Back in 1975, Pete Todd’s father bought Pete’s mother a 3-year-old Mazda RX-4 sedan. Pete was around 9 years old at the time.
He didn’t care at all for the 4-door sedan, but “I fell in love with the engine,” he said this past weekend as he displayed his own Mazda RX-4 at the weekly Car Show on Eastern staged by Celebrity Cars Las Vegas.
The Black British youngster was fascinated by an engine so different from those in most cars. Later, while in a mechanical-engineering class, he helped a mechanic friend of his father’s rebuild that engine and got to see its internal workings.
Todd moved from his native England to the United States in 1984 and said he spent more than 20 years searching for a rotary-powered RX-4 of his own.
Much to his surprise, he finally found one not far from his home in Las Vegas, and it was a sleek coupe rather than sedan. However, it was in pieces in a storage unit.
The tale is familiar, the vehicle’s owner had removed the interior and the gas tank and had planned to do a full restoration of the car but, of course, had never gotten around to it, and finally realized it was someone else’s turn.
The seller wanted $6,000.
Pete called his father for advice. He offered this advice, quite fitting coming from an accountant: “Do you have the money to restore it?”
Pete did, and his car and its rotary engine, displayed with the front-hinged hood open, constantly drew inquisitive visitors during the show.
It’s likely that many at the show were unfamiliar with the sleek RX-4 coupe, but it is the engine — the 13B — rather than the car itself that is of primary interest to Pete Todd.
“This is the fourth engine I’ve put in it,” Todd said, explaining that he’s fascinated with the Mazda rotary powerplant and has a book by long-time Mazda IMSA racer Jim Downing explaining the various ideas Downing and his team had for Mazda rotaries. Todd often uses those ideas for the basis of his engine building.
Mazda produced the 13B for more than 30 years. Instead of traditional pistons, the rotary, created by German engineer Felix Wankel, is based on triangular-shaped rotors that turn within a combustion chamber. As the rotor turns, fuel is drawn in, ignited and expelled.
The 13B has two such rotors. Displacement is only 1,300cc (80cid). Rotaries are known for their stout power-to-weight ratio, and the 13B also was used in the Mazda RX-7 sports car. The original 13B, as in his mother’s car, was rated at 110 horsepower but that figure can be boosted with turbo or supercharging.
The one currently in his RX-4 also is a 13B, but modified to produce 330 horsepower with an 11,000 rpm redline.
Todd often shows his RX-4 at various events in the Vegas area, and on occasion drives it shows in California.
Although he looks much younger than his 54 years, Todd said he has been well accepted at shows, though people are surprised by his car.
“You’re Black,” he said he’s informed by some car owners. “You’re not supposed to be into foreign cars. You’re supposed to be into Cadillacs or other luxury cars.”
He laughs. Some stereotypes die hard. Fortunately, there is room for diversity — by generation, by gender, by ethnicity, by whatever — in the collector car hobby.
There were other lessons to be learned from the Car Show on Eastern. Whether it was pandemic-induced cabin fever or a sunny break in what has been rather chilly winter weather, the turnout for the recent gathering demonstrated that you had better arrive early if you want a place to park your cherished vehicle.
The show runs Saturday mornings from 7 to 10 and typically draws around 200 vehicles. But that figure was surpassed early in the day February 6, with those arriving after 8 a.m. left to park in the farther reaches of the Park Place shopping center on Eastern Avenue in Henderson, just up the hill from Las Vegas.
Lesson One: Arrive early at your local show.
Also, observe no-parking signs or risk being ticketed or towed.
There was another aspect of the Car Show on Eastern that also applies to other locations. It’s another stereotype that needs to be overcome.
The show host interrupted the music that accompanies the event to remind — to urge — those showing their cars to exit the parking lot and join regular traffic with almost extreme calm and caution. No loud revving of engines. No tire squealing burnouts. No nothing that offends.
“Don’t be a jackass!” was the plea.
Police departments across the country are responding to complaints about the way vehicles are being driven out of parking lots after shows, which in some cases it have led to shows being shut down.
For the sake of car shows everywhere, the admonition is worth repeating: “Don’t be a jackass!”