The Rolex Motorsports Reunion is typically a high point of Monterey Historic Car Week, but this year a black cloud hung over the festivities. The volunteers that have run Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca since it opened in 1957 is being forced out by the county’s board of supervisors, who are facilitating a takeover by a NASCAR-owned company. Naturally, fans of the track are worried that political pressure and a profit mandate will ruin one of the world’s best road courses. So here, as a reminder to why vintage road racing is so great, is a gallery of the competition J-tin that was there.
We’ve seen most of these cars before, but purpose-built beauty is always worth another glance. Here’s Jim Froula’s hakosuka Skyline tearing up the back straight with the Z-Car Garage IMSA 240Z driven by none other than the legend himself, John Morton.
What is it like to be behind the wheel of a 240Z race car with the man who took took home the SCCA 2.5 championship for Datsun in the BRE 510 at this very course back in 1971? Luckily our friend Alvin Gogineni of Z-Car Garage has a video.
This #54 Datsun 240Z was another IMSA GTU racer from back in the day. At the time it was driven by Glenn Klimek, there are photos of it going head-to-head against the #49 240Z above during the 1980 season.
Ron Reed’s Bon Temps Racing 240Z started its racing life as a de-bumpered snub-nosed Z, but by 1983 it had gained a G-nose and whale tail. It was this later version that was preserved when Troy Ermish restored the car this year, finishing the project just days before it pulled onto the tarmac at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
The Datsun 240Z was a darling of the IMSA series. In 1976 Brad Frisselle won the IMSA GTU championship with the #47 yellow and orange car. Its sleek body was designed by aerodynamics expert Yoshi Suzuki, who would go on to design the legendary Nissan GTP cars of the early 90s. Today, the car puts out about 400hp.
This 1973 Datsun 24oZ was part of the Anheuser Busch Pro Celebrity IMSA GTU races of the 1978-79 seasons. Notably, it was raced by actor James Brolin (father of Josh Brolin).
A gathering of classic racing Datsuns doesn’t happen every day. Each team’s paddocks were spread all over the infield, but we were able to catch all of the cars together in a rare photo op.
Despite all the Datsuns, Mazda is actually the winningest marque in IMSA. Where are all the RX-7s, though? The only one present in Monterey was the GTO FC3S owned by Mazda North America. Both it and the 787 had just returned to US soil after a stint at the Goodwood Festival of Speed.
Jim Froula is founder of Racecraft and has built a number of vintage race cars out of his shop in Woodinville, Washington.
A peek under the hood of his Hakosuka reveals an L28 putting out an astonishing 240 horsepower.
Racecraft also recently did a beautiful job restoring the Bob Leitzinger Datsun 280ZX that competed in IMSA GTU in the early 1980s. It placed as high as second place at Mid-Ohio in 1982.
Ron Carter’s Datsun 2000 roadster is one of the few surviving SRL311s racing with its original frame and chassis. Raced in SCCA from 1969 to 1981, it was then converted to a street car and driven as such for 20 years before it was converted back to a race car to participate in vintage racing events.
Some non-Japanese cars with links to Japan’s racing history could also be found. Built by Trust Racing of GReddy tuning fame, the Nisseki Porsche 962 won the 1987 Norising World Sports Prototype Championship.
Iseki Tractor is an Ehime Prefecture-based manufacturer of farm equipment, but it also sponsored a Porsche 956 built by Trust Racing that finished sixth at the 1985 1000km of Fuji.
The Gozzy Kremer Racing Porsche 935 K3 blew a head gasket and could not finish at Le Mans in 1980, but it is notable for the fact that one of its drivers at Sarthe was Tetsu Ikuzawa. Ikuzawa famously overtook a Porsche 904 with a Prince Skyline 2000GT at the 1964 Japan Grand Prix, a moment that many consider the start of the Skyline legend.
Time for some pit bikes! Here’s a Honda Benly 125 in achingly beautiful Showa Era colors.
We saw this Honda 50cc Mini Trail bike outside the RM Sotheby auction house as we emerged from the kenmeri Skyline GT-R bidfest. Okay, it’s not at the track, but we couldn’t find anywhere else to squeeze it in.
A row of Honda EZ90 Cubs.
One of the coolest bikes we saw was a Honda CT70 in BRE Datsun colors.
While Honda motorcycles ruled the pits, its cars were scarce. The only one we found was a new Acura NSX prototype. While typically shown in dark red, the new supercar looks killer in a classic Honda color, Berlina Black.
Before leaving, we saw a red Z32 300ZX parked beside a beautiful brown Datsun 240Z owned by a JNC reader. Naturally, we gave him some decals.
Sadly, with NASCAR’s subsidiary taking over track management, Mazda’s naming rights for the circuit is uncertain. It may not be known as Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca much longer, but until then Hiroshima’s famous blue-on-white livery will continue to have a strong presence.