Mazda has always been a bit different from its rival Japanese automakers. Starting with their early use of the rotary engine and continuing with the "zoom zoom" spirit of recent times, the brand has been praised for its innovative ways and overall focus on the enjoyment of driving. For around 40 years now, Mazdas have been favorites everywhere from parking lot autocross courses to the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
No doubt you have read John Brooks' fantastic features on Mazda's Le Mans days, and Andy Blackmore will be continuing with more on the company's racing history in Europe. For my contribution though, I wanted to go over the following that Mazda has among tuners and grassroots racers in places like Japan and the United States. After all, there are few car companies that represent the "weekend warrior" way of thinking better than Mazda.
Although not as big as some of the other car brands, the vintage Mazda scene is alive and well across the globe. For example, the first generation Cosmo (seen above) is one of rarest and most desirable Mazdas of all time. Like the Toyota 2000GT, these cars are seen as exotic collector's items in comparison to the more plentiful Nissan Skylines and Z's out there and the fact that Jay Leno has one in his collection shows the appeal that the early Cosmo has. Keep an eye out for Jay cruising around Socal behind the wheel of his!
At classic car events in Japan you'll have to search around to find the Mazda presence, but there will always be a few. I spotted this all original Savanna RX-3 at the Tokyo Nostalgic Car Show last May.
When you think of the first import drag racers in the US, front-wheel-drive Hondas probably come to mind, but people have been building rotary drag cars for much longer. I remember one of my first experiences with the Mazda rotary was at a drag race event at Rialto Airport back in the mid '90s. I was only about 10 years old at the time, but I distinctly remember the funny sounding little Mazdas beating up on all the V8 muscle cars.
You'll also find a lot of people who have swapped RE engines into other vintage Japanese cars like Datsun 510's and Toyota Corollas. Vintage rotary Mazdas are very popular among racers in places like Australia and New Zealand.
Rotaries have their following among Japan's drag racers as well. Not only are the engines capable of serious power, but the lighter weight of the RX7 makes for an advantage over its heavier rivals like the Nissan GT-R and Toyota Supra.
Of course I couldn't forget about the Mazda Roadster/MX-5/Miata. I'll be doing a separate "101" post about the Roadster scene here in Japan, so i'll keep this short. It's not just Japan where this car is popular. In fact, I think you could say the Roadster has been the popular vehicle among the world's grassroots racers for the past 20 years.The only other car that might come close would be the BMW 3-series due to its popularity in Europe.
Mazda has always sold special racing-spec Roadsters for the "Party Race" series in Japan, which is very similar to the Playboy MX-5 cup that Antonio spotlighted a few days ago. In the United States, the Spec Miata series has long been one the most popular and affordable ways to get into competitor road racing. The Roadster has also been a favorite among autocross and gymkhana racers around the world since it first went on sale back in 1989.
Just like the Roadster, the FD3S RX7 was loved from the day it hit the market. Even though you haven't been able to buy a new one for about seven years, the FD is still one of the Japan's most loved tuning platforms. It's popular in other countries as well, but nowhere are they more plentiful than here in Japan. Living in the US, it's kind of a big deal to see an FD driving on the street, but in Japan they're almost as common as Silvias.
Earlier in the month I did a post showing some of the RX7's I've seen at Tsukuba Circuit, and Jeroen followed up with some more. The R-Magic Maru FD is at the top of these privately-owned circuit monsters. If you ever get the chance to see a track day in Japan, then you'll know what I'm talking about when it comes to the popularity of the RX7. They are everywhere!
Although not as popular as the FD, the FC also get their share of use from circuit maniacs in Japan. Check out my feature on the Super Now FC from a while back if you want to see more.
Track-tuned RX7's are a bit more rare in the United States, mainly because a lot less of them were sold there. When thinking of US-built RX7 time attack cars, the Twins Turbo FD comes to mind, seen above at the 2007 Super Lap Battle Finale.
Unlike Honda, Nissan, and Toyota which have factory multiple works teams in Super GT, the lone Mazda in the series is the RE Amemiya/ORC RX7 GT300 car. In 2006 this car took the GT300 season championship.
You can't leave out all the Mazda drift cars either. I covered some of the privateer cars earlier this month, and next time I'll showcase some of the pro versions, including Kenji Takayama's R-Magic car.
Few cars better symbolize Mazda's approach to carmaking than the RX8. It's rotary engine and unique four-door design are things that set it apart from any other sports cars on the road. Just like the RX7 before it, the RX8 has become popular among those who value the overall driving experience above outright power. I am amazed at how many RX8's I see driving around in Japan, despite the fact the car is more maintenance-intensive and uses more fuel than its rivals. Just like the Roadster, Mazda offers a spec race version of the RX8 for competition. I would expect RX8 tuning to become even more popular as the cars drop in price and become more viable as projects.
Finally, you have Mazda's more traditional front-drive vehicles like the Demio (Mazda2), Axela (Mazda3), and Atenza (Mazda6). These cars are showing that a Mazda doesn't need to be FR or rotary-powered to be interesting. The turbocharged Mazdaspeed versions (like the Amemiya-tuned MS Axela seen above) have become extremely popular in the past couple years, and the MS3/Axela is known as one the best performing front wheel drive cars ever made. I'm anxious to see what the Mazdaspeed version of the new Axela will be like.
This is just the latest chapter in Mazda's long history of going against the norm and specializing in cars that do a lot more than go from point A to point B.