Years Of Searching And Wrenching Led To This Crisp Mazda RX-7
Photography by Andrew Golseth
Story by Alex Martinez
I have always believed that cars have a soul, and having owned many projects over the years, I’ve experienced both the joys and pains of automobile ownership and modification. I feel a deep connections with my cars, and treat them with respect and a level of care that’s met with reliability and performance. Throughout my life, I have participated in various forms of motorsport, including drag racing, autocross, and high performance driving events, and in the process have owned cars that could be called trailer queens—only driven for a few passes down the drag strip each year. Needless to say, that is a poor way to enjoy everything a car has to offer.
Fast forward to 2014, and to a complete 1987 Mazda RX-7 turbo II I spotted sitting outside a house I regularly jogged by. I always admired the car despite its unkempt state, especially as it was sitting on beautiful white Volk Racing TE-37s—my dream wheels since I first got into the automotive scene in my youth.
So one day I took the initiative to ask if the car was for sale. It was, and soon after, it was mine. After spending countless hours of work and buying parts to get it started I’d acquired before I had even purchased it, the car eventually fired up. This was the start of my troubles. After replacing the clutch and many other failing components, the car would not pass its smog emissions test. I struggled for over two years to get the car to pass in order to be able to drive it down the street, but to no avail. The choice I had to make was clear: either I was going to have another trailer queen, or I could sell the car and buy one I could enjoy on the street. I chose the latter option.
While searching for a replacement project car, I found a completely stock 1991 Mazda RX-7 coupe on Craigslist. It was by far the cleanest RX-7 of the second “FC” generation that I had ever seen. It was love at first sight. I debated whether it was a wise choice to buy, modify, and track a naturally aspirated RX-7—I have always been a huge fan of forced induction, however, I had fallen in love with the curious little 1.3-liter engine designed by Felix Wankel that was unlike any other internal combustion engine in the world. After much contemplation, I decided to pull the trigger. Little did I know, another round of trials and tribulations were about to start.
I blame myself for this, for getting too excited and not assessing the car properly before I bought it from the shady seller. On the way home, I tried to open up the car and bring it to redline, and it would not pull past 6,000 rpm. Several days later, I saw white smoke from the tailpipe after it had overheated on me. Diagnosis from the shop confirmed the inevitable—my coolant seals were leaking, and my compression was low. In other words, my engine was toast.
Once again, I found myself in difficult predicament. I could either swap in a used engine, rebuild my current one, buy something rebuilt already, or go with a turbo motor swap. The last option was out since I wanted a car that would pass smog and not give me trouble, and the first option was risky since rotary engines are hit or miss when it comes to the reliability of a used engine with little known history. So that said, I decided to purchase a freshly rebuilt rotary and install it myself. This is where the magic began.
Being a father and a full-time professional, my project had to take place during evenings and weekends. I slaved away for countless hours pulling the burned-out engine, swapping parts, researching installations, ordering multiple packages from places like Mazdatrix, in addition to the cleaning of the engine bay and used parts. I dropped in the engine with my brother-in-law Abraham, who helped with the more difficult aspects of the job. Otherwise though, I was on my own. I actually enjoyed the process of swapping in the engine by myself—as my two hands have touched every single part of the engine, transmission, wiring, and engine bay, I feel an even deeper connection to my car. Knowing that I checked and double checked every hose, wire, and bolt has made me more confident when driving my car.
Swapping in the new engine came with the bonus opportunity was to perform some upgrades. In that vein, a full Racing Beat exhaust was added along with a new Exedy clutch. I also installed the beautiful white Volk wheels from my previous RX-7 in addition to some other pieces like the four-point roll bar. Parts that were on their way out were replaced, and everything else was thoroughly cleaned and inspected. The engine fired up after the first crank and purred like a kitten. After some fine tuning, it was running pristine. Now all that was left was to drive the car and take it to the track.
I drive my car as much as possible. Although I can’t use it every single day due to the need to take my baby to daycare, I relish each opportunity to get in and go for a drive, no matter how short it may be.
I love everything about her: her clean white paint with the matching wheels, her short stature and long nose, and her deep and unique growl when I turn the ignition. The sound a rotary engine makes at full throttle is incredible. It is unlike any other, screaming like a banshee up to the 8,000 rpm redline. Although not as fast as my previous turbo RX-7, she can still keep up with many modern sports cars. With the suspension modifications I’ve made, the car turns better than any other I’ve driven thus far.
Every time I drive my FC, I get at least one thumbs up, nod, smile, or compliment. People will honk to get my attention or to compliment the car. People from all facets of vehicle enthusiasm can respect it, as its cult following and unique power plant have cemented the RX-7 into the automotive history books. I feel proud to be part of an elite group of car enthusiasts—the lovers of rotary engine. Sevenstock is the heartland for rotary car lovers, and I look forward to many years of showing my car and being part of the subculture of the rotary engine.
Owning my 1991 Mazda RX-7 has been a great experience. Every cut, nick, and burn was well worth the pain. The process of building a car from scratch is a joy something every true car enthusiast can understand. As I changed it, it has changed me. You can say the heart transplant metaphor goes both ways.
This project would never have been possible without the love and support of my family. My wife Joana was patient with me as I spent countless hours in the garage, my baby Amelie understood her daddy was with his “vroom-vroom,” and my sister Laura and brother-in-law Abraham were always there to support and encourage me. Thank you all!