The Mazda 787B was the first Japanese car to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and remains the only rotary-powered car to win the legendary endurance race. The race-winning car has been mostly idle since then, but was treated to a full restoration in 2011, as documented in this recently released video.
Mazda won Le Mans in 1991, after 17 years of trying. The car that finally brought Mazda victory was powered by a four-rotor engine estimated to make about 700 hp. It also made an ungodly shriek. When Turn 10 studios added the 787B to "Forza Motorsport 4" in 2012, it was the loudest car ever recorded for the video-game series.
The 787B was developed for the Group C regulations that formed the top category of sports-car racing at the time. Several other automakers, including Mercedes-Benz and Jaguar, had their own Group C racing programs, so there was no lack of competition.
1991 Mazda 787B four-rotor race car
After 1991, rules changes made the rotary engine uncompetitive, and Group C soon fell out of favor as well, leading to a bit of a low point for top-tier sports car racing. After Mazda's withdrawal, Toyota and Nissan continued to represent Japan at Le Mans through the end of the 1990s, but with no success. Mazda would remain the only Japanese manufacturer to win Le Mans until Toyota's first win in 2018.
The winning 787B chassis has spent most of the ensuing decades on display at Mazda's museum in Hiroshima, Japan, with a handful of demonstration runs here and there.
Rotary engines are unlikely to make a return to racing anytime soon, but Mazda is expected to add a rotary range extender to the MX-30 electric crossover in 2022.
Even though this restoration was performed a decade ago, it's still fun to watch the video and see what makes this historic car tick. Click on the video above to witness the disassembly and restoration processes.