Mazda is celebrating its 100th anniversary as a company although they did not start manufacturing automobiles until 1960. Covid has hampered any festivities for this young, small and highly ambitious car company. As early as 1970, they began challenging the ultimate 24 Hours of Le Mans by placing the 10A rotary engine from their R100 coupe in a Chevron B16 chassis. When the Rx7 debuted in 1979, it was immediately found at La Sarthe but failed to qualify for the last or 55th spot even with the factory backing of Mazdaspeed. The factory would not see some semblance of victory until 1982 when significant aerodynamic bodywork additions to the road going Rx7 body along with the 13B engine with direct injection and 320 bhp allowed them to qualify 50th and 53rd. But at nearly 1000kg, they were too heavy to compete on speed but were ready to play the rotary reliability card.
#82 was driven by Canadian/Australian driver Allan Moffat and codrivers Yojiro Terada and Takahashi Yorino. They managed to finish the race in 14th position outright and 6th in the highly competitive GTX class. The Rx7 finished ahead of a BMW M1 and a 5.7L V8 Camaro with 600 bhp. Finishing at Le Mans is considered its own victory when only 18 cars out of the original 55 finished at all in 1982. Unfortunately #83 had engine failure on the Mulsanne Straight just before dawn after both cars ran magnificently and #83 had risen to 8th position overall. This would be the last appearance of the Rx7 at Le Mans. Stripping a road going car was not going to work, a dedicated race build competing in the top prototype category lay in Mazda’s future. I need not remind you culminating in the outright win with the 787B in 1991 – the first win by a non Western country and by a non piston engined car.
The cars seemingly disappeared off the face of the Earth for the next 35 years. Until February 2019 when #83 was discovered in Okayama by none other than Isami Amemiya, owner of legendary rotary tuning house RE Amemiya. It was ultimately purchased by his friend Masachito Ito who ran a carbon composite and exhaust manufacturing firm. Masachito stripped and restored the body with plans to replicate the bolt on aero bodywork while Amemiya attended to the engine – both with an eye to preserving authenticity of period parts in order to allow the car to run in future Le Mans Classic races.
Shakedown is expected to take place in the Spring of 2021!