By Stuart Grant with photography by Mike Schmucker
South African manufacturers have a long and proud history of building road-going homologation specials that allowed humble family cars to become winners on the race track. In the 1970s, this often meant shoehorning hulking great motors into small saloons. But Mazda, who was already a little off beat with its focus on rotary power, did things a little differently with the introduction of the Capella Rotary RS Coupé in September 1976.
Yes, that’s right, the Capella RS is another race-inspired homebrewed homologation special, except its modifications were very minimal. Reason being was that the regular Capella Rotary (launched in November 1974) was already competitive in the Group 1 race formula with the likes of Turk Viljoen, Nols Nieman, Tony Martin, Colin Burford, Tony Viana and Guy Tumner in the driver seat. But those in the know knew there was more in the Mazda – with just a few tweaks it could stay at the sharp end of the grid for a few more years. Their solution was the RS which featured the fitment of shorter-than-regular variable-rate coil springs that dropped the car 45mm and swapping out the 165/13 tyres for wider 175/13 tekkies. Spotting an RS was made easy by the addition of a rally stripe along the lower edge of the flanks and redesigned seats featuring a cloth insert.
Like the regular model, the RS employed an X-207 twin-rotor (573cc x 2) engine good for a claimed 83kW at 6500rpm and 149Nm at 4000rpm. Don’t let these relatively low numbers fool you though, as they were good enough to see the Japanese machine wheelspin off the line and on to 100km/h in 10.5 seconds and a max of 176.5km/h – these a tad quicker than the standard car, with the lower frontal area and wider rubber the most likely contributing factor. To put the giant-killing aspect into context, a 2-litre Alfa Romeo Alfetta GTV of 1977, which at R8 995 cost double the price of the RS, would have reached the same milestone in 11.5 seconds and topped out at 182.3km/h.
The plan worked and the RS kept Mazda competitive in the Group 1 game with pilots like Dave Charlton, Colin Burford, Harry Kibel, Paolo Cavalieri and Ralphe Lange vying for podium positions. The Mazda was also a hot favourite in the modified production series through to the mid-1980s with Paddy Driver, Billy Maloney, Koos Swanepoel, Clarry Taylor, Errol Shearsby, Bobby Olthoff, Ben Morgenrood and Hennie van der Linde enjoying the joys of rotary life.
Production of the Durban-assembled road-going Capella RS was pegged at just twenty units per month and sold on a first-come-first-served basis. When production wrapped up three years later, basic maths puts the number of these running around in period at just over 500. But as with so many hot saloons, the majority of RS Capellas lived a hard life and very few have survived the test of time.
The pictured RS was recently bought from its original owner and, with just over 100 000km on the clock and having never been painted or restored, is a time-warp bit of kit. Sure, the front airdam, rear spoiler, steering wheel and Philips tape deck aren’t factory-original, but they were fitted just months after it rolled off the Human Motors Bloemfontein showroom floor in 1977.
This raises a conundrum for the new owner: Restore or keep all the bumps, bruises and period bolt-ons? I’m of the opinion that all the car needs is a decent polish, service… and that’s it. It’s only original once, after all, and many of the Group 1 racers employed the same aero packages anyway. Reupholstering that ʼ70s cloth seating would just mean losing the look, feel and spirit of all those dices blowing away the Alfas, Datsuns and Fords on Curie Rylaan, in my opinion. Do you agree?