Juni Asuncion has seen the evolution of this industry unfold, from quarter-mile street runs on weekends to big company drift events. He knows the fundamentals of a motor, the tools of the trade, and has anecdotal fixes for virtually every part of a car. He's that cool uncle, the thoughtful mentor, the man you want to be when you grow up. He is "old school" in every sense of the word. That is, until he rolls up on you inside his '74 Mazda RX-4. Then he'll show you the other part of being "old school"-the relentless urge to win every competition at whatever the cost-leaving you and your late-model whip with a very bruised ego.
But "old school" wasn't always the way to describe Juni. He sort of evolved along with the industry that he's loved since he first saw a car. In fact, he was like most of us. Back in the '90s he messed with Hondas and Nissans: one Civic here, a 240SX there. Listing his previously-owned vehicles would take an iPhone app to fully grasp.
If it wasn't for the fact that Mazda RX-3s and R100s ruled the street races back in the day, Juni would never have been intrigued by the rotary engine enough to open up a rotary-based shop in Baldwin Park, CA, or collect a slew of rotary engines that literally sit inside his garage, waiting for an engine bay. He would just be the "old school" guy who once tinkered with cars. But since these Mazdas were actually the rage in the early '90s, Juni has developed a passion that turned into a business and into the art of restoring/remaking cars.
"I saw a lot of Mazdas back then, while I was still into Hondas and Nissans," Juni explained, "When I saw them smoke other people in races, and continually saw the car's profile and how they reminded me of traditional muscle cars, I became hooked. Rotaries became my thing, and I never looked back."
The only difference in what we see in these pages and what inspired Juni so many years ago is that he opted to stray away from the RX-3 and R100 models. "I wasn't the only one inspired by these rotary-powered cars," he said, "There are a lot of guys who fix them up now and try to relive being back in the day. I wanted to do the same while being original about it. I went with the RX-4 because it's hard to find one that's worth restoring. It's not the first choice for most in building an early-model Mazda. In fact, it's the heaviest when compared to the RX-3 and R100. But I made it work and as much as I wanted to be 'old school', I wanted to be original."
To Juni, the RX-4 had the perfect chassis style that reminded him of nostalgic hot rods. He felt the front end looked like a Chevy Camaro and the back end swooped down like a Fastback Mustang. Blasphemy, we know, but if Juni were born 20 years earlier, he would've undoubtedly been in the middle of the hot rod scene, which is why it's shocking that he currently doesn't own one. Instead, the other car that takes up residence in his garage is a Porsche 550 Spyder, which was the same type of car that James Dean died in nearly 50 years ago. He cites that next to hot rods and rotaries, his next big love is roadsters. But when it comes down to it, he'll take the RX-4 any day over the Porsche. "Porsches are a dime a dozen," he told us, "The RX-4 is rare."
Juni's RX-4 took two years to build and meticulously restore, with a cost of around $7,000. To find an RX-4 this clean, you'd either need a time machine, car-sized hermetical sealer, or a lot of dedication. Juni had the latter, and is pretty damned handy with a wrench. In the engine bay, Juni dropped a 13B rotory from an '85 Mazda RX-7. It was sheer coincidence and pure convenience that he went for that model engine, mainly because it was one of the only motors sitting inside his garage that was close to being functional. His other alternative would have been to swap in a 20B rotary engine, which was only sold in Japan and came with twin turbochargers . . . but we'll save the story of what became of that engine for another day.
The 13B in his RX-4 is currently supercharged with a Camden seven-inch supercharger and power is estimated at around 300 hp. Underneath the beautiful chassis that's coated in Lamborghini blue is a set of 15-inch Epsilon wheels wrapped in Yokohama tires. Juni believes in mixing "old school" technology with the new, which is why he customized the brakes, suspension, and electronics to fit in with the technology of today.
He's had his finger on the pulse of tuning longer than most tuners have even had a pulse, and he wants to make sure he pays homage to both generations that see his car in this magazine, on the road, and in car shows. It doesn't mean, however, that he'll start building these Mazdas with super-high technology.
"A lot of the time, despite all of the available technology, it's always best to keep it simple," he said. "I work on cars with so much electronics that the owners don't even know what to do with. They just listen to other people and feel pressured. They need to keep it simple. There are less things to break and the car is much easier to troubleshoot."
It's also fitting that we feature Juni's RX-4 during a time when "simple" is dying out. When we were interviewing Juni, he was prepping the car for the annual Nisei Week Showoff, the most important car show in the industry, where the elite battle the elite in front of the most discerning of Los Angeles tuners. Unfortunately, this year was rumored to be the last for the event, which has been running since the '90s. Juni's RX-4 and every other "old school" car we decide to feature are a direct homage to that show, to the idea of keeping it simple, and to the start of the industry that people like Juni built.
While the Nisei Week Showoff may or may not return, at least we'll always have the Junis of the industry-enthusiasts who refuse to let their inspirations die out, and who build older, unique makes for the younger tuners to see, who hopefully will be inspired enough to follow the footsteps of "old school" guys, and one day "old school" will mean an entirely different thing.
Engine 13B rotary six-port bridge-ported engine; Camden seven-inch supercharger; custom radiator
Drivetrain '85 Mazda RX-7 transmission; Action Stage 2 clutch; lightened flywheel
Suspension Custom suspension
Wheels/Tires Front: 15x8.5 Epsilon wheels with Yokohoma 195/50-15 tires; Rear: 15x10 Epsilon wheels with Yokohama 225/50-15 tires
Brakes RX-7 front brakes
Exterior JRX hood; '03 Lamborghini blue paint
Interior Mazdaspeed seats; Auto Meter guages; Garza auto upholstery; Personal steering wheel; MOMO shift knob
Behind The Build
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