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Reimagination — 1980 Mazda RX-7 Series 1

21 December 2014


Garry Haynes has always loved the Group C RX-7, but not the rotary engine. Solution, shoehorn in a V8, of course!

What happens when you fall absolutely in love with every aspect of a car, its lines, its shape and the way it looks out on track, but you’re not a fan of the engine configuration? For UK born and bred Garry Haynes, you simply shoehorn in whatever you damn well like. So, when Garry was building what is one of the cleanest RX-7 circuit cars we have laid eyes on, the rotary engine was never even on his radar. You see, unlike those of us who grew up in the New Zealand scene, where the sounds of bridge ports and PPs is commonplace, Garry grew up in a country where the rotary just wasn’t popular; in fact it was non existent within his social circles. “I had never even heard of a rotary until I arrived in New Zealand. When I was younger everyone wanted a V8, so I guess it’s entrenched in me,” he told NZPC. 

Following six years racing karts and three seasons campaigning a Ford Escort in speedway, Garry began helping a mate, Paul Savage, with his Pro7 circuit car, which is where he first spotted Brian Gray’s Group C kitted RX-7, and fell in love. Thanks to a swift and persuasive elbow from a few mates, it wasn’t long before he decided to throw his hat in the ring, build his own Group C RX-7 and give circuit racing a go. 

It all began with a rust-free shell he found sitting on a lawn after a young guy had blown the rotary and hightailed it across the ditch, leaving the shell sitting on his mum’s lawn. 

Originally, Garry planned for it to remain road legal, but the mounting compromises needed to keep the racer within the regs soon forced a decision — to forget the streets, and build a dedicated track car. The shell was stripped, bolted onto a rotisserie and sent off for media blasting, before fabrication could begin. Garry, a fabricator and welder by trade, handled the lion’s share of the fabrication, but he first needed to decide on a powerplant. As we mentioned earlier, the original rotary engine was not something he was at all interested in rebuilding, and he told NZPC, “In the beginning I was torn between the Nissan RB26 and the V8 option. I was put off the RB26, as all the drifters were using up the gearboxes, and they were becoming hard to source, so the Chevy won out in the end. The firewall and trans tunnel were cut out to take the LT1 small-block implant, set back so the first set of spark plugs lined up with the strut towers,” done so it’d fit the rules for Super Saloon at the time.

The next big job was the rear end, with a four-link, drop tank and tubs to accommodate the custom 16×10-inch and 16×11-inch wheels. Work on the project continued slowly over the next few years, whenever time could be found in between running the fabrication business. Progress slowed when Garry’s dad, a man who heavily influenced the build and taught Garry his trade, was diagnosed with a terminal illness. “My dad was an old-school fabricator and taught me everything that I know,” Garry says. Understandably he lost a bit of motivation to push forward with the build, but it was some of his father’s final words of wisdom that pushed him to see the project through, as he explains. “Just as the build was gaining some momentum, my Dad was diagnosed with asbestosis, and the following 10 months were a living nightmare as Dad’s illness took its toll. But during his final days, he said something to me that I will never forget: ‘Always finish what you’ve started.’ RIP, Dad.”

Now, with some steely determination behind him, Garry pushed on with the project, and decided to enlist the help of Hamilton’s Mitchells Race Extreme to fabricate a new roll cage. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as MRX’s Nick and Derek constructed a 10-point chromoly masterpiece. “The cage has been built to future-proof the car. It’s built in such a way that if I was to smack in the front we could cut it off and just carry on and tube frame it.” The team at MRX also added a set of its in-cabin adjustable sway bars, and helped with a few of the more technical aspects further along in the build.

With the cage done, Garry, along with the help of Marty London and Shane Walker continued the fabrication, finishing off jobs like the firewall, custom Nissan based front suspension, custom four-link, rear tubs and new strut towers, alongside items like the custom front and rear diffusers, a full three-inch exhaust, alloy dash and custom rear firewall. 

With the project now nearly a completed car again, it was once more stripped, loaded back on the rotisserie and sent off to media blasting before etch priming. The car was then pieced together one last time for a final few bits of fabrication before it was again stripped bare, loaded on the rotisserie and this time rolled into the paint booth. 

It has been a long road getting the car to this stage, but finally 10 years on from finding that shell, it’s a completed running machine, ready to race. 

The initial shakedown took place at Taupo Motorsport Park on a very cold and bitter day, so cold that they were unable to bed in the brakes properly, but the car ran faultlessly, and Garry will join the ranks of GTRNZ and the Historic Sport Sedans this coming season. 

But as we all know, the build of a race car certainly does not finish the day you begin racing, and plans are already in place for a round of upgrades to happen over the next few years. “The LT1 was only ever meant as a dummy block so we could get the engine mounting sorted, get it running and get me used to driving the car. After a few seasons it will be pulled and MRX will supply an LS-based crate motor, sequential transmission and nine-inch rear end,” mods that should see the RX-7 running competitively in GT2. 

It’s great to see that although the project took 10 years to complete, the car is exactly what Garry set out to build from day one, with a level of craftsmanship that we do not see all that often. The RX-7, dare we say it, is nearly too nice to go rubbing door-to-door in a full field of race cars, but in saying that, it’s also too nice not to see what its true potential actually is. After all it’s a race car, and that’s exactly what Garry built it for.