At 51 years old, Nick Thomas is not the man you’d expect to see behind the wheel of the three rotary beasts you see here. Throw in his proper British accent and high-power executive demeanor, and any cop pulling this car over is in for a bit of a surprise when the tinted windows roll down. But there’s a reason for this. Thomas is the modern-day Sisyphus, smitten by the rotary gods and damned to collect and restore rotaries for all eternity.
This automotive version of a Greek tragedy started more than 30 years ago, when Mazda and the Wankel rotary engine they’ve adopted were still an automotive oddity like today’s fuel cell power vehicles. Back in 1975, Thomas, at the time an apprentice engineer, purchased his first car. At the age of 18, he was much like us, desperate for motoring freedom and dreaming of a fast car, but he was completely poor. So like any good gearhead lad, he decided on a used ’72 Mazda RX-3, which in those days already had a reputation as a sports coupe and was one of the first mass-production sports cars to use the rotary engine. For a modest 650 quid (approximately $1,000), Thomas now had a set of wheels.
There was one minor problem, though. Even with just three years of life, this RX-3’s early generation rotary engine was already blown. Despite his best efforts, Thomas just wasn’t able to drum up the funding to rebuild or replace the exotic Japanese engine. His tragic downfall came when he opted to install a 1600cc, four-cylinder, pushrod, Ford cross-flow engine out of an early ford Cortina into his Mazda. It wasn’t what he wanted, but it was better than having a hunk of steel on four wheels for driveway decoration. Had he known then the price of this folly, Thomas might not have gone forward with this act of sacrilege.
But the rotary gods stayed their hand and bided their time to properly punish Thomas. For 30 years, he thought his act had gone unnoticed by the fates. And in those three decades, he went about building a multi-national aerospace service empire. It was in 2005, shortly after Thomas finally immigrated to the U.S. to run the American branch of his empire, that rotary karma came knocking.
America’s vast network of open roads, storage space, rust-free cars and gasoline heritage reignited Thomas’ passion for the rotary, and it was then that the rotary gods finally demanded punishment. Whether an act in search of redemption or a punishment from above, Thomas began his mad cycle of collection and restoration of everything that is rotary.
Today his collection consists of 16 Mazdas, all powered by the Wankel rotary. From several RX-3s, the car that started this madness; to the coveted third-generation RX-7 FD; to a super-rare three-rotor, twin-turbo JDM Mazda Cosmo; Thomas continues to acquire these cars from all over the world and stuff as many rotors as will fit underneath the hood.
Thomas brought out three of his current cars to meet us. Not trying to seem vintage, he left his RX-3s and -4s at home and brought out two FDs and an FC to appeal to our younger tastes. But these aren’t just cars sporting fancy paint and body work. As a sign of his devotion to Felix Wankel’s rotary invention, Thomas has thrown out the original two-rotor 13B turbo engines in the white FC and black FD in favor of the twin sequential turbocharged, three-rotor 20B engines as the foundation of his modifications.
One of the favorites of his collection is this ’88 10th Anniversary Edition Turbo II, one of only 1,500 made. The original 13B was removed for a custom-built, three-rotor 20B engine (using parts from a third-gen RX-7) assembled by Pineapple Racing. The housings were given a street port and assembled with cryo-treated rotors that were matched, balanced and tipped with two-piece 3mm Hurley seals. In order to mount the monstrous GT42R turbo, which can easily move 500 hp worth of air, custom manifolds and plumbing had to be fabricated from intake to the exhaust. Much of the remaining ancillary hardware was sourced new from the Japanese Mazda Cosmo (which came with a twin sequential turbo, three-rotor engine) parts bin. Knowing the inherent weaknesses of a fire-breathing rotary engine, Thomas went the extra mile and addressed heat and cooling issues with a NASCAR-type racing radiator, two oil coolers and a ceramic-coated, ever-hot component. Putting out 518 whp, Thomas himself will admit this FC is a laggy beast to drive, but the car has held up on the streets and provided nonstop rotary insanity whenever he’s in the mood.
But no one’s ever happy with just one three-rotor car. And with the looks, finesse and refinements that come with the third-generation FD RX-7, Thomas knew he had to have one to match the FC. To save much of the build headache, his Black Banzai FD was sourced from good friend and renowned three-rotor nut, Cameron Worth, owner of Pettit Racing in West Palm Beach, Florida. Instead of another big single-turbo insanity like the FC, Thomas wanted a three-rotor with response and opted for a 20B powerplant lifted directly from a Cosmo. Even with three rotors, the 20B’s sequential turbo system and complex plumbing is still plagued with issues, so much of the vacuum plumbing, lines, valves and diaphragms were removed and simplified with Pettit Racing’s non-sequential, twin-turbo update. This combined with just a few simple bolt-ons like a GReddy front-mount intercooler, MagnaFlow titanium exhaust and a well-tuned Link ECU and this small-turbo FD puts down 550 whp, 32 more than the white big-turbo beast.
Finishing off this street car are simple but proven parts like TEIN coilovers and Trak antiroll bars. The big problem with this much power in a two-wheel-drive car is getting the power down. To do so, Thomas had the rear fenders modified and stretched in custom metal work using the original sheetmetal. This gave him enough space to finally stuff the 315mm-width Yokohama A048 race tires on the back to get this car to hook up.
Thomas’ yellow FD is the pretty girl of the trio. While mundane under the hood compared to the Black Banzai FD and the White FC, it’s just at its infancy as far as the build is concerned. It still uses the original 13B twin-turbo engine, but already has the cosmetic department sorted with an Erebuni widebody kit and 19-inch Effects wheels. For now, only a GReddy front-mount intercooler kit, RP exhaust, K&N intake and MSD ignition module grace the engine bay. But knowing Thomas, this is just a starting point for bigger turbo(s) or even another rotor.
Thomas won’t say when enough is enough and plans to continue to collect and restore as many of these machines as possible for the foreseeable future, hoping that one day the rotary gods might finally be appeased. We think the gods won’t be appeased until there’s a four-rotor under one of these hoods.
2.0-liter, 20B, turbocharged, 3-rotor Wankel rotary
Custom 3-rotor motor by Rob Golden of Pineapple Racing, all-iron and E-shaft from 20B Eunos Cosmo engine, Pineapple Racing Street port, third-gen rotor housings, matched and balanced Series 6 Turbo Rotors, cryo-treated 2 piece 3mm Hurley seals, Garrett GT42R turbo, custom-built manifold, Turbosmart blow-off valve, GReddy wastegate, HKS air-to-air intercooler w/ custom large-diameter piping and Super Mega Flow air filter system, Mariah electric fan w/ thermostatic control, Griffin 3" thick (NASCAR) HD aluminum radiator, 2x Permacool 3" thick, 8-pass, 14 gpm, aluminum oil coolers, JC Cosmo alternator, braided lines throughout engine compartment, Cermachrome and performance coating throughout entire engine and engine compartment, custom 4" exhaust system w/ heat coating
MicroTech LTX-12s, ignition coils, hand controller, laptop software and adapter, 550cc/min primary and 1600cc/min secondary injectors, secondary fuel boosting pump, A’pexi boost controller
Turbo II 5-speed transmission rebuilt by Pineapple Racing, Turbo II 4.10:1 ratio limited-slip differential w/ MazdaSpeed Street rear end, lightweight steel 240mm flywheel, Exedy dual plate clutch
Suspension Techniques HD springs, Tokico shocks, custom Mariah front antiroll bar and 4-point strut tower brace, Suspension Techniques rear antiroll bar, Cusco carbon-fiber rear tower brace, Energy Suspension polyurethane bushings kit, rear toe link bushings, aluminum front skidplate
Wheels, Tires and Brakes
17x8 (f) and 17x9 OZ Racing wheels, 215/45R17 (f) and 235/45R17 Toyo Proxes T1Rs, Power Slot rotors w/ Axxis Metal Master pads, braided stainless steel brake lines
Mariah Mode Five front bumper w/ custom front vents, side skirts, rear valance, Mode Six “tall” aero wing, custom vented riser hood, and cold air supply headlamp lid w/ NACA duct, PIAA 1000 driving lamps
Defi-link Meter system, custom A-Pillar 3 Gauge Pod Defi-Link Display contained in custom Stereo Surround, in-cockpit battery cut-off switch, relocated battery box, Kenwood Excelon KVT-910DVD head unit, Infinity Speaker system
518 whp and 421 ft-lbs of torque at 12 psi; 12.89-second, 117-mph quarter-mile
2.0-liter, 20B, turbocharged Mazda Cosmo 3-rotor Wankel rotary
GReddy FMIC, MagnaFlow titanium exhaust, ’92 Mazda Cosmo sequential turbos converted for simultaneous operation
Link ECU w/ electronic boost control
TEIN coilovers, Custom Trak Pro antisway bar (f/r)
Wheels, Tires and Brakes
FIKSIE 18x8 (f) and 18x10.5 wheels, 235/40/ZR18 (f), 315/30/ZR18
Banzai bodykit and steel rear-wheel flares
550 whp; 11.4-second, 123-mph quarter-mile
1.3-liter, 13B, twin sequential turbocharged, 2-rotor Wankel rotary
GReddy FMIC, RP Performance stainless exhaust system, Bonez downpipe and cat deleted, K&N air filters
Koni 3-way adjustable coilovers, Chase antiroll bars (f/r)
Wheels, Tires and Brakes
Effect wheels on 235/35R19 (f) and 275/35R19 Bridgestone Potenza, slotted rotors all around w/ stainless braided lines
Erebuni widebody kit
Bostrom seats, Pioneer head w/ Kicker amp and speakers
318 whp and 231 ft-lbs of torque
|’78||RX-3 SP: Set up for drag racing|
|’74||RX-3: Race car|
|’73||RX-3 GT3: Purpose-built race car originally
campaigned by Michelin Tire and arguably
the most altered and modified RX3 anywhere
|’73||RX-3: In the process of being restored
to stock condition
|’74||RX-3: Future restoration project|
|’74||RX-4: 90 percent complete restoration|
|’81||RX-7 Convertible: Future restoration project|
|’91||Cosmo JDM: Awaiting delivery|
|’92||RX-7: Pettit Racing Street port engine installed|
|’93||RX-7: Single big turbo and radical street port,
|’94||RX-7 JDM: Earmarked for Veilside bodykit upgrade|
|’95||RX-7 JDM: Earmarked for Veilside bodykit upgrade|
|’95||RX-7 JDM: Fully refurbished with Veilside