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1989 Mazda RX-7 - For The Love Of Rotary

Finding the perfect balance of style and power with the underrated FC3S Mazda RX-7

Nov 16, 2016
Photographer: Dax Rodriguez

It takes a unique person to build a Mazda RX-7. Finding one in decent condition is just about as hard as finding a Nissan 240SX that hasn't been power slid by eight different owners. And even when you do find one, chances are you'll be dealing with the Kardashian of motors, the rotary. Needless to say, the third-generation FD RX-7 has rocketed to fame, while the second-generation FC3S has been left a bit underrated. Every once in a while, though, you'll meet a person who is ambitious enough to build the older and less popular rotary-powered Mazda. Meet Charlie Sandoval and his '89 RX-7.

1989 mazda rx 7 keiichi tsuchiya kei office ks03 wheels Photo 2/21   |   1989 Mazda Rx 7 Keiichi Tsuchiya Kei Office Ks03 Wheels

"At first I didn't know much about rotaries, but I was looking to trade my Subaru Impreza GC8. I always thought the FC was unique. This particular RX-7 was a kind of rare Turbo II model and it also had a clean title," Charlie says. When he picked up his new project car, it already came with fairly rare three-spoke Super Advan version 1 wheels from the previous owner. His appreciation for three-spoke wheels grew and he began to collect the uniquely designed wheels, currently rolling on KS03s from Keiichi Tsuchiya's old brand, Kei Office. With rare JDM kicks for his FC that definitely made his car stand out from anything else in Southern California, the game plan was to keep the rest of the car stock, but we all know how that goes.

First thing to go was the factory aero in exchange for a B-Wave front bumper/APR carbon splitter combo. Charlie added an RE-Amemiya-style diffuser to the rear, FEED side steps, an aggressive GarageBB GT wing, and a vented hood to give his FC a truly one-off look yet still clean and streetable. The interior mods are straightforward with several gauges to monitor levels, a rollbar, and seats from a limited-release trim of the RX-7 in Japan known as Infini.

1989 mazda rx 7 13b engine Photo 6/21   |   1989 Mazda Rx 7 13B Engine

The FC serves primarily as Charlie's weekend toy, but it hasn't been without any issues. "I take it to shows occasionally just to put it out there, and I do want to track it eventually," he points out. "It's an old car and they always sound like they're falling apart." "Falling apart" might be an understatement as Charlie tells us he's had to rebuild his motor a few times. When the inevitable happens, rotary owners like Charlie are forced to replace nearly everything, such as housings and irons. The rotary is a deeply unapologetic motor and costs a pretty penny to rebuild, which is what led Charlie to opt for a more conservative tune when he went to Angel Motorsports. "My last build was half bridged. It made a lot of power in the higher rpm range, but now it has a street port with a moderate tune," he concludes. Since rotary motors are more demanding than piston engines, there are a lot of extra processes the motor has to go through to be reliable. His latest 13B rebuild is making 300 whp at 8 psi, but Charlie is sure he can make more; however, as a weekend car he can take to shows and meets, reliability is the name of the game.

1989 mazda rx 7 personal neo grinta steering wheel Photo 7/21   |   1989 Mazda Rx 7 Personal Neo Grinta Steering Wheel

It's becoming a rarity to see Japanese tuning in its purest form nowadays. It's also getting hard to find RX-7s that still have a rotary motor. Why on earth would anybody want to do something seemingly difficult? Is it a pain in the ass? In short, yes. Do it right, though, and you end up with something magical and unique like an underrated FC RX-7 that perfectly captures the stuff that Super Street is about.

1989 mazda rx 7 keiichi tsuchiya kei office ks03 wheels Photo 11/21   |   1989 Mazda Rx 7 Keiichi Tsuchiya Kei Office Ks03 Wheels
1989 mazda rx 7 centr console Photo 18/21   |   1989 Mazda Rx 7 Centr Console
Jofel Tolosa
513 Articles
1989 Mazda RX-7 - For The Love Of Rotary
Tuning Menu
Owner: Charlie Sandoval
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Occupation: UPS delivery
Power: 300 whp
Engine: 13B rebuilt with street port; Goopy Performance stud kit, apex seals; Rotary Works throttle body elbow, V-mount kit; custom intercooler piping, downpipe; HKS BOV black edition; Godspeed V-Mount intercooler; CX Racing radiator; SPAL Single race fan; COMP Turbo CT4; OBX Racing Type-H Hiroshima exhaust; TiAL external wastegate; Vibrant couplers; Mishimoto oil catch can, radiator cap; aluminum coolant reservoir tank; Aeromotive fuel pressure regulator with gauge, 10-micron fuel filter; stainless steel fuel/oil lines with AN fittings; OEM 550cc primary injectors; RC Engineering 1,000cc secondary injectors; LS coils; MSD ignition coils; MazdaSpeed oil cap; Angel Motorsports clear distributor cap
Drivetrain: Exedy Stage 2 clutch, lightened flywheel; Mazdatrix short shifter, bushings; KAAZ 1.5-way limited-slip differential
Engine Management: Adaptronics ECU
Footwork & Chassis: Tanabe Sustec underbrace; Racing Beat front sway bar; Corksport front strut bar; Cusco rear strut bar, V-brace; A'PEXi Pro N1 coilovers; custom pillar bar; Energy Master bushing kit
Brakes: Powerslot cross-drilled rotors, pads, stainless steel lines
Wheels & Tires: 18x9.5" +17 Keiichi Tsuchiya Kei Office KS03 wheels; 225/40R18 Bridgestone Sport Comp 2 tires
Exterior: B-Wave front bumper with foglights; APR carbon-fiber front splitter; carbon-fiber canards; aluminum hood with Nissan R34 Skyline vent; Spark hood pins; FEED side steps; RE-Amemiya Pro-style rear diffuser; GarageBB GT wing; Infini-spec window visors
Interior: Infini-spec seats; Personal Neo Grinta steering wheel; NRG Version 1 quick release; Boss hub kit; Autometer dual A-pillar and single gauge pods; custom triple center gauge pod; AEM air/fuel wideband, water temperature gauges; Prosport boost, oil temperature, oil pressure, EGT gauges; GReddy Profec E01 boost controller with remote, turbo timer

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