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Aspiration: 1974 Mazda RX-2 Series 3

6 March 2014


For most prospective car buyers, the dream is always to find that one-lady-owner, mint condition, never been past 5000rpm, and still with the plastic on the door cards classic — that of course has a ridiculous (she didn’t know what she had) price tag. But the reality is, most desirable models have long since left the careful ownership of some old lady, and spend their time thrashed within an inch of their lives and buried deep in the red. For Craig Davis, his 1974 Mazda RX-2 fitted squarely into the latter category, in fact Warren Overton from PPRE had owned the sedan as a teenager, and the photographic evidence supplied to us that shows the sedan chained to a concrete pad in a haze of tyre smoke would prove our earlier point. 

A good mate of Warren’s had been the one to pry it from the old lady’s hands, and it proceeded to swap between a few mates in Wanganui until Warren purchased it, and got busy stripping it bare to execute a grand plan that never quite made it into fruition. It was half-sandblasted, had a Hilux rear end, and everything that had been stripped off was piled inside the shell before Warren sold it back to the previous owner, who then sold the project to Craig.

Despite its appearance the shell was actually in really good condition, it was rust-free and had never been in an accident. Every hard-to-find part was there and in reasonable condition, it was just a matter of piecing it all together once a new coat of paint had been applied. The shell was bare-metalled by Craig, and then dropped to Dwyane at Bell Block Panel Beaters where all the minor imperfections were removed, before Craig took it home and got it ready for the paint to be applied by the team at The Paint Shop. Five years on, that paintwork still looks as good as the day it rolled out of the booth, and it even picked up Best Custom Paint at this year’s V 4&Rotary North Island Jamboree.

Before long the RX-2 had one of the first-ever PPRE-built 13B bridge-port engines — complete with an IDA sitting under the bonnet — and Craig was a happy man. A regular in the street classes at the V 4&Rotary Nationals, he picked up the class win in 2012, but after a few years of driving, the old 1.3-litre just wasn’t delivering the excitement it once had, and the urge to run quicker ETs had Craig searching for a new engine combination. While most would have seen a 13B turbo combination as the next logical step, he had different ideas and no intention of running boost, so instead he called up Warren and placed an order for a short-crank 20B.

The team at PPRE screwed together the 20B using a custom chromoly eccentric shaft, lightened and balanced 9.75:1 compression rotors, and PPRE PP-spec rotor housings. To feed the thirsty three-rotor a custom PPRE tapered intake manifold was employed to house the six ID1000 injectors and three 55mm EFI Hardware throttle bodies. While at PPRE Craig also had the boys mini-tub the rear end in anticipation of running bigger rubber. To keep it as factory-looking as possible, the rear sheet metal was sectioned to allow the addition of 50mm to each wheel tub. Doing it this way it removed the need to build big tubs, and kept the factory look of the boot. The RX already had a Hilux diff, so it was shortened to suit, and a Green Brothers full-spool diff centre was added, along with an adjustable four-link.

The first track-outing for the new combination saw an improvement over the 13B times, but the old FC RX-7 gearbox was not up to the task of shifting at high rpm. A Tremec TKO 500 with a Liberty non-synchro gear set was ordered from the States and fitted. With the new box in, Craig and Warren also decided more power would do the trick to push the car into the 10-second club. Thanks to a switch to E85 and the addition of six 1000cc injectors and a Link G4 Xtreme, the RX-2 ran 334kW (448hp) at the rear wheels. That was enough to propel it down the quarter in a best of 10.62 at 125mph (201kph), making it the second-fastest NA rotary in New Zealand behind the infamous quad-rotor RX-7 [FOURRE] of Bryce McEwan. But Craig isn’t about to stop there. After the last 10.70 at Masterton, he was told he would need a cage if he wanted to run again, so the team at PPRE built an NZDRA nine-second-spec roll cage, and while the car was there they also fitted a two-step launch controller. “With the two-step it will allow me to hold the throttle at the perfect rpm for launching, it’s just a matter of trial and error to get it set up perfectly, I would love to run into the high nines, that’s the goal with the car now,” Craig says. It’s just a matter of getting a few great runs together, at the moment there have been a few high-mph runs with poor 60-foots, and vice versa; when they come together it should net a low 10 or high nine-second pass, as Warren from PPRE explains: “It’s easy to make power gains in a turbo, you just up the boost, but with an NA it’s not that simple, we could start cutting a lot of weight from it, but at the end of the day it’s a street car. The power it’s making now is about the limit, with the only option to play around with the exhaust, it’s more about getting the passes perfected.”

If he does manage to eclipse Bryce’s time, that will put the RX-2 into a world-beating position. All with a WOF and rego still on the windscreen. And yes, this is a true street car, “Although I don’t drive it much on the road, as it doesn’t like going 50kph, that is a tall ask, but it’s great on the open road, and I often take it up my road out in the country.”

Expect to see the RX-2 on the track a lot this summer as Craig works his way down the 10-second bracket, and hopefully into the single digits. From a sand-blasted shell to the 10-second car before you, it just goes to show that it doesn’t matter what you start with, it’s the hard work and dedication put into the build that will pay off in the long run.