parent company for Mazda at the time, assembling transmissions and differentials for its three-wheeled trucks. After finding blueprints for the parts he was building, he began to check their tolerances, acting as his own quality control. This extra care was noticed by management, landing him a job in the engineering department. He climbed the ranks to become deputy manager of Engine and Vehicle Design by 1959. In that role, he oversaw development of the Mazda K360 and R360 trucks, as well as the company’s first passenger car. But it was his work on the rotary engine that would cement his legacy at Mazda.
Yamamoto and 46 other engineers and designers were hand-picked for the Rotary Engine Research Division. Though the rotary engine was first conceived by Felix Wankel, The Rotary Engine Research division spent years perfecting the rotary engine to as we know today.