Home ARTICLES RotorSport: NI's Mazda Shed

RotorSport: NI’s Mazda Shed

It’s a text that has only one real answer: “Wanna go and see a shed full of cool Mazdas?” Most definitely YES!

Being involved in the car world, it becomes easier over time to spot the large trends that can be used, sometimes stereotypically, to describe a whole nation’s opinion on automotive culture, and what makes people excited in so many pockets of the globe. Muscle cars, street racing, track builds – they all have devoted followings that are synonymous with their surroundings. On the island of Ireland, the initial response when asked to define our car culture, is as simple as red versus blue.

Toyota owners love their Toyotas, while Ford owners love hating Toyotas and have, in the majority of cases, a shed brimmed with blue oval goodness tucked away somewhere down a quiet country lane. Ford and Toyota-centric shows draw huge numbers, but not everyone has been sucked in.

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In a quiet corner of rural Northern Ireland, out amongst the rolling hills and twisty narrow lanes, lies a shed that reverberates to a rather unique beat for this part of the world. A rotary beat.

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Set up by the father and son pairing of Alan and Johnny Woods, Rotorsport began as an evening hobby. Both were infatuated with the magical workings of the Wankel engine, and time was spent happily toiling away, fiddling with machines known only to the ardent of Mazda fan. Over time, the shed grew as the small, tight-knit Mazda community got wind of what was going on out the back of the Woods’ house.

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What was once a single vehicle workshop now accommodates six machines at any one time. It has a real Japanese feel, as parts adorn every corner, wall and free space. Wandering around, rotary engines in multiple levels of rebuild lie in dark corners, awaiting their time to sing again.

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The majority of the cars belong to the Woods family, although much of the time is spent working on other Mazdas, such as this RX-3. Its owner has had it since he was a teenager, and it’s been beautifully restored here at Rotorsport.

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Just inside the door an RX-4 sits mid-restoration, much of the necessary remediation work having been recently completed. Corrosion is a serious issue with any classic car in the Irish climate.

While I could walk around for hours and take in all this magical rotary goodness, there was a trio of vehicles sitting outside that most definitely caught my attention.

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Seeing a single first-generation RX-7 is becoming quite a rare sight these days, but to see a pair together is something special – especially when both have quite a story to tell.

The first car, resplendent in the exact livery of the 1985 Acropolis Rally podium-finishing RX-7 of Ingvar Carlsson and Benny Melander, is the sole road car in the trio. Built by the Rotorsport duo, the car was recently sold to make room for the RX-4 sitting inside. Running a 12A engine, this is right up there on the cool meter, and must be some sight to meet on the road.

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Sitting alongside the Acropolis-themed car is its bigger brother. While the other RX-7 may retain its rear-wheel drive roots, things are a lot more serious here.

Pumping out nearly 350bhp from its 13B engine, power is sent directly to all four wheels. Originally built in the late 1980s to the spec of the Group B factory Mazdas, this RX-7 became a prominent local rally machine, collecting a number of Northern Ireland Rally Championship crowns in its time. Now restored and in the Woods’ care, the RX-7 sees regular outings to local track sprints and hillclimbs.

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And then there is the lurking RX-8 in the background. Now, imagine you’re halfway through a build, ready to unleash the latest homemade wonder onto the stages, when suddenly the rules change, outlawing the car before it’s turned a wheel in anger. That’s essentially the life story of this Mazda, yet Alan tells me straight, there was no point not finishing it, even if it’s completely unusable in competition.

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The issue lies with the engine between the suspension turrets, as a screaming triple-rotor 20B doesn’t fit the newest design of the MSA rulebook. Built in house, the engine sends well over 450 screaming rotary horses to the road through a sequential gearbox.

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While Rotorsport may be a small operation, it’s massive within the Irish Mazda community. The knowledge that both Alan and Johnny Woods have acquired over years of fiddling with these delicate machines is incredible, and there’s a reason why they have a constant stream of visitors heading their way with projects big and small.

With space getting tight, plans are afoot to perhaps grow the shed, but there is a more pressing concern. With so many RXs lying around, there is one obvious omission. The search for an RX-2 to complete the deck is in full swing.

Cian Donnellan
Instagram: ciadon
Facebook: ciandonphotography

The Mazda Rotary on Speedhunters

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