What's the best way to get people fired up with a car build? You do all the things you're not supposed to do; forget the norm. Sure, most enthusiasts tend to modify cars with the exact same parts as the next person, but then these cars all start looking a little vanilla. Same power mods, same aero, everything...same, same. The moment I met Albert Zheng, I knew right away he was a guy who followed trends early on as a builder, but these days he just DGAF. But there's something to be said about that type of attitude; it's confident, and his RX-7 exudes much of his personality. It doesn't fit into one standard box, but instead checks off many others to make it one of a kind. But that's not to say the project didn't start off basic, because it totally did.
It all begins back in '09 when Albert bought the FD off a friend who had crashed it, and it sat around in a shop for a couple of years until it was put up for sale. In Albert's eyes, the RX-7 was an attainable '90s-era Japanese supercar, a far better alternative when it's tough to pick up a Skyline GT-R and the price tag of an NSX or Supra is just too far out of reach. It was the perfect donor car, he says: "It was stock, Montego Blue, and had a pretty clean interior. It hadn't been running for a few years, but I wasn't worried about that. I knew I wanted to build something crazy from the ground up." That's where stage one of pissing people off commenced.
When it comes to modifying RX-7s, you're either a purist or you go the V-8 route. A turbocharged rotary is extremely pleasing to the ears, but we've seen far too many of the same engine issues that strike most every FD owner. A great but sacrilegious alternative is to swap in an LS motor—suddenly there's a wealth of smog legal parts (not to mention it's more affordable to modify and repair), a shitload of power, and improved vehicle balance (you can achieve a 50/50 power/weight ratio with an LS swap). As sweet as it might be to maintain a rotary, it's hard to resist the dark side of domestic power, much like Albert couldn't: "I wanted 400 hp, naturally aspirated," he says. "I ripped the 13B out the day after I towed the car back. I've always loved the noise of a cam'd LSx when it's idling, and the motor sits perfectly in the engine bay." No matter how heinous an act you feel an LS conversion is, it really does sit in the FD's engine bay as if it were meant to be there. On top of that, Albert pulled some of his old Honda building tricks into the FD. "My Hondas always had shaved bays and tucked wiring harnesses, so I made sure to make the engine bay super clean with the help of Rywire, which ended up building a new harness from scratch with only the necessities."
Here's how you piss people off part two: No, it's not the air suspension we're talking about, but the paint. Holy shit, is it loud. But this is no hat tip to the mid-'90s where funky colors reigned supreme. Albert used to own a Lotus Elise, one that comes from the factory with this Krypton Green paint. "This color is rare even in the Lotus community," he explains. "I've always liked loud colors, so I felt it would flow well with the vision I had for the car. I do regret selling my Elise and tried to buy it back, but he won't make the same mistake I made." On top of a wild color, the FD sports some premium Japanese aero, such as RE Amemiya widebody panels, a C-West front bumper, a Voltex rear wing, and Kouki JDM front turn signals and taillights. He can also set the ride height with his AirRex air suspension, and judging by the way it looked at the NorCal Wekfest show, he had it stanced perfectly.
In the end, though, it doesn't really matter how much Albert's FD pisses you off; it's all his to enjoy. "It's my childhood dream car," he says. "I didn't want to do what the rest of the Internet wanted to do, and I want it to do it all: win shows, be driven hard, sit low, be engineered a certain way...no matter what, it has to have my style." Hard to argue with that.
7 Year Hustle
An extensive build like Albert's RX-7 doesn't happen overnight. It takes many late nights, countless hours of hard work, ongoing support from friends and family, and of course, all the right ingredients. Here's just a glimpse of the transformation, and if you want to see more, visit Albert's hashtag #dumarx7 on Instagram.