Unless you're strolling the green grasses of Long Beach during the annual Japanese Classic Car Show, you're not likely to spot a pair of old-school builds as clean as this 1973 Mazda RX-
3 and 1981 Toyota Starlet with one another. Owned by Angelo and Julian Angeles, theirs is a story as old as hot rodding itself; a passion passed down from father to son and done so at an age when both can enjoy the fruits of their labor together. It's not at all uncommon to see the torch passed, but often times the age gap doesn't allow for simultaneous participation.
No Stranger to Custom Cars
Angelo has an extensive, almost exhaustive resume of previous builds that took place prior to his RX-3 project. The foundation for his enthusiasm for all things automotive began like so many others, with an innocent die-cast car. He states, "One of my most cherished memories growing up was receiving a Christmas present from my cousins Lori, Zam, Chie and Ben Criste. They gifted me a DeTomaso Pantera by Matchbox at five years old. Ever since then, my passion for cars began." A '79 Dodge Colt handed down from his father would be his very first real car and from there, the floodgates were thrown open and his list of past experiences includes everything from multiple Toyota Starlet to a Geo Storm, CRX Si, Evo VIII, and more. Ask him about his rotary-specific builds and, well, that goes even deeper with a laundry list of various R100, RX-2, -3, and -4, as well as a bag full of RX-7.
The Rotary Lives
Back in 1992, Angelo took over this particular RX-3 after it had changed hands between multiple friends and eventually made its way back to him. The starting point included a few mods, like a street port applied to the original 12A powerplant, but Angelo had much bigger plans in mind and in the end, he'd realize almost five times the power output that Mazda originally intended. Power production starts with a workhorse 13B, an engine you'll find in countless Mazda builds, and with over 30 years of production, it's been worked and re-worked in every conceivable manner. Shunned by some and beloved by others, it's capable of producing incredible power from rather compact dimensions.
For help on the engine build, Angelo reached out to Vincent Brock to lend a hand and incorporated mostly custom-built pieces to round out an impressive list. The biggest factor in the car's newfound power is a Borg Warner EFR 9180 that hangs off of a scratch-built turbo manifold by RE Customs. Turbosmart's WG40 external wastegate helps regulate boost while the brand's Power Port blow-off valve relieves pressure and adds to the chorus under the hood. RE Customs was also in charge of creating the one-off 3.5-in. downpipe-to-exhaust that terminates in a pair of Borla XR-1 mufflers. ID2200 injectors fed by an Aeromotive A1000 pump, fine-tuned by an Adaptronic 420D help push the rotary to the 500hp mark - a number that Angelo is satisfied with currently for street duty, but he notes that there's more in store. "Once everything is in order, we will shoot for higher boost and hope to keep the tires gripping the ground."
Show & Go
The introduction of so many modern touches and custom fabrication under the hood, highlighted by polished pieces make a huge visual impact. Some of those additions get a little extra character from the heat generated and small hits of purple anodized color play well with the car's paintwork and make this RX-3 as much a showpiece as it is a capable performer. It's rare that we come across a build as aesthetically well done inside and out and that churns out some serious power for such a lightweight chassis like this.
The exterior of "Savanna," Angelo's nickname for his build based on the nameplate that accompanies the Japanese version of the RX-3, carries the same look you'll find under the hood. The House of Kolors "Burple" is a mile deep and capped off by a mix of polished factory pieces and the sort of rolling stock that this type of build demands. 15-inch Epsilon Southern Ways wheels fit the bill with a classic mesh design and polished step lip, with modernized traction coming by way of Toyo Tires' Proxes T1R fronts and R888R rears. Updating the front suspension was also in order and handled with Techno Toy Tuning coilovers and Tokico shocks down below, and a beefy Heliarc Works custom shock tower bar bolted on for additional rigidity.
A build of this quality is more a product of hands-on experience rather than just a stack of dollars. Restraint in some areas and going all-out in others and knowing when to draw the line between the two is the result of years of trial and error. That knowledge is being passed down to his kids, and his son's Starlet is proof of that.
1981 Toyota Starlet
The Next Gen
With a dedicated enthusiast and old-school import aficionado for a father figure, it was only fitting that Julian Angeles follow suit, and his connection to this car spans all the way back to his earliest years. He adds, "I remember sitting in the back seat and cruising around in the car when I was four years old." His father purchased the car in '08 and at that time it was primered and sporting only a polished 4K head. The timing just wasn't right for another build and the car ended up being stored in Las Vegas at a friend's place for a number of years.
In 2017, after the elements had taken their toll on the chassis, it was towed back to Cali with help from friends Ben Sarenas and Jay Cabayan. The idea was to get it back up and running, this time with a Formula Atlantic 503E swap. The search for an engine actually resulted in two examples that also included a turbo, a few manifolds and a transmission - basically a dream deal. Unfortunately, once again the timing wasn't right and some family issues meant missing out on the deal, but it may have been a blessing in disguise being that this '81 Starlet would end up being young Julian's first real project. He notes, "It would have been too powerful for me anyways. Instead, we were able to acquire the TRD 4K Upright engine with the help of my Tito Joel."
The 4K upright that now resides under the hood was fitted with Weber 40 side draft carbs and a Redline match-ported intake manifold. Valley Muffler built the exhaust piping and hung the Borla Pro XS muffler, and a series of fueling upgrades took place that included a Carter electric pump and new braided stainless 6AN lines with Earl's fittings. Power is estimated at about 130 crank horsepower, which is more than enough to scoot the 1,500-ish pound Starlet dubbed "Ube Cakes" down the road.
With the dust and any potential rust knocked off, the car underwent a fresh paint job that looks eerily similar to his dad's RX-3 but is actually a different color entirely as it leans further toward purple than Angelo's deep blue. House of Kolors was once again chosen, this time for their Pavo Purple, which was laid down by Javier Hernandez after a TRD N2 kit created by Angelo of @afr_composites was installed.
Boxy Is Beautiful
The flares bolted to all four corners add considerable width to the once innocent Starlet body and the arches lend themselves to bringing out the depth of the paintwork from different angles. Gunmetal Watanabe RS magnesium wheels contrast the eye-popping color and slightly hide a Wilwood brake package up front. Handling is drastically improved with a modern coilover suspension setup, camber plates, roll center adjusters and more.
Surrounded by an AK Fabrication roll cage, a set of Braum bucket seats and harnesses keep Julian planted firmly in place. Reupholstered rear seats and Techno Toy Tuning door cards team up with quite a few original factory pieces to complete the car's interior. The cabin's quaint feel is important as the car gets driven regularly. In addition to the street miles tacked on, Julian's Starlet made its track debut just last year at Auto Club Speedway and has been displayed at multiple events including JCCS, Toyotafest, Wekfest, Spocom, charity gatherings and more - proving itself as a true do-it-all build.
Looking Out for the Future
The look and feel of Julian's car are right in line with his father's RX-3 and it's not hard to decipher how much influence has been passed down. Angelo tells us that his current Mazda build is a special one, adding "The [RX-3] is one of the cars I had the strongest bonding time with my kids. They are both interested and eager to learn and work on Savanna." With Julian already well on his way to becoming a lifelong builder, his 12-year-old sister is undoubtedly next to jump into the art of car building and all of that knowledge and experience that Angelo earned over the years will continue to be utilized.