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PETER Brock’s allegiance to Holden didn’t prevent him from sampling a car that was soon to provide him with stern opposition.

Brock’s Holden Dealer Team Commodore had swept all before it in 1980, the first year of a new rules package for Australian touring car racing. The ‘King of the Mountain’ added a fifth Bathurst win and a third Australian Touring Car Championship crown to his already extensive CV.

In contrast, his long-time rival Allan Moffat had spent the year largely on the sidelines.

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After struggling through the 1979 season with an underfunded and out-developed XC Falcon, Ford’s reticence to provide any direct support to race the new XD Falcon meant its biggest star took no part in the 1980 ATCC, while a rushed effort to prepare a car for Bathurst only resulted in a smoky exit in the early laps.

In the background, Moffat had already spent over a year working on an alternative.

He’d first been approached by Mazda in late 1978 and travelled to America the following April to sample an IMSA-spec RX-7 prepared by JLC Racing.

Impressed by its speed and amazed by its reliability – the bonnet never came up once during 700km of testing at race speeds, he later said – Moffat set his sights on racing one in Australia.

Moffat with the JLC Racing RX-7 that he’d driven in the 1980 24 Hours of Daytona. Pic: an1images.com / Ian Smith

What followed was an agonising 12 months where the Mazda’s acceptance was a political hot potato, with intense lobbying against the car over claims it was not in the spirit of touring car racing, and that the peripheral port version of the rotary engine would allow it to blow the Commodores, Camaros and Falcons into the weeds.

CAMS had already backflipped on a decision to admit the car prior to Moffat’s first race in a Mazda at the 1980 24 Hours of Daytona aboard JLC’s RX-7.

Wrangling between CAMS’ National Council (which accepted a peripheral port RX-7 for racing) and CAMS’ Australian Motor Racing Commission (AMRaC, which didn’t) saw a green light turn red once again in the middle of 1980.

Moffat, Grice and Brock in discussion on the old Sandown pit counter. Pic: an1images.com / Ian Smith

Mazda ended up bringing the JLC RX-7 to Australia at the end of the year for Moffat to drive in the final round of the Australian Sports Sedan Championship at Sandown to prove its credentials.

Moffat invited other top touring car drivers to have a steer of the car during Friday practice to experience the Mazda for themselves.

Brock had already been a supporter for the RX-7 to be allowed to compete, and his handful of laps behind the wheel of the car only further entrenched his belief.

We suspect the driver name sticker was applied to the roof prior to the Mazda being sent to Australia… Pic: an1images.com / Ian Smith

“It was difficult to adjust to the left hand drive and five speed gearbox, but I’m certain the car is no giant killer in the sprint races,” he told Auto Action.

“We might have to look over our shoulders in the endurance events, though.

“I’m certain also that there is no circuit in Australia which would suit the car to the degree that it would be able to beat the Commodores and Falcons for speed … in fact it could be at its best at Phillip Island or Surfers where its good top speed and handling through fast corners could come to the fore.

The left-hand drive cockpit of the RX-7. Pic: an1images.com / Ian Smith

“The whole point, however, is that it would be good for the sport … I only hope that CAMS now understands the car and its capabilities better and allow it to race here.”

While the Mazda proved no match for the top sports sedans like Jim Richards’ Falcon Coupe, Tony Edmonson’s Alfa and Allan Grice’s BMW, Moffat claimed sixth overall for the round after spending much of his time racing closely with Murray Carter’s Group C XD Falcon.

In the end, Moffat and Mazda won the war: AMRaC was disbanded late in 1980, paving the way for the National Council to approve the RX-7 for touring car racing in January 1981.

Moffat claimed his fourth and final ATCC title in a Mazda in 1983, back-to-back Sandown 400 wins in 1982 and 1983, as well as Australian Endurance Championship titles in 1982 and 1984.

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