Rocket Bunny RX-7s done right are a true delight. Michael Kerr’s eight-year FD project has seen him achieve the goal he set at the beginning — a street-legal show car packing 400hp
Words: René Vermeer Photos: Josh Methven
It was in 1997 when Mazda used the advertising slogan “Get in, be moved” and the year this particular Mazda RX-7 FD rolled off the production line and was first registered. Over two decades later, enthusiasts have evolved and adapted to what the Mazda RX-7 means to them. For some, they’re pure collectors’ cars now. But for others such as Michael Kerr, they’re a near decade-long build and restoration — a build that began in what was almost a different era to today’s ‘taxed’ market and bustling Japanese, Kiwi-based car scene. For Michael, though, the RX-7 was bought to be a daily driver — a preposterous thought today given how rare they’re becoming, but back then it served its purpose well, navigating the twists and turns of his quaint hometown, soaking up the commute in style.
“I like the way RX-7s look and how few there were around,” Michael says. “I also wanted a car that was different and stood out from the rest, as a lot of RX-7s are raced on the track. I wanted my own street RX-7 show car.” Because the body, chassis and engine platform lended itself to modification since it was first released in 1993, Japanese tuning shops couldn’t get enough of them and created a vast array of upgrades for the masses. Even now, the incredibly well-designed FD3S platform has parts designed for it the world over, with Japan’s economic bubble of the ’90s creating an iconic tuner car that was well beyond its years, and looks modern today.
A tuning house that took to the FD platform in an unforgettable way was TRA Kyoto and the bodykit designer Kei Miura with its release of the Rocket Bunny wide bodykits. With the goal for this build to be a street-legal show car, Michael was convinced the Rocket Bunny kit was perfect, and after a hunt around he came across a steal. “I decided to do the wide boy three to four years into the build, after coming across a deal on Trade Me for the kit,” he says. “I went along with the idea of a wide body RX-7 after seeing RX-7s around the world online which led me to build my own unique build. I was a big fan of Rocket Bunny kits at the time.” With the help of his good friend Jacob Davidson, he installed the Rocket Bunny kit and chose a fresh coat of an OEM-based Mazda red paint, which was applied by Alysia Patterson — a nod to its original, factory trim roots.
With a kit wider than a semi-truck, how does one fill the guards adequately, without the use of stupidly wide spacers? No doubt you’re looking for some girth, and Michael locked that in, with the help of someone on Facebook. “I originally ran Work Equip 05s, but felt 17s were too small for Rocket Bunny guards,” he says. “I waited patiently for some 18s to pop up and came across my current wheels off a guy on Facebook who builds awesome wheels in sizes that fit my requirements.” In this case, 18×11.5 and 18×13 Weds Kranze LXZ — girth confirmed.
In classic car-guy fashion, the simple process of installing the kit and having it painted turned into a full engine build while the car was off the road, Michael admits, knowing full well he fell down the rabbit hole. However, being true to his word, he did it. He had a goal in mind of 400-wheel horsepower (horsepower, as South Islanders prefer — not kW), and it was to run a Holset turbo for the famous sounds they make. “I knew a Holset turbo would do the trick to reach my power goal,” says Michael, “followed up by all the other goodies under the hood.” Ronnie Sheddan of Des Sagar Motors was enlisted to build a solid 13B twin-rotor package.
With a host of supporting mods that would see the power goal being a reliable one, the engine was dropped back in the engine bay and outfitted with a Holset HRC40RS single turbo and mounted on top of a stainless steel Sinco manifold. A single Turbosmart 50mm Progate controls boost to the tune of 16.5psi — the number used to crack the targeted 400 horsepower Michael wanted, landing up at a whisker over, with 401hp at the wheels (295kW thanks to the team at Rapid Performance).
No doubt, at such a modest boost level, there’s more in the set-up yet with the Haltech Elite ready for a few smashes of the ‘page up’ button. But, for a street-legal cruiser, it’s plenty of fun and Rapid Performance ensured the setup was dialled in before collection. “Driving my car with this motor set-up is a dream come true,” says Michael. “It’s like driving a gokart that’s planted to the ground. The pulse from the bridgeport at idle all the way through the rev range, to an open-wide ’gate is truly satisfying.” After eight years, Michael has completed what he set out to achieve with the Mazda RX-7. It’s time to get it out of the garage, enjoy it on the streets, and every year when the South Island 4 & Rotary Champs rolls around. “It’s always a blast doing laps with the boys and putting smiles on faces all round,” Michael says, wrapping up his interview. But one thing you can’t modify, or take away from Mazda and its cars from ’97, is its slogan — if you do get in, you’ll still be moved.
This article originally appeared in NZPC issue No. 293