A lot of the builds you see in our magazine tend to be created by people with unlimited budgets, or at least with the help of sponsors. Though we try to feature a wide range of everything on the streets and show scene, it's a breath of fresh air when we discover a garage-built, sticker-less project car that makes us all think, Hey! I could do that! However, doing it on a budget doesn't mean it comes easy. In fact, far from it—which is why we appreciate a man like Henry Lam who's gone through the process little by little.
The L.A. native discovered his dream car in the same manner as many of us: by playing video games. As a broke teenager, he had his eyes locked in on Mazda's FD-chassis RX-7 but couldn't afford it. He did the next best thing and scrounged up enough money for a second-gen FC, which he drove from 2006 to 2011. After five years, he finally saved up enough to splurge on a very specific trim level he had in mind, a bone-stock black R1 model (limited production with stiffer suspension, additional chassis stiffening, and a front spoiler).
Owning two rotary cars wasn't quite the way to manage one's finances, so Henry parted ways with the FC. He picked up a fuel-sipping Honda Prelude as a daily, which helped him continue to save money as he reinvested back into his dream car, little by little. We should also note he decided to live at home with his parents to minimize his expenses. No shame in that!
After a full year of owning his FD, he was able to collect enough parts and install reliability and suspension upgrades like a V-mount intercooler, Racing Beat exhaust, and Stance coilovers. Still running the stock turbo and motor, the 13B-REW was tuned by Nelson Silverio of Lucky 7 Racing to make 280 hp.
Henry has come a long way since what felt like a lifetime ago, sitting in his living room controlling a modified RX-7 in Gran Turismo—and he was about to make his dream come true by taking his own FD on his first track day at an event called MazFest, one of California's largest Mazda events, which included an opportunity to drive the 2.5-mile Big Willow road course at Willow Springs Raceway. Everything was going just as Henry had hoped for until the last session, when the 13B began experiencing low-compression issues. Henry was forced to retire the car and trailer it home, facing a complete engine rebuild.
Lucky 7 was tasked to rejuvenate the two-rotor and perform a street port for better efficiencies. The crew also ditched the twin-turbo setup for a single Garrett GT35R, which Nelson Silverio again tuned, this time to 338 hp.
In true rotary fashion, Henry enjoyed his RX-7 for another three track days until the turbo blew and snapped the compressor shaft. Henry replaced the turbo with a newer BorgWarner EFR 7670, which was retuned by Nelson again—now to 350 hp.
You'd think at this point, the car would be reliable, right? But this is a rotary we're talking about, and there's no such thing! The last major hiccup Henry experienced took place last year on a harmless freeway cruise when the engine gave out due to the engine harness trigger getting loose. The RX-7 was towed to its second home at Lucky 7 Racing, where it was given a once-over and retuned to 363 hp.
While it's pretty normal for rotaries to have some growing pains and battle wounds, Henry's road toward owning and building his dream car has been a special one, filled with heartaches and accomplishments. He's also not about fitting in or trying to be the fastest wheelman out there. He explained that the idea for the car was to "be competitive while having fun at the same time." The street tires are slightly stretched and the car is too slammed to be optimal for the track, yet Henry bashes it around and enjoys it at all kinds of events, including our Show Car Shootout. He may not achieve the best results, quickest times, or highest scores, but he has a hell of a time. After all, he's living out a lifelong dream, little by little.