A Mazda race car long thought to have been lost to history surfaced. The Mazda 254i not only competed in the 1982 running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, but represents the last of its breed. It was the final iteration of Mazda’s Le Mans race cars based on a production RX-7, and now the last surviving example has been rediscovered.
Though a small company from Hiroshima, Mazda has never shied away from challenging the most grueling motorsports contests the world’s had to offer. Though Mazda’s endurance program came from humble beginnings, the introduction of the SA22C RX-7 in 1979 gave its motorsports arm a chance to build a racer on an existing sports car platform.
Due to their success at the 24 Hours of Daytona, these cars were built to IMSA GTX rules, which allowed the cars to run in various endurance races, and were more or less identical to the legendary Group 5 super silhouette spec. That gave the RX-7s the signature box flares, a swooping elongated tail, and giant wing. For the next several years, the team learned many hard lessons about Le Mans, evolving the cars each time.
In 1982, Mazda ran the ultimate iteration of these enduro RX-7s, a pair of race cars dubbed the Mazda 254i, at Le Mans. That year, the No. 82 car driven by Yojiro Terada, Allan Mofatt, and Takashi Yorino, succeeded in the team’s long-sought goal of simply finishing the backbreaking race, placing 14th overall.
The second car, No. 83 driven by Tom Walkinshaw, Chuck Nicholson, and Peter Lovett, ran as high as 8th place at one point but logged a DNF, retiring after 180 laps. With the FIA introducing a Group C class for prototypes that same year, teams quickly switched over and Mazda was no exception, debuting the 717C the in 1983. From there, one can trace a direct lineage to the Le Mans-winning 787B of 1991.
And while everyone remembers the race-winning 787B, the 254i largely faded from memory. After Le Mans, the pair went back to Japan and competed in various races on the JPSC calendar. One was painted pink and one was painted yellow but the line of which became which was a bit hazy. The former No. 83 finished its last race at the Fuji 1000km in 1984, retired, and fell off the radar.
In the 35 years since, only die-hard Mazdafarians and enduro fanatics cared much about the car, even if the Group 5 RX-7 did inspire kaido racer tribute builds and the Mazdaspeed A-Spec body kit for the FD RX-7. Then last year, a Mazda 254i was unearthed in Okayama, one of Japan’s comparatively remote western prefectures.
It was confirmed by Tachimoto-san, the chief mechanic at Mazdaspeed at the time of the 254i, to be the No. 83 car due to its brake system and rear suspension. He also confirmed that cash-strapped Mazdaspeed at the time simply reused a predecessor 253i chassis with new bodywork to create this car.
Isami Amemiya, head of Japan’s most famous Mazda tuning house, took a bullet train to Okayama to see the car in person. He accompanied it as it was loaded onto a flatbed and shipped to Powercraft, a specialty shop in Gotemba, Shizuoka that specializes in composites. There, the bodywork will be restored, while Amemiya will build the car’s 13B rotary engine.
Though it ran just a dual-rotor 13B, output was estimated at about 300PS (296 horsepower), with the car weighing approximately 2,125 pounds at the time. Underneath the aero work, one can still see the stock RX-7 doors.
Upon closer inspection it was revealed that the car was once painted gold, and also pink. That confirmed that it was once the No. 38 car that wore the famous black-and-gold Jun livery, and was in fact the pink car that raced in JSPC.
Sadly, during the JSPC years the former No. 82 Le Mans finisher was destroyed in a crash at Fuji Speedway’s 100R corner. This car, however, has never seen a crash, and, amazingly remained in tact all this time. After restoration, it can join Nissan’s Group 5 racers as part of Japan’s rich motorsports history. Long thought to be lost, it is now the only known Group 5 Mazda left in the world and an important step in Mazda’s illustrious endurance racing heritage.
Images: Powercraft, Best Car