Shiel of steel
The story of 1983 AMSCAR winner Terry Shiel’s Mazda RX7, now restored to its former glory.
There were three touring car series in Australia in 1983 – and all three were won by Mazda drivers. Allan Moffat claimed the ATCC, while various RX7 drivers combined to win (jointly with Holden) the Championship of Makes. But before both of those triumphs, Terry Shiel was victorious in the AMSCAR Series at Amaroo Park. AMC spoke to Terry about his title success, of taking on Moffat’s factory RX7s and being a privateer trying to make his way in a category with a famously flexible set of technical rules.
Rice burners. Jap crap. These are the derogatory phrases some used to refer to the Mazda RX7 (and the Bluebird Turbo) when these cars took on the local Holden and Ford V8s in Group C touring car racing in the early 1980s. Some of the hostility no doubt came from anguished Ford fans dealing with the fact that Allan Moffat had done the unthinkable and abandoned Ford to race a Mazda, which ignores the reality that it was Ford which had abandoned Moffat. Looking back today, though, even the harshest critics of the RX7 cannot deny these sleek-lined little coupes were a colourful – and noisy, with that distinctive raspish wail of the rotary engine! – addition to our touring scene in the ’80s.
Not that rotary Mazdas were a new phenomenon in Australian touring car racing: they’d been there since the start of Group C. But with the Bridge Port 12A rotary engine, the Mazda RX3 and early RX7s were no more than competitive under three-litre cars. It wasn’t until Moffat’s exhaustive campaign to get CAMS to allow the more powerful Peripheral Port engine nally succeeded that the RX7 emerged as an outright contender.
Providing a sneak preview of what a Peripheral Port Group C RX7 might be capable of was Mike Griffin’s rotary-powered Datsun 120Y Sports Sedan. The rst run on the dyno for Griffin’s 13B Peripheral Port engine in late ’79 delivered nearly 270 horsepower. Those were promising numbers given the RX7 was more than 200kg lighter than its V8 opposition, and with its sportscar bodystyle it surely must have been more aerodynamically efficient – in terms of cross-section frontal area, the Commodore VC and Falcon XD looked positively Taj Mahal-like compared to the small, low, wedge-shaped RX7.
As Moffat spearheaded the factory Mazda RX7 campaign, the privateer Mazda drivers eagerly eyed off the chance to compete not for class honours but with the big boys at the front of the eld.
One of those was Terry Shiel. The Sydneysider had been a top RX3 runner for a number of years, although by the time the rst RX7s were racing in 1979, Shiel had sold his RX3 and was out of racing. But at Bathurst that year he teamed up with Queenslander Ross Burbidge in the latter’s RX7. “Ross and Steve Ballard built that RX7 from
a new road car,” Shiel says. “It was not competitive. They went back to Queensland, some time passed, and then Allan Moffat got the Peripheral Port engine passed. I saw that as an opportunity to get back into the category. So I bought that car off them, rebuilt it and tted the Peripheral Port engine. I had sponsorship from Penrith Mazda, which really helped.
“Penrith Mazda’s support was crucial because it allowed us to purchase a couple of Racing Beat (a US rotary tuning company) engines and some other Mazda stuff from the US. The Peripheral Port engines made a huge difference but they were expensive. With the rotaries at the time, there was a lot of experimenting going on with bridge ports and extended ports, and there was a lot of heartbreak and disappointment with different con gurations.
“I did some of the engines myself, not all that successfully, and I think Phil Alexander did the one for Bathurst in ’83. Everything was a learning curve for me. And sometimes it could be an expensive learning curve!”
As that learning curve continued, Shiel shared the Penrith Mazda RX7 with Don Holland in an unsuccessful run at Bathurst in ’81. By the following year, Shiel had honed the car into a competitive machine – just in time for the ARDC to ditch the 3.5-litre Better Brakes Amaroo series in favour of a return of the AMSCAR Series for outright machines.
But it was no longer the Penrith Mazda RX7; it was now the Eurocars Mazda RX7.
“The Penrith Mazda deal had nished and I had nothing. But I was very lucky there, because the manager of the Eurocars dealership, Jeff Burling, was out at Amaroo watching at the third round, when Moffat came up with his RX7. It turned out to be a really good battle