Cars today are very complex. In this modern era of highly computerized electronic assists, driver aids and data logging, cars are safer and more efficient than ever. At times, this is a bit of a bummer for tuning enthusiasts, because as much as any person values safety, all these wonderful innovations we take for granted today - which make our lives better in many ways - come with their fair share of trade-offs. Emissions standards are getting stiffer, therefore causing untapped performance to be harder to find in new cars. It's not as easy as bolting on a cold-air intake and an after-cat exhaust anymore. Increasing safety regulations are making car manufacturers more concerned about crash test results than 0-60 test results, so many new cars are coming out of the factory fat and sloppy. Where's the fun? What happened to the good old-fashioned things in a car that make you smile and think, "This is bad ass?"
In the seemingly bleak era of modern sport compacts, sometimes it's nice to get back to the fundamentals. It can be easy to forget the relatively basic technology of yesteryear. Cars were simpler in the early '70s, and guys like Bob Maybell like it that way. Having owned his RX-2 for more than two decades, along with a slew of other Mazdas, Bob is a full-fledged rotary fanatic. This car has been through many phases, but it's not done yet, and it's not going anywhere anytime soon.
One could say that Bob appreciates the RX for its simple beauty and niche appeal; as a car that sees street and track use, it's well rounded and unique. When Bob first found the car back in 1987, it was sitting in a junkyard. Actually to be more accurate, the RX-2 was sitting on top of another car in a junkyard, waiting for someone who cared to come sweep it off its feet and start a new life. After two days of moving other junked cars in a larger-than-life nightmare of a jigsaw puzzle, Bob and his RX-2 were finally on their way home.
After getting the car together with a factory carbureted Mazda 12A-3B rotary, the first phase of its life with Bob was racing. "I drove it on the street for a little while, but soon I decided that it would be a great track car. I have over 200 tapes of the car on track," Bob says. With a total of more than 75 races in the span of 10 years in the RX, Bob is no stranger to track time. However, now after so many years of track use and abuse, the car is a more mild-mannered vehicle today.
In its current configuration, the car is powered by a Mazda 12A turbo rotary, the first direct port injected turbocharged engine Mazda ever mass-produced. Bob decided to go this route instead of the more popular turbo 13B because the 12A turbo is a JDM-only option, a very rare find in the states. The motor was built and assembled by Bob himself, as a facilities manager at Thunderhill Raceway and co-founder of Sacramento-based rotary specialist shop B&B Racing, Mr. Maybell prefers to get hands on with his projects.
With a car like this, custom parts and function over form is the name of the game. On the outside, Bob's RX-2 is mostly stock. Coated in GM's Fleet White paint, the front air dam and side mirrors are the only real changes to the body. Bob laughs when remembering the different off-track excursions and subsequent repairs, but the car retains all the factory body panels. "Every corner of the car has been hit," Bob says. "I've had to pull the frame about an inch out on the front passenger side after one particularly nasty run-in." The RX-2 may not be winning any beauty contests, but considering the tough life it has led, it looks damn good.
The interior is simple, with a few minor upgrades. A set of Honda Del Sol seats with four-point racing harnesses hold the driver and passenger in place, with a sweet old-school Wink Mirror keeping Bob visually informed while driving. The pedal set is a cool one-off thing, the clutch and brake are actually pieces of a motorcycle chain guard that have been cut and custom-shaped as pedals - pretty unique indeed!
On the suspension side of things, Bob knew the support for the RX-2 was limited. He custom-made all of the bushings out of Delrin plastic and then custom-fabricated camber plates and top hats. These are large jobs to take on, but Bob is passionate about his cars and about racing.
"When I was a kid, I lived in San Jose across the street from Don Reeves and Vern Hassett (Hassett & Reeves Racing) who gave me the racing bug early on. That was my after-school program - working on race cars. Fortunately, my parents would let me go with them to all the races, as long as I kept my grades up," Bob says with a laugh.
"Ever since the early age of 13, I was sneaking in the 'hot pits' to assist in the pit stops. I used to walk into the pit area with a toolbox on my shoulder so the officials wouldn't see my face. Usually after a short time, some official would notice how young I was and escort me back to the paddock area. But I never gave up!"
With an attitude like that, we're not surprised that Bob, at 44 years young, is still out there racing and having a blast whenever he can. His positive attitude and love for his work (and cars in general) is something we can all appreciate and learn from. As long as cars like this RX-2 are out on the streets or track with guys like Bob Maybell behind the wheel, we'll be ready and excited to share their story.
Specs & Details
'73 Mazda RX-2
Engine Mazda 12A turbo rotary
Engine Modifications Mild street porting; 3mm apex Aviation Superseals seal kit, springs; Mazda Comp components; modified 60mm Hitachi Turbo w/ custom housing; 3" intercooler w/ custom top hat, high-flow Edelbrock fuel pump, fuel pressure regulator; 2.5" custom exhaust w/ MagnaFlow muffler
Engine Management '85 GSLSE 2-injector ECU w/ integrated harness & injectors
Drivetrain RX-3 SP Ribcase 5-speed built by B&B Racing; API 4-puck clutch; steel braided clutch slave line; custom 4:30 LSD w/ Mazda Comp clutch discs; rebuilt 2-piece driveline w/ Mazda Comp center bearing
Suspension Ground Control springs; Koni shocks; 1.25" front sway bar; custom camber plates; custom-made Delrin sway bar bushings
Wheels, Tires & Brakes Epsilon color-matched mesh wheels 15" (f/r); Hankook Ventus Tires 225/45R15 (f/r); Porterfield brake pads (f), Carbotech brake shoes (r) custom brake ducting
Thanks To My wife Michelle for putting up w/ my Mazda disease for the past 20 years & Bill and Jenny Culter of B&B racing for the ongoing support
Interior Autopower 6-point rollcage; Honda Civic Del Sol seats; 4-point harnesses, custom pedal set, Wink rearview mirror
Exterior Custom steel front air dam; GM Fleet White paint; all original body panels; rear bumper exhaust plate; Baby Turbo sideview mirrors
Bob's RX-2 has seen many stages of development and many days on track throughout the years. As he became more familiar with the chassis, Bob was able to tune and tweak the car to become very competitive in several SCCA classes.