The moment I laid eyes on Dylan Scannell's 1993 Mazda RX-7 at AutoCon New York, I knew it was Super Street material. The scene was Pier 94 along the Hudson River in the heart of Manhattan. 10,000+ spectators, almost 300 of the finest modified cars representing the East Coast, and front and center was an FD RX-7 that looked as if it was plucked from the Tsukuba Circuit. With nothing but high quality JDM parts and aero, its high horsepower 13B-REW rotary build and stripped interior looked the part of a time attack hero. There was custom work galore - inside the cabin with a 12-point rollcage, fuel cell setup and even a driver cooling system - outside with a custom rear diffuser and dual A'PEXi exhaust setup along with countless other components under the hood to make the 700+hp turbocharged powerplant run like a beast at nearby Pocono Raceway.
Rare parts were also noticeable with a discontinued GReddy three-row intercooler and modern-looking LED CarshopGLOW taillights. Everything just all comes together nicely with the right mixture of show quality and track performance, which is why at AutoCon, I awarded the Super Street Best of Show award to Dylan. A year later, I caught up with him at the New York International Auto Show, where I was again struck by the car's raw beauty, and reminded that it was time to shine the spotlight on his RX-7, a car that's also been track-tested, has been one helluva a journey to get here, and still has much more to its story to be written as Dylan continues to further develop the car for road racing.
How did you get into toying with cars?
Since I was a few years old, I've always been interested in anything mechanical, so my love for cars, especially fast cars, was inevitable. I was always building or trying to improve something whether it be nitro RC cars, go-peds or bicycles. Nothing I owned stayed stock for long. When I got older, I was drawn to Japanese cars more than others given the enormous selection of aftermarket parts available. I admire the '90s cars the most because they were very driver-focused, particularly the RX-7.
Why the RX-7?
I wanted something extremely unreliable and I hate money! Kidding But, when I first saw an RX-7 online, I remember loving the body lines and look of it. The more I read, the more I loved the platform. When I was about 16, I saw a stock third gen. in person for the first time in a parking lot and fell in love. I decided at that moment I was going to buy one.
Having a sometimes-unreliable rotary didn't shun you away?
I've driven many cars over the years from Lamborghinis and Ferraris to Evos, STIs and Supras, but nothing feels quite like a high revving rotary in a balanced nimble chassis like the FD. It is the complete driving experience and a true driver's car in my opinion, especially once you remove the ABS and power steering.
How'd you end up with this beauty?
I sold umbrellas in the rain and sunglasses and waters when it was sunny. I worked multiple jobs throughout high school to not only fund my car at the time, but to reach my goal of buying and building an RX-7. In 2010, I finally bought this one for $8,400. It wasn't in great shape, but it ran.
From the get-go, did you set out to build a legit JDM time attack contender?
The goal was and still is to just have fun. Time attack was my choice because I had a blast my first day out on a track. I learned that there are so many factors that can be constantly improved on, not only with the car but for the driver as well. It is the combination of speed, freedom, challenge and technology that is truly appealing to me.
Said like a true road warrior. Anyone or any car that inspired you?
A lot of inspiration came from Rotary Revolution, RE Amemiya and Fujita Engineering. Inspiration also came from privateers in time attack like Under Suzuki who, despite the many ups and downs, never gives up and strives for perfection.
How's it drive and sound?
The car handles like it's on rails. Even when the back comes out, it's very controllable and responsive to small driving inputs. The car sounds like a combination between a Formula One car at high rpms and a pro mod at idle. We're actually looking into inline mufflers that won't blow out to quiet it down a bit. Regardless, when the gates crack your ears will bleed.
It's no mystery you didn't skimp on the choice of high quality JDM parts on the build. But what are a few things that people might overlook?
We have the fans and water pump wired to individual switches so the car can cool after laps without keeping it running. The cooling system has performed great even in the brutal August heat which is normally a killer for rotaries. The trick is to find the right flow, so the water spends enough time in the radiator to cool, but also flows through the block before getting too hot. We have sensors to monitor both inlet and outlet temps and both have been remarkably stable. Also, we have the fuel pumps on separate switches to kill the fuel before the ignition to prevent flooding. Everything in the engine bay was designed to be easily replaced or fixed on the fly. By separating electrical components, it makes issues much easier to diagnose and manage.
Very cool and those details are testament that this wasn't your run-of-the-mill project car build that happened over the course of a month or two. I remember you telling me the journey to now was full of stress though... Can you elaborate?
In the beginning, I was into drag racing for the most part, but then I took my car on some mountain runs and it made drag racing feel boring. Shortly after, I allowed a self-proclaimed rotary guru to tune the car and he blew the motor. I wasn't too disappointed since I was eager to build and port the motor anyway. The car handled great and made decent power, but I wanted to improve both.
A blown motor that wasn't your fault Shitty. But next came
I met Roan from RX Parts at Island Dragway shortly after. I was amazed by the craftsmanship in his build and asked where he thought I should have my new motor built. He recommended Speed-Tek. A few days later I drove to there to meet the owner Navin who was chain smoking cigarettes in his office. I told him I wanted to keep the rotary and build the car for road racing. He was almost as excited as I was as he lit up another cigarette and explained the many options. I learned that Navin is one of the few people in the industry that truly does it for the love and passion and not so much for the money. That being said, he is selective with which projects he takes on and takes his time doing things the right way.
Sounds like things were about to go your way?
Not at all. Once the car was close to complete, it was time for wiring. Navin has extensive knowledge but recommended I have the car wired at another shop. I took the car there where it just sat for months. After six months, I was fed up. I drove there to confront the shop owner personally and pick up the car. When I arrived, I realized the car had been broken into and vandalized. The owner of the shop left the car outside overnight and thousands of dollars in parts were stolen!
Oh man That's brutal. Hopefully the shop helped you to recuperate some of the missing parts.
Actually, I had to repurchase many of the parts stolen and just started putting the car back together myself. I spent every moment of free time working on the car. It's really the little things that are the most time consuming. The worst part was the box of miscellaneous fasteners and OEM pieces were missing, which made it extremely difficult to put the car back together.
Sounds like a major headache! So, were you out of the woods at this point?
Not quite yet. When it was time once again to be wired and painted, I ended up bringing the car to a shop in Connecticut that claimed to be a one stop shop. After a year the car was painted and wired. This is when I learned rules number one and two of building a car with a shop: Never pay until the work is complete and document everything. I paid a ridiculous amount of money and the car was wired like a six-year-old did it. Behind the dash looked like ramen noodles.
Good rules to remember. Hoping things got finally sorted out after this .
The string of bad luck continued. I brought the car to an excellent AEM tuner named Felix who agreed the wiring was trash and didn't want to tune for big power until it was redone properly. He tuned the car conservatively on gate pressure at 7psi, however the wiring issues just made things worse. Every time I drove the car there was an issue: the lights would flicker when I hit bumps, pins would pop out everywhere and it even caught on fire!
I can go on for days about how bad it was, but you get the point. A few months later the motor grenaded due to poor wiring connections at the crank triggers and primary injectors. I almost threw in the towel. I was so fed up with the black cloud surrounding the car. I was ready to part it out until I received a call from a friend of mine at Crown Speedlab who knew the story and wanted to help. We discussed a plan and Crown Speedlab and Speed-Tek collaborated to help me get the car running right. The motor was rebuilt and bridgeported by Speed-Tek, and many of the more serious wiring issues were addressed and corrected. Since then, the car has been performing well on both the track and the street.
What's next for the build?
All of the wiring in the car will be ripped out and completely re-done prior to the 2020 season. We're going to install a fire suppression system amongst other safety related items. We also have plans to use an HKS sequential transmission and upgrade the rear differential. I've learned more about people than cars throughout the process, both good and bad. I made more than half of my closest friends through cars, and although the journey has been a nightmare, it has also been a blessing.
Rotaries still reign supreme! A look back at three FD RX-7s recently featured in Super Street:
Henry Lam's mild street/track RX-7 R1
Yellow and loud! Enticed Motorsports 450whp RX-7
Street drifting RX-7 from the Midwest