While Mazda’s most famous rotary-powered racer is undoubtedly the 787B Group C prototype that won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1991, the company spent years fielding the RX-7 in every motorsport event it could qualify for.
Back when the 787 was little more than a twinkle in Nigel Stroud’s eye, Mazda already had RX-based cars running the world’s oldest endurance race. Among these vehicles was the 254i, which served as the culmination of Mazda’s efforts in Le Mans up until 1982 (and was the final RX-7 to run the event). While it didn’t win, it proved that Japan could compete and served as a jumping-off point for the company’s more successful Group C cars.
Unfortunately, it’s customary for race vehicles that don’t manage to take home a trophy to become lost in the sands of time. The two 254i race cars Mazda built were no different — or so it seemed, until the last surviving example resurfaced.
According to Japanese Nostalgic Cars, the No. 83 car has been located and is currently in the process of being restored by PowerCraft in Japan. Following a DNF in Le Mans, it went on to compete in the 6 Hours of Fuji (called Fuji 1000 KM at the time) before disappearing. Then, after 35 years of nothing, the car was discovered in the western prefecture of Okayama in 2018.
From Japanese Nostalgic Cars:
It was confirmed by Tachimoto-san, the chief mechanic at Mazdaspeed at the time of the 254i, to be the No. 83 car due to its brake system and rear suspension. He also confirmed that cash-strapped Mazdaspeed at the time simply reused a predecessor 253i chassis with new bodywork to create this car.
Isami Amemiya, head of Japan’s most famous Mazda tuning house, took a bullet train to Okayama to see the car in person. He accompanied it as it was loaded onto a flatbed and shipped to PowerCraft, a specialty shop in Gotemba, Shizuoka that specializes in composites. There, the bodywork will be restored, while Amemiya will build the car’s 13B rotary engine.
Though it ran just a dual-rotor 13B, output was estimated at about 300PS (296 horsepower), with the car weighing approximately 2,125 pounds at the time. Underneath the aero work, one can still see the stock RX-7 doors.
After examining the vehicle, it was discovered that the car had a more robust career than initially presumed. Traces of gold and pink paint confirmed that the vehicle did time as the No. 38 JUN car that continued running the All Japan Sports Prototype Championship. Unfortunately, its sister car, the No. 82 that placed 14th at Le Mans, was destroyed during a crash at Fuji Speedway during this same period. That left the surviving 254i as the only Group 5 Mazda still kicking and an important piece of the company’s history.