Photo supplied

Mazda RX7 – The misadventures of a misguided Mr.

This is a tale of immense joy and immense tragedy…much like Romeo and Juliet, but without any literary merit… the chances of your kids studying this tale in 5th form English are very slim.

Regardless, pour a coffee/ beer/ whiskey, and settle in for an epic saga (read boring story).

As you will all know, if you have read the build story, that previously I had a Subaru Legacy. At some stage, I had a flash of wisdom and decided the only way to become a better driver was to ditch the worlds least powerful leggy, and instead have a foray into FWD… this came about in the form of a 20V Corolla, which to be fair was wonderfully competitive in its class and very reliable.. but boring as batshit. So was also short-lived.

The one thing it did inspire in me, was that I needed something a bit more “rally-ish”.. I needed a proper classic sort of rally car.

Now to me, the perfect homage to the era when I first became aware of rally would of course be a MKI Escort, but one thing I have learnt is there is no such thing as a cheap Escort (if you are reading this and have a cheap MKI but fancy an RX7,… ring me!)

However, as fate often has it, there was an answer in the form of an old RX7 sitting on TradeMe for a very long time. Just like a dog at the pound, it just needed a good home and some love.

Unlike my first two cars, this one was for sale close to home. Well, closer to home. Well, Invercargill. So at least in the same island.

After some email wrangling, its owner and I came up with a suitable price, the poor Corolla was shipped off to its new owner, and I embarked on a verrrrrrry long drive to pick up the Mazda.

I would love to tell you that the car was exactly how I had pictured it, pristine, minor work to complete, and maybe a polish. Instead, it was a rusty heap of shit that was as dead as a dead dogs donga.

Despite its poor condition it still looked so fantastic in my rear view mirrors that I knew we were a match made in heaven (or hell, I get confused). As a side note, Invercargill is a farkin long way from Christchurch. My deepest respect goes out to all the long haul truck drivers.

After a few days recovery, I got brave enough to give her a tow start. Unbelievably, it started fairly easily! As my first taste of a rotary, I was instantly impressed. At this stage, it was only a half Bridgeport with a little Niki carb, but still pulled like a school boy.

Now, this is the part where I declare (yet again) that I will never attempt to rebuild a track car into a rally car… ever again… ever… ever! In fact, if I even mutter the words build again, someone have me committed to an asylum.

I stood in front of the car and mentally made a short list of wee things that need done. Surely there would only be a couple, right? Wrong. Very f’ing wrong. Very, very f’ing wrong!

We started off on the wrong foot, when she bit my thumb after I left it in a stupid place while closing the door. Since then, she has bitten me so many times she’s been affectionately called Christine!

The bite was the least of my troubles. Jesus, she was in a poor state!, EVERY panel was full of rust, some even just falling off! It seemed every part that came off while I was stripping her just ended up in the bin. I wondered if I would actually have any car left.

Photo supplied
Photo supplied

The stripping continued, (not in the good, girls on pole way, but the more heart-breaking “I’ll have to repair / replace that bit” way). The problem with a 35 year old car is that every bit you throw away is bloody hard to find and replace, not to mention expensive!

The positive to that (if there is one), is that there are so many bloody helpful people full of information, who bend over backwards to help or share their knowledge! Again, I have to thank the boys at Palmside. If there was a ratio of parts sold per hours of advice, they would definitely be on the losing end.

However, boxing on… the motor was out ready for a freshen up, and the car was mostly in little parts spread around the garage. The car had been delivered to Raycroft Automotive to have the half cage turned into a full cage and duly returned complete with a lovely wee surprise of the seam welding having been completed under the bonnet.

The build took a break at this stage due to the end of my marriage, which left the shell marooned in my old garage pending many tens of thousands of dollars of lawyers bills. (More on that later L)

As always there is a silver lining to all dark clouds, and randomly out of the blue, the engine builder rang to tell me that the motor was too good to just freshen up. He was very insistent that we could add a lot more horse power for very few extra beer tokens while it was already in bits. As you can imagine, I was certainly keen on that idea (who’s ever said no to more power?) Again, the lads at Palmside came to the rescue with the required 48IDA to complement the new internals.

So it came to pass that eventually I had my first crack at retrieving the shell. I say first crack, as the trailer I had borrowed had no winch and Christine managed to roll back awkwardly at some point resulting in a snapped Achilles tendon.

Soooo, some months of recovery and a few more thousand in lawyers bills later, I was finally able to (winch) the car onto a trailer and take her away.

She moved into the workshop at work, where apart from putting the engine back in, I spent every night for as long as I can remember prepping her up for painting and a lot more rust removal. Thanks to Phil and the awesome team at Ellesmere Auto Bodies. Not only did these guys do a fantastic job of covering up my terrible panel work skills, but also one of the lads had sold me some doors as mine had disappeared along with the first panel beater who was to do my body work.

Finally I had a complete car, all one colour and ready to start… hold on kids, grab the tissues, things get ugly here!

Brian the engine builder came out one lovely Saturday to breathe life into this new all-conquering engine, but it just refused to go. We even resorted to towing it around the street in a bid to get it to live to no avail. The reason became very obvious however when we discovered that rather than fresh avgas, we were instead pumping lots of water and naphthalene (aka mothballs) through the car.

Now because I had completely emptied and cleaned the fuel tank when I had removed the engine from the car, I never thought twice about checking it before giving it fresh fuel for the re-start. Which goes to show I am far too trusting, and hell truly hath no fury like a woman scorned.

Now I’m all about the environment and can see the merit on alternative fuels, but let me assure you that water simply doesn’t burn, and naptha is really bad for rubber fuel lines, fuel pumps, fuel regulators and really really bad for new engines – especially carbon Apex seals. This is probably the toughest moment of the entire build. I had already spent every cent I’d ever intended to, plus a shitload more (c’mon, budgets are just a guide surely?). This setback put me on the brink of selling up and forgetting I’d ever started. Truly dark days and beer filled nights lamenting my predicament.

It took a lot of convincing from a lot of people to keep going. I was devastated.

However, the very fact I am writing this story, probably means I did just that.

Brian yet again went to work re-rebuilding the engine, and I got busy replacing all the other things that needed replacing after the first mishap and a few other “I’ll get round to it” jobs, like replacing the shocks (dear Mazda, thanks for making the front shocks such a dirty oily bastard of a job to replace).

I am pleased to say that the second install of the motor went a lot easier than the first. It started surprisingly easily, and has been running like a dream ever since. In fact, I have even managed to spend a day out at Ruapuna running her in.

The joy and satisfaction of finally getting out in this car is easily worthy of the time and money that has been poured into getting her back into some of her former glory. As a side note, she now goes like a scolded cat, has the most beautiful balance, and is an aural sensation.

Although, when looking at the finished product (it’s actually miles away from being finished, but its usable) for all my efforts, what I have really accomplished is turning a near standard car into a slightly shinier, angrier near standard car. Bloody hell! Where did all those beer tokens go? I may need a second job… anyone know of a paper?

The moral of the story? If it has tits or tyres, it’s bound to cause trouble… and for God’s sake, if I ever even mutter under my breath I’d like to build another car… shoot me!

James May