The prettiest outlaw in the motoring world — Mazda’s RX-7 coupe —
ByAllan Moffat. 1980.
MOTOR RACING has never owed me a living. But I maintain I am at least entitled to the opportunity to earn it. There have been some exciting races run and some I've won but an assessment of my past 12 months would suggest the year has been aimless. An examination of my bank account would show I am currently between millions. And when it comes to the 1980 Bathurst Hardie Ferodo 1000. I'm out of work. This is the first year for eleven seasons I have not contested the Touring Car championship and 1980 is the first occasion I have not been hell-bent on Bathurst. Competing in the Daytona 24-Hour Race and then Le Mans meant far faster speeds and infinitely stronger competition. The distance covered in racing laps was more than I covered here in the last three seasons. It would be easy to waltz away saying these great events had put Bathurst back in to it's right perspective But not so. Bathurst will always he a worthwhile item in my life and not something to be stuffed up by those whom I now accuse.
The reason why Bathurst will not be Bathurst for me this year concerns what must be the prettiest outlaw in the motoring world — Mazda’s RX-7 coupe — and a soul destroying war of words with our controlling body, the Confederation of Australian Motor Sport.
The painful diary of the rank lings with CAMS stretches from a meeting in mid-December 1979 until the final official Utterance on the matter on June 7. The parties involved include the chief executive of to be in Australia. CAMS, John Keeffe, the National Council (a representative from each state), and the Motor Racing Commission, known as AMRaC. AMRaC was a panel set up to propagate the sport and virtually determine its boundaries. It consisted of two promoters, a team owner, a driver- and others. The sequences of regrettable events which finally left the outlaw tag on the RX-7 were as follows:
December 10, 1979, — CAMS announces National Council approves RX-7. Two-week moratorium applied. December 22 — National Council reverses decision. May 26, 1980 — National Council again approves RX-7 June 7 — AMRaC rejects National Council proposal.
There should be no doubting what happened at that first National Council meeting in December last year. Words can easily be distorted with each retelling. The Council ratified the proposal that the Mazda RX-7, with the modification known as peripheral porting, be permitted to run as an above three-litre Touring Car, although it had not come within the scope of the incoming 1980 regulations.
In stepped John Keeffe who mooted:a two-week moratorium. Keeffe maintained the decision would be so far-reaching that a tender should be called so all interested parties could come forth.
The result was quite predictable. Everyone with an axe to grind came forth. There may have been some well-meaning individuals who spoke up, while in total disagreement, I extend them my respect. But there were others. Peter Williamson, a car dealer and part-time race- driver, was the most forward objecter. He went public with a well-prepared press release which gained him the tactical advantage of being first into print. The contents of his press statement were the hollow utterings of a Toyota salesman discrediting a Mazda exercise. It proclaimed: “According to Williamson it was unlikely many members of the viewing public would recognise -the distinction. “All they will see is a Mazda RX7 being unrealistically superior to a lot of other cars against which it competes in the market place,” Williamson said.” The “lot of other cars” referred to were one or two Alfettas. That’s if “competing against in the market place” means to be of similar specification and at around the same price As for the rest; the RX-3 was no longer available here, the Capri Hatchback never was.
Which brings us to the Toyota Celica. An attempted comparison “in the market place” is an insult to the intelligence. Any motoring writer will assure you just how different they are. And in “the market place” there was no comparison in price — about $5000 difference. The Celica was cheap as well as nasty.
What Mr Williamson was warning his Public against was the danger of the newcomer outclassing his own Celica with which he had been taking candy from the kid for the previous season. The Celica is one of a handful of twin cam models alleged to be in Australia. It is not the car sold en masse in Australia, but is eligible as an FIA Group One car. Anyone without a fake conscience would surely call it “unrealistically superior to a lot other cars against winch it competes in the market place”.
Other objections came privately from the three-litre clique — they still yearn for the day they can win Bathurst outright — a former team-mate of mine, a driver of an American car who needed to prove himself even if there was no opposition at all. Surprisingly the old RX3 drivers resented the opportunity to take on the outright contenders.
Those in favour at the time included Peter Brock, who needed someone to beat, Bob Morris who badly needed something other than a Commodore to drive, all but one major promoter and the motor racing press. I’m sure the motor racing public would have loved it.
My switch to Mazda after a career in Ford equipment really came as long ago as December 1978. Mazda Motors, Melbourne, approached me to act as consultant on its application to gain acceptance under the regulations which were to be formulated to take Touring Cars — the successful category of the 1970s — into the ‘80s. Little did we dream that the new regulations were going to promote Formula Commodore as they had done with Formula Torana of the late ‘70s. CAMS had told one and all these forthcoming epoch-opening regs would “provide a degree of parity between reciprocating and rotary engines”.
The Mazda project called for a significant divergence from traditional thinking but you cant buck the regulations. The time was never better to exercise some flexibility. There was the new breed of cars arriving for1980. What new breed? More V8s. Australia is an island, our motor sport a desert island. We clung to V8s as our open wheel Formula One until they were extinct. Now Touring Cars are taking the same path.
The flexibility asked for was a cheaply performed engine modification to allow a radical engine such as the rotary to breathe After all, the 1980 regulations were specifically designed for conventional piston engines. And it is worth bearing in mind the unique design of the rotary in that it has no camshaft and no valves. The very first modification called on to improve a V8 is to change the camshaft profile and enlarge the valves, The rotary, with none of these luxuries, can only achieve a respectable performance— through the modification known as peripheral porting. It is nothing more than direct induction — not supercharging—to allow a direct flow of gases from the carburetor to the rotor housing. Most of the cheating done on V8s over the past five years was in tricking up the inlet, manifold. Speaking for my own team, we were put to the expense which totaled tens of thousands of dollars on carburetor/intake manifold adaptor plates to increase the flow of petrol into the cylinders. That’s the very modification denied the Mazdas. My initial reservations about the Mazda was whether it could match the performance of the American V8s, with reliability but at slightly less than VS speeds. The reliability factor is no idle boast. When I first encountered the RX-7 in Washington in April 1979 1 covered about 700 km at full racing speeds. Not once during the evaluation did the mechanics lift the bonnet. On my second visit to Washington I was further impressed by the little car, now fitted with specially developed Goodyears, in its conservation of tyres — even soft compounds. With the price of putting four tyres on a V8 fast approaching $750, tyres are certainly cruelling any chance of developing young talent through Touring Car ranks. When I tested the car in Washington the Japanese engineers laughed when I said a Bathurst campaign would require six complete engines. On their experience at tracks like Daytona, Riverside and Sebring the required number would be two. This was on my mind when we lost six Ford engines at Bathurst last September. The assault on Daytona came about purely as a result of the Washington test sessions. In fact the Daytona entry was the identical car which was prepared and entered by JLC Racing, Washington. At Daytona the eight Mazdas entered suffered only two casualties en route for 24 hours and that included my car which was crashed out of the race. only car retired through mechanical failure.
Daytona is the equivalent at five Bathusts, back to Back to beak.
I wish those who denigrated the Mazda —and those who keep forking out big money to repair broken V8 engines — could have seen the Daytona proof.
Then Le Mans saw one of those same incredible American RX-7s arrive. It scraped onto the back of the grid and went off song late in the race. Yet it finished. The point was it had completed 48 hours of racing without stopping. You just can’t relate that effort to half the Bathurst field which have destroyed themselves 30 minutes into the race.
The Mazda long suit was reliability and it is this area where the Touring Car regulations, over recent years, have bled competitors dry. It is a scandal that entrants are corralled into running V8s in such form that less than half of them can struggle around Bathurst for 1000km.
If I could have predicted the performance of the RX-7s at Bathurst It would have not been on the front row of the grid. But they would have all been running after midday and the same can never be safely said for our V8s. I feel it was a tactical blunder in the initial stages not to have launched the original Mazda application with far more fanfare. Public relations are always important and the first telling blow is the most remembered and believed.
Mazda Motors, as a prospective newcomer to the sport, felt it should use restraint until the acceptance papers were stamped. CAMS executives certainty didn’t make public the full Mazda proposal. It circulated as virtually unsubstantiated rumour There was an air of distrust surrounding what was a windfall for a sport which had fallen on hard times.
Another error in planning was that the whole act was seen to be just an Allan Moffat benefit. I did not object to catching all the flak but the benefit to others in the sport was never considered by the detractors.
Certain executives of CAMS were against the proposal and made that clear from the outset. One letter to Mazda Motors asked it to fully identify its relationship to Toyo Kogyo (the Mazda factory) by disclosing the factory’s shareholdings in the Australian company, and also identify company directors. It was an embarrassing indication that someone at CAMS was out to discredit the integrity of the offer
For the benefit of those who were never really au fait with the complete proposal I would like to see it detailed here. Mazda Motors, a factory subsidiary and distributor of the make in Victoria and Tasmania, guaranteed to bona fide race drivers: Availability of at least 10 and- up to 12 Group - One homologated “custom model” RX-7 Mazdas until October 1 (Bathurst weekend) 198O Discounted price to approve buyers, such price frozen until October 1. Flare kits and- body extensions with a $400 fixed price or the next 12 months All parts availability wherever practicable. No preferential treatment between any racing teams for either basic or special parts. Gratis shipping facilities for a CAMS authorized Australian team of RX-7s to race in Japan.
That final term could have really foreshadowed the reaching of manhood by our Touring Cars. Without elaborating too much it would have meant some of our local Bathurst cars would be eligible in race categories all over the world. Further it would have permitted foreign drivers to run here in their own cars. Derek Bell told me at Le Mans he had already persuaded Tom Walkinshaw to bring his British RX- 7 to Bathurst this year.
There has never been a program put up that could go anywhere near matching support like the Mazda deal. Just consider how little Ford or GMH contributed to the welfare of motor sport as they sucked on it during the glory days of the 1970s. To snub such a generous offer was nothing short of ignorant.
It seems pathetic in retrospect. Datsun is long out of motor racing, Chrysler has been and gone, ford had administered the dirty butt treatment after hopeless negotiations with CAMS, GMH had allegedly disclaimed the sport and Toyota does nothing but favour one dealer and his team.
Fresh blood byway of a $1/2 million project was being offered by an enthusiast car maker and our executives at CAMS turned it down in the most insulting way. I could talk forever on the benefits that would have come from the presents of RX-7s in our race fields For starters it would have given a little heart to competitors who feel they are now just indulging in a mammoth GMH promotion. There is no Doubt the regulations have long favoured Holdens.
The figures are quite plain, every Ford driver has offered himself as a human sacrifice. We have all finished disheartened and broke. CAMS continually deprived the Ford camp of genuine reliability components such as roller rockers and dry sumping until it was to late. If you didn’t play the GMH game you were an unwelcome guest. The Mazda would never have been over competitive against our existing V8s and that is the interesting twist it would have given to what is now a total non-spectacle. The rotaries never had the horsepower Williamson warned of. It remains a mystery to me just where they would have shone. Small circuits. Long tracks, maybe.
If Bathurst is to continue to flourish there has to be some competitiveness between the teams and varied makes of cars. Chasing the Holden dealer team in what you would purport to be a similar Commodore is a fools errand. Ron Hodgson proved last year that money can’t buy access to technology.
The final sentence from CAMS has been if you can’t build a car that complies to its regulations, that is not its problem. I say that if only one make of car can be built to conform to regulations — and be competitive — then the regs are inadequately formulated.
To take the fatal genetics of a one-make Formula a step further calls for a subjective examination of the influence of the Holden Dealer team. Nobody can blame Peter Brock for winning and his early 1980 effort of 10 pole positions in 10 starts has been a commendable record. Despite the denials of any factory involvement, it is a plain fact that GMH dollars developed his Commodore in the latter months of 1979 — before any other team even knew what the final 1980 regulations would be.
And while updated factory homologations and even team press releases on GMH letterheads raise suspicions it must be contended that with the backing of a consortium of GMH dealers, the HDT has better access to the factory than all other Commodore teams.
I did make one race meeting in the Mazda in Australia and that hardly proved a thing. On reflection I wished it had never occurred. It was at the request of Oran Park’s Allan Horsley who had helped in the battle to get the RX-7 through. The subject car was owned by Allan Bryant in Newcastle and was doing the rounds, with the peripheral porting, as a sports sedan. I had no say in the preparation of the car, I had the Le Mans project on my mind at that time … and I still don’t know if the cause was to be helped by my winning or losing.
The battle for the Mazda cause has certainly sapped my wind. The first news of conclusive failure filtered through while I was at Le Mans preparing for the big race. I shut it out of my mind until returning to Melbourne a fortnight later. I didn’t even seek confirmation. But the reality has since set in. The international rumour was correct. CAMS’ dispatch of June 9 put the seal on the issue and when it came down to the wire, the multitude of backroom sins were covered by the old standby, “effluxion of time”. The bush lawyers had won the battle.
AMRaC had to sanction the May 24 decision of the National Council but would not. They commented: “The Mazda RX-7 and peripheral ports were of themselves not the major problem; the principal problem (particularly financially and in terms of development time) was the question of equivalent freedoms for other cars which would bring burdens of time and financial cost” Great! The Mazda was beaten because shrewd wording had lumped it into a job lot with exotic cars which no-one had ever requested anyway. In retrospect, those who had the knives out for the RX-7 would have gone to any lengths to keep it off our tracks. The unfortunate part of the whole deal is that those who stopped it will not he around to face indictment when everybody says: “We should have done it anyway”.
So when Bathurst takes place this month I wont he driving something a little different, something with spectator appeal, something which would attract a sponsor. I won’t be in something with the potential to keep up with the small number of competitive Commodores, something that would certainly see out the distance. But then neither will Gary Rogers nor Bob Morris nor Fred Gibson nor John Goss nor Don Holland nor Graham Moore nor Dick Johnson... Maybe some of us can find room in the commentary box. I have something I really want to say.