I adore an underdog. I love it when something comes out of nowhere and absolutely destroys the status quo.
In the British Saloon Car Championship (BSCC), a series we now know as the BTCC, the Mazda RX-7 came out of nowhere and scooped two titles in the hands of Win Percy. It was a complete and utter sideswipe for UK motorsport fans, who were used to a steady stream of British Leyland products – punctuated by the odd Chrysler – taking titles throughout the 1970s.
In fact, the RX-7 was the first Japanese car to take a BSCC championship, and to think it was with a whizzing non-piston engine boggles the mind. It must have been like a spaceship had landed in the UK.
It wasn’t the first time a rotary engine had campaigned in the BSCC, though. Although not a title contender, the Mazda RX-3 Savanna was a factory-backed entry by Wendy Markey in 1974. She raced with the incredible Penthouse magazine livery, gaining the name ‘The Penthouse Rotor Car’ and causing quite a stir in the process.
Fast forward to 1980, and Mazda somehow managed to homologate their first-generation RX-7 – a two-door coupe – to the new 1980 ‘saloon car’ rules. Win Percy teamed up with Tom Walkinshaw to dominate this season and the next, taking the title in 1981 too.
The lead image in this story is from the Spa 24 Hour race in 1981 where Walkinshaw and Pierre Dieudonne snatched victory in a little rotary-powered RX-7. It seemed like there was no stopping it.
This run came to an abrupt end after a disagreement between Walkinshaw and Percy saw Win Percy move back to Toyota and take the 1982 crown, this time in a Corolla AE86. But that’s a different story in the midst of a rotary-themed month on Speedhunters, so let’s kick back and enjoy some iconic RX-7 nostalgia…
The video above shows tin-top racing in a much simpler, purer form than today’s high-tech endeavours. It makes me think: if you were a racing driver in the early ’80s, what car would you choose?
RX-7 photos by Mazda UK
Wendy Markey RX-3 photo via Markey Motorsport