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CARSPOTTING> The Tale of a Three Rotor RX7

It was a sleepy Saturday morning in Florida with a dreadfully overcast sky. Florida gave us what it is known for at this time of year – rain, and a whole lot of it. It didn’t stop until late afternoon, with dismal skies and a hazy mist hanging overhead even after the downpour stopped. Even with the weather in “doom and gloom” mode, when I saw David Hayes‘ black Mazda RX7, I was simply stunned. As it drove through the city streets, you could just see all the heads turning to watch it weave through traffic. If only they knew the journey this car took to get here.

The story of David’s FD3S RX7 starts way back in 1994. He is the original owner of this black beauty – he took it right off the showroom floor. And since he’s the only owner of this car, he actually knows everything that has gone into the car and everything it has been through. Here’s a little mind blower to start us off. With the exception of the Pettit rear flares and 99 spec front end, the car’s paint is as completely original as the owner.

20B Mazda FD3S RX7

I was no stranger to the story of David’s epic tale, as I have been following it since the beginning. All the details of his journey are logged in the RX7club.com forum. If you decide to look it up, be prepared to invest a few days of reading – it’s a long story and completely surreal. In fact, his story seems even more surreal than reading his daily updates in the 7club forum thread when you actually get the chance to hear him tell it. But, since you probably won’t get that chance, I’ll tell it. I promise I’ll keep it short. Well, as short as I possibly can with a story like this one.

The real journey began in July 2004 (remember this start date), which is when David took the car to Pettit Racing in Florida to begin his 20B, three rotor swap. Pettit did the 20B conversion rather quickly but had issues fully tuning the EMS on a twin turbo setup. He was promised 15lbs of boost but he actually got 12lbs running 400 RWHP and (adding insult to injury) ended up blowing the secondary turbo while still trying to break the motor in. This gave David the idea to scrap the twins and go for a big single turbo.

He decided to let Gotham Racing (which no longer exists, by the way) have a go at completing his car. However, before he shipped it to them, he was contacted by Wolf EMS USA who offered to finish his swap, tune on their EMS system, use the car as a project for their own company and do it all for a low low price he could not refuse. So, off goes the FD to California in August of 2005. Remember how I said Pettit started the swap in July of 2004!!!

The plan, as all plans do, had evolved and now called for a big GT42R single turbo and all the associated parts to upgrade the car which would be fabricated by ASE Engineering in Australia. They gave him a projection of roughly two months of work time to finish the whole project, which sounded great. David even planned to drive the car back home (cross-country) with his wife in the passenger seat. But, as you may be guessing by now, this plan was short lived at best.

For what it’s worth, Wolf kept in contact with David but the turbo kit did not arrive until late January 2006. (Wait, wait, what happened to that two month quote, you ask?) Let’s just say David had some issues with Wolf and in May 2006 he gave them a thirty day ultimatum to finish the project. Knowing what we know about ultimatums, it’s a no brainer that thirty days later David was making arrangements for a transporter to pick up his car. However, on pick up day, the transporter (no, not Jason Statham) called to notify him that it would be impossible to take the FD. Why, you ask? Apparently, it was in “a million pieces” spread all about the shop! With no other options, David agreed to give Wolf another thirty days to wrap it up.

Right now, if you’re like me, you’re probably thinking: “I hope to God he hadn’t paid for any of this mess.” Sorry. I knew someone had to be keeping these shops afloat, I just never guessed who that someone might be – until now.  We can all be reasonably sure that they’re not getting government bail-outs, LOL!

Continuing the story, Wolf still had the car. Unfortunately, David was unable to reach anyone at the shop and decided it was time to send the transporter again. This time the transporter told David that he really needed to get the car out of the shop – I guess it must have been in two million pieces by then. So, with the help of some local 7club members who staked out Wolf to check on the FD and gave David some peace of mind that his car was not in boxes headed for the border, they finally packed the car up and it was sent off to Gotham Racing in August 2006 – and time keeps ticking away.

With Gotham Racing now in control, they had a two month backlog before they could begin to tally the list of needs for David’s FD. When Gotham finally began work on the car, they were greeted with a fail list of shoddy workmanship – bad wiring (check), missing fuel lines and clips (check), wrong injectors (check), his supposed HKS GT42R turbo was, in fact, a dual ball bearing T51R (fail). They even discovered brass shavings during a simple oil change (FAIL). This is just a small glimpse into what was wrong with his original built motor. Thankfully, he never got the chance to get the car home and have everything fail on him after driving it for a week. You see, it could always be worse! I think my head would have literally exploded if that happened to me. In fact, if any of this ever happened to me…but we’re not done. Here’s the part where we take a brief intermission to give you enough time to say, “HOLY SHIT – WE’RE NOT DONE?!?!” No, my friend – more misery awaits.

Let’s just say that “issues” arose at Gotham – key issues like theft and non-payment of rent which eventually led to the company’s demise. Time keeps on slippin’ – into the future and just like that it’s winter 2008. Once again, David found himself jumping through hoops to have the car pulled (this time from Gotham) and sent to Jotech, a non rotary tuning shop for safe guarding until he could pick it up with a final dyno tune. With a rebuilt motor and now running a Precision Dynamics T76 dual ball bearing turbo, David waited outside as his car was dyno tuned. On the first run, the car made 650 RWHP and 475 lb/ft of torque – not too shabby after his long journey. There were issues with this so they backed it off to the 550 range for their next run. On run three, the 20B climbed to 7k RPM then, pow!, the motor goes. Does anyone else need a drink?

At this point, David decided he had come too far to back down now – it was time to take it to the next level. So, he packed up his problem and trailered it straight to Jesus. That’s Jesus (pronounced “Hay-soos”) Padilla at Kilo Racing, a rotary shop in Orlando, FL.

Jesus ripped through the car, rewired everything that was shoddy, rebuilt the motor with a Precision PT 78mm GTS turbo and gave it a solid tune. Wow. Five years of epic struggle and the automotive equivalent of “disasters of biblical proportions” and all he had to do was call on Jesus. Is there some hidden meaning here? Is that Carrie Underwood singing Jesus,Take The Wheel in the background? Hmm…

As of today, Jesus is pretty much finalizing the little things that David has left and he’ll give him a final maximum tune in the next couple of weeks. He will be looking for another solid run, at around 650 horsepower. Even at his current 555 whp and 476 lb/ft of torque, the car is incredibly fast and somehow tame at lower speeds… nothing like you would expect from a big-power rotary. I was expecting a bucking bronco, but I got a nice, comfortable ride through some back streets.

Amazing how these 3 piece Forgeline wheels traveled with the car through all the years of its epic journey and still remained in perfect shape. The polished lip looks great with the silver center. In case you were wondering how wide the wheels under the huge Pettit Racing rear flares are, they’re 18×12.5 (+7.5), wrapped in 335/30/18 tires.

Let us all bow to the final product which Jesus (and Kilo Racing) made possible!!! There’s a whole lot packed into that engine bay, but would you expect anything less from a 650hp capable motor? I can’t imagine the headache if David decided to wire tuck that bay. Frankly, I would be scared to even try it after everything he has gone through.

One of our last points of attack was the Dames Point Bridge in Jacksonville. As the sunlight was disappearing, the clouds dispersed enough for the sky to peak through.

To close out, this was the last shot I was able to grab before the sun completely disappeared. I plan to revisit with David in the coming months to reshoot the car on a bright, sunny day. I know the right sunset will make this car pop like it should.

::Scottie Scheetz

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37 Responses

  1. seaninc

    Wow, that is some story. Sounds almost like what people had to deal with when they sent cars to Hennessey for upgrades. The finished product is incredible though, I’m sure the sound was worth the wait!

  2. Brian

    For the money this guy has spent over the years he probably could have bought a good used Aston Martin. I’m not saying it’s not a cool car, but from my experience paying shops to do your swaps and build your motors usually ends up in heartbreak with a huge bill to pay. DIY people, DIY… Get some tools, do some research, learn and do it yourself. Or drive something stock and accept it. I’ve done two swaps in my garage at home in half the time this car has been in and out of shops. Both motors have run well, sold one car and moved on to another. Right now I’m running 330rwhp and 360ft/lb on a 1JZ at 14psi. No, it’s not 550rwhp, but I bet it’s cost me 1/20th of what he’s spent in shop bills alone and it’s tons of fun.

  3. I definitely agree with you for the most part Brian! DIY when possible for sure… but when it comes to things I don’t know about and don’t trust myself with, like assembling a cylinder head for instance, I’d rather just send the head out to a machine shop or mechanic I trust.

    I did build the blocks on two of my engines myself, and do most of my suspension/LSD stuff on my own (kinda easy, that’s why), and honestly it makes me feel good when I’m driving on the freeway, knowing that I’m the one who torqued down the bolts for the rods and caps and all that.

    I do wish I had more mechanical ability though. I’m not the best at it, but I try to do what I can. I can tear down a car and disassemble it like nobody’s business, but there are some things I’m just kind of hesitant to deal with… like doing electrical/wiring work. All those guys that do wire tucks in Hondas and VWs are pretty freakin awesome in my opinion. I wouldn’t even know where to begin…

  4. Stories like this are pretty common on this side of the pond too. So many cowboy garages. Lovely car and great writeup though!

  5. David

    As the owner of the car I am very pleased to see this posted up. Thanks a lot Scottie for the great article and for the pics. It has been a long struggle to get the car to this point and I am happy to be driving the car.

    Yes Brian, I could have bought a used Aston Martin (actually a new one if the baby Aston counts) which is something I almost did a few years ago when things were not going well with the build. It was between that and a Porsche GT2. But I persevered and now have something that is very unique and a pleasure to drive. To me there is nothing like the sound of a 3 rotor at WOT. And the 555WHP is at 12 PSI and we’ll see next week what the car can do at 18 PSI.

    You are also correct you can save a bunch of money if you do it yourself. For those of us that are not mechanically inclined, this is not an option so we have to try to rely on the so-called expert shops out there. I did my homework but still got burned to the tune of many thousands of dollars. It was a painful lesson but I did learn and I am now able to know what to do if there is an “again”. For now, I am happy to be at the end of the project and to the enjoying stage.

    Many many props go out to Jesus Padilla from Kilo Racing in Orlando FL for raising the car from the dead (get the Jesus saves reference?). Without his expertise, I would have shot the car and moved on. His workmanship and ethics are unsurpassed and I am pleased to list him as a friend.

  6. ImprezaKing

    LOL @ “Jesus, Take the Wheel”! Is that “Jee-sus” take the wheel or “Hay-soos” take the wheel.

  7. Scott Scheetz

    Brian: David’s 20B swap started back when the swap was just starting to gain ground. Unlike tossing a LS1 or SR in a 240 there was no easy access to 15 different parts kits. Even DIY today, a 20B properly done is over $40,000.

    And yes, when David and I met for the shoot he did mention he could have bought a nice track built Porsche for the final cost.

  8. Brian: David’s 20B swap started back when the swap was just starting to gain ground. Unlike tossing a LS1 or SR in a 240 there was no easy access to 15 different parts kits. Even DIY today, a 20B properly done is over $40,000.

    And yes, when David and I met for the shoot he did mention he could have bought a nice track built Porsche for the final cost.

  9. Noah

    Just like Scottie says, a 3 rotor swap is not like an average LS, SR, or honda powerplant swap. Parts are rare, and most even still have to be fabricated to get everything in and running correctly. (Key work there is correctly). A 20B swap will set an enthusiast back $25K and that is WITH doing most of the work yourself. $35-$40 to pay a reputable shop that has experience doing quality swaps. And if you have never heard a 3 rotor in person, you should….

    David, like I mentioned on the forum I really love your car. It came together so well in the end and is just a great auto. I am so glad I picked my car up from Gotham a few weeks before the burglary or I would have been in trouble too.. I am hoping to be in the mid-FL area later this year and would love the opportunity to see the car.

    Scottie, great pics man. Just phenomenal…

  10. Thanks Noah.

    Antonio, yuppers man, it is a crazy cost. Then add in the cost of your car, wheels, body work, Spirit R seats, redo interior, etc…. and you are running Porsche costs. Hence, why the LS motor swaps are so prevalent, it is 1/10th the cost.

    Trying to do it as cheap as possible means your DIY person would need to fabricate so much from scratch.

  11. DAMN man that’s crazy. I had no idea. I have some pretty rare and expensive engine parts stashed away, but I doubt they would cost anything like $40k.

    So wait… anyone care to educate those who don’t know much about 20Bs (me) on what goes into a swap? I guess I always figured a 20B would bolt right up with minor mods, since normal RX7s already come with a 13B. Damn, I guess I was super wrong on that.

    School me, I’m pretty interested in this topic.

  12. You got it Antonio and the rest of you who are interested!

    20B was never offered in the RX7, only the ’90-95′ JC Cosmo’s luxury car, with sadly automatic transmissions and across the ocean (some have been imported lately though). However, the 13b rx7 transmission does mount up to the 20B, so fear not my fellow automatic haters. Currently, you can buy an adapter plate to mount the T-56 transmission as another option (LS motor 6 speed trans). As for the 20B, it comes twin turbo with 275bhp and just under 300 ft-lbs of torque. There is also a race made NA built 20B from Mazdaspeed.

    As for the swap, you will need custom motor mounts and run an aftermarket ECU. Most that I have seen go big single turbo or go beast mode (read: my dream) with NA porting and ITBs. This is when all the custom fab comes in as you are going to handle all your piping needs, wiring and what items you plan to delete from your bay (AC, power steering, etc.)

    Of course when you pick the motor up from import you will tear it down and rebuild it, which is costly. Since you are doing this awesome swap, staying stock isn’t an option in many minds. So now you start with porting, machining the housings, dry sump and continued cost climbing.

    And in the end, everyone will bow down, but the haters will stand in the back and *cough cough* “I could have 7 LS swaps done for your cost” *cough cough*.

  13. EJ257

    He should have done a 2JZ swap, or better yet a LSX swap. HAHA. Good looking car, love the LED lights in the front.

  14. David

    Scottie is correct about the work required for the modification. With proper planning you can have the swap done for $25k – $30K if someone else does the work and about $15K if you do it yourself. Most swaps though run in the $50K range because you don’t settle for just the basics, you go into a “while I am in there why not?” mode and you beef up the suspension, brakes, wheels, etc. It just never stops.

    The LEDs are in homage to Audi – I was going to do the same exact LEDs that Audi uses (which would be brighter) but I couldn’t get the lenses off the turn signal assemblies without damaging them so I settled for these. You either love them or hate them.

    As for an 2JZ swap, a few of those have been done but that opens up a whole other can of worms regarding fitment and modifications. The LS1-X swaps are more prevalent but that rips the heart out of the RX7 doesn’t it? And if I wanted a LS1, I would have bought a Corvette, slipped on a silk smoking jacket and a Playboy bunny gold chain, and hit the town. No, I am a purist and it’s rotary all the way for me and to a rotor head, this is the holy grail of swaps. Of course, the is always the 26B (4 rotor)…

  15. THANK GOD there are still some purists left in the world. I’m not necessarily a rotary head (although I loved my white FC3S in the short time that I owned it), but I do think that built up RX7s powered by rotary engines are AWESOME. I agree with David – changing the engine changes the “soul” of the car, and the entire feeling of driving it.

    Don’t get me wrong… the power and torque of a V8 (and relatively inexpensive cost) must be awesome… but for those who want to stay rotary, I totally understand. (And agree)

    As for me, most people know that I’m an AE86 owner and a purist at that. I like my AE86s powered by A series engines, like 4AG, 4AGZE, 4AGTE, 5AG, 7AG, 8AG, and so forth. Putting SR20s, F20Cs or rotaries in AE86s is just not my cup of tea. I don’t know why, but I don’t seem to mind when people swap them into other cars aside from AE86s though. haha I must be a hypocrite of some sort. LOL

    @David: I still think you should buy a silk smoking jacket and a Playboy gold chain.

  16. edward uche

    Scottie, extremely awesome writeup. This was fresh: “disasters of biblical proportions, and all he had to do was call on Jesus”. Brilliant.

    @Antonio: Cmon man, 13B rotary AE86 is best of both worlds. Maybe I’m a hypocrite as well, seeing V8 in a FC or FD does dissapoint :(

  17. Ben

    @ Antonio: what about M series or JZ series engines? 😉 I know M is kinda not prefered because of their stock problems but I know a guy that has a 850whp 7MGTE in a MKIII Supra and it runs quite well. :)

  18. @Edward Uche: man if you put a 13B in your AE86, I’m gonna buy a super clean white 10th anniversary FC or even better… FD3S Spirit R… and then put a 3TC turbo in the FC3S or a 2JZGTE in the Spirit R.

    That’s what I call best of both worlds, sucka. Oh I know we’re gonna fistfight over this one, LOL

  19. David

    RedR1 says:
    April 4, 2010 at 6:32 pm
    Needs moar cowbell!! LOL. Great article and info!

    ^WTF? I know I am old, but what is this?

  20. Pingback : COVERAGE> DGRRX: Deals Gap Rotary Rally – MotorMavens

  21. PhotoguyJay

    I just want to add about 15 cents on to this story. FIRST off great story and pics!! I know this car extremely well as well as the shop in California it was taken to. Wolf 3d EMS is an australian ecu company who does great computers!!!! I had a big hand in alot of this coming to the states. The “owner” of Wolf EMS USA was a guy who worked at another shop which is no longer in business. He opened his own place. My project car which was in a major magazine but never got finished was at this same shop BEFORE this FD came in. So when the story says the car was in million pieces that is NO lie!!! When it talks about parts being stolen that is NO lie also. My entire car was “stolen” when the shop owner disappeared for a real long time. Well over a year later I was able to track my car down thanks to a lien sale notice being emailed to me. I finally got the car back with alot of SERIOUS issues. The wiring was decimated and still to this day years later havent gotten the car running due to soooo much shoddy work. My car now sits under a cover in the garage and cannot look at it cause it disgusts me sooooo.

    I am sooo happy to see this car got fixed correctly by Jesus. Whom is a long time pro drag racer and seriously knows his rotaries! so super duper thumbs up for him and getting this car running! At least someone got theirs fixed.

    So dont think Wolf 3d Australia had anything to do with any of this. Their ecus are great and the people there are great and really willing to help with tech issues.

  22. hey, it’s GREAT to see you on the site, Jay! Thanks a lot for sharing your knowledge on the insider story of the car, that’s cool dude. You should join the MotorMavens forums too! =D

  23. PhotoguyJay

    Yeah Antonio. I was just looking for inspiration for a bunch of my commercial work and the post on some of the shoots on here do me real well. As soon as I saw this car I was like NOOOO f’ing way. Cause i was there and saw this car from the beginning before anyone. At least he got his car running finally. Mine had sooooo many misc wires cut. my stand alone was “stolen” from the shop. etc. etc. etc.
    I will check out the forum. I just have too many issues with people going on there and acting like they know everything but yet most of the time they never even worked in the industry or did anything pioneerish but still talk like they made an impact. and it at first is funny to read and say WTF did he/she really just say that. but then I look at it like I am wasting my life away reading BS and garbage instead of being out creating some amazing art.
    But I will check it out homie!!!n just for you.

  24. Johnny

    Should’ve just went straight for the v8 all that time and money and only a little over 400lbs of torque? Get a v8 and have yourself a real motor

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