In 1991, Mazda completed the improbable. They won the 24 Hours of Le Mans with this car. To this day, they remain the only Japanese manufacturer to win Le Mans and the only car to win with a non-traditional reciprocating piston engine. And this is my Auto Art of that car in 1:18 scale.
The 787B was powered by the latest evolution of Mazda’s four rotor engines. The R26B succeeded the 13J-M2. The 13J engines featured the typical two spark plug per rotor chamber setup. The first 13J in 1988 had approximately 580 hp. By 1988, it had a two-step variable length intake runner that helped to increase power output to 630 hp. When the R26B appeared in 1990, the biggest differences were a three spark plug per chamber setup and a new multi-step variable length intake runner. These added up to 700 hp at an ear-piercing 9000 rpm. In 1991, the R26B now had a stepless variable length intake runner. While power remained steady at 700 hp, peak torque increased from 569 N-m at 7500 rpm to 608 N-m at a lower 6500 rpm.
Due to new regulations, Mazda was well aware that 1991 would be the last year of the rotary at Le Mans for the foreseeable future (aside: while it’s fun to believe some rotary enthusiast’s claim that the rotary was banned from Le Mans after winning, that is simply not the case). The FIA had decided the new direction for sports cars would be a common engine platform with F1. Manufacturers were allowed one year to transition to the new regs as their simply would not be enough privateers to fill out grids. For some (Mercedes and Jaguar), this meant bringing both their new cars and old cars. For others, it meant debuting all new cars (Peugeot). For Mazda, it meant one last all-out assault at winning (the best Mazda had managed was two seventh place finishes).
The #55 started well down the running in 19th place with Johnny Herbert, Volker Weidler, and Bertrand Gachot the trio in charge of running the 787B flat out for the entire race. The first ten grid spots had been reserved for cars running the new 3.5L engines. By the end of the first hour, they had already moved up 8 positions to 11th. At the quarter mark they were already in the top 5, and by halfway were solidly one of the top 3 cars. They were comfortably running in second when the lead Mercedes pulled into the pits and would not return to the track. Mazda led the final 3+ hours and won the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
The fantastic argyle inspired livery was a result of Japanese clothing company Renown. The livery first appeared on Mazdas in 1989. After Le Mans, many Mazdas raced with argyle livery in tribute to the 787B, most recently the Mazda Lolas in 2016 in IMSA in celebration of the 25th anniversary of Mazda’s win.
If some unforeseen circumstances were to crop up, and I had to get rid of all of my diecasts save one, this would be the one I keep. Quite simply, of all my material posessions, this one means more than anything else, except for probably my 1:1 RX-7.