Jeff Ritucci of Bellmawr, NJ, started getting into cars when he was in junior high. “I wanted a hooked-up car so I got a ’90 Honda CRX and started building,” he says. Starting off with that car turned the urge to modify into a full-blown disease, as he calls it, and it didn’t take long before he became bored with that car and wanted to start something different. The FD RX-7 is a timeless chassis whose body lines and rotary motor have developed a cultlike following over the years, so it comes as no surprise that Jeff was attracted to it and decided that it was his dream car. “I already had the disease from my Honda, and it was time for me to step my game up,” he says.
When people think of commonly stolen cars, Hondas come to mind. Hondas are some of the most stolen vehicles in the country every year, and I’m sure that Jeff worried about it a bit when he was driving his CRX, but he probably allowed that concern to trickle out of his mind when he picked up his first Mazda RX-7. Jeff found a red with black interior ’93 and picked it up with no hesitation. But somebody wanted it more than he did. “I had the car for only 22 days before it was stolen out of my driveway one night,” Jeff says. To add insult to injury, the vehicle was never recovered, so it wasn’t like he could even start the build over with his dream car. Jeff was forced to look for another vehicle that fit the description of what he wanted. “I searched high and low for another one, but could not find one like the one that had gotten stolen,” he says. So Jeff opened his mind to other less than ideal options.
I already had the disease from my Honda, and it was time for me to step my game up.
In the South Jersey area where Jeff resides, no mechanics wanted to touch the infamous Mazda rotary. Jim Phillips of JPR Imports wasn’t one of them. “He was the only one in the area who worked on the tricky rotary engine,” Jeff says. It was only natural that the two would become acquainted. Phillips happened to have an RX-7 that he was willing to sell Jeff, but this wasn’t just some random chassis—Jeff knew all about this car and its rough past, to put it lightly. Under normal circumstances he wouldn’t touch it with a stick, but he had grown desperate and decided to go for it, regardless of what it had been through.
The chassis that you see before you has one hell of a background. Jeff actually knows the majority of its history, and to make the car what it is now from what it was before is quite a feat. Jeff’s good friend Kevin bought the car “sometime in the late ’90s”, but only owned it for a couple of months before deciding to sell it to a younger guy named Bill. Well, Bill didn’t exactly get to enjoy the car for very long. “Bill had the car for only six hours and decided to take it to some club in Philly to show it off that night,” he says. “Well, Bill must have gone to the wrong club because when he came back outside the car had vanished. It was recovered two weeks later on the side of a street.” The vehicle was stripped of essentially every single part that could be unbolted. It had no dash, no seats, no carpet, and a steering wheel with a blown airbag. The engine and transmission were missing. The fenders, rear hatch, and even the doors were gone too. “The only parts of the car left were the chassis, rear quarter-panels, roof, and frame of the car. And a bunch of wires. That’s it.” At that point the car was towed to JPR Imports where Phillips bought the now salvaged vehicle from the insurance company and proceeded to take parts off of a totaled FD chassis he had on his lot and transfer and piece together the recovered vehicle. Eventually, the chassis resembled a car again. “The car was done, not the cleanest car ever, but it was driveable,” Jeff says. “A couple of different paintjobs and a couple of years went by, and that’s when I purchased the car from Jim.” And here is where the build actually began.
Jeff had his work cut out for him, and he wasted no time in getting to it. Well, he didn’t really have a choice. “I first replaced the motor because the other only lasted for two months,” he says. He then decided that driving around with a steering wheel that had a hole in it from a blown airbag wasn’t classy, so he picked up the MOMO Millennium to replace it. He then addressed the exterior, picking up a Veilside body kit and C-West carbon headlight conversion. With the aggressive aero in place, he directed his attention to what was underhood and made some changes, like having two turbos in parallel rather than the factory sequential designation. He made some other mods here and there and then took the car to some shows and started winning some trophies. The taste of victory and the sight of trophies in his house lit a fire under Jeff, and he decided to take his vehicle to the next level.
Between 2003 and 2004, Jeff poured his time and money into the car and had a vast array of modifications and custom work done to the car. Starting with the powerplant and related aspects, he went with a single turbo setup by Greddy. Fuel upgrades such as 1,600cc secondary injectors and custom rail were added, and drivetrain modifications such as the Kaaz LSD and a different final gear ratio were installed. The vehicle was then equipped with Tein HA coilovers to place it at the height that Jeff desired. He basically began to change over the entire car and go all out. The vehicle was delivered to Jason Barraka at Audio Originals in Bloomsburg, PA, to have extensive interior work done. Anything that was still tan in the interior was dyed black, and the rear half of the interior was fiberglassed and customized to house a TV monitor and various audio components from Polk/MOMO. The car was then taken to Custom Auto Repair in Glassboro, NJ, where he had the entire car, including select interior pieces stripped, prepped, and painted in the custom three-stage blend you see in these photos. He spent many months moving the vehicle back and forth between shops to get more motor, paint, body, and interior work done to his satisfaction. And all that you see before you cost him a pretty penny. Jeff estimates that he’s spent between $100,000 and $125,000 to get the car to be what it is today!
Jeff took a chassis that most people wouldn’t even look at—much less purchase—and used it to create his own personal masterpiece. It is quite clear that he has unique taste and is willing to do what needs to be done and spend whatever it takes to achieve his vision. Looking at what he created out of a chassis that was essentially scraps, it makes you wonder what he would do with a more complete platform. Well, it just so happens that he already has another build in the works. It isn’t a bare-bones, early ’90s, theft-recovery chassis. It just so happens that Jeff is building a ’08 Lexus IS-F. Yea . . . we want to see it when it’s done too. We’re waiting, Jeff.
Behind the Build
8 years and counting
To build the baddest car.
1993 Mazda RX-7
Engine 13B-REW; street port and polish; 2mm Atkins Apex seals, race bearings; Greddy T78 single turbo kit, front-mount intercooler kit, polished elbow, downpipe, high-flow cat, Type-S blow-off valve, air separator tank, oil catch can, motor torque shock, 1.3-bar radiator cap; Aeromotive fuel pressure regulator; RP Competition fuel pump; 550cc primary injectors; 1,600cc secondary injectors; custom secondary fuel rail; RX-7 Store block-off plate kit; Unorthodox Racing Ultra SS Underdrive Pulley set; 3-bar map sensor; Koyo radiator; Signal radiator plate; NX wet setup, 10-pound bottle, intercooler kit; RP chromoly racing axles; HKS carbon titanium cat-back exhaust; Twin Power ignition; Jacobs spark plug wires; NGK platinum spark plugs; polyurethane solid motor mounts; Tein hood dampers; completely polished motor
Drivetrain Japanese five-speed RX-7 transmission; ACT six-puck Extreme clutch, pressure plate; 4:30 final gear with ring-and-pinion set; Kaaz 1.5 LSD; B&M short shifter; Royal Purple synthetic tranny fluid
Suspension Tein HA with adjustable pillow-ball mounts; T&R torque brace; Mazdaspeed front and rear sway bars; M2 front strut bar; Super Now front adjustable tie-rod ends, rear trailing arms, rear toe links; reinforced powerplant frame and differential housing
Wheels/Tires Volk GT-C wheels (18x9 +45 front, 18x10.5 +22 rear); Falken FK452 (245/40-18 front, 275/35-18 rear); Rays lug nuts
Brakes Endless 6-pot Mini Inch up front brake kit; carbon-fiber brake lines; Power Slot rear brake rotors; EBC Green Stuff brake pads (rear)
Exterior Custom Slime Green/Gold over silver paint; Vertex front bumper, side skirts, rear bumper, front carbon canards, side skirt carbon canards, C-West carbon headlight conversion; RE-Amemiya hood; 8000K HID headlight kit; JDM circle taillights; ’99-spec JDM turn lamps; carbon overlay door handles
Interior Bride Lo Max carbon Kevlar front seats; Takata five-point harnesses, memory foam seatbelt pads; Kirk Racing 6-point rollcage; MOMO Millennium steering wheel, quick release steering hub; Project Mu pedals; ARC shift knob; carbon-fiber dash kit; custom carbon-fiber center console, driver A-pillar triple gauge pod, passenger A-pillar; custom fiberglass trunk; stainless steel door sills; black carpet; JDM gauge cluster with black bezels, floor mats; full tan to black interior conversion
Electronics A’pexi Power FC, AVC-R Boost Controller, Rev/Speed Meter; Blitz FATT Turbo Timer, oil pressure gauge; DEFI BF Link controller, 60mm boost, EGT, oil temp, water temp, fuel pressure, and oil pressure gauges; NGK Powerdex AFX; Pioneer AVIC-N1, Premier PQ Processor; Zapco amplifiers (3); Polk MOMO 6.5-inch front speakers (2), tweeters (2), 5.25-inch rear coaxial speakers (2), 8-inch subwoofers (4); Icon 7-inch monitor and DVD player
Gratitude “I would like to thank God for all that he has blessed me with; my mom and dad for all of their continued support; friends, family, and fans for always being there; and, of course, my dog, Max!”