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Doubling his dose: show-stopping Ford Laser combo

21 June 2018



Carl Robertson’s ‘JRCOZY’ is no stranger to these pages. However, following a crash in 2017, it’s been reborn, and now it’s got a 4WD buddy to do all the heavy lifting

The year was 2006, and February kicked off with the March edition of NZ Performance Car, Issue No. 111 — confusing? Yes, we know — rolled out to servos, supermarkets, book stores, and dairies all over this little strip of paradise we call home. On the cover sat a camo-clad RX-7, which was making its debut to the world. While most of us were busy heavy breathing and drooling over the 20B peripheral-port (PP) of ‘Mad Mike’ Whiddett, that wasn’t the car that Carl Robertson was heavy breathing and drooling over in that issue. The self-confessed TX3 nutter had landed on page 76, and the 4WD TX3 that Neil Macfarquhar had constructed to tackle Targa. The widebody TX3 was everything that a young teenage Carl couldn’t afford, from the latest MoTeC gear to the modified World Rally Championship (WRC) Ford Escort widebody and all the custom carbon pieces. But hey, a boy can dream, right?! 

Fast forward a few years, and that car had seemingly vanished off the face of the earth. Meanwhile, Carl had been busy constructing his own TX3 of the FWD persuasion, and nabbed himself the cover of NZPC with his immaculately constructed ‘JRCOZY’. JR was an incredible build in its own right, and, over the next five years, it would win more than 30 trophies just in 4&Rotary events, take out the C2 drag class at the Nationals two years running, and claim the front-wheel-drive street-tyre record — a record it still holds with a 10.79 at 217kph. 

JR clocked up 11,000km of mostly racing miles, especially once Carl started making the move from drag to circuit racing. However, this was when things started to get hairy.

He recalls, “When I did some Superlap stuff in 2015, it just never felt safe; it always felt tail happy. I knew [that] it wasn’t right. Being that high horsepower [380kW] and front wheel drive, I knew there would always be that risk. Heading into turn one at Hampton, it always felt unsettled. Barry Manon’s Levin has huge amounts of aero on it, and it sits so much flatter through there than JR ever has. It was going to wreck the look of the car to change everything to suit what I wanted to be doing next in my progression of my racing.”

Carl made the decision that a new build — or, at least, a new acquisition — was needed. Being the TX nerd that he is, the obvious choice was a 4WD variant, but, given the status of these high on the list of endangered iconic ’90s automobiles, that was going to be a tall order — or was it? When JR was in the build, the idea of going widebody had led Carl to reach out to Neil in the hope of borrowing the moulds of his customized WRC Escort widebody. Although the build didn’t happen at the time, the intention never really went away, which meant that the pair kept in contact over the years. 

Neil’s car had been gathering dust in the shed, having not clocked up any kilometres since it was shot for NZPC all those years ago. It had suffered some engine issues on the dyno with overheating, which were never remedied. Knowing this, Carl began working at Neil, begging him to let it go: “I kept hounding him; then, in 2016, when we were taking on the Tuff Street championship and went to Timaru, I stopped in and saw it, and the deal was made. Neil saw JR on the trailer, and I guess he figured [that] I was the right person to put his car to use.” 
Carl now had his dream duo of TX3s, but it wouldn’t be till his fears about stacking JR came true at Chrome in August 2017 that the rebuild of either car would begin. 

“The crash didn’t look too bad — it had pushed the rail over 20mm, but the way the gearbox conversion was done, with a really strong roll-cage tube cross member and radiator support, it had saved the passenger side and kept it square, but the driver’s side just blew out and needed the rail pulled, the inner guard replaced, the radiator support, and all the external panels. My painter, Kalib, who laid the original red on, came back onboard and I purchased a front cut,” explains Carl. 

In prep for Leadfoot, a set of Endless pads was swapped into the AP Racing four-pot calipers. The brake compound is designed to give clamping force without the need to build up temp, an impossible task on a hill climb like Leadfoot



The need for a new front end opened up the opportunity for a new look to coincide with the car’s semi-retirement from racing. After much deliberation, 2K white was chosen and laid on by Kalib, followed by layers and layers of clear. The car finally got that wing Carl always wanted, too, thanks to the mould that came with the 4WD car — although this one was shortened to suit JR’s narrower body lines. 

Mechanically, JR remains much the same as always, having been refined over the years of clocking those 11,000km. A new quad-throttle-body intake and fuel system joined the new BorgWarner turbo, which replaced the old Master Power, and a Varex muffler was also added for street duties. 

“The 98 tune needs checking with the new turbo, but, once we get those bugs ironed out, I think we are just going to enjoy it as a road car. Since we built it, most of kilometres have being race ones, and we haven’t done much cruising. Hopefully, this year, when we go to Jambo, and maybe Timaru, we will just drive it the UMF family,” Carl says.

With JR away getting rebuilt, Carl found himself with enough shed space to strip the race car and get on to refreshing everything. No drastic rework was required, as nearly every component on the car was next to brand new, from the AP Racing brakes to the external-reservoir Proflex shocks — it had just all been sitting dormant for a decade. Over the next six months, Carl poured some huge hours into rebuilding everything and addressing the overheating issue that had stopped the car being used. This saw a bleed system with header tank and swirl pot added to the cooling system. 

The chromoly rear subframe holds an Evo II IRS diff with alloy control arms and Evo axles. The front and centre diff are also Evo derived, with a Modena front LSD and a GEMS controller for the centre diff



“It was a nervous time, putting it on the dyno at Jtune, as it was a bit of an unknown, but Jacky [Tse] did a great job and it worked perfectly,” Carl recalls.

The de-stroked (to suit Targa class rules) 1753cc BPT didn’t make the numbers that JR’s 1800cc BPT is spitting out, but it’s some of the angriest-sounding 179kW that you’ll ever hear. The turbo is a former Possum Bourne VF22, while the injectors are RX-7 550cc. It’s proper old-school performance techniques using the best of what was available at the time.
The one thing that the car does share with its FWD brother — and one of the reasons Carl fell in love with it in the first place — is the solution to the weak drivelines that have led to these DOHC turbos joining that endangered list. 

“It had the Evo gearbox conversion back in 2006, long before Chris with [AL4SPN] had his, and before I did mine. They did the conversion in a much smarter way than we did. Where we made the gearbox fit in the car, they took the complete front Evo VII subframe and fitted it into the Laser,” Carl explains. 

The same can be said for the rear diff, which is an Evo III item, although mounted to a custom chromoly subframe. The centre diff — yeah that’s Evo, too — is controlled by a GEMS controller Credit really needs to be given to Octane Automotive and those who were responsible for the original build, as its aspect is as proper is ever, and it looks just like an early ’90s WRC car. 
This is the kind of hardware that really needs to be used, and, after a decade of sitting dormant in a Pahiatua shed and rocking all-new livery, the rebuilt TX was ready for its maiden competition on the super-tight confines of Rod and Shelly Millen’s Leadfoot driveway. 



Both cars wear WRC rear wings. JR’s has been narrowed to fit the non-widebody

Carl felt right at home pushing the 4WD. “As soon as I got in that other car, I felt like I could push. It doesn’t have anywhere near the power that JR has, but that doesn’t matter. It’s light, and the steering input is perfect. It’s just an amazing car to drive, and I can’t wait to see what we can do with it going forward,” he declares.

First on that list will be bringing the electronics package into modern times, replacing the ’90s MoTeC and adding a power-distribution module (PDM). Having had a taste of Targa from the passenger seat of his cousin’s Porsche, Carl is eager to add to the two Targa stamps in the TX’s logbook — collected during the days when it had a Mazda driveline. Who knows? There may even be some more white-knuckle rides up Rod’s driveway —“If he’ll have me,” Carl adds. 

This really is just the tip of the iceberg for this build, and we can’t think of a better steward to be flying the TX3 flag and ensuring these classic import machines don’t become extinct. As for JR, only a fool would bet on that car never seeing a track again, especially if someone nabs its drag record, but we will just have to wait and see.  

Carl Robertson
Age: 32
Location: Pukekohe
Occupation: Partner at South Pacific Fire Protection
Build time: 10 years
Length of ownership: 10 years
Thanks: My partner, Grace, for supporting my builds and racing; my #teamevodriveline boys, Mike, Chris, and Rohit; Kalib Kolevski and family; Mike at Prosport Auto; Barry at MRP; Bruce and John at Manon Butler Motors; Jeff at Precision Engineering; Jacky at Jtune; Dan at Slater Fabrications; Mike at M-Spec Fabrication; Brendon at BNR Engineering; Tommy at Redline Signwriters; Tim at Pro Coat; Richard at Neil Allport Motorsports; Jeremy at JMRFibreglass; the boys at Autostance; Jason at NZKW; A&P at Downtime Entertainment; Andrew at AWS; Rod and Shelly of the Leadfoot Festival; and the Untamed Motorsport family 

1990 Ford Laser TX3 (JRCOZY)

ENGINE: Ford BPT, 1800cc, four-cylinder
BLOCK: JE pistons, Belfab rods, ARP studs, ARP race bearings, Mazda GT-R crank, MX-5 Toda oil pump
HEAD: 2005 Mazda MX-5 BPZ3 VVT head, Supertech valve springs, solid lifters
INTAKE: Toyota 4A-GE blacktop throttle bodies, T3 billet MX-5 throttle adaptor, custom Dan Slater intake plenum with internal bell mouths, 2.5-inch intercooler piping, 600x300x80mm intercooler, four-inch intake pipe, cold-air box
EXHAUST: Three-inch stainless system by Dan Slater, Varex muffler or straight pipe
TURBO: BorgWarner SXE 57mm, polished stainless steam-pipe manifold
BOV: TiAL 50mm
FUEL: AEM E85 lift pump, Aftermarket Industries underbody surge tank, modified fuel tank, Dual Bosch 044 pumps, Teflon braided lines, Radium MX-5 billet fuel rail, Aeromotive fuel-pressure regulator (FPR), Sard 800cc injectors (98 octane), Siemens 2433cc injectors (E85) 
ECU: Autronic SM4
COOLING: A1 Radiators custom radiator, alloy swirl pot, dual electric fans, NZKW oil cooler
EXTRA: Winged and baffled sump, custom catch-cans with JNT lids 

GEARBOX: Toyota AE92 Levin GTZ, five-speed, custom Manon Racing Products (MRP) ratios, TRD short-shift kit, Jeff Bruce adaptor plate
CLUTCH: MRP twin-plate
FLYWHEEL: Custom billet
DIFF: 12-plate mechanical limited-slip, billet drag axles
STRUTS: Mazda GTX BC Gold coilovers, various spring ratios
BRAKES: (F) 330mm MRP Nashin rotors, Endless ME22 pads; (R) Mazda Lantis rotors, Bendix pads
EXTRA: Ultra Racing fender and underbody braces; Whiteline sway bars and strut braces; Nolathane bushes 

WHEELS: (F) 17×8-inch BBS LM, reversed centres, polished lips; (R) 17×9-inch BBS LM, reversed centres, polished lips
TYRES: 205/40R17 Neuton NT5000 / 26×10.5 M&H DOT Drag Street 

PAINT: 2K white with clear coat by Kaleb Kolevski
ENHANCEMENTS: Custom carbon bonnet by JMRFibreglass (3kg), Mazda GT-R front bumper, JDM TX3 side skirts and clear indicators, custom Cosworth WRC rear wing, satin black offsets 

SEATS: Bride Zeta 3, Mazda GTX rails
INSTRUMENTATION: Autometer water-temp, oil-temp, oil-pressure, and boost gauges
EXTRA: Six-point roll cage, flocked dash and centre console, carbon-fibre door trims and rear quarter panels

POWER: 315kW(98), 380kW (E85) 
BOOST: 29psi
FUEL: 98 octane or E85
TUNER: Jacky at Jtune
ET: 10.79s at 217kph (current DOT tyre street-tyred FWD record) 
Circuit times: Hampton — 1min 18s 

1989 Ford Laser GTX (WRCOZY) 

ENGINE: Ford BPT, 1753cc, four-cylinder
BLOCK: Sleeved to 1753cc, JE pistons, Mazda B6T rods, ARP studs
HEAD: Ported-and-polished Mazda BP26 GTX, Supertech valve springs, solid lifters, custom ground cams
INTAKE: Custom stainless plenum, carbon-fibre cold-air intake, three-inch alloy intercooler piping, 600x300x80mm intercooler
exhaust: 3-inch stainless
TURBO: PWRC VF22 with dual internal-port wastegate, steam-pipe manifold
FUEL: Radium in-tank surge kit, dual AEM E85 pumps, AEM lift pump, Radium MX-5 billet fuel rail, Radium FPR, Radium fuel-pulse damper (FPD), RX-7 550cc injectors, Teflon braided lines
IGNITION: Evo III coil packs, custom leads
ECU: MoTeC M48
COOLING: Alloy radiator, BNR custom fan shroud, 16-inch fan, Mocal oil cooler 

GEARBOX: #teamevodriveline Evo VI five-speed, Octane Automotive adaptor, Evo VII transfer case
CLUTCH: Mitsubishi heavy-duty single-plate
FLYWHEEL: Mitsubishi
DIFF: (F) Evo VII transfer case with Active Center Differential (ACD), Modena front limited-slip; (R) Evo III case / Modena limited-slip
EXTRA: Mitsubishi axles and CVs, Mitsubishi driveshaft (with speed sensor)

STRUTS: Proflex Evo II Tarmac Rally coilovers (rebuilt by Ralliart) 
BRAKES: (F) AP Racing four-pot calipers, Endless race pads; (R) Wilwood calipers, Endless race pads
EXTRA: Eight-point roll cage, custom subframes, M-Spec Fabrication blade front sway bar, Evo rear sway bar 

WHEELS: 17×8-inch Enkei Tarmac
TYRES: 235/45R17 Yokohama ADO8R 

PAINT: Custom SPFP (South Pacific Fire Protection) wrap designed by AWS and applied by Redline Signwriters
ENHANCEMENTS: Cosworth WRC widebody, fibreglass guards (front and rear), fibreglass bumpers, fibreglass doors, fibreglass bonnet, fibreglass hatch, WRC wing, carbon-fibre sunroof patch with roof scoop, carbon air pods, Lexan windows 

SEATS: Racetech RT4009HR head restraint, Schroth Profi ASM harnesses
EXTRA: Flocked dash and console; carbon-fibre door trims and rear quarter panels; speed holes everywhere 

POWER: 179kW
BOOST: 20psi
FUEL: 98 octane
TUNER: Jacky at Jtune 


This article originally appeared in NZ Performance Car issue No. 256 — you can grab a print copy by clicking the cover below: