MAZDA RX-7 TRIBUTE
A throng of Mazdas descends on Fuji Speedway to celebrate 40 years of the RX-7, and buoy hopes of the rotary’s return
The sports car that saved the rotary in ’78 celebrates 40th
THE YEAR is 1991. Mazda has just done the unthinkable and snatched victory at the Le Mans 24 hour, embarrassing the favourites Jaguar and Mercedes in a din of quad-rotor cacophony. Later that year, the third generation of its RX-7 would start production, powered by a new sequential twin-turbocharged version of the evergreen 13B, marking the start of one of Mazda’s most successful rotary-powered models to date. It was a good year for the Japanese company’s cult-classic Wankel engine, but it would prove to be the peak of rotary power, and after the RX-7’S successor, the Cotywinning RX-8, went out to pasture in 2012 without producing an heir to the rotary crown, the bloodline of Mazda’s unique engine went cold.
In the shadow of ever-tightening emissions regulations and plagued by reliability problems, the design was shelved in favour of conventional reciprocating engines.
But the spirit of Mazdas past is kept alive by a veracious and dedicated following of fanatics that live, breathe and have even continued to evolve the fundamentally flawed Wankel engine long after its keeper seemingly gave up on the idea.
It’s the reason I hopped in the company’s current sports hero – the MX-5 – and came to the Fuji Speedway for a 40th-anniversary celebration of the RX-7. I want to see if people still live the rotary dream even though its characteristic brap-brap was silenced from production long ago.
Nearly 300 RX-7S have turned out, along with countless other examples of other rotary-powered Mazdas, to brave the oppressive combination of radiating asphalt, strong autumnal sunshine and exhausting humidity. An RX-7 gathering is not like a Harley meet where all owners are cookie-cut from the leather and facial hair casting agency. The first thing that strikes you is the sheer diversity of the crowd. I’m taken aback. Young, old, groups of lads, female drivers and their male passengers, ’80s rocker throwbacks and Harajuku girls; they’re all here.
Then you get to the cars. The carpark is like a tuner’s menu, from low-mileage, near-stock examples, through every level of modification in between, to hyperbolic time-attack cars. I’m drawn to one heavily fettled FD with Lamborghini-style scissor doors, only to find it has been fitted with a twin-turbo quad-rotor that the owner fashioned from the modular casings of 13Bs. Lord only knows who made the eccentric shaft.
RE Amemiya; FC convertibles; three FDS with Porsche 911 headlights; a 20B-powered drag car with a 130mm turbo compressor; every single Bride and Knight Sports upgrade you can imagine and more. Now my head is spinning like a rotor.
I get chatting to Miyoshi-san – the owner of a mirrorwrapped FD. Not that you would recognise it from many angles thanks to the grille and lights of an RX-3, arches that have been fattened like a foie gras goose and air suspension that allows it to practically squat on its chassis.
Miyoshi has driven seven hours and 600km from his workshop in Kurashiki to be here, as if attempting to disband the notion that the rotary can’t be relied on. Although he does concede the sometimes troublesome standard twin-turbo system has been swapped out for a monster single-blower set-up and V-mounted intercooler.
Later, I make the mistake of standing near a Mazda 13B-powered drag car as its owner revs the 1.3-litre, twin-rotor, 900kw, methanol-fuelled RX-7 to the limiter, and the resulting tinnitus is a souvenir I hadn’t planned on bringing home from Japan.
Nearly 300 RX-7S have turned out, along with countless other rotary-powered Mazdas