Mazda 254i Le Mans Discovered After 35-year Absence

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
mazda 254i le mans discovered after 35 year absence

While Mazda’s most famous rotary-powered racer is undoubtedly the 787B Group C prototype that won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1991, the company spent years fielding the RX-7 in every motorsport event it could qualify for.

Back when the 787 was little more than a twinkle in Nigel Stroud’s eye, Mazda already had RX-based cars running the world’s oldest endurance race. Among these vehicles was the 254i, which served as the culmination of Mazda’s efforts in Le Mans up until 1982 (and was the final RX-7 to run the event). While it didn’t win, it proved that Japan could compete and served as a jumping-off point for the company’s more successful Group C cars.

Unfortunately, it’s customary for race vehicles that don’t manage to take home a trophy to become lost in the sands of time. The two 254i race cars Mazda built were no different — or so it seemed, until the last surviving example resurfaced.

According to Japanese Nostalgic Cars, the No. 83 car has been located and is currently in the process of being restored by PowerCraft in Japan. Following a DNF in Le Mans, it went on to compete in the 6 Hours of Fuji (called Fuji 1000 KM at the time) before disappearing. Then, after 35 years of nothing, the car was discovered in the western prefecture of Okayama in 2018.

From Japanese Nostalgic Cars:

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.

After examining the vehicle, it was discovered that the car had a more robust career than initially presumed. Traces of gold and pink paint confirmed that the vehicle did time as the No. 38 JUN car that continued running the All Japan Sports Prototype Championship. Unfortunately, its sister car, the No. 82 that placed 14th at Le Mans, was destroyed during a crash at Fuji Speedway during this same period. That left the surviving 254i as the only Group 5 Mazda still kicking and an important piece of the company’s history.

[Images: PowerCraft]

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  • Dukeisduke Dukeisduke on Feb 20, 2019

    Everyone knows about the 787B, but this one didn't get a lot of press at the time. I'm glad to see it's been found and is being restored. I'm hoping they'll take it around the track after it's finished, and shoot a new video.

  • TimK TimK on Feb 20, 2019

    Ah yes, the Wankel rotary revolution. It combined the fuel economy of a V10 with the low end torque of a sewing machine, and added a dash of festering unreliability just for fun. Mazda learned a lot about pushing on ropes with this fine creation.

    • Gedrven Gedrven on Feb 21, 2019

      Yes, yes, and yes, BUT... They also weigh about as much as a sewing machine, which combined with tolerable degrees of their faults, is the entire reason for their existence in sports and race cars (the REPU was just dumb, and the RX8 should've been a V6). And that reason is a mighty one, with a race record to prove it. I keep nagging the TTAC staff to include weight in vehicle reviews because popular gearhead culture grossly underemphasizes it. Let's change that culture to better match reality: weight is decisive for any vehicle, and absolutely critical for performance vehicles.

  • Keith Maybe my market's different. but 4.5k whack. Plus mods like his are just donations for the next owner. I'd consider driving it as a fun but practical yet disposable work/airport car if it was priced right. Some VAG's (yep, even Audis) are capable, long lasting reliable cars despite what the haters preach. I can't lie I've done the same as this guy: I had a decently clean 4 Runner V8 with about the same miles- I put it up for sale around the same price as the lower mile examples. I heard crickets chirp until I dropped the price. Folks just don't want NYC cab miles.
  • Max So GM will be making TESLAS in the future. YEA They really shouldn’t be taking cues from Elon musk. Tesla is just about to be over.
  • Malcolm It's not that commenters attack Tesla, musk has brought it on the company. The delivery of the first semi was half loaded in 70 degree weather hauling potato chips for frito lay. No company underutilizes their loads like this. Musk shouted at the world "look at us". Freightliners e-cascads has been delivering loads for 6-8 months before Tesla delivered one semi. What commenters are asking "What's the actual usable range when in say Leadville when its blowing snow and -20F outside with a full trailer?
  • Funky D I despise Google for a whole host of reasons. So why on earth would I willing spend a large amount of $ on a car that will force Google spyware on me.The only connectivity to the world I will put up with is through my phone, which at least gives me the option of turning it off or disconnecting it from the car should I choose to.No CarPlay, no sale.
  • William I think it's important to understand the factors that made GM as big as it once was and would like to be today. Let's roll back to 1965, or even before that. GM was the biggest of the Big Three. It's main competition was Ford and Chrysler, as well as it's own 5 brands competing with themselves. The import competition was all but non existent. Volkswagen was the most popular imported cars at the time. So GM had its successful 5 brands, and very little competition compared to today's market. GM was big, huge in fact. It was diversified into many other lines of business, from trains to information data processing (EDS). Again GM was huge. But being huge didn't make it better. There are many examples of GM not building the best cars they could, it's no surprise that they were building cars to maximize their profits, not to be the best built cars on the road, the closest brand to achieve that status was Cadillac. Anyone who owned a Cadillac knew it could have been a much higher level of quality than it was. It had a higher level of engineering and design features compared to it's competition. But as my Godfather used to say "how good is good?" Being as good as your competitors, isn't being as good as you could be. So, today GM does not hold 50% of the automotive market as it once did, and because of a multitude of reasons it never will again. No matter how much it improves it's quality, market value and dealer network, based on competition alone it can't have a 50% market share again. It has only 3 of its original 5 brands, and there are too many strong competitors taking pieces of the market share. So that says it's playing in a different game, therfore there's a whole new normal to use as a baseline than before. GM has to continue downsizing to fit into today's market. It can still be big, but in a different game and scale. The new normal will never be the same scale it once was as compared to the now "worlds" automotive industry. Just like how the US railroad industry had to reinvent its self to meet the changing transportation industry, and IBM has had to reinvent its self to play in the ever changing Information Technology industry it finds it's self in. IBM was once the industry leader, now it has to scale it's self down to remain in the industry it created. GM is in the same place that the railroads, IBM and other big companies like AT&T and Standard Oil have found themselves in. It seems like being the industry leader is always followed by having to reinvent it's self to just remain viable. It's part of the business cycle. GM, it's time you accept your fate, not dead, but not huge either.