Around and about , March 1991

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Industry Insight

Mazda’s next generation RX-7 will follow the continuing Japanese trend toward visible muscle and concealed power. Oriental factories are now waging a struggle to gain an edge over their rivals in a desperately competitive sports-car market where Japan is setting the benchmarks instead of following European leads. Nissan’s powerful and exceedingly handsome 300ZX has made itself the current darling of western magazines, while Mitsubishi plans to leapfrog the Starion name from the previous coarse Capri-type coupe to an ultrasophisticated all-electronic wonder called the GT3000.

In its climb up-market (inexorable for any model replacement), the RX-7 now faces this upper mid-range pair plus Toyota’s forthcoming new Supra (to be revealed, like the new Mazda, at the Tokyo Show in November), as well as its current rival, the Supra’s turbocharged 4WD smaller brother, the Celica. Power available for the reborn RX-7 jumps to 250 bhp, through a bi-turbo version of the faithful and very sweet twin-rotor wankel motor. Performance can be expected to be impressive, with 0-60 mph on tap in under six seconds.

Extensive use of aluminium, for example in suspension components, will keep weight low even though the new design is bigger all round. Width, length and height all increase, as does the wheelbase, now centred on new running gear front wishbone, rear multi-link layout, incorporating the sort of passive variable geometry built in to the current car. 4WD is not envisaged — Mazda’s existing all-drive system is based on a transverse engine layout, as opposed to the RX-7’s traditional in-line plan.

But in case the car is overtaken by rivals to come, Mazda has something up its corporate sleeve. Last year, for the Japanese market only, Mazda created the Cosmo, a 626-based coupe equipped with the first three-rotor wankel sold for the road. Fed by two sequential turbos, it was `detuned’ to 280 bhp, but is said to be able to churn out 360 if required. With somewhere between these two figures, a triple-rotor RX-7 could take another perform ance leap. — GC

MX-5-1/2

Further down the scale, but even bigger in promotional value, comes the pleasingly successful MX-5; already some 80,000 examples of the pretty 1600cc two-seater are on the road worldwide. As always with a good chassis, fans have called for a power increase, but Mazda’s official position has remained that the little car is just fine as it is. Hence the proprietary options such as the 145 bhp Brodie-Brittan turbo kit now offered by Mazda dealers in Britain.

However, rumours reported in Modern Motor magazine in Australia suggest that Mazda is testing a 2-litre version, turbocharged to boot. Borrowed from the 626 range, the twin-cam 16-valve motor would offer a jump of 53 bhp to 167 bhp, silencing the speed-demons at least temporarily. To make room for the bigger block the diminutive car is claimed to have a new slightly longer nose with semi-retractable headlamps, said to take up less space under the bonnet. — GC

BMW’s Baby Sportster?

When it admitted the existence of the sensational Z1 to a surprised audience in 1988, BMW suggested that it would only build 5000 of the out-of-character roadster. In the event some 8000 will have been fed into an apparently insatiable market before production finally closes this summer.

But rumours persist that it will be followed by a cheaper two-seater in the mould of Mazda’s MX-5. Late last year, BMW’s research and development chief Wolfgang Reitzle asked for ideas on such a vehicle from all three of the company’s product development units, including the main research centre, the Motorsport branch and the semi-autonomous BMW Technik (which proposed and designed the innovative Z1). Now reports from Germany speak of several prototypes being seen testing in Munich, apparently based on 3-series running gear and powered by the 16-valve 1.8-litre four from the 318i’s, though the company maintains that there are no definite plans.

Emboldened both by the attention given to the Z1, despite its minimal contribution to actual cash flow, and the number of potential customers hinted at by Mazda’s experience, such a car would significantly alter public perception of a company which has prided itself on building cars which perform like sports cars but look like saloons. — GC

Alfa Upfront

With the arrival of the new 75 at the Frankfurt Show in November, all mainstream Alfa Romeos will finally have gone front-wheel drive — only the unstoppable Spider will still be able to spin its rear wheels. And that may continue; the company says that current Spider studies propose a unique platform rather than borrowing from the saloon range, and definitely include rear as well as front and four-wheel-drive options. However, such a car will not appear before 1994. Also under consideration are another small-run coupe like the SZ, but even quicker, perhaps even boasting a V10, though inevitably very different to the still-born Procar unit.

Before that, though, the 75 must capture healthy sales in the mid-size sporting saloon bracket. Sharing much of its ‘architecture’, as the French say, with the Lancia Dedra, the car displays its parentage with a cleaner tail and a chamfered nose similar to the lately revised 33, although the general profile is otherwise similar to the Turin equivalent. Front suspension also differs from the Lancia to cope with sporting engines of four or six cylinders, as offered in the current 75, but stopping short at the 2.5-litre V6, leaving the 3-litre version for the 164. In the UK a Twin-spark four will be the base model, but in between there will be a new ‘small’ V6, presumably 2-litres as often rumoured before. 4WD will be available from the beginning, with an all-driven high-performance variant to top the range. — GC

New Judd Factory, New V-10

Sir Jack Brabham recently opened Engine Development’s new factory near Rugby. The 15,000 sq ft workshop is equipped with state of the art computerised machining equipment, and extensive testing facilities, which the company believe will put them on a more even footing with heavily financed Ferrari, Honda, Renault and Ford. Testing of the new V-10 has proved encouraging, and the engine will be supplied to the Scuderia Italia team in 1991.

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