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1987 Mazda RX-7 - The Mariah

Keeping the '80s rotary flame burning with a 560-whp rebuild and a one-of-a-kind Mariah Motorsports widebody

Benjamin Hunting
Jul 3, 2019
Editor: Darrien Craven

Sibling rivalry is often a force to be reckoned with when choosing a project car. For Derek Carlson, however, his brother's decision to pick up an FD Mazda RX-7 was an open invitation—not to one-up his flesh and blood, but instead join in on the fun. "I got the car to pal around with my brother," Derek says with a laugh. "We were hanging out together and I realized it would be a lot of fun if I had a rotary project of my own at the same time he was building his ride." Opting to stay in the family (in more ways than one), Derek knew he wanted a Mazda, too, but he took a more unique path by tackling the second-generation RX-7 known as the FC.

1987 Mazda RX 7 Mariah Motorsports Mode 6 Rear Bumper 02 Photo 36/36   |   1987 Mazda RX-7 - The Mariah

The FC is often overlooked compared to all the ink spilled over the FD, so Derek built his to be an eye-catcher, highlighted by an ultra-rare Mariah Motorsports Mode 6 Street widebody package. "I've always loved this particular Mariah Motorsports kit," he explains. "It's only the second car they ever put together; car number two. In my opinion, it's the best look available for the FC. I'm a big FD fan, of course, but to my eye this car just looks meaner." Mariah Motorsports has been serving the RX-7 community for more than 25 years, and the Santa Barbara-based shop is heavily rooted in race car development and rotary engine building. Its Mode 6 Street widebody is one of a kind, with a slope-nosed front bumper, functional brake cooling ducts, massive fender flares (capable of housing 335-series tires in the rear if needed), a wraparound rear bumper, and even an underbody panel. The conversion is far from an all-show, no-go affair, but it has been tested on the road course. It also comes at a steep price, retailing a tad north of $4,500. For Derek, though, it was more than worth it.

Despite the '87 coupe's sweet cosmetics, Derek knew from day one he was going to have to do something about the stock 185hp 13B-T motor. It was here that he turned to the Lucky 7 Racing crew (who were also working on his brother's car), and they gave the rotary a street port to provide a more aggressive powerband, while also installing E&J 2mm apex seals and 10mm engine studs. More boost came next by way of Turblown's GTX3582R turbo kit, followed by other additions to satisfy the thirstier motor: 2,000cc injectors, dual 450-lph Walbro fuel pumps, NGK plugs, and a SakeBomb ignition coil kit. The entire setup is overseen by a Haltech Elite 1500 management system wired through a custom harness assembled by Lucky 7 Racing. Tuned on E85, the rear wheels put down 560 hp and 448 lb-ft of torque at 22 psi. "I had always planned on the big turbo, and I got exactly the numbers I was looking for," Derek says. "I wanted to keep it rotary and not do a V-8 transplant like so many of these cars have had. I actually run cats on it, too, which most people don't—and I'm still making great power."

1987 Mazda RX 7 13BT Engine Photo 36/36   |   1987 Mazda RX-7 - The Mariah

As the vehicle is designed to pull daily duties at least once a week, Derek set the suspension between a fine line of performance and comfort. A set of KYB AGX adjustable shocks and Eibach lowering springs tune the chassis toward the softer side, making it comfortable on the street, while wide Nitto tires ensure the car sticks to the pavement (running 315s out back definitely helps!). EBC rotors and pads provide the "whoa" when required, and period-correct HRE wheels round out the entire package.

The car gets a great reaction nearly everywhere it goes. "It's so unique with the widebody, you just don't see them as much as you used to. A lot of people who come up to me ask 'What the hell is that car?' And that's kind of why I bought it—no one knows what it is. I de-badged it on purpose to make people wonder."

1987 Mazda RX 7 RE Amemiya Steering Wheel 01 Photo 36/36   |   1987 Mazda RX-7 - The Mariah

The car itself is a pleasure to drive both in traffic and when the road widens up. "There's just a ton of power. When the secondary injectors get on it at 4,000 rpm, it screams all the way to 8,500 just pulling like a monster," he continues. "It's just insane. Honestly, the car will break loose 1st through 3rd gear, and I'm probably going to have to switch to R compounds because of that. Lucky 7 did a phenomenal job tuning the Haltech system."

When it comes to RX-7s, most car enthusiasts will gravitate to the FD. But Derek is proud of his decision to fly the FC flag, and even more grateful to have built a project that keeps it all in the family, complementing his brother's FD. "This generation of RX-7 usually wasn't well taken care of—a lot of them were abused or poorly modified," he says. "I love the package, it's just a really nice, lightweight, good-looking sports car, and because it's got a rotary instead of pistons it has such a unique sound. To me, the FC represents a fun time in import and muscle car history, with so many cool cars coming out in that era. The age of the rotary is gone now, sadly, but it lives on every time I turn the key."

1987 Mazda RX 7 headlight Photo 36/36   |   1987 Mazda RX-7 - The Mariah
1987 Mazda RX 7 Mariah Motorsports Mode 6 Front Bumper 04 Photo 36/36   |   1987 Mazda RX-7 - The Mariah
By Benjamin Hunting
29 Articles
1987 Mazda RX-7 - The Mariah
Tuning Menu
Owner: Derek Carlson
Hometown: Camarillo, CA
Occupation: Dentist
Power: 560 whp, 448 lb-ft of torque on E85
Engine: Lucky 7 Racing street port 13BT engine; black ceramic-coated manifolds; E&J 2mm apex seals; Phenix Industries -AN plumbing; Radium Engineering surge tank; Walbro 450-lph fuel pumps (2 staged); ID2000 injectors; Turblown Engineering GTX3582R turbo kit with Inconel heat shielding, 10mm engine studs; TiAL twin wastegates; SakeBomb Garage ignition coil kit; NGK Racing 10.5/11.5 plugs; HKS Hi-Power exhaust; Rotary Works V-mount intercooler and radiator kit with black ceramic-coated piping; Turbosmart race port 50mm blow-off valve; AEM 3.5-inch Dryflow air filter
Engine Management: Haltech Elite 1500 ECU, CAN wideband, dual EGT; Lucky 7 Racing custom engine harness
Footwork & Chassis: Eibach springs; KYB AGX adjustable shocks; Energy Suspension bushings; Racing Beat DTSS eliminators
Brakes: EBC slotted/dimpled rotors, Red pads; Goodridge stainless brake lines; Motul RBF600 fluid
Wheels & Tires: 17x9.5 -20 front, 17x11.5 -70 HRE wheels; 245/40R17 front, 315/35R17 rear Nitto Invo and NT05 tires
Exterior: Mariah Motorsports Mode 6 Street widebody package; Mazda Arctic Silver Metallic paint
Interior: RE Amemiya steering wheel; Haltech multi-function CAN gauge
Thanks: TRMNL7, Lucky 7 Racing, Mariah Motorsports, RRR Dyno Tuning, Ty Carson

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