A throng of Maz­das de­scends on Fuji Speed­way to cel­e­brate 40 years of the RX-7, and buoy hopes of the rotary’s re­turn

Wheels (Australia) - - Contents -

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

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