NEW ZEALAND CLASSIC CAR READERS’ WRITES Rotary Rush I
MAIL: very much enjoyed your August article entitled Rotary Connection about Tim Wood’s superb Mazda RX-3 ( NZ Classic Car, August 2015). Back in the 1970s I owned two Mazda RX-3S — one red, one yellow. Attached is a photograph of our old driveway in Napi
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One minor detail in your article that needs correction is your reference to acknowledged rotary guru Bill Shiells, who first championed the motor-sport cause for these cars in New Zealand. Bill was indeed the first person to rally the rotary Mazda in this country, but not in an RX-3. Bill purchased a Mazda Capella RE coupé (later known as the RX-2) from the first consignment to arrive in 1971, and it was in this car that he toured the country with his wife, Bryden, demonstrating it to eager Mazda dealers. The following year, he entered the 1972 Heatway Rally — the first entry of a ‘chicken cooker’ rotary in a New Zealand rally. Bill’s car was also prominent in the popular GTX circuit-racing series.
The attached photo was taken a couple of years before Bill’s passing in 2007, so here’s something to remember him by. I stopped off to see Bill and Bryden just outside Cambridge, on the way to Auckland, on this occasion driving the Mazda Capella. As I was about to leave I could sense Bill was itching to get behind the wheel, so gave him the keys and let him take it for a solo quick spin around the local country roads. I could hear him winding the engine out through the gears some distance away, when Bryden came out the front door onto the driveway. “Where’s Bill?” she asked, to which I explained he had taken the car. She looked quizzically at me, and asked, “Chris, do you realize how many of these cars Bill has written off doing just this kind of thing?” Suddenly my car seemed very fragile, screaming away in the distance, but Bill brought it back unscathed, and sporting a huge smile! So we posed for this photograph (Bill wearing his customary white shirt), shook hands, and I departed to finish the drive to Auckland. It felt nice that I had made Bill’s day.
You also referred to the RX-3S competing for honours in the B&H [Benson & Hedges] 500 (later the B&H 1000) production saloon car race, but these cars were never eligible for this event. Eligibility for the B&H rested on being New Zealand–assembled, which means only the Mazda RX-2 could compete in this race — Mazda RX-2S were assembled in Otahuhu from 1973 to 1975.
But the RX-3 was certainly a contender in New Zealand rallying for many years. Rod Millen convincingly won the New Zealand rally championship titles in 1975, 1976, and 1977 — a feat which I believe is still a sore point with many Ford fans, whose fancied teams and highly developed BDA Escorts were systematically unravelled year after year trying to catch the flying Millen in his rotary RX-3 rocket ship!