Death, taxes, and the agony of rotary purists: three things that can be counted on from now until the end of time—especially if you decide to build a car like Khiem Pham's '93 Mazda RX-7. At first glance, Khiem's FD might appear to be your typical well-developed, piston-free street warrior, but pop the hood and you'll be confronted by the Wankel enthusiast's natural enemy: a Toyota 2JZ-GTE.
"When I was young, maybe 15, 16 years old, I would flip back and forth about whether I wanted a Supra or an RX-7," he explains. "I had recently sold a project and was looking for my next one, and an old friend suggested I look into FDs. When I saw how much cheaper they were compared to Supras of the same vintage, I picked one up."
For Khiem, it was the beginning of a journey that would see him simultaneously realize his twin Toyota/Mazda fantasies within the same chimeric car, because almost as soon as he got the coupe home to Houston, Texas, from Colorado, the hunt was on for a Supra-sourced 2JZ to swap under the hood. Some of the groundwork had already been done, as the car featured a smaller displacement 1JZ from a previous swap, but it wouldn't last long, as Khiem executed his ultimate vision.
"Everything about the entire cooling system had to be changed, because the FD mounts wouldn't work at all. I installed a Tech2 subframe and engine mount system to snug it in," he says. "The hood, too, needed an extra 6 to 8 inches of clearance before it would close over the taller motor, which is partly why I went Tech2 in that department. I also ended up using an R154 transmission, because the Mazda unit simply wasn't strong enough to handle the torque I was planning for—an issue that's also cropped up with the stock rear end that's still in the car, and which will need replacing soon."
Working entirely on his own, including installing the TCP Magic widebody kit, RE Amemiya bumper and wing, and prepping the vehicle for its silver Lexus paint, it took Khiem roughly a year from the time the RX-7 was delivered until he was able to finish connecting the AEM EMS Series 2 swap harness, turn the key, and fire up its newly transplanted heart. Tackling all the work himself, he kept the 2JZ's internals stock but built the rest of the motor to include Brian Crower cams, 2,150cc injectors, a Sleeper Designs billet intake manifold and fuel rail, and a Powerhouse Racing manifold, to which is bolted to Precision 6766 turbo.
Feeding the entire setup is an 90mm throttle body, with cooling provided by a Koyo radiator, Spal fans, a Setrab external oil cooler, and a Blitz intercooler. A custom 4-inch downpipe and exhaust send the FD's traitorous engine note out into the world. Running 29 psi of boost, the monstrous Mazda puts down 740 whp at 6,700 rpm and 620 lb-ft of torque at 5,600 rpm on E85 fuel—enormous numbers at considerably lower engine speeds than one would find in a similarly mighty Wankel design.
Lest you think the FD chassis' legendary handling potential hasn't been addressed with the same level of care as the car's drivetrain double-cross, rest assured this is one RX-7 that can still hang in the corners, too. The coupe sits on Ohlins coilovers fitted with Swift springs, and a TEIN rear strut back works together with a three-point front strut bar to help keep flex under control.
The brake setup is a mix of Hawk DTC pads matched with an AP Racing big brake kit and a Wilwood proportioning valve, with an ABS delete rounding out the modifications. Stickiness is further assured by way of Falken RT61K+ tires wrapped around Volk Racing TE37SL wheels. Even with the marginal 150-pound weight gain associated with the larger 2JZ engine, Khiem insists the balance of the RX-7 has been maintained and has the scale reading to prove it: The car features a near-perfect 50/50 distribution of mass front and rear.
Although all projects are by definition works in progress, Khiem is quite content with what he's achieved so far. "I might push the boost up another 2 or 3 pounds to get closer to the 800-whp mark, but I'm very satisfied with where the car is now. Besides, I've got to focus on all the factory stuff I've been breaking before I start hitting the track with it, which is my end goal for the build," he says with a laugh.
Despite the predictably sour faces from the occasional rotary-loving keyboard warrior, Khiem also says the overall reaction to his eye-catching line-crosser has been positive. "People are in awe of how much power it makes," he continues. "And honestly, that's one of my favorite parts of the car, too."