Now in its second year, Automobile Council gives car companies a chance to flex their heritage a bit. Some seized the opportunity better than others, but none came out with more guns blazing than Mazda.
In my opinion, it was hands down the best booth of the show. Hiroshima’s pride and effort was on full display with some of the most priceless pieces of Nihon steel to be found anywhere, and a beautiful exhibit that looked more like a museum gallery than a car show booth.
First and foremost, Mazda was celebrating 50 years of the rotary engine. In one corner sat a pair of Mazda Familia Rotary Coupés, known in the US as the R100, one stock and one for racing. Behind them, a set of tastefully arranged photos documented when the cars were shipped overseas to compete in some of the world’s most epic endurance races.
The contrast between the bone stock and the race machine was stark, but the message was clear. Mazda fearlessly rode its brand new rotary engines into battle, some of which would last for days, as a declaration of their technological prowess.
While the original race cars are lost to history, the displayed warhorse was a dead faithful replica created by Dr Hitoshi Kato. Inspired by seeing the cars challenge much larger sports cars in his youth, it was his life-long dream to build such a car. In fact, he built two. There is perhaps no one on Earth more knowledgable than Kato-san on these cars.
We were both stoked and honored to find our JNC Shōnin decal in the race car’s window!
The 50th anniversary celebration continued with a lineup of three rotary icons representing the birth, growth and success of Mazda’s pistonless engine.
A 1967 L10A Cosmo Sport marked the dawn of Mazda’s rotary age, the first production car to be powered by dual rotors, which Hiroshima’s engineers found to be the optimal configuration.
Next came the SA22 Savanna RX-7, which would become one of the best selling sports cars of all time. It was also a hugely successful competition machine, winning its class at the 24 Hours of Daytona in its debut race and dozens of IMSA contests afterwards. Note that the Japanese version came with a second set of fabulously plaid seats. for a 2+2 layout. Finished in Mach Green, it was a brilliant example of Mazda’s halo car a the time.
Lastly, Mazda showed off a 787B — the 787B, in fact, that won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1991. This is, of course, one of the most valuable cars in Mazda’s collection, rarely taken out of its home at the Mazda museum in Hiroshima. It is a privilege to see this car in person.
Mazda, however, wasn’t done with the priceless artifacts yet. Also on display was one of the original Cosmo Sport prototypes, finished in a two-tone silver with white roof paint job never offered on the production version. Mazda rarely, rarely ever shows this car in public.
Also worth mentioning are its badges. On the hood it wore a classic “M” logo embedded in a red rotor, also not seen in production. The B-pillar’s logo was even more different, an atomic-esque symbol in a rotor. According to the Mazda representative on site, it was because designers were inspired by the Space Age, during which the Cosmo Sport (a name also evoking the stars) was developed.
Beyond cars, Mazda also had on display many examples of old brochures, including the famous psychedelic Cosmo Sport catalog illustrated by Tadanori Yokoo. Papercraft Cosmo Sports were also available.
The cars were surrounded by several examples of the magical engine that powered them. Entire motors, cutaways showing how the rotary combustion cycle works, and even images of an early four-point rotor prototype were in full view.
Perhaps the biggest treat was that Mazda brought a the housing of a failed rotary prototype, one with the infamous “devil’s claw marks,” and actually allowed the public to touch them. The scratches produced by the rotor’s movement for a long time confounded Mazda engineers during the engine’s development.
Their trials were well documented in the Japanese television series, Project X, in which each episode focused on overcoming a difficult problem faced by pioneers of Japan’s many industries during the Showa Era. Like many Japanese kids I watched Project X back in the day, and of course I did touch it. Surprisingly, it felt pretty good!
Archival photos decorated walls throughout the booth, with subject matters ranging from racing exploits to factory tooling to promotional campaigns. One in particular, of a Mazda Cosmo RX-5 bathed in the lights of old Las Vegas, showed just how perfectly the big 1970s rotary coupe fit into the heyday of the Malaise Era.
And in case you didn’t think the 50th anniversary display had enough heritage, Mazda also showed off an example of a Eunos Roadster that had gone through the company’s recently launched restoration program. Potential customers were encouraged to look over the car to determine whether they wanted to refresh their own cars.
One of the biggest boons to Roadster/Miata/MX-5 enthusiasts will be factory reproduction convertible tops. The tops were particularly prone to damage, especially the rear plastic window. Now you can buy one direct from Mazda (if you’re in Japan).
Mazda even worked out a deal with Bridgestone to reproduce the SF-325 tire. These are the genuine original OEM tires that the Eunos Roadsters came on.
I thought Mazda had the best booth of all the carmakers at last year’s Automobile Council, but this year they really outdid themselves. For a small company located far from the industrial centers of Japan, the company sure knows how to speak to enthusiasts about their history. And that is what the Automobile Council show is all about.
To be continued…