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This race car comparison will focus on two of Le Mans’ greatest race cars ever—the Mazda 787B and the Peugeot 905. The two vehicles we’re comparing have plenty of performance credentials and accolades to back up their coveted statuses. Le Mans proves itself as an adequate context for car comparisons given the race’s storied history.
The original idea behind creating the Le Mans race was to hold a 24-hour competition that tested the contestant vehicles’ endurance. 24 hours of driving time proved to be an exceptional challenge during the first Le Mans race in 1923 as the auto industry was in its earliest stages. Le Mans continues to go strong today with each annual race held during the summer in France.
Let’s dive into our comparison by beginning with the 1991 Mazda 787B’s performance.
Mazda holds the honor of the first Japanese manufacturer to win Le Mans. The 787B was the race car that took Mazda the distance in 1991. A quad-rotary R26B engine powered the 787B—the first of its kind to win a 24 hour Le Mans race. The 787B’s horsepower is no joke. FIA rated the 787B as a 4708cc with its two power cycles per rotation. This unique engine design generated around 700 horsepower.
English citizen Nigel Stroud is the mind behind the 787B’s engine that made its Le Mans debut in 1990. Three separate 787B’s entered the 1991 Le Mans finishing first, sixth, and eighth, respectively. It was the 787B’s gradual design evolution that fueled its impressive accomplishments. Three decades of continual development set the stage for the 787B’s entrance. Competing auto manufacturers like Nissan and Toyota were completely caught off guard by the 787B’s exceptional performance.
Early 90s Le Mans engine regulation changes paved the way for Mazda to blow away its competition. Mazda struggled to keep up with the competition before 1990 as the manufacturer’s prototypes couldn’t keep pace with other conventionally designed engines. The legalization of rotary engines gave Mazda a chance to strike.
A closer look at the 787B’s engine reveals variable inlet trumpets and three spark plugs per rotor. Variable inlet trumpets were a key component of the 787B’s performance evolution thanks to its continuously variable design. The 787B’s 700 horsepower level occurred at 9,000 rpm with 448 lb-ft. of torque.
Every race fan knows the vital role endurance plays in winning Le Mans. Performance efficiency was especially important during the early 90’s Le Mans races due to fuel restrictions placed on each vehicle. Mazda’s engineers began optimizing the 787B to win Le Mans in 367 laps over the 24 hours. One significant engineering change that led to optimization was Mazda restricting the 787B’s RPM to 8,500. There was a strong emphasis from Mazda on giving the 787B the highest possible cornering speed. Hitting high cornering speeds allowed the 787B to maintain exceptional performance without fuel consumption taking a hit.
1991 allowed Mazda to witness the fruits of their labor. The 787B made its competition debut in 1991 at Suzuka, where it placed sixth. Carbon-ceramic brakes proved to be an essential asset for the 787B as its speed increased five seconds then the 1990 spec 787. Mazda’s decision to focus on fuel consumption proved significant as 1991 Le Mans race leaders like Jaguar had to slow their speed in the morning to reduce fuel use. The 787B wasn’t the fastest car in Le Mans. Sauber-Mercedes C11’s were faster than the 787B—but less efficient in key areas like weight which lowered their reliability.
Mazda’s 787B took the lead in the 1991 Le Mans race with less than three hours remaining in the competition. It wouldn’t be long before Mazda accomplished its goal of being the first Japanese car to win Le Mans. What’s incredible is that an inspection of the 1991 787B’s part revealed the car could run for another 24 hours without any issues.
While the Mazda’s 787B is a tough act to follow—the 1991 Peugeot 905’s performance holds its ground as one of the best racing cars in history.
Peugeot had its work cut out at Le Mans in 1991 when high-performing group C cars that were supposed to be banned entered the race. Both Peugeot entries lead through the first hour of the 1991 Le Mans competition before falling apart and not finishing the race. Peugeot still had their eyes on Le Mans as they quickly began evolving the 905 for future competitions. Let’s take a closer look at the original 905 before we graduate to its winning successor.
Peugeot began working on their 905 prototype in 1990. A strong emphasis was placed on Aerodynamics within the 905 to ensure the car’s endurance was up to par. The formulation of the sleek Peugeot 905 Prototype began with the aerospace company Dassault. Formula 1 car design elements heavily inspired the Peugeot 905’s body.
Design components like a damper setup and double wishbone suspension gave the Peugeot 905 Formula 1-like appearance. Subtle details like a two-seat configuration allowed the Peugeot 905 to differentiate itself from other Formula 1 vehicles. The Peugeot 905’s chassis included a tub around the cockpit, rear, and nose. This chassis setup differed from a more common body design, like welded tubes covered in a fiberglass body. A carbon-fiber monocoque body design gave the Peugeot 905 what it needed to achieve high aerodynamic styling and collision protection levels.
New Le Mans regulations led to the 905 featuring a compact and light fitting design. Peugeot supplied the 905 with a slightly raised front nose that contained a subtle curve across its front edge. The front of the 905’s nose implemented a concave arc that fostered more downforce for the car’s front. One distinct 905 design element is its coke-bottle shape that permeated the car’s sides after the vehicle’s front wheel wells.
The 905’s compact nature continued into the car’s cockpit. While this vehicle’s cockpit was small, it contained a teardrop shape blended seamlessly with the car’s entire exterior. The 905’s cockpit design was purpose-driven as airflow passed from the cockpit to the car’s sides before channeling between the cockpit and the front edge of the rear wheel arch.
Above the cockpit was a sizable air scoop that pointed air toward the 905’s 3.5-liter normally aspirated engine that sat under the car. The 905 featured a large wing toward its rear that worked in tandem with the rear diffuser to supply plenty of downforce.
Two NACA vents played a vital role in the 905’s ability to feed air that cooled the car’s brakes. These vent’s positioning allowed the 905’s back tires to contain wheel covers that reduced the vehicle’s rear turbulence. The brilliance of the 905’s wheel design continues with its wheel skirts that smoothed airflow. This even airflow was achieved thanks to the 905’s engine exhausts placed slightly ahead of the rear wheels.
The 905 Evo 1 Bis was very different from the original 905. Surprisingly, Peugeot didn’t opt to apply a different name to their recently evolved 905, given the stark differences between the two vehicles.
Formula 1 influences ran through Peugeot’s newly renovated 905. The nose on the 905 Evo was extremely short, with steep ascent angles that swept over the top of the car’s front wheels. This change in nose design prompted a headlight rearrangement. The biggest difference between the 905 Evo’s headlights and the original headlights was the new vertical positioning. Peugeot’s prior 905 contained horizontally positioned headlights.
The 905 Evo’s short nose prompted superior levels of airflow between the wheel arches, which led to better cooling, horsepower, and efficiency. A separate key advantage of the 905 Evo’s shallow nose was its ability to allow designers to integrate radiator inlets without altering the car’s outside design. 905 Evo sides were conventional in their appearance, while the rear wheels lost the previous 905’s signature covers. Peugeot took a different approach to supply the 905 Evo brakes with cool air by ditching NACA vents for vertical air scoops.
While the 905 Evo’s cockpit looks the same as the original 905’s—the 905 Evo’s change in nose design led to a forward extension of the windscreen’s leading edge. A rear tightening of the 905 Evo’s cockpit led to the vehicle’s air scoop coming out of the top and over the cockpit’s aft portion to provide a more aerodynamic design.
One noteworthy similarity between the 905 and the 905 Evo 1 Bis is the car’s underneath chassis that remained out of view. A second rare similarity between the 905 and the 905 Evo was the ducts’ positioning inside the car’s nose. The 905 Evo’s engine was essentially the same, with a slightly higher horsepower output of 670 bhp. It was the 905 Evo’s top speeds that proved most impressive, with markings exceeding 200 mph down the Mulsanne.
These two vehicle’s similarities remain few and far between as rear-end changes further differentiated the 905 Evo from its predecessor. Peugeot squeezed airflow underneath the 905 Evo by supplying the vehicle with a flat and smooth underside. 905 Evo’s contained a six-speed manual gearbox. Both sides of the 905 Evo’s gearbox and engine existed two deep air channels that sent airflow from the car’s rear up. A tremendous amount of downforce was generated when Peugeot combined the 905 Evo’s rear wing’s lower beam with the rear diffuser.
The 905’s evolution proved successful as the first Evo took first place while the second Evo scored third at Le Mans in 1992. These results were a vast improvement for Peugeot, given the fact that their original 905 couldn’t last more than a few hours.
We’ve spent a solid amount of time dissecting the fine details that make up these car’s stellar performance capabilities. Now it’s time to establish a final verdict on whether the Mazda 787B or the Peugeot 905 is the better race car.
Both the Mazda 787B and the Peugeot 905/905 Evo offer their own kinds of special performance. If we’re going to compare the Mazda 787B with the original Peugeot 905, the Mazda 787B wins hands down with its top-of-the-line endurance. Place the Mazda 787B next to the Peugeot 905 Evo 1 Bis, and you have a more interesting debate as both of these vehicles are extremely innovative in their designs.
The Mazda 787B made Le Mans history on the following levels:
While the above marks are ultra-impressive, so is the Peugeot 905’s evolution. Numerous body changes led to the 905 Evo containing some of the best aerodynamic and downforce design elements that racing has ever seen. This evolution occurred over a year period and catapulted Peugeot to first and third finishes at the Le Mans, 1992.
Since both the Mazda 787B and the 905 Evo are extraordinarily innovative—we’re going to side with Mazda, the original innovators. Mazda’s rotary engine within the 787B had a tremendous output of around 700 horsepower. Specific adjustments like a lowering of the 787B’s rpm to 8,500 and an emphasis on cornering speed led to the efficiency Mazda needed to make history at Le Mans.
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Joe Webster began his journey in the auto transport field by attending the University of Southern California (USC), where he graduated with a Bachelor of Business Marketing.
After college, he started his career in the auto transport industry from the bottom up and has done virtually every job there is to do at A-1 Auto Transport, including but not limited to: Truck Driver, Dispatch, Sales, PR, Bookkeeping, Transport Planner, Transport Manager, International Transport Manager, Brokering, Customer Service, and Marketing. Working with his mentor Tony Taylor, Joe Webster has learned the ins and outs of this industry which is largely misunderstood.
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