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15 September 2023 · Mazda Australia News

Canberra 7s 2023

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There are cars that people follow and some that people worship, but engines - with all of their oily complexity - form followings slightly less often.

While there are fans of the V8, they usually split into tribal camps (Holden fans refuse to accept that a Ford bent eight is any good), the fascination with Mazda’s rotary engines is something else.

That love tends to centre around one car in particular, of course, the legendary Mazda RX-7, but it spreads further, which was clearly on show recently in Canberra when the city’s resolute rotary heart went on public display to celebrate the 45th anniversary of the RX-7 sports car at an event that attracted dignitaries and enthusiasts alike.

The Canberra event is the only one of its kind held in Australia and is held to celebrate and remember the global launch of one of the world’s iconic sports cars, held in Las Vegas in 1978.

This year was the third celebrated by the local, diehard Canberra Mazda community for the RX-7, and the largest gathering so far. Almost every variant of the RX-7 was on show, plus a few increasingly rare members of its rotary-powered stablemates in sedan and touring form.

His Excellency, the Japanese Ambassador to Australia, Kazuhiro Suzuki attended the gathering in what he described as a “personal and non-official capacity”, showing keen interest and talking with a number of vehicle owners.

“Of course, I cannot be in any way aligned with any one brand but there are some beautiful cars here,” he said.

The pages of history record that Mazda has the world’s longest technical association with the Wankel engine. Over time, the free-spinning engine has been re-engineered by the company in a variety of extraordinary ways to harness its unique properties.

Mazda first acquired the licence for the technology from German company NSU in 1961. The Japanese brand admired the engine’s simple structure, lightweight and compact size, its quietness, its capability for high power and of course, its low vibration levels.

It was also a technology path that Mazda identified as a way of establishing a different identity from that of the other, larger Japanese manufacturers. A high-risk engineering strategy that had been deemed too difficult to pursue by other manufacturers – but not for Mazda.

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Dom Fabjanowski, like many, was besotted with the styling purity of the original RX-7 and his bright yellow 1982 Series II model is a near perfectly preserved example, which took pride of place in the enclosed forecourt of the Canberra Institute of Technology, where the celebration of the “7” was held.

Mr Fabjanowski had sought out a high-quality example of the first RX-7 body shape for years until, by pure luck, he saw one parked outside the ACT workshop of one of Australia’s foremost rotary engine gurus, Jon Waterhouse. He got in contact with the Canberra doctor who had bought the car from new and made an offer.

“A lot of the younger generation don’t understand what it is, and how significant the RX-7 was when it was released to the world,” Mr Fabjanowski said.

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“Mazda produced something remarkable with this car. It still draws attention today and I think that’s because of the timeless design.

“I have two kids - and this is my third child.”

Two-time ACT rally champion Jon Waterhouse has been a lightning rod for Canberra’s RX-7 enthusiasts for decades. While he campaigned his own RX-7 rally cars successfully, he also played a key role in the car’s production endurance motor racing success in Australia through the 1990s, including the rare, limited-edition RX-7 SP (Special Project) which toppled the might of arch-rival Porsche at Mt Panorama and Eastern Creek.

“I feel very fortunate to have been part of that racing program which, of course, owes so much of its success to [race team chief] Allan Horsley,” said Mr Waterhouse, as he gathered with the rotary faithful for the “7” event.

“I was just one part of a pretty intensive project that Allan managed so well. He pulled together a terrific team of people and, of course, great racing drivers like John Bowe, Dick Johnson, Gary Waldon and Mark Skaife.”

Mazda RX-7 SPs amassed four consecutive 12-hour endurance race wins and such was the factory’s high regard for the accomplishment that it named its Japanese domestic model “The Bathurst”.

Canberra’s Barry Faux has an SP among his collection of five RX-7s but for the celebration chose instead to bring along a rare, leather-interior 1996 Mazda Cosmo fitted with a triple rotor, 2.0-litre 20B engine.

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“This was a flagship touring model that was sold only in Japan,” Mr Faux said.

“It was the first Japanese-built, series-production twin-sequential turbo system to be offered for sale on a rotary engine.

“It’s a grand touring coupe, a Japanese luxury competitor at the time for Jaguar.

“What I love most about this car is its smoothness and its power from just two litres. These cars are now very rare because their engines are so highly sought after by the enthusiast market.”

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RX-7 owners from around the Canberra region enthused about their cars, including father and son Kieran and Kerry Morcombe, who both own red RX-7s, one from 1992 and the other 1997. And again, Jon Waterhouse was the common conduit.

“I found my RX-7 through Jon and bought it for myself as a 30th birthday present,” Kieran Morcombe said.

“My car is an original Canberra delivery. I later found out it had competed in the 1994 Cannonball Run from Darwin to Yulara and back.”

His 76-year-old father Kerry said he loved the “charisma” of the rotary engine and bought his car after years of owning piston-engine vehicles.

“They are quite exceptional cars; I love driving it,” he said.

A ROUSING ROTARY TRIBUTE