40 years on: When Mazda reigned supreme at Sandown

31 Aug
Four decades ago, Mazda ambushed the Sandown enduro
3 mins by Connor O'Brien/V8 Sleuth, Pics by AN1 Images

It was 40 years ago that Mazda ambushed the annual Sandown endurance race.

The Japanese manufacturer shot to prominence in Australian touring car racing in the early 1980s, during the final years of the Group C regulations.

Perhaps the marque’s most dominant performance was in the 1983 Sandown 400 – the last time the event ran to a 400km format, and also its last using the Springvale circuit’s original layout.

Leading the charge, as he had done since the 1981 Sandown 400, was former Ford flyer turned Mazda man Allan Moffat.

Moffat was just sixth on that occasion but won the ’82 edition – a race that saw only one other RX-7 driver place inside the top 13 (Terry Shiel, fifth).


By comparison, eight of the top 12 finishers in 1983 drove Mazda RX-7s as Moffat conquered Sandown for the fifth time.

Moffat had won the 1983 Australian Touring Car Championship and controversially been granted the use of a more powerful, ‘13B’ peripheral port rotary engine ahead of that year’s endurance races.

That angered his chief rivals, including the key V8 Falcon and Commodore runners, but they all struck their own trouble at Sandown and Moffat’s closest competitor at the finish was the BMW 635 CSi of Jim Richards.

The Holden Dealer Team’s John Harvey and Peter Brock were third across the line before being disqualified, having breached regulations limiting a driver to a single car unless specifically permitted otherwise.


Brock had started in the pole-sitting #05 VH Commodore, which he was sharing with Larry Perkins, before a suspension failure forced it out of the race after 34 laps.

The HDT, though, had its paperwork sorted for Bathurst, where Brock famously took over the #25 car after his own failed and won the race.


Brock was not the only big-name driver to fall foul of the stewards at Sandown, Moffat having been fined $500 and excluded from the second qualifying session for a technical breach.

That relegated Moffat from second to sixth on the grid, but did little to prevent him coming to the fore on race day.

Inheriting a front-row start was Dick Johnson/Kevin Bartlett, only for clutch issues to cripple their #17 Palmer Tube Mills XE Falcon after a single lap.

Even with Harvey/Brock’s disqualification, Holden did make it three different manufacturers on the eventual podium, courtesy of Warren Cullen/Ron Harrop.

Mazda quartet Murray Carter, Shiel, Gregg Hansford and Johnnie Walker/Gene Cook finished fourth through seventh, while Barry Jones/Peter Dane, Jim Myhill and Terry Hill/Graham Storah brought their RX-7s home in 10th, 11th and 12th respectively.

Moffat continued to campaign his Mazdas throughout 1984, before a shift to international Group A rules the following season put an end to the RX-7 program.

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