The day Tokyo came to New York City

7s Day NYC

My skin was sticky from being in the hot sun all afternoon, but the breeze through the open windows of the car felt cool against my face. Sal, a guy I’d met 20 minutes before, hung out of one window snapping rolling shots as my friend Dave hung out the other doing the same. I was pondering how I got here, in the backseat of this car, riding down the highway surrounded by a group of RX-7s, imported ‘90s Skylines, and the odd STI.  Knowing I was an outsider to this world, but excited for the events to come.

Wankel-centric enthusiast events are far from a new thing, but this type of event in the heart of New York City most definitely is. At the center of it all were the folks at PRIME (Instagram @primenyc.co); the organizers and core group of RX-7 owners embracing the rotary life—both the joys and complications that come with it.  Five years ago, they got together and decided to do something to honor the tri-state area’s RX-7 community. On 7/7/2016, they gathered for a group cruise through Times Square. Thus, a dream was realized and 7s Day NYC was born.  

Now in its fourth year, the event has morphed into something larger; still an appreciation of Mazda rotaries, to be sure, but there’s increased participation from the non-rotary world. Nobody worries too much about the purity of the thing. These guys embody an enthusiasm for car culture, and they seem happy to be sharing their passion with others. 

7s Day NYC
7s Day NYC
7s Day NYC
Betsy Sibley

Dave and I arrived at a parking lot somewhere in Jersey around 6 p.m. We were greeted by a cluster of RX-7s, a few old rotary Mazda pickups, a bagged Honda Odyssey, and a gorgeous yellow and black RX-3 SP with a plaid interior to match. Things got crazier as the night progressed. Have you ever seen a rotary-powered Suzuki Sidekick? We saw three, all engine-swapped by some guys down in Puerto Rico and brought up for the event. I spotted a bright yellow Acura Integra Type R that reminded me of the one owned by Sam Smith (the automotive journalist, not that other guy). Skylines upon Skylines. Stanced Subarus, Supras, and Civics with enormous spoilers. Yin/yang twin NSXs, authentic right-hand drivers, Honda Beats, Rocket Bunny Mazdas, and enough duck-tail Toyota Truenos to pull a flying V.  

People were walking up to each other offering embraces and handshakes. Checking out each other’s builds, swapping ideas, polishing every square inch of their vehicles so the paint sparkled in the light of the slowly sinking sun. Everything was modified in some form or another; custom wheels, paint jobs and decals, engine mods, and widebody kits. Friendly posturing ensued with cars shooting flames, engines revving and brapping, and tires beginning to squeal in the lot’s far reaches.

As 8:30 rolled around, we hitched a ride with Edwin, one of the organizers. Knowing everyone would get separated crossing the Hudson, they had planned to regroup somewhere in Manhattan.  When we hit traffic at the George Washington Bridge approach, Edwin made his way around the melee like a pro, nimbly maneuvering his sister-in-law’s inconspicuous Hyundai as if it were a touring car in the middle of an opening lap.

7s Day NYC
Betsy Sibley

At our West Side rendezvous point, the air was perfumed with the scent of car exhaust. The brap-brap-brap of engines mixed with loud backfiring pops bounced off the massive stone wall to our left. Cars were filtering in and parking wherever they’d fit. The sidewalks filled first, then into the street two cars deep. This part of the road dead-ended and we had the space virtually to ourselves. At least for now—there was an ever-present fear that the police would show up like they had in years past to chase everyone away.

A group ride through Times Square was to be the big finale, and you could feel the excitement in the air as people contemplated the idea. About 45 minutes into the meetup, two NYPD cruisers showed up, forcing the crowd to disperse. It’s rumored one of them was blasting the theme song from “Tokyo Drift” over the PA.

As others filed out, we held back. There were a few RX-7s tucked in a dark corner beneath the overpass, the drivers quietly talking amongst themselves. Their plan was to make the cruise together—a cluster of RX-7s driving into the heart of the city as a group. About 15 minutes later, two more from their crew showed up and we were ready to go.

7s Day NYC
7s Day NYC
7s Day NYC
Betsy Sibley

We pulled away with Edwin in the lead, surrounded by eight rotary Mazdas, as we made our way down Broadway and eventually cutting over to 7th Avenue. The streets this far uptown were all but deserted at 10:30 p.m. Dave was hanging out of a window again taking pictures while I enjoyed the view of the vehicles around us.

The crowds increased as we got closer to our destination. Pedestrians would see one car, double take, then their eyes would light up at the realization of what was in front of them. It was fun watching their reactions, especially the little kids who started pointing and jumping up and down. 

7s Day NYC
Betsy Sibley

Where uptown was sleepy, Times Square was absolute bedlam. Edwin found a spot at the corner next to a halal truck and we all jumped out, readying ourselves for the group of RX-7s to appear. Much like those we encountered earlier, the passers-by here were stopping in their tracks, mouths agape. The RX-7s pulled up to the red light and we ran into the street to take pictures. The glow of the LED lights from hundreds of billboards reflected off the cars.

Crouching down to get shots with the skyscrapers towering behind, I felt overwhelmed. We were in a place hated the most by locals, but there was this sense of magic all around us. I felt like I was in a movie, and I was sporting an idiot grin that matched the childlike joy within. Can 7s Day sustain that magic? Come out next year and see for yourself.