EVENTS: 2016 Japanese Classic Car Show, Part 03 — Rotary Power

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Mazda’s official JCCS display was a touching tribute to one of Japan’s late, great racing legends. And if Yoshimi Katayama was looking down from the afterlife, he surely would have been beaming over the private entries as well. There were some familiar faces, but many new ones too. 

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Perhaps most stunning was Enrique Viramontes’s Mazda RX-3, one of the finest examples we have ever laid eyes on. Bone stock down to the hubcaps, it’s emblematic of the Seventies, complete with decal package and white vinyl roof to match the jaw-droppingly original interior. Mazda RX-3s are difficult enough to find in any condition; an unmolested time capsule like this is like spotting Bigfoot riding a unicorn. Needless to say, it was one of our favorites.

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Nearby, a phalanx of FC3S Mazda RX-7s was subtly indicative of the evolution of Japanese cars. Only a few years ago, these turbo rotaries would have been decked out in every aero accoutrement known to humankind. These days, subdued mods — wheels, a slight lowering and a bolt-on exhaust — on an extremely clean body is the way to go.

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It’s hard enough to find one 1977 Mazda RX-3 SP in good condition. Jose Vasquez somehow found two and bought them both. The American-market special editions are quite rare, and uniquely blend Hiroshima power with disco era stylings of the west. Many parts have proven tough to find, which explains the different air dams and side window louver presence. You won’t find these in Japan, or anywhere else in the world, so it’s good to see them being cared for.

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In contrast to the survivors, Bob Vargas Jr clearly spent considerable effort restoring his 1978 RX-3. When JCCS first started, a post-5 mph bumper car such as this would have been a prime candidate for a resto mod, but now the stock 12A is retained even though a 13B would have been tempting, and the large safety bumpers kept. Ground Control coilovers and de-arched leaf springs help give the car a meaner stance on gold Enkei 92s.

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Of course, cars built before the current shift towards originality made a fine showing as well. Angelo Angeles’s 1973 RX-3 is the epitome of an early underground drag racer, long before Fast & Furious hyped the scene. The street-ported 13B underhood is said to generate over 500 horsepower on 19 pounds of boost on E-85 fuel. Trick parts abound, including a GSL-SE suspension lurking beneath and a 4:88 LSD.

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As one of the most famous rotaries in the US, Savant Young’s RX-3 needs no introduction. Built over a span of 15 years of ownership, it’s a superb example of the restomod style, but you don’t have to take our word for it.

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In the mix were also a pair of Touge California survivors, the beautiful 1974 RX-4 hardtop of Armando Licon and the 1971 Mazda RX-2 of Albert Medrano, the founder of Cyber Racing who became one of the first 11-second Hondas in the heyday of import drag racing. Despite our best efforts over eight hours of constant driving, both cars finished the event and cleaned up beautifully for what our rallymaster would call “parking on grass”.

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Deja vu? No, this is another pair of silver RX-4 and black RX-2. Ken Bone is a BMW collector who has crossed over to the J-tin dark side with his more-than-meets-the-eye RX-4. Kelvin Chung’s 1973 RX-2 is another Touge California veteran, his bridge-ported 13B conquering 200 miles of treacherous mountain passes with aplomb.

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A line of crimson RX-7s was unmissable, with Kenneth Seho’s 1988 convertible serving as a daily driver for what must be the world’s funnest commute. Meanwhile, Bryan Ramirez’s 1983 SA22 was a gorgeous example of what a Japanese shakotan first-gen should be, complete with askew shotgun exhaust, slit spoiler and IMSA-inspired aftermarket wing.

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Further afield, a beautiful, stock, range-topping GSL-SE gleamed. As the ultimate expression of the first-gen RX-7 chassis in the US, well-preserved specimen such as this will only get more valuable. It helps that it’s finished in a rare color too, which is apparently called Ocean Blue Metallic.

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Soon we came upon yet another stock-bodied red convertible. A beautiful example of an original that somehow survived for decades unscathed, it has been fitted with a set of Hasemi Motor Sport S5. The rare, period correct wheels hail from the Japanese era in which complete English-ish sentences were often written across aftermarket parts. In this case, the message is not “Spirit of Speed, but “Spirit on Speed”.

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Lastly, we were happy to be reunited with the pair of Mazda Familia Rotary Coupés which we saw running at the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion last month. The full history of these FIA-approved race cars can be linked directly to Mazda’s international motorsports program, which culminated in the historic Le Mans win of the 787B. Perhaps equally stirring, though, is the efforts it has taken to create these cars, all stemming from the childhood dream of one Dr Hitoshi Kato.

We were beyond honored when Hiro Auto’s Koji Hiraguchi, who helped build the cars, applied the JNC Shōnin decals on these cars that have traveled from Japan to Spa-Francorchamps to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca to Long Beach, and that are now on a boat back to Japan for the Motorsports Festival in Tokyo. Needless to say, it was the highlight of the day for us.

To be continued…

We’ll have more 2016 JCCS coverage coming soon. In the meantime, in case you missed it, check out Part 01—Movin’ On Up, and Part 02—Skyline City.

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8 Responses to EVENTS: 2016 Japanese Classic Car Show, Part 03 — Rotary Power

  1. Nigel said:

    Need to get to JCCS again soon !

  2. r100guy said:

    Full hub caps on a Rx3 coupe? Lets see some trims rings, mini caps and blackball tires on the coupe for the proper look. Easy fix, the car deserves it. Full hub caps/white wall tires found on the sedan and wagon.

    • Jim said:

      They’re also “Series 2” RX-2 Sedan hubcaps (or Capella Sedan, can’t see if the centre is rotary shaped or just circle), at least in Aus. So agreed, trim rings and centre caps FTW.

      • Dutch 1960 said:

        And paint the door window frames charcoal black. Body color window frames on a coupe are a Datsun & Toyota thing. Would love to see an engine room shot of that car.

  3. Brett said:

    Rotary heaven; love it.

    You realise I will now waste the rest of the day hunting around the web looking for another one to buy.

  4. Ryan said:

    So good to see an increase of stock FC’s around, I was starting to think they were all gone 😢

  5. Scotty G said:

    Oh boy, Enrique Viramontes’s RX-3 is drop-dead gorgeous! I’m all over a bone-stock vehicle and this one is as good as it gets.

  6. Bill A said:

    Just because I’m geeky that way, the beautiful SA22 GSL-SE shown here is Ocean Blue, not Tender Blue.

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