While the 800PS Mazda 787B will certainly be the most famous Hiroshima native at the Festival of Speed later this month, this year’s honoured marque has a rich racing heritage that extends far back before the argyle demon won Le Mans in 1991. Here’s a quartet of significant Mazdas that will be be making a rare UK appearance that are not the 787B.
Mazda 757 & 767. Mazda’s first attempt at Le Mans prototypes came with the 1983 717C. Though it achieved a first place finish in the Group C Junior class, even after suffering a series of inopportune tyre blowouts, Mazda was not satisfied with finishing 18th overall, behind an army of top-level Group C racers. The 717C gave way to the 727, which begat the 737, and so on. The 757 was the first to use Mazda’s triple-rotor engine, placing as high as 7th overall. In 1988, Mazda introduced the 767, which added yet another layer onto the rotor sandwich with a four-rotor setup. Sadly, the cars were often beset with mechanical or electrical troubles that dealt Mazda a string of lacklustre finishes. All of this, however, was just growing pains and a prelude to the history-making 787B.
1992 Mazda RX-792P (above). After Mazda’s Le Mans victory in 1991, a rule change ensured the rotary would never compete at Sarthe again. IMSA, however, had no such restriction. The monstrous quad-rotor R26B engine that powered the 787B was given a new home in the RX-792P, designed to take on the GTP (Grand Touring Prototype) class. Sadly, it was plagued with technical maladies and could not compete with the dominant Toyota and Nissan GTP cars, prompting the mothership in Japan to cancel the project at the end of the season. Its sleek body designed reflected elements of the upcoming third-generation RX-7 road car.
1991 Mazda RX-7 GTO (main pic). From the late 70s to the early 90s IMSA was the premiere American road race series, one that incorporated legendary enduros like the 24 Hours of Daytona. Mazda had a habit of testing its new cars in the most brutal races imaginable, so when the RX-7 was introduced in 1979, Mazda took it to Daytona. It immediately won its class, GTU (Grand Touring Under 2.5L).
The car that will be making the hillclimb, however, is (loosely) based on the second-generation RX-7. The outgoing car had already racked up 67 IMSA wins, smashing the Porsche 911’s record of most victories by a single model. This successor, powered by a four-rotor engine, graduated the RX-7 to the GTO (Grand Touring Over 2.5L) class and continued the streak. By the end of the decade, it had captured over 100 IMSA victories and 10 championships, eight of them consecutive, making it one of the most successful cars in the series’ history.
The rotary engine’s success stemmed from its potential for prodigious power relative to its size and weight, but there’s more to it than that. It symbolised the first real departure from the basic design of the car engine since the advent of internal combustion itself. Mazda, a tiny guppy in the auto industry ocean, slayed giants and even today there are hot rodders across America, Australia and Japan that would rather bite off their left arm than use a piston. And on top of it all there’s the sound; a banshee choir emerging from Hades itself! You owe it to yourself to watch these cars run at Goodwood this year. But do bring earplugs.