Crammed into a red Porsche 911 Turbo S Porsche convertible, we slotted into the traffic rolling towards Times Square with an R34 Nissan Skyline GT-R pulling ahead of us. Beside it waited another R34 Skyline, a hen’s tooth V-Spec II Nür. For one moment, for that whole night, really, there was no 25-year import rule. There were no boring cars. Only rows and rows of rotary Mazdas, Japanese-market Toyotas, and Skylines upon Skylines.

It was 7/7/2018, 7s Day New York City, put on by Prime, a celebration of all things Mazda rotary with hundreds of like-minded friends joining in the fun. Just as it was last year, when photos of widebody FD RX-7s cutting through the glow of Times Square, rubbing shoulders with lowriders, blew up across the automotive internet—except even bigger this time.

This year, my boss Patrick George and I tagged along, guided by a set of directions not to be shared around (to “preventing questionable individuals from showing up and disturbing the positive energy of the event”) and instructions to remain behaved once you cross into Manhattan.

“The city can be unpredictable,” it read. “We cannot stress that enough. Stay safe.”

It began before we first turned into the parking lot. We weren’t quite sure which way to turn, until we spotted it, like an egret flying overhead: a white-on-white NSX gliding into one entrance with a line of white Evos in tow.

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The NSX probably knew where it was going, we figured. Whoever gets to the point of owning an original NSX probably has their shit together in life.

Into the lot we filtered, by another NSX in time attack spec, driven from states away, the entire nose covered in painter’s tape. Everywhere was someone preening over their car, or holding court about some modification they’d done. “That’s why you never see a tuned V6 Lexus. They haven’t cracked the ECU!” one guy proclaimed to a small crowd, standing beside his GS-F, supercharged.

Car after car filtered in, all tuned, all extraordinary. Paul Walker-spec GT-R. Turbocharged MR-2, the engine cover left at home. A JZX90 Toyota Mark II, only made legal to import over the past few months, gave an RX-7 with Porsche 993 headlights a jumpstart. It wasn’t long before the majority of the cars in the lot were modified. “Normal” cars became the exception. They started to look weird. Our car, the Turbo S Cab on loan from Porsche, was one of the very few European cars there, joined by a nice 996 Turbo, a Cosworth Mercedes 190E, a matte orange wrapped Audi TT and a couple others.

Still, this was 7s Day, so the rotaries were out in force. Tons of RX-7s of every vintage, including a three-rotor swapped FC, at least one rotary pickup truck, RX-2s and RX-3s, 1970s Mazda wagons and many more.

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The event organizers called everyone in to a huddle before setting off for NYC, once more warning everyone to maintain decorum, all clustered around a blue NSX. Rotaries brapped in the back, warming up before the drive into the night.

We followed a batch of RX-7s out of the lot, slipping behind a V8-swapped FD, periodically shooting fire out of the exhaust, and periodically shooting sparks from when the exhaust caught against the road. Watching how they dodged potholes was like following an expert racer’s line on a track.

Even more than in the lot, the regular cars we passed on the road looked like the oddballs, not us. We merged onto the highway ahead of a lime green 1970s Mazda RX-2, quad round headlights glowing against the fading sky.

What the fuck was a Ford Fusion? Why buy a Honda CR-V when you could have a two-rotor bleating along your every commute? Why doesn’t your Toyota Camry have no roof, two turbos and bright red paint, like us?

The cars took over a block on the West Side of Manhattan. Parking spots all taken up, then double-parked spots all taken up. The transformation was complete. Not a single plain car infiltrated the scene. The Signal Auto R34 drift car, in mystichrome, rolled out of its trailer and past a row of yellow third-generation RX-7s. The REPU rotary pickup, accessorized with a five-gallon race gas tank strapped in the bed, rolled in after it.

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I can’t remember how long it was before the lowriders rolled up, a crew from Sunset in Brooklyn. They weren’t looped in on the event, exactly. They just come through Times Square every week and happened upon the row of cars.

A 1965 Chevy lit up a 1980s Cadillac with its trunk in the air, showing its painted rear axle below. Ubers slowed to a stop on the West Side Highway to take pictures.

It was like they weren’t taking pictures of the cars at all, but glimpsing into our little alternate reality. We were in a bubble now, where every car was an individual expression or a tribute to a tuner icon of the past.

Track cars, tuner cars, stance cars, show cars. There were no cops. There were no intrusions to break the spell. No divisions, no clubs, no cliques. Just car people getting together on a summer night in the city to hang out and celebrate each other.

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Everyone started to break ranks and cut over to parade through Times Square and the illusion started to crack. Nobody retains their identity in full in Times Square.

There are too many people, too many tourists, too many cops, too many lights that shine New York City down on you.

You cede to the city. The Nismo-branded Nissans and big-fender RX-8s and Rocket Bunny RX-7s all politely filed through the crowds like everybody else.

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But even then, in that convoy, still some of that spell lingered. That V-Spec II Nür R34 rolled ahead of us down 7th Avenue and we heard someone shout from a bar across the street, in disbelief, “That’s illegal in America!”

“Not tonight, it’s not,” we replied.