Wondered where the ‘LM55’ name of the new Mazda Vision Gran Turismo came from?
That was the racing number of the LeMans-winning Mazda 787B from the 1991 LeMans. The only Asian brand to ever win overall via the LMP1 class, this is a story of a racing achievement that still irks powerhouse Toyota, Nissan and Honda to this very day.
The 787B is also perhaps the ultimate evolution of the rotary engine — since its evolution beginning in 1588 as chronocles below.
Reaching such heights as winning LeMans was an epic moment for rotary power, and conincided with the launch of the redesigned RX-7 sports car the same year.
The benefits of a rotary engine are is extreme lightness, single moving assembly (the rotor) versus the numerous pistons of a four, six or eight-cylinder.
The engineering elegance has dominated Mazda’s mind since 1961, so the LeMans win in 1991 represented the pinnacle achievement for at least two generations of Mazda technical experts.
We celebrate the car today with a video and photo set from the 1991, plus photos from the 2011 anniversary run by the #55 race-winner around its old haunt: the curves and straights of Le Sarthe.
1991 Mazda 787B
ROTARY ENGINE TIMELINE
- Ramelli invented the first rotary piston type water pump.
- Pappenheim invented a gear type pump.
- James Watt invented the first rotary steam engine.
- Murdock also invented a rotary steam engine and succeeded in generating power.
- Cooley manufactured a rotary steam engine in which both inner and outer rotors rotate.
- Wallinder, Skoog, and Lundby announced their joint research on the rotary engine.
- Sensaud de Lavou further advanced the rotary theory.
- Maillard devised a compressor by applying the rotary theory.
- Felix Wankel collaborated with NSU to promote his rotary engine research and development.
- Wankel/NSU built a prototype DKM rotary engine.
- Wankel completed the type KKM250 rotary engine.
- Wankel/NSU tested their rotary engine in public.
- Mazda organized Rotary Engine Research Department.
- A prototype sports car powered by a rotary engine is unveiled at the Tokyo Motor Show.
- Mazda exported rotary engine cars for the first time (to Australia and Thailand).
- Export of rotary engine cars to the United States started.
- Cumulative production of rotary engine cars reached 100,000 units.
- Capella G-series, the first rotary-powered automobile with an automatic transmission, was introduced.
- Cumulative production of rotary engine cars reached 200,000 units.
- The Capella Rotary Coupe completed 100,000km endurance run, through eleven European countries and with its engine fully sealed.
- Mazda’s rotary engine car cleared the U.S. 1975 emission standards, and this fact was confirmed by EPA test.
- Luce AP (REAPS-2) was the first vehicle approved under the anti-pollution incentive tax in Japan.
- Cumulative production of rotary engine cars reached 500,000 units.
- Cosmo L Landau top was introduced.
- Luce Legato was introduced.
- Cumulative production of rotary engine cars reached 1,000,000 units.
- The turbo-charged rotary engine model was added to the Luce (929) series.
- The RX-7 was face-lifted and the world-first turbo rotary engine model was added.
- Cumulative production of rotary engine cars reached 1,500,000 units.
- The Mazda 787B achieved overall win at the 59th Le Mans 24 Hours race.
- The HR-X concept car (with hydrogen RE) was unveiled at the Tokyo Motor Show.
- The RX-7 was completely redesigned (with a 255PS 13B-REW unit).
- The HR-X2 concept car (with hydrogen RE) was unveiled at the Tokyo Motor Show.
- First public road trials of a hydrogen RE vehicle in Japan.
- The RX-01 concept car (powered by a type MSP-RE experimental engine) was unveiled at the Tokyo Motor Show.
- The RX-7 was face-lifted (engine output increased to 265PS).
- A design prototype of the Mazda RX-8 (powered by the RENESIS) was unveiled at the Tokyo Motor Show.
- The Mazda RX-8 (with the RENESIS) introduced.
- RX-8 Hydrogen RE trials began on public roads with approval from the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport.
- RX-8 Hydrogen RE launched on limited release basis
- Mazda Delivers First Rotary Hydrogen Vehicles to Corporate Customer Fleets
- Mazda Delivers Two Rotary Hydrogen Vehicles to Hiroshima Government Authorities
- Mazda to show RX-8 Hydrogen RE at Norway’s ONS2006 Exhibition
- Mazda Delivers Hydrogen Rotary Engine Vehicle to Japan Automobile Research Institute
- Mazda to Participate in Norwegian National Project HyNor by Providing Hydrogen Cars to Norway From Summer
- Mazda Hydrogen Rotary Vehicle Takes to the Road in Norway
- Mazda begins commercial leasing of Mazda Premacy Hydrogen RE Hybrid
- Mazda reveals the Norwegian spec RX-8 Hydrogen RE at HyNor event
1991 Mazda 787B
Mazda 787B 1991 Winning Car Returns to Le Mans After 20 Years
– The Mazda 787B’s incredible 4-rotor engine noise will be heard again around the Circuit de la Sarthe on June 11, before the 24-hour race begins –
HIROSHIMA, Japan—2011 marks the 20th anniversary of Mazda’s victory in the world’s most demanding endurance race, the 24 Hours of Le Mans. In 1991, Mazda became the first and only Japanese car manufacturer to win the race. In celebration of this anniversary, and at the invitation of the event organizers, the Automobile Club de L’Ouest (ACO), Mazda will demonstrate the winning Mazda 787B on the Circuit de la Sarthe in Le Mans, France on Saturday, June 11, 2011, before the 24-hour race begins.
The 79th 24-Hours of Le Mans is scheduled to start at 3 p.m. (local time) on Saturday, June 11, 2011, and finish at the same time on the following day. Mazda plans to hold the demonstration of the 787B racecar on the Circuit de la Sarthe at 12:30 p.m. on June 11. Additionally, the 787B will also take part in the Driver’s Parade through the Le Mans city center on Friday June 10.
The Mazda 787B has been specially restored and tested in preparation for the demonstration at Le Mans
The Mazda 787B is the first and only Japanese car, and rotary-engine car, to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Jointly developed by Mazda and Mazdaspeed, the organization that managed Mazda’s racing program, the 787B has a chassis designed to meet Group C racing car technical regulations and is powered by a four-rotor rotary engine that produces 700 horsepower. Due to a change in the race regulations, 1991 was to become the last year that a rotary-engine car could participate in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. At the last chance, after 17 years of effort, Mazda finally realized its long-held dream to take the overall victory at Le Mans. This victory was not Mazda’s alone, but the result of long years of hard work by Mazdaspeed, the drivers, suppliers and the many others involved.
Takashi Yamanouchi, Mazda’s representative director, chairman of the board, president and CEO, said, “Mazda is founded on a desire to ‘never stop challenging.’ This spirit brings Mazda Group employees together across the globe, and it inspires us to achieve the demanding goals we set ourselves. Exactly 50 years ago, in 1961, Mazda commenced development of the rotary engine. The road from this beginning until our 1991 victory at Le Mans, and on to our current SKYACTIV TECHNOLOGY development program, is built upon our spirit of challenge. 2011 is set to be another landmark year for the entire Mazda Group, as we enter our SKYACTIV era with the global introduction of our next-generation vehicles.”
Since 1991, the winning Mazda 787B has mostly been on display at the Mazda Museum in Hiroshima, Japan. In preparation for the demonstration at Le Mans, Mazda has carefully restored the winning 787B racecar back to driving condition for the first time since its post-race overhaul in 1991. The work was carried out by current Mazda employees who participated in the company’s original Le Mans Challenge Project, along with engineers from Mazda’s subsidiary engineering company Mazda E&T. The restored 787B has been tested by one of Mazda’s in-house top gun drivers, and its performance has been confirmed by former Mazda factory drivers Yoshimi Katayama, Takashi Yorino and Yojiro Terada at Mazda’s Mine Proving Ground in western Japan.
As part of the 20th anniversary celebrations, various members of the 1991 Mazda team will also return to Le Mans. The winning driver Johnny Herbert (England) will be joined by 1991 Mazda drivers David Kennedy (Ireland), Pierre Dieudonné (Belgium) and other team members.
Video footage and photographs of the restoration work and the demonstration at Le Mans will be uploaded on Mazda’s official Facebook and YouTube web pages.
Tom Burkart is the founder and managing editor of Car-Revs-Daily.com, an innovative and rapidly-expanding automotive news magazine.
He holds a Journalism JBA degree from the University of Wisconsin – Madison. Tom currently resides in Charleston, South Carolina with his two amazing dogs, Drake and Tank.
Mr. Burkart is available for all questions and concerns by email Tom(at)car-revs-daily.com.