Into the Blue

ONE MAN’S RACE AGAINST TIME TO OWN THE CAR OF HIS DREAMS

WORDS ANDY ENRIGHT PHOTOS COVENTRY STUDIOS

ONE MAN’S RACE AGAINST TIME TO OWN THE CAR OF HIS DREAMS

On first acquaintance, this isn’t a very Unique Cars vehicle. There are no chrome bumpers, no bent eight under the bonnet and you’ll find no faded photos of Uncle Norm using a Mazda RX-7 to tow the family caravan on beach holidays. Yet in other regards, this is about as heartland as it gets. Why? Because not only was this car built to commemorate Mazda’s consecutive endurance wins on Mount Panorama, but there’s a backstory here that speaks directly to the passion we share as car enthusiasts.

First up, a bit of a primer on the car itself. Speak to most with a passing knowledge of the RX-7 and they’ll identify the Spirit R as the model to choose.

The last of the FD3S RX-7s, 1500 Spirit R models were produced. To many it’s ultimate RX-7. And the limited-run Australian SP version is probably the most collectable. Thing is, the smart money just could be directed at a car that’s not anything like as well known.

The RX-7 Type R Bathurst R limited edition model was, despite the badge, never officially imported to Australia, instead being a Japanese domestic market special. The reason it’s rated so highly by those in the know is straightforward.

It’s the fiercest, most focused roadgoing RX-7 ever to roll from the factory. Based on the featherlight Type R, it had the best power-weight ratio and also got a suite of well-judged go-faster bits. This wasn’t a case of throwing every option at the car, Mazda instead judiciously choosing just the parts a keen driver needed and nothing else, including some trick adjustable dampers. There are also the interior features such as the carbon tone interior panels and a carbon-fibre shift knob and parking brake lever similar to the racing car. Most importantly, it’s not over-tyred like some versions, the car coming with 225 section rubber at the rear, giving the car an adjustability lacking in later cars which featured fat 255 width rear treads.

It’s rare too, with only 500 being manufactured between December 2001 and June 2002.

Tipping the scales at just 1260kg, which is less than something like a Toyota 86 GTS, it packs

the 276bhp (206kW) that, at the time, was the self-imposed power limit amongst Japanese manufacturers. It scuttles to 100 km/h in just 4.9 seconds and the quarter mile will only detain you for 13.6 seconds. Peak torque of 314Nm is reassuringly hefty thanks to a pair of sequential Hitachi HT12 turbochargers. Compare that to the 304Nm of a 3.2-litre Honda NSX-R and you’ll appreciate why the Mazda was such a brilliant base for a competition car.

Owner Jamie Turnley has got the rotary bug something bad. Secreted away down the side of his house are three other RX-7s including an FC with a 20B triple rotor under the bonnet and of the four Mazdas, the Bathurst you see here is the slow one.

Unfortunately, it could also be his last one. “This might be the car I get buried in,” he muses. At the tail end of last year, he was diagnosed with stage four cancer. The scale goes from one to four, with four being the end you’d rather not be at. The plans for a house deposit went out of the window and instead Jamie did what any committed petrolhead would probably do, namely buy the car he’d always wanted. He's bought well.

The RX-7 is a real head turner and that’s all the stranger because, by and large, time has not been kind to the majority of early-90s sports cars. Put that down to aerodynamics. In the last quarter of a century, designers have become a lot smarter at managing the airflow over a vehicle, figuring out how to create clean surfaces and razor-sharp creaselines while still retaining a low drag coefficient. By today’s standards many of the coupes that came out of Japan look dated.

The Toyota Supra and the Honda NSX have both gone through their blousy periods, while the Mitsubishi 3000GT has yet to emerge. The FD-3 RX-7 has never gone through the fallow years.

It looked great from the get-go and while some cars were tastelessly modified, this one’s kept the aftermarket licks to a sensible level. You’ll probably spot the forged aluminium Volk Racing GT-C wheels, the intercooler, the RE Amemiya fibreglass bonnet and inside there’s a Bride driver’s seat, an Apexi boost controller and a set of Defi clocks on the dash. The shocks have also been swapped for height and preload-adjustable Öhlins units and there’s a triple-core radiator. A lot of the suspension rubbers have outed for rose joints for a more direct channel of communication.

“I’ve had the car for two or three months now.

The RX-7 has been my dream car since the early nineties when they were released. One of the suppliers had one and I saw it in the car park at work and I thought, ‘Oh my God, what is this?” I went up to Mazda in the city on Elizabeth Street and checked it out but they were about $85,000 or more, and that was just unobtainable for me. So

“THIS IS THE FIERCEST AND MOST FOCUSED ROADGOING RX-7 EVER TO ROLL FROM THE FACTORY"

BOWE DRIVING REVIEW

MY ENTHUSIASM for Mazdas goes way back to the late 1970s when I worked for my dad in his Mazda dealership in Devonport. The RX-7 in particular was a terrific car. So I was very pleased when Alan Horsley offered me a driving slot on his RX-7 team in 1992.

The car's rotary engine is a lovely powerplant, so smooth and producing plenty of power thanks to its two sequential turbochargers. It was also very reliable. The downside is that it’s quite thirsty. So fuel consumption always featured in race planning.

No question that they’re a quick car, and a surefooted handler. They're also second to none in build quality in my opinion.

Refining the handling for racetrack competitiveness was quite an art given that the rules required us to run standard springs.

The late Barry Jones worked wonders with appropriate changes to shockers, bushes and geometry. The results of his skilled input were excellent, giving us a truly competitive car.

There was something special about being able to beat a prestigious Porsche in a more humble RX-7.

I thought, that’s going to have to wait. Then just before Christmas, I thought I’d get my dream car.

I couldn’t believe the colour. When I was looking, I saw an RZ and this one online, but I wasn’t sure that this was an actual Type R Bathurst R,” said Jamie, before confirming that this was indeed one of these unicorn Mazdas.

“I went and had a look and that was it. There was another guy who’d come to look at it and it was hidden away at the back of the dealership behind a bunch of vans. As soon as I saw the car I knew I had to have it. There was another guy who was interested in the car and he was having the car started and was going over the vehicle and I just said to the dealer principal, ‘Let’s get the paperwork’. Import Revolution were really good with the way that they went over the car and highlighted every aspect of it to me. I was going to try to knock them down a couple of grand, but they did a lot of stuff like fit brand new tyres to it, so I paid the asking price,” he said.

“It’s a great car to drive. Very readable, I absolutely love it. You jump in and it brings a great big smile to your face every time. Once it’s warmed up to operating temperatures, it’s so much fun to drive. Good on you, Mazda," he smiled. "I used to work for SelectMaz years ago and we were in on the ground floor when Motec just started, so our job was to do a lot of the data logging. We did a lot of running at Calder Park on the improved production car that we were running. At the time, SelectMaz held just about every lap record for their class in Victoria!”

For a vehicle that started its design cycle in the tail end of the 1980s, the FD3 still feels a class act.

Put that down largely to getting the fundamentals right. The front-mid engine is mounted low in the car, driving the rear wheels with a perfect 50/50 weight distribution. Suspension is double wishbone all round, unlike the cheaper strut/ semi-trailing arm setup of the car’s key German rival, the Porsche 968. The driving position is spot on, although the Bride seat perhaps isn’t the best choice if you’re at all acquainted with the finer details of a Hungry Jack's menu. Mazda honed the formula over the FD3’s lifetime and these Series 8 cars can show their contemporary equivalents a thing or two in terms of steering feedback, turn-in response and even nerdy stuff like throttle mapping. There’s no traction or stability control on this car, the only safety net being your restraint and your reflexes.

It’s a sobering thought that this could very well be the last car Jamie owns. This Series 8 RX-7 is the apex of rotary-engined sports car development and we’ll probably never see its like again. That’s why there was little chance that the dream car could have been a disappointment; a case study in never meeting your heroes. The Bathurst has more than lived up to its billing and, besides, not all heroes wear capes. Sometimes a set of blue overalls does just fine.

“IT'S HARD TO COMPREHEND THAT DESIGN WORK ON THE FD3 RX-7'S EXTERIOR BEGAN NEARLY THIRTY YEARS AGO"

MAZDA RX-7 TYPE R BATHURST R

BODY: Two-door coupe, steel monocoque WEIGHT 1260kg ENGINE: Twin rotor, water-cooled, twin turbo TRANSMISSION: 5-speed manual SUSPENSION: Double wishbone front and rear, Öhlins adjustable dampers BRAKES: Discs (f/r) POWER: 206kW @ 6500rpm TORQUE: 314Nm @ 5000rpm PERFORMANCE: Top speed: 252km/h, 0-100km/h 4.9s -

DESIGNER GENES

WU-HUANG CHIN probably isn’t a name you’re familiar with. Yet the Taiwanese stylist might just have penned the most beautiful car ever to hail from Japan, the FD3 generation Mazda RX-7. He began working on the vehicle’s development in 1988 when organic aerodynamic shapes were in vogue. Chin’s brief was to evoke the sensuality of Jaguar and Ferrari racers of the 1960s.

“We didn’t want to borrow any heritage from others, instead we looked at the Cosmo Sport, the first and second generation RX-7s and tried to continue this Mazda rotary heritage,” he explains.

“The air outlet on the front fender behind the front wheel was a theme I pushed for right from the beginning.

This leads to the lower door cut which curves up and flows into the B pillar.

The movement of these elements gave the design a dynamic stance.

The outlet was meant to extract heat from the engine compartment. It also hints at the front-midship layout of the rotary power plant. The outlet was carefully sculpted to have an organic look as if the car was a living creature and this was its breathing orifice.

At one point of the development, I was told by engineering that an outlet for the engine room was not necessary and we had to take this feature off the clay model. As you can imagine, it took a lot of character away from the design and we were all disappointed. Luckily, the brake engineers told us later that they needed to vent the hot air from the front brakes away from the engine room and exhaust it via ducts on the front fender, much to my relief, I got my air outlet back!

Before the RX-7, we were working on a few blue-sky projects searching for advanced design themes. One of these was the RX-44. Mazda was experimenting with hydrogen rotary engines at the time. I did a futuristic sedan powered by a 4-rotor hydrogen engine. It seats 4 persons in a diamond pattern with the driver up front at the centre. To hint at this seating arrangement, I put 4 bubbles on the roof of the car in the same diamond pattern. Later, my boss Tom Matano did a 3 passenger mid-engine super car powered by a 3-rotor engine. He put 3 bubbles on his model. When we started the RX-7, which was a 2-seater powered by a 2-rotor engine, It was only natural for us to put 2 bubbles on the roof.

Tom and I have since referred to it affectionately as the ‘double bubble.’”