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On the path to greatness – 1989 Mazda 767B

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Photos by Matt Howell, copyright and courtesy of Gooding & Company.

In 1988, Mazda introduced its latest Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) endurance racer, the 767, designed to take advantage of rule changes imposed by the Federation Internationale du Sport Automobile (FISA). Three 767 chassis were built in total, and while none proved dominant in international sports car racing, all were an essential step in the development of Mazda’s Le Mans-winning 787B. On March 10, the final 767 chassis constructed, 003, heads to auction at Gooding & Company’s Amelia Island sale.

One of the more significant changes from the earlier Mazda 757 to the new Mazda 767 came beneath the hood. The 757 used a three-rotor 13G engine, capable of producing about 444 horsepower in race trim. Changes in FISA regulations encouraged Mazda to pursue development of a four-rotor engine for the 767, and the ensuing 13J-M upped displacement by 654 cc and raised output to 592 horsepower.

Mazda 767B

Externally, the 767 was a smaller car than its predecessor, and its bodywork was revised to improve downforce in corners. Three 767 chassis were constructed for the 1988 racing season, but only chassis 001 and 002 saw competition, while 003 was held in reserve. Chassis 001 was raced at Suzuka, Fuji and Silverstone prior to the 1988 24 Hours of Le Mans, while chassis 002 made its racing debut on the Circuit de la Sarthe. In Mazda’s typically conservative style, a race-proven 757 was also entered into the storied endurance event, perhaps as insurance should something go wrong with its newest cars.

Mazda 767B

The strategy paid off, as both 767-001 and 767-002 suffered from cracked exhaust manifolds and water pump failures. Though the team was able to repair both 767s during the race, the cars lost a significant amount of time on track, and ultimately finished behind the slower 757 at the checkered flag. The Mazdaspeed team struggled with performance and reliability issues throughout much of the 1988 season, and in preparation for 1989, its engineers were tasked with extracting more low-end and mid-range power from the 13J-M rotary engine. Other goals for the 1989 season were weight reduction and improved aerodynamics.

Mazda 767B

The result was the Mazda 767B, which debuted at Daytona in January of 1989. Equipped with a 13J-MM rotary engine, now rated at roughly 630 horsepower, it proved to be competitive out of the gate, testing well and finishing fifth in the 24 Hours of Daytona. Chassis 767-001, the car tested and raced at Daytona, was the first to be updated to 767B specifications, while chassis 767-002 remained in its earlier trim until the third race of the season, a 1,000-kilometer event at Fuji.

Chassis 767-003, the car to be offered in Florida, enters the picture at the 1989 24 Hours of Le Mans. Once again, Mazda’s strategy was one of caution: Chassis 003 would run in 767 specifications, while chassis 001 and 002 would run as 767B’s.  This time, the outcome was a bit more predictable, with chassis 001 finishing the race in seventh place overall, followed by chassis 002 in ninth and chassis 003 in 12th.  In the GTP class (which, in fairness, consisted only of the Mazda entries), the cars finished first through third.

Mazda 767B

Chassis 767-003 was upgraded to 767B specifications following the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and at its next outing, the October 1989 Fuji 1000 kilometers, qualified 19th and finished the race in 11th place, or second in the four-car GTP field. Its 1990 season began with a transmission failure at the Fuji 500 kilometers in March, followed by a rainout and race cancellation at the Fuji 1000 kilometers in April.

The car next appeared at the 1990 24 Hours of Le Mans, but this time, was Mazda’s safety net, backing up the all-new Mazda 787 endurance racers. A pair of 787s were entered alongside 767-003, but 787-001 retired on lap 148 with an oil leak, while 787-002 retired one lap later, a victim of electrical gremlins. That left 767-003 as the sole remaining Mazdaspeed entry, and while it was no match for the Jaguar XJR-12s or the Porsche 962s, the Mazda still managed to achieve a 20th place finish. Given that the car required replacement of a rear axle bearing, its transmission and the driveshaft during the race, such a conclusion is more than respectable.

The final race for 767-003 as a Mazda team car came in October 1990, at the Fuji 1000 kilometers. There, the car finished in sixth place, besting a pair of 787s and taking first in a four-car GTP class. With the 787 now the focus of Mazda’s attention, 767-003 was sold to a privateer team for the 1991 season.

After two seasons in the Japanese GT Championship, 767-003 was acquired by a collector in South Africa, who kept it largely out of the spotlight. Sold to the consignor in 2013, the car underwent a complete restoration to 1990 767B specifications, and has since thrilled crowds at the 2014 Spa Classic and at the 2016 Goodwood Festival of Speed.

In 1991, Mazda would stun the world by winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans with a 787B, becoming the first (and thus far, only) Japanese manufacturer to do so, and the only non-piston engine entrant to ever prove victorious. Rule changes made the rotary engine obsolete in 1992, so it isn’t likely the feat will ever be duplicated. While 767-003 may not have achieved such notoriety, it was a significant milestone in the development of the Le Mans-winning 787B, and one of just three such cars ever constructed by Mazda. Gooding & Company predicts that 767-003 will sell in the range of $1.8 million to $2.4 million when it crosses the block in Florida next month.

For further details on the Amelia Island sale, visit