Mazdas in Long Beach: Keeping History Alive

Nick Lish

Mazdas in Long Beach: Keeping History Alive

Vintage Racing

Mazdas in Long Beach: Keeping History Alive

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“Cars shouldn’t just be investments. They belong to the sport, and we are their custodians” – Mo Murray

This year’s Long Beach Grand Prix brought fans in great numbers back to celebrating of the 47th year of racing through the barrier-lined streets of downtown Long Beach. In addition to the IndyCar main attraction, spectators this spring reveled in the chance to see historic IMSA GTP and Group C cars tackle the ultra-narrow circuit—a unique change of pace as well as a look at several “comeback” stories within the vintage racing world.

All photos: Nick Lish / Vintage Motorsport

Notable among those stories: A trio of Mazda prototypes. Recently, Mazda North American Operations brought together a largely volunteer group of enthusiasts and employees to revive one-each 1989 group C 767B, 1990 Group C 787, and 1992 IMSA GTP RX-792P in time for this year’s historic prototypes race at the LBGP. The three Mazdas, after finishing their competitive respective careers, sat for a time outside at Mazda’s Hiroshima, Japan, factory.

In 2003, Mazda North America acquired the three rotary-engine-powered prototypes (plus a fourth, a 757) from Mazda HQ Japan in a unique deal that would see the North American importer foot the bill for restoration and upkeep while keeping them within the Mazda family.

With the Historic GTP race in view, the former head of Mazda’s IMSA Prototype program and current Mazda Motorsports Marketing main man Mo Murray and Team Mazda was given the task of preparing the three stunning machines.

Restoring any vintage car that has been sitting unloved is no easy task. Carbon parts delaminate, rubber hoses and gaskets deteriorate, electronic gremlins work their way deep into wiring looms and sit there waiting to rear their ugly heads. The original engineers who prioritized speed above all were not thinking how the cars might fare 30 years down the road. As is the case with most race cars, they served their intended purpose for a season or two and were lucky if they made it to storage, avoiding the recycle bin.

There were some commonalities and differences with regards to what each car needed to be race ready under the short deadline. The RX-792P needed a new fuel cell and new clutch. The 787—the last true 787 in existence of the three built—had multiple mechanical gremlins that needed chasing throughout the car. Great care was taken to respect and maintain the original paint worn during the 787’s racing life.

The 767B was the easiest of the group to get ready, though it needed its seat belt and fire systems upgraded among other maintenance overhauling.

Murray took the time to share his thoughts after the hectic thrash leading a memorable 2022 race weekend and answer the question, “Was it all worth it?”

His reply was clearly, “Yes!” The fan reaction to historic cars on display and out on track is ultimately what makes vintage racing so special to those who take part in their restoration—and that was clearly in evidence here.

Mazda made it very clear in Long Beach that these three cars in particular will not be locked away out of view from the everyday race fan but will serve as an extension of the Mazda brand and its goal to reach as many enthusiasts as possible.

Indeed, after the festivities had concluded on Sunday, Murray’s men opened the cars up and gave fans the opportunity to walk right up and sit in the cars that made history.

 

“Our goal was always to have the cars be as accessible to the public as possible,” Murray explained. “Seeing so many fans get to sit in and get up close was my favorite part of the weekend.

“Mazda is a brand for people who love cars and our stated purpose is to enrich the lives of those we serve. It’s important to know that, as car guys, we love them, too!”

 

For Murray and his volunteers, the task is more than a marketing campaign. To them, it’s about the history and the importance of keeping the memories alive.

Up next, the cars will get some fresh attention before they go back out in front of the public. There is as-yet no firm schedule for their reappearance on track, but don’t be surprised to see them at Laguna Seca in August, Sevenstock, or maybe even a local Cars & Coffee or two …

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