Two decades into the new millennium and classic rotary-powered cars from the ’70s are thin on the ground. While you'll have little trouble finding an affordable FD Mazda RX-7 on Craigslist and the like, its predecessors have largely disappeared into wrecking yards or—especially on the snow-and-salt side of the country—turned to dust.
"It was a really, really tough search," says Joe Feng, referring to his quest to land his fire-breathing ’74 RX-3. "I remember back in the early 2000s, I could pick up a local copy of the Recycler and find them cheap. I paid $3,500 for my first RX-2. Flash-forward to 2014 when I bought this particular car, and suddenly they were twice the price for just the shell—and most of them were in terrible shape."
When Joe finally did land the RX-3 he’d spend the next several years transforming into one of the most formidable piston-less classics on the West Coast, it was a bit of a basket case. Rust and bad paint were the most pressing concerns, but it also rocked a strong bridge-ported, non-turbo 13B motor and a unique 9-inch rear-end setup that was a big selling point.
The previous owner was a regular drag racer, and even though the car had a bit of a Franken-motor situation going on (Joe recalls finding parts from several different model year engines under the hood), it was enough carbureted fun to drive while he figured out his plan for the vehicle.
"For the rest [of the build], I wanted to do a restomod widebody look, something different from the other RX-3s I had seen,” Joe explained. “The body shop I went to, Ranz Motorsports, was very familiar with older Japanese vehicles, and the crew was able to tap in to exactly what I had in mind for the look of the car with the custom flares and rear spoiler."
With the tails for the car also custom-made and the front Works spoiler imported from Japan, the bodywork on the all-black, murdered-out first iteration of the Mazda proceeded according to plan—if a little slowly, according to Joe. The car then headed to Lucky 7 Racing, where it was time for a complete rebuild on an FD-sourced 13B turbocharged powerplant Joe had rescued from someone who had attempted to stuff it in a classic Lotus project, of all places. Lucky 7 installed a BorgWarner EFR 7670 turbo and a methanol injection kit, added larger studs, and a did a monster street port on the motor.
"It's currently running about 420 hp at the wheels. Given that it weighs only 2,000 pounds with a driver, it's got so much power that I could probably pop a wheelie if I wanted to," he says. "It gets a little squirrelly at times in the corners, but it also puts it down well with the 9 inches out back. I've got a few friends with similarly built RX-3s, but mine spools the quickest and just has this sweet bottom-end feel that makes it an incredibly fun car to drive."
Always intended as a street car rather than a hardcore track rat, the Mazda features an interior from Arthur's Upholstery, including a suede headliner, Mazdaspeed seats imported from Thailand, and a Haltech Racepak gauge cluster. The car spends a lot of time on the twisty roads of Angeles Crest, which Feng is lucky enough to call his backyard, and where's he's working on locking down his suspension tune. The car is sitting on a custom four-link setup in the rear featuring QA1 coilovers made by Tony's Speed Shop, while the front features a set of coilovers adapted by Ranz from older MR2 shocks.
One of the most eye-catching aspects of Joe's Mazda RX-3, aside from its widebody splendor, is the Advan livery. He told us he was looking for classic livery that went well with the all-black scheme the car previously wore. It took quite a while to get the right spacing, sizing, and position of each of the stripes, but Joe tells us it came out perfect in the end.
How hot is that Advan look? How about enough to cause temporary amnesia at SevenStock, California's biggest rotary celebration. "The car won First Place in its class the first year I took it there, when it was still all black," Joe says, laughing. "Then, the next year, I won again with the Advan wrap on the car—and I'm 90-percent sure the judges who voted didn't make the connection it was the same car!"