People often associate Mazda's Le Mans efforts with its high-intensity Group C cars. That makes sense—Mazda won the race overall in 1991 with its rotary-powered 787B. But mid-engine prototypes weren't the only cars Mazda raced at Le Mans.
Mazda entered two RX-7-based race cars, dubbed 254i, in the 1982 24 Hours of Le Mans. Sporting a unique fixed-headlight fascia, massive box flares and side sills, an elongated rear end and a massive squared-off wing, the design was unlike anything else in the field. And thanks to a 13B two-rotor engine under the hood, these cars sounded totally unique.
According to , the first car, No. 82, was driven by Yojiro Terada, Allan Mofatt and Takashi Yorino. It finished in 14th place, right behind the Porsche 934 of Richard Cleare Racing. The No. 83 car, driven by Tom Walkinshaw, Chuck Nicholson and Peter Lovett, suffered a less fortunate fate, retiring after 180 laps. The car you see here is the No. 83. If you want an idea of how the cars looked and sounded in-period, this 30-minute Japanese-language documentary has plenty of footage:
In 1982, the FIA introduced the Group C prototype class. Mazda turned away from its front-engined 254i and put all its efforts into the 717C, which debuted in 1983. The company continued to focus its Le Mans efforts in the Group C class, eventually taking overall victory in 1991.
But back to the front-engine racers. After its Le Mans appearance, the No. 82 254i was destroyed in a crash, according to . No. 83 went on to race the Fuju 1000KM in 1984. After that, it fell off the radar, never to be seen again—until now, that is. It was recently discovered in Okayama, Japan, and is now being restored at , a shop located about an hour southwest of Tokyo. The car seems to have been featured in a magazine recently:
We're excited to see how this important piece of Mazda's history will look once it's been restored. Sure, it might not be as legendary as the 787B, but it's still hugely significant, as it paved the way for Mazda's future in endurance racing.