JCCS 2015: The Ibarra Brothers’ incredible collection of classic Mazda rotaries

136-1572_Mazda RX3

No one that walked through the Japanese Classic Car Show last weekend could have missed the astounding collection of half a dozen classic rotaries parked on the Queen Mary lawn. Each one was more pristine than the next, as if we had jumped a few decades back in time only to land in a Mazda showroom. Turns out, the cars belong to Abel and Elvis Ibarra, brothers who built a legendary rotary racing empire. 

126-JR4052_Mazda RX2

Remember when import drag racing was the thing? Not a thing, but the thing? Long before Americans knew about time attacks, drifting, or the idea that a Mazda could be a classic, the “tuner” scene was entirely about living life a quarter-mile at a time.

150-JR3878_Mazda RX7-FC3S

For those who remember that era, when “imports” — a term used to separate Japanese cars from domestics and Euros — were still trying to prove themselves against V8s at the strip, Abel Ibarra should be a household name. From his Flaco (“skinny” in Spanish) Racing garage, Ibarra quashed all doubts when his tube-framed FD RX-7 made it into the record books for being the first import to break the 7-second barrier. The pro car he began his career in, a Mazda R100, was the first import to be inducted into the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsport Museum.

127-1378_Mazda RX2

In a 2005 interview with Rotary News, Ibarra revealed that his first car was not a rotary, but a Ford Capri. However, after losing several races to a Mazda, Ibarra bought one himself, an RX-2, tuned it, and “made a name for himself on the streets.” Now, after a long and successful career built on the Mazda rotary, it only makes sense that Ibarra would spend the fruits of his labor on a world-class collection of classic Hiroshima steel.

We first saw Abel and his brother Elvis’ RX-2 twins at SevenStock last year. The red one appears stock, but is technically a resto-mod with a turbocharged 13B under the hood. Apparently, the brothers didn’t think the car was clean enough for a restoration, but from where we stand it’s one of the most beautiful and clean RX-2 bodies we’ve seen.

131-1410_Mazda RX2

It’s only when you compare the red car to Elvis Ibarra’s orange RX-2 that you understand what clean enough means to the Ibarras, though. A true little old lady car, it was purchased from the first owner in Reno, Nevada.

According to Elvis, everything is original except for the tires. It even still wears the original license plate frame from Reno Mazda, the dealership that installed its white vinyl roof over 40 years ago. It is flawless in every respect.

132-1415_Mazda RX2

“I want to buy this car for our collection,” said Jeremy Barnes, head of Mazda USA’s PR office. He had wandered over from the official Mazda booth nearby to gaze upon its gorgeous apricot lines. We don’t blame him one bit.

146-1562_Mazda RX7-FC3S

Abel also owns a pair of FC RX-7s,and like the RX-2s, one is a modified and one is bone-dead stock. Abel prefers the cleaner lines of the Series 4 (1986-88) RX-7, and so he built the spoiler-less dark red one as a subtly tuned sleeper. While the earlier 13B turbo has about 20 fewer horses than the later Series 5 motor, we don’t think that’s really be a problem for someone that built a 1,500-horsepower drag RX-8.

On the flip side, Abel’s Series 5 is one of the most incredibly clean FCs we’ve ever seen. It’s an unrestored survivor, right down to the Full Circle Service sticker in the driver’s side window.

149-1411_Mazda RX7-FC3S

Take a peek under the hood to understand just how immaculate it is. The Mazda decal on the air cleaner box is still glossy, the various engine components have the correct amount of luster, and none of the hoses or zinc have lost any of their color. It’s as if it came right off the lot.

135-1569_Mazda RX3

If your jaws aren’t completely dragging on the ground yet, they will be. Ibarra’s RX-3 is perhaps the finest example in the country. All Mazda RX-3s are rare, but the pre-facelift ones are even more so. Because of their lighter weight compared to other early RX models, most RX-3s have been modified or gutted for racing.

Few pristine examples remain, and even fewer with this one’s pièce de résistance — the original Mazda inspection tag! Reading simply “engine OK,” the tag has been stamped with a factory inkan to indicate that the 12A motor passed quality control back in Hiroshima.

118-1377_Mazda RX4wagon

All of the cars so far have been stunning in their impeccability, but for this lover of both RX-4s and wagons, it’s the last one takes the cake, the candles, and all your birthday wishes.

123-1412_Mazda RX4wagon

The story behind it is just as amazing as the car itself. A true barn find, the RX-4 was discovered on a rural estate in Oklahoma (or was it Arkansas? Forgive me, my mind was too busy reeling to remember which state). Anyway, an elderly gentleman bought it, but sadly didn’t get to drive it much before he passed away. His wife then parked it in a barn, threw four car covers over it and let it sit there for decades. Today, it still has only about 14,000 miles on the odometer.

121-1563_Mazda RX4wagon

Among automotive journalists, there’s a game to spot the most ideal combination of obscure but admirable traits no longer found in new cars. Car hipster bingo, if you will. A manual transmission, rear-wheel-drive station wagon with a rotary engine? In this game that’s like owning hotels on both Park Place and Boardwalk.

I had to summon all my willpower not to run off with its rotary-shaped keys, which still retain the color-matched, jewel-like ornamentation around their classic “M” logos. The rear bench seat still had a crisp-as-new folding instruction tag. It was perfection in automotive form.

153-DY1852_Mazda RX2-RX3-RX4-AbelIbarra

We hope more gems like these will be unearthed and cared for, as their presence made this year’s Japanese Classic Car Show one of the most memorable in recent years. In a sense, the Ibarras’ arc from street racer to competitor to professional builder to collector mirrors the maturing of the Japanese car world. We’re just glad they’re not calling them “imports” anymore.

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17 Responses to JCCS 2015: The Ibarra Brothers’ incredible collection of classic Mazda rotaries

  1. Nigel said:

    Too many great Mazda’s just to mention one. That RX-4 wagon !!

  2. Jova said:

    Wow awesome collection. I remember Flaco’s RX2!!

    In Puerto Rico a old man have a Mazda Rotary collection too from R100 to FD RX7. He’s showed all the cars at Plaza Las Americas (a mall in San Juan PR). I got some pictures.

  3. Bob said:

    I *LOVE* the whitewalls on the black steelies with trim rings and center caps.

    I might have to do this on the Celica…

    All of these cars are gorgeous. FB was blowing up with pictures of the trailer full of early RXs on the way to and from the show, haha.

  4. Scotty G said:

    Note to self: purchase drool guard for keyboard at earliest convenience.. Man, now those are my kind of cars, stock (for the most part) and perfect! What a dream it would be to own just one of those cars, I couldn’t imagine owning all of them.

  5. Ryan said:

    Being 10000 kms away this is the only way I can experience it! So thankyou!
    that series 4 RX7 is gorgeous,
    anyone know what that front lip is?

  6. Kelly Greenidge said:

    Anybody know where the Ibarra brothers are from? Reason being is I work with a Jesus Ibarra from the east LA area. He is in his mid 20’s and a Army guy like myself.

  7. Yoda said:

    “ ‘I want to buy this car for our collection,’ said…Mazda.”
    Well, they have the spare cash now that the “why can’t we get Skyactiv-D in the US? VW did it why can’t you?” crowd knows *how* VW did it…

    “A manual transmission, rear-wheel-drive station wagon with a rotary engine?”

    Well, it’s not brown. But the red with white interior plus Starsky-and-Hutchesque white stripes is no slouch.

  8. Brilliant collection and i love these guys just for what they’re doing 🙂

  9. r100guy said:

    All the great RX2s come from “Reno Mazda”

    [IMG]http://pic20.picturetrail.com/VOL1717/10362177/18569276/411685785.jpg[/IMG]

  10. Berny H said:

    Kelly, the Ibarra brothers are from Los Angeles. Ibarra is a common spanish surname amongst hispanics in the USA, and S Cali.

  11. Michael said:

    It must be nice living in a country where these cars still exist, haven’t all been butchered, are probably reasonably priced and aren’t hunted down to only be sold for profit. Lovely coupes, but that wagon needs Jap spec bumpers, even though it would muck with its originality.

    • VincenzoL said:

      Michael, where is this magical place you speak of? Because it’s certainly not the US. Lol. They haven’t been reasonably priced here for at least the last 5 years and in the last 3 years the prices in the US have really skyrocketed. Especially since so many have left the county to Oz, NZ, and Puerto Rico. It’s to the point where anyone selling an old Mazda pretty much expects it to go to an overseas buyer because they know that will bring them top dollar. Any good deals are extremely rare and more often than not the decent cars trade hands among other enthusiasts, never hitting the open market. A lot of times the cars you do see for sale on US sites are the parts cars or the butchered examples.

    • Ben Hsu said:

      They exist, sure, but they’re incredibly rare. That’s why we devoted an entire article to them separate from the rest of the JCCS coverage.

  12. VincenzoL said:

    Wish I could have made it. Such an awesome collection. Never been a big fan of vinyl tops on Japanese cars (or domestics),especially since they were dealer installed, but that Herschel orange coupe with the white top looks like amazing. It really pulls off the look. I’m just in awe that he was able to find such a pristine survivor.

    Great shot of the keys too. It’s one of my favorite details about the old rotary Mazda’s and they are very rare these days, especially with any red resin remaining.

  13. sabin simard said:

    My request is to ask if it’s possible to get larger photos of these beautiful rx2-3-4 . Many thanks for the great coverage.

  14. Daniel Leon said:

    I can’t believe how cool that RX4 is. Loved, really loved all the collection, but that wagon almost brought me to my knees lol. What an amazing time to buy cars the 70’s must’ve been, I would’ve had the hardest time choosing a car, however a wagon like this seems to be the one!!!

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