The Little Engine That Did
(Part II)
By Connie Goudinoff Downing

The Car & Driver rotary racer was parked at the end of the 1973 season after Pat Bedard had scored two wins, and made racing history with the first win overall for a Mazda RX-2 in US competition. The project had been so successful that IMSA had banned all porting of rotary engines for 1974 and everyone who had been racing the rotaries had withdrawn from the RS series.

The C&D racer was advertised for sale but sat in a New York garage until the following year when it was purchased by New Jersey Mazda salesman, Walt Bohren. Bohren had been racing motorcycles in the US and Formula Fords in the Jim Russell series in Canada. He had seen the C&D car in his first visit to an IMSA race at Daytona in 1973 and was impressed by the racing and by the quality of preparation of the car. When he felt he was ready to run the IMSA series in 1975, the 1973 rules had been reinstated, although with new restrictions to the carburetor. Bohren and others felt the rotaries could be competitive again.

Bohren bought the C&D car with the Mederer engines, and with Charlie Hurst as his main, often only worker and sometimes codriver, set out on his first IMSA season. Bohren had to get used to racing a fendered car in fields of 60 and to continue developing a car that had sat idle for a year. Bohren started eight races and finished in the top ten five times. His best finish was a fifth at Mid-Ohio with Charlie Hurst codriving in a six-hour enduro.

Bohren recalls that when he bought the car with the Racing Beat engine in it, it had run several races. He ran eight more races (his entire 1975 season) before doing anything to the motor. Hurst had practiced tearing down and rebuilding a rotary engine by buying a station wagon with a blown motor and practicing on it. From then on Hurst did all the engine work.

By 1976 Bohren had learned a lot about the car. Hurst was prepping the engines; Bohren was doing the rest. The rules still allowed it to be competitive in the huge fields that the IMSA series was drawing.

Bohren completed only one lap at the season opener at Daytona, but by the next race at Sebring, he set a fastest race lap record. By the third race at Road Atlanta, Bohren had his first win with a margin of victory of more than 24 seconds. He had another win at Daytona in July after starting from the pole. His final win of the season was at Daytona in November when he started from the pole once again and set another new record for fastest race lap. With seven other top-five finishes, Bohren finished second in the championship.

The tough little Mazda now had five wins in IMSA competition and two fastest- race-lap records at the power tracks of Daytona and Sebring. 1977 brought two more victories at Daytona and Pocono. Bohren finished fourth in the drivers championship and was named the series most-improved driver.

In 1978 Bohren gave Mazda, and the RX-2, its first professional championship in what was then known as the Champion Spark Plug Challenge. In this highly competitive season, there were 10 different winners in 14 races, but Bohren had more than his share with three wins, at Brainerd, Portland, and Mid-Ohio. Bolstered by consistently high finishes, he took the lead in the championship after the fifth race and was never topped after that. Bohren won the drivers championship with a 62-point margin, Mazda won the manufacturers championship and Hurst was named Mechanic of the Year.

Bohren planned to move on to IMSA's GTU series in an RX-7 for 1979. He sold the C&D car immediately following the 1978 Daytona finale to Miami, Florida racer, Phil Gutierrez. Without significant sponsorship, Gutierrez was not able to field the car for many races. Bohren rented it back for in three events in 1979, and scored two top-five finishes to help Goodyear's efforts in the RS series.

Gutierrez raced in a couple more IMSA events in Florida, scoring an 11th place finish at Daytona in 1980. After running an SCCA regional race in early 1981, Gutierrez sold the car to Gainesville, Florida racer, Paul Romano. Romano, an MD and professor of ophthalmology at the University of Florida, was returning to racing after having raced in amateur events in the SCCA (Sports Car Club of America) a few years before.

Although his was not a heavily-financed operation, he entered the car in IMSA's RS races and also campaigned it in SCCA. In IMSA he had sometimes raced it in both the RS and GTU (Grand Touring Under 2.5 liters) races on the same weekend by putting on wider tires and a different carburetor after the RS race and running the GTU event the next day. It worked well for him because the GTU configuration was the same as for the GT-2 class in SCCA.

In 1982 when the car was now 10 years old and still competitive in the RS series, Romano called Car & Driver to see if they would like to get involved with the car again for a three-hour enduro at Road Atlanta. Associate Editor, Rich Ceppos, drove with Romano and documented the experience in the magazine. Ceppos said that it was "downright scary," that it drove like an "old" car in terms of brakes and steering, but that didn't bother anyone else. For his part, Romano said Ceppos was the perfect codriver didn't get into trouble and didn't drive faster than the owner. They started 13th and finished 9th in a 62-car field. Romano had also had a sixth place finish in the Sebring RS race earlier in the season.

Romano won SCCA divisional championships in 1982 and 1983 and took the RX-2 to the runoffs (SCCA national championship races) both years. He describes 1982 as the year he almost won the runoffs. He had qualified an unexciting tenth, but while sitting on the grid with five minutes to the start, a course marshal had told him he couldn't race because of a problem with his drivers suit. After fuming for four minutes, Romano was told he could start anyway and says by that time, he was so fired up that he drove the race of his life. By the third lap he was in second place behind another Mazda. When the leader started faltering with three laps to go, Romano thought he had it, until the brake pads came off the shoes, the brake pedal went to the floor and Romano crashed.

By 1983, IMSA was trying to update the competition in the RS field, encouraging new models, especially front-wheel drive, and putting restrictions on the older models such as the RX-2, which had not been in production since 1974.

No longer competitive after the 1983 season, the car languished in Romano's garage until he sold it to Ken Breslauer, a non-racing RX-2 enthusiast who also happens to be a noted racing historian. Breslauer appreciated the history and significance of the venerable RX-2 and said he intended to restore it to running condition. He purchased it in pieces with no motor or transmission and by then in was in pretty sad shape.

Breslauer kept it on his "to do" list for several years while he accumulated an impressive collection of documentation on rotaries and the C&D car. In 1992, he offered it to Mazda racer Jim Downing with all of its documentation, in the hope that Downing would actually restore it. Downing bought it and added it to his to-do list.

It was a long-running project, done as parts became available and as time permitted for the crew at Downing/Atlanta. Just last year it was finished except for cosmetic touches such as C&D decals. It has a Rick Engman 2-rotor 12A ported motor with some slight modifications for reliability, a stock gearbox, and BFG radial tires on its 5" wheels. Because it was so loud as run originally with a megaphone exhaust, the Downing restoration includes a muffler. Engman estimates about 160 hp in its present configuration. The plucky little RX-2 is ready for another 10 years of racing in historic or vintage events.

The car has an impressive track record:
1 series championship
Competition in 4 different series
5 starts from the pole
10 wins in professional racing

Today the C&D Mazda RX-2 sits with no fanfare in the Downing/Atlanta shop among other Mazda racers in various stages of decay and rejuvenation, a once-tired old hummer with many, many miles under the hood, but with a new rotary heart.

Where are they now?

Walt Bohren has had many road racing successes including 11 wins in RX-7s and the GTU championship with Racing Beat in 1980. He is currently an instructor at the Skip Barber Racing School.

Charlie Hurst has a preparation/repair shop in Rosemont, New Jersey.

Paul Romano went on to race an RX-7 in IMSA's GTU series and in the SCCA's Trans Am. He scored an overall win in a special Grand Prix du Panama (GT) race in 1985. He retired from racing in 1988 and later retired from his medical practice to start publishing a medical journal. He now lives in Colorado and races in the Open Road series in Nevada and the Southwest.

If you would like more information about the Car & Driver RX-2 and its racing history, check these out:

Pat Bedard 's articles in Car & Driver July, October 1973 / March, April 1974

Rich Ceppos "They Don't Build Race Cars the Way They Used To," Car & Driver July 1982

Connie Goudinoff Mazda Motorsports 20 Victorious Years in America, Motorbooks International, 1992

The Little Engine That Did - Part I