If you’re at all interested in rotary-powered Mazdas, and in particular FD RX-7s, then chances are you’ve heard of Phil Sohn. That’s because Phil is a prominent figure on the American rotary scene, both as the organizer of our favorite annual rotary gathering, the Deals Gap Rotary Rally, and as one of the founders of rotarycarclub.com. Plus, Phil’s famous Montego Blue FD made the cover of this illustrious magazine many years ago, along with his ultra-rare ’91 Mazda Eunos Cosmo.
Just to give you a sense of the depth of Phil’s rotary obsession, he’s owned 15 rotary-powered Mazdas, including 10 FDs, an RX-8, an FC convertible (his first rotary purchase, back in ’99), a ’72 RX-2, and a ’73 RX-3. Come to think of it, the RX-3, which he sold to a friend in the rotary community last year, is about to be featured in sister mag Super Street. And although Phil says the RX-7 you see here is his last FD build, he does have a silver one getting a complete makeover with rare Mazda and Mazdaspeed parts, which will no doubt be feature-worthy as well.
But for this project, designed to be his ultimate expression of rotary passion and FD RX-7 styling, Phil recruited the absolute best talent in his home state of Alabama, including Goolsby Customs and MPFab. As Phil told us, “I first heard of Jonathan Goolsby and Goolsby Customs back in early 2000. He was well known in Alabama for his unique custom-built cars and his painting skills. I pitched my 20B FD build to Jonathan back in 2009 and again at the ’10 SEMA Show. My goal was to make sure the car would have better than OEM fit and finish, unlike many of the kitted cars I’ve seen at shows, which often have huge panel gaps and such. After talking with sponsor Disc Brakes Australia at the ’11 SEMA Show, I landed a spot in their booth for 2012, and at the same time Goolsby won the coveted Best GM Resto-Mod award. With Jonathan winning the GM award, I was concerned he might not take on my project, but he still agreed to take it on the day after getting home from his big SEMA win. So I picked up a red FD shell in New Orleans with my friend John Lewis.”
Phil’s actually been planning this build for quite a long time, having bought the 20B three-rotor engine for it back in 2004 when he first met his wife. “Actually, on our second or third date, I asked her to drive with me to meet my engine builder, Luis Canizales, to see the three-rotor for the first time, since his friend had picked it up for me from Miami. When she said, ‘Sure,’ I knew she was a keeper!” Phil told us.
Speaking of Luis Canizales, Phil is as picky a rotorhead as there is on this planet, so for him to say that Luis is one of the best rotary engine builders in the business, you know the guy must have a wealth of experience and a serious passion for spinning triangles. In fact, Luis has been building rotaries for more than 40 years and has even built his own lapping table to true up the sealing surface of the iron sections, plus he cranks over every motor he builds on a custom engine stand he built, just to be sure each freshly assembled rotary is making good compression.
It’s based on a late-model D-series 20B out of a low-mileage Mazda Eunos Cosmo, and Luis equipped it with fresh OE internals, gave it a mild street port, and balanced the rotating assembly to ensure high-rpm happiness. The engine and rolling chassis were then delivered to Walker Morgan at MPFab for installation. According to Phil, “Walker did the fabrication work for the turbo setup and is also one of the smartest people I’ve met. His fabrication skills and his ability to solve space-oriented issues really impressed me. Walker was the one who came up with the bottom-mount turbo setup, and by doing so he solved several problems and also created something that no one has done before with a three-rotor setup.”
It doesn’t take a genius to appreciate the quality of Walker’s work, though. His custom V-mount intercooler setup using a Bell intercooler core is beautiful enough to hang in a modern art gallery, the sheetmetal work and robot-shaming welds combining to give lesser fabricators and art lovers alike a serious case of TIG envy. And it really is utterly brilliant the way Walker designed the 321SS bottom-mount manifold so you can see the big Turbonetics GT-K turbocharger peeking out through the main air inlet on the RE-Amemiya N1-02 front bumper, surrounded by custom sheetmetal work and mounting brackets that are best described as metal porn.
Once Walker had completed the custom fab work, the car was torn down to a bare shell and delivered to Jonathan at Goolsby Customs for an equally impressive body and paint transformation. Phil opted for Mercedes-Benz AMG Imola Grey Metallic paint provided by BASF, but Goolsby customized it by darkening it just a bit. But before he could work his magic with the spray gun, Jonathan had to first fine-tune the fitment of all the RE-Amemiya and Fujita Engineering (FEED) exterior parts for that beyond-perfect aesthetic expected of a SEMA build. The end result is nothing short of spectacular, the gray and black (and carbon) theme giving this 20-year-old Japanese sports car the look of a modern-day supercar.
Phil’s the type of guy to give all the credit to his sponsors and build partners, but a lot of the attention to detail you see throughout his FD are the direct result of Phil’s own creativity, not to mention his own blood, sweat, and tears. He hand-filed the casting marks off the exterior of the three-rotor intake manifold, for example, before painting it and then filing the paint off the lettering for a machined look. He did an equally detailed paintjob on the engine and transmission, plus he removed, re-bushed, sandblasted, and painted every suspension arm on the car, not to mention stripping out any unnecessary wiring, deleting the HVAC system, and simplifying the AC panel and shifter panel, both of which were painted in a satin finish by Goolsby.
On a build that features a ton of extremely desirable and very rare JDM goodies, the unicorn item for you JDM snobs out there has to be the “we’ve never seen one before, we didn’t know it even existed” Defi Super Sport gauge cluster. As Phil told us, “A Japanese rotorhead friend in Kentucky helped me out by translating the wiring diagram for the cluster—thanks, Yuki Sawai! This item was never sold in the USA, and I think a total of about 400 were made. I believe I was the first in the USA to acquire one, though I do know of a 240SX, a Supra, and a Veilside-kitted FD that have since installed one.”
Built in Alabama by some of the finest craftsmen in the South and featuring only the finest and most sought-after aftermarket parts, Phil Sohn’s last RX-7 build has to be one of the best all-around FDs on the planet. And just like the Barber Motorsports Park backdrop suggests (a location Phil chose because it’s one of the finest motorsports venues in the country and is a real source of Bama pride), this isn’t just a SEMA show car. Phil has every intention of driving his boosted 20B beast on the streets and at the racetrack, starting with the ’14 Deals Gap Rotary Rally.
If you want to see this superstar FD up close and personal, sign up for DGRR so you can chase Phil and other amazing brap-brap machines down the Tail of the Dragon.
Specs & Details
1993 Mazda RX-7
Engine 2.0L 20B-REW three-rotor
Engine Modifications Shaved bay with satin finish paint by Goolsby Customs, Define Autowork three-rotor engine mounts, Mazdaspeed powerplant frame, complete engine refresh, mild port, and balancing by Luis Canizales; MPFab custom 321SS bottom-mount turbo manifold, custom downpipe, custom V-mount intercooler setup with Bell Intercooler cores and alternator relocation; Mazmart upgraded billet water pump, prototype Xcessive Engineering three-rotor LIM and fuel rails; Injector Dynamics 1000cc injectors, AEM ignition coils, Setrab oil coolers with Mocal thermostat, Tial MVR wastegate and BOV; Turbonetics GT-K 1050 billet wheel turbocharger, Ludwig Motorsport mil-spec engine wiring and engine accessory harnesses; CJ Motorsport fuel pump kit, Radium Auto multi-pump surge tank (2x Walbro E85 pumps), Denso Cosmo in-tank fuel pump, Ganador Titanium cat-back exhaust
Engine Management Haltech PS2000
Drivetrain Exedy Twin carbon clutch kit, carbon-fiber driveshaft
Wheels, Tires & Brakes Rays Engineering Volk TE37SL Black Edition 18x9.5’’ (f) and 18x10.5 (r) wheels and Duralumin lug nuts; Toyo Proxes R888 255/35R18 (f) and 295/30R18 (r) tires, DBA 332mm rotors with custom hats by E&J Auto, Alcon 4-piston calipers (f), RZ calipers (r), Chase Bays manual brake kit with prop valve
Suspension Stance USA Pro III coilovers, Tri-point Engineering adjustable sway bar (f), Widefoot Engineering solid sway bar mounts, Racing Beat sway bar (r), FEED fender braces, Nagisa strut tower to firewall brace, Powerflex bushings, AutoExe underbody bracing, Raceshop rollbar/rear strut tower bracing, transmission and diff brace, AtomicRex manual steering rack
Exterior BASF Glasurit paint in AMG Imola Grey Metallic, paint and body work by Goolsby Customs, RE-Amemiya N1-02 front bumper, N1 carbon undertray, N1 carbon canards, N1 carbon hood, carbon fender mirrors, and carbon diffuser; FEED front fenders, rear fender flares, carbon side skirts, and carbon GT-IIR rear wing; ShineAuto rear carbon lip spoiler, FAL rear hatch window, new front windshield, trim, and door seals; custom vented signal lights, R-Magic HID headlights, custom converted taillights
Interior Defi Super Sport gauge cluster, Bride Exas III seats (f) and fabric-covered JDM seats (r); Raceshop rollbar, Takata Drift III harnesses, Prosport Premium gauges, FEED shift knob and doorsills; Works Bell short hub, QR, and lock; Personal steering wheel, interior conversion from Tan to Black, simplified AC and shifter panel with satin paint by Goolsby Customs
Sponsors Disc Brakes Australia, Exedy Clutch USA, Toyo Tires, Turbonetics Inc., Bell Intercoolers, Xcessive Engineering, BASF, Takata, Powerflex, Carbonetics, Tial USA, Stance USA, Assaultech, Full Function Engineering, Ludwig Motorsports, Rays Engineering
Special Thanks My wife for allowing me to pursue this crazy hobby, the Bham area rotary crew for their help with this build, Chris Ludwig for amazing wire harnesses and ECU support, Jay Sheah from Evo-R, the crew at Barber Vintage Museum and Mr. Barber for allowing us to shoot at Barber Motorsport Park, and John Lewis, my longtime friend and a fellow rotorhead who helped me transport the car all the way from New Orleans to Birmingham, to Las Vegas, and back to Birmingham.