Boom goes the Wankel. The classic case of the rotary engine death; not because of a particular cause related to negligence or misuse, but simply a timely death due to old age. Mazda has graced us with a magnificent piece of rotating assembly, however, this powerplant has become exceedingly unreliable and unconventional to use, especially in a performance-demanding environment where consistency is the key to success.
At one point, this '87 RX-7 TII was owned by George Marstanovic, who stuffed it with an LS1 engine and utilized it to acquire his Formula Drift license. The machine was decommissioned as a competition vehicle and stripped of its powerplant in '12, with the rolling shell going to the current owner Patrick Reynolds, who served as a spotter for George. To give the utmost credit, this RX-7 still qualifies as a purist car since Pat, being a former Miata drifter, decided to rebuild it and stick with the engine he knows best—the 1.6L B6ZE from the Miata. Pat claims, "People put rotaries in Miatas all the time. Why can't I put a Miata motor in an FC?" Despite this great decision, the naturally aspirated B6ZE engine pumped out a measly 120 hp and 100 lb-ft of torque from the factory. There was no way Pat was going to settle for that...
The quickest way to a car enthusiast's heart is a turbocharger, and soon enough, the Miata engine was quickly turbocharged and supporting mods were added to net 372 hp and 293 lb-ft. An EMS 4 standalone computer was added to manage the fuel and ignition timing of the newly acquired four-cylinder, where the fuel-turbo compressor map was tuned nice and stoich.
The exterior makeup of the machine resembles that of a clean, personal "fun" car of a Japanese pro drifter. But factually, it is based off of Mitsuru Haraguchi's BN Sports FC3S D1 competition vehicle, in both spirit and attitude. The Formula Drift legal 10-point rollcage (typically the beefy door bars) are a dead giveaway that Pat is riding in nothing but a lightweight shell with an outrageous power-to-weight ratio.
Instead of cambered for fitment and aesthetics, the correct tread contact of the rear Panasports indicates that the wheel alignment as done appropriately for performance motives. This secures the fact that this was a real professional-level drift machine, just currently shy of major sponsor logos and a full race support team.
Pat won't go kaboom anytime soon because he's got himself a solid setup and a non-rotary RX-7. So make sure to watch for this piston-powered RX-7 at your local drift competition and give him a thumbs-up for keeping it wholesome, all Mazda.
1-on-1 with Mr. Reynolds
What's your background in drifting?
I started watching Internet videos back around '02. I had to search them up on Kazaa or Limewire or whatever and there was so little access—it was a dig to find new media. I didn't start drifting until I left New Hampshire and moved to Phoenix when I bought my first car—a '90 Mazda Miata. I started out with 140 hp, coilovers, and a VLSD. Once I hit the track, my Miata was just a natural progression—go drive, get better, buy a new part, go drive again. It wasn't like how it is now, where kids go out and just build pro-am competitive chassis and then drive their first event. I don't really care to become pro. I've watched people go down that road and it's a financial disaster and there isn't much return for your investment. I really just go out to have fun. When the car cooperates, it's the best feeling. Just being able to beat on the car and drive with your best friends is all I want to get out of drifting.
What's the biggest difference between drifting your first Miata and this FC?
Despite being the actual motor out of my Miata, the FC is worlds different. It makes another 175 hp over the Miata but it also weighs a little bit more—but only by a couple hundred pounds honestly. The Miata wasn't crazy gutted or raced out. The FC is such a more capable chassis. It will do whatever I tell it to. It can stretch really long turns or straights. There's more grip, more angle, and more input you can feed it. Though, the Miata was the most fun car on the planet to transition. I mean, literally, you could load the car up to full angle and transition lock to lock as fast as you wanted and the car never spun. I would throw it as hard as I could and it was so fast to opposite angle—you could leave the throttle pinned the entire time. The FC will spin and I have to think about transitioning first. I've heard FC chassis are busy and require a lot of input, but they are much slower and more controlled than the Miata, which makes driving it easier.
Can you tell us about the actual swap?
It was easy and a lot of work at the same time. The motor fits awesome, and Maverick Motorsports developed an adapter plate with my car to bolt a Turbo II transmission to a Miata motor. The Miata trans aren't strong, whereas TII trannies can hold upwards of 400 hp without much effort. The other advantage with my swap was that I could use slightly modified transmission mounts and essentially a shortened RX-7 driveshaft. This helped me push the engine as far into the firewall for weight distribution without building an entirely new firewall. The engine mounts were custom but not entirely difficult. The wiring and ECU side of things were a little more work and required George to do a lot of research. Some of the compatible sensors from other engines were used to work with the EMS 4. George wired the car completely from scratch and had to source every connector and wire for everything, including the ECU and USB connector. A lot of the things we did were the first times they happened or were undocumented on the Internet. Really, the last two years have been a learning process. The car is definitely not perfect, but I have to go to each event knowing that and do my best to stay patient, figure out the problems, and work to make the car better.
Any last words?
This truly is a dream come true and I try to treat it that way every time I go to an event. I'm just lucky to have a car that I can be proud to show off, and I'm even luckier to have the best friends with even cooler cars who share the same goals: look cool, drive hard, and have fun. I can't imagine my passion for drifting ever fading—and I say that with wholehearted conviction.