You've never followed your dad's lead. You like Kendrick Lamar. He likes Bruce Springsteen. You'll spend $200 on shoes. He wishes Miller's Outpost was still around (Miller's who?—SD). Jesus Lopez, on the other hand, knew at an early age his dad was on to something, which is what led to him recreating his pop's first-generation Mazda in all its '80s-era glory.
"In the early '90s, my dad owned one," Jesus says about the rotary-powered two-seater Mazda introduced to Japan in 1978, and that later came to the U.S. "Originally, I wanted an EM1 [Honda Civic] until my dad showed me the first-gen RX-7, and from that moment on I only wanted [that]." And that's exactly what he ended up with, despite his predilection toward Hondas and something like that late-'90s Civic Si he'd been eyeballing, which he learned from his sibling. "I grew up around Hondas because of my brother," Jesus says, "but RX-7s were always interesting because of their rarity and their rotary engines."
Jesus learned soon enough that those rotary engines aren't as trouble free as, oh, say, that EM1 Civic Si's B16A2 would've been, though. It didn't take him long to blow up that factory-supplied 12A engine. And it only took him another 1,000 miles for the oil pump to fail on the one he'd just had rebuilt to take its own dump. It was right around this time that Jesus decided to chuck the carbureted 12A altogether and move on to something newer and something already turbocharged, like the later RX-7's 13B rotary engine that, straight from Mazda, is good for more than 200 hp. "From that point," Jesus says, "I learned that it's better to do things right than to half-ass them."
And by not half-assing anything, Jesus is talking about having that 13B overhauled—bridge-porting and all—and then strapping a BorgWarner turbo onto it, along with a one-off exhaust system by way of Schmuck Built. Speaking of Schmuck Built, the Pennsylvania-based fabrication firm is about the only one that's gotten its mitts onto Jesus' Mazda this side of Jesus himself. "I've done everything else to the car, from paint and bodywork to suspension and interior," he says, going on to mention how, although he didn't build the engine himself, he helped where he could.
The exterior is where Jesus' expertise lent itself the most. That's because, by trade, he paints cars for a living. "Being able to straighten, repair, and change the appearance of a vehicle has always been interesting because it plays a big role in modifying [something]," Jesus says, who started painting cars professionally at 16.
"When I first built the car, I did it to be a replica of my dad's car [from] back in the '90s, and I was able to get it spot on," Jesus says. "After a while, I began to make it more of my own and get it to the point where I can compete with today's builds while keeping it to my liking and not following trends."
The juxtaposition of old meets new rings especially true when considering things like the two-and-a-half-decade-old 13B and the substantially more up-to-date Belak rims. Or the window louvers that belong to the '80s and the adjustable Techno Toy coilovers you could only find today. Consider things like the RX-7's shape and you'll wish you'd experienced an era in which fuel injectors barely existed, but look at the shaved and tidied-up engine bay and you'll be happy you're in the here and now. "The car has a little bit of everything—the shaved and tucked bay and the iPad are more of today's trends," Jesus says. "The stance is more of a performance theme, and with the louvers, hatch, and of course the rotary, it still shows that it's an old-school car."
And an old-school car it is, which means it's got the sort of hang-ups only an old-school car could have. "The biggest challenge with building this car was sourcing parts," Jesus says—a sentiment just about anybody trying to restore anything three decades old could relate to. "A lot of the parts [have been] custom made, and a lot of them are over-priced because not many people offer them."
It's a problem worth having, though, and if you ask Jesus, he'll confirm that every bit of angst associated with things like trying to find, say, the right sway bars, was worth it. "I wanted to build something that could compete a little with the old and a little with the new school, interpreting the best of both worlds while still building a car I love and enjoy," he says, "instead of building a car based off of opinions and yearly trends." And, of course, something in the likeness of the car that started it all for him, Dad's RX-7.