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Street Style, Track Soul: Jonny Martin’s killer FD RX-7

7 April 2020



Too often, a car build becomes a victim of its own evolution. Starting without a plan risks an aesthetic with no real flow or cohesion. Jonny Martin’s latest drift creation is an example of how clarity of style and careful planning results in the sublime

Drifting and style. Two words, when applied to doing that sideways thing in cars, that are without a speck of doubt, mutually inclusive. They go together like peas and carrots, Snoop and Dre, hookers and blow — you get the idea. It’s the whole damn point of frolicking around at right angles to the actual track direction. Looking and feeling freakin’ cool, isn’t it? 

The notion of ‘style’ isn’t prescriptive as such. There’s that whole ‘eye of the beholder’ thing. For every flavour involving wafting gently sideways on a big ol’ set of dishy 19-inch wheels, tyres stretched to the nines, and fibreglass scraping the deck, there’s an equal and opposite reaction. Usually, assuming the form of big tyres, functional ride height, and hefty grip — all in the name of physics-defying flicks toward the clipping point.

Above all, the constant is to absolutely own your thing. It’s an attitude that permeates the pit lanes of South Island drift events, days characterized by a real sense of community, a group just vibing on being out there to kick the clutch and countersteer their steeds from the apex to the ripple strip. Dialling up a smile, and letting it rip.

It’s also the stomping ground of one Jonny Martin and his eyeball-scorching ’93 Mazda RX-7. It’s a build that sits pretty in the middle-ground between the Kansai-influenced warriors and boulevard-slammed kings of shine, balancing a truckload of aesthetic with a generous spoonful of driveability.

The Mazda represents a recent departure for Jonny, whose drifting trajectory spins a familiar yarn. “I was about 17 when it all started,” he explains. “That was my first Skyline, which ended up being written off after a BMW took us out heading down the hills!” 

For those players outside of Christchurch, ‘the hills’ references the Port Hills east of the city. Heaving with challenging, twisty roads, they were a favourite for drivers seeking a bit of apex-to-apex action. Either way, Jonny couldn’t go without a boosted rear-wheel-drive fix, and reshelled the wrecked Skyline coupe into an R32 sedan.

“It became a bit of an obsession from then,” Jonny reckons, shifting his thirst for wheel-burns to the tracks. As the Skyline developed, dipping his toes into Drift South competition soon followed, but it was the inception of the StreetMeat Glory Daze meets that solidified Jonny as a bit of a figurehead in the 03. Alongside Dan Yeoman and Andy Gnad, Jonny put his hand up to run the first event, a private day targeting good times on track. It was the genesis of Christchurch’s drifting success story — or maybe more of an excuse for a social gathering and a hell of an after party.

Four years of StreetMeat down, and Jonny found himself at the wheel of his next Skyline: a slammed R32 coupe draped over single-piece Origin Labo wheels, drizzled in metal-flake red. Retaining Jonny’s signature OEM style, the scarlet R32 became a bit of a celebrity in its own right — even making the pages of NZ Performance Car #222 — before being sold to fund the genesis of his business. 

Even so, the link to drifting remained. “It’s funny, you know, people will tell you drifting’s a waste of money — but I sold my drift car to start my business, and my first clients were from my drifting circles, so in a way it’s the opposite,” Jonny laughs. While building SignLab into a successful enterprise became the priority, eventually he got the itch.

“I’d always wanted an FD RX-7. They’re such a cool car,” Jonny says. “And it was one of those right-place-at-the-right-time sort of moments. I wanted to get back in a drift car, I was in the right headspace, and this RX-7 popped up at a good price.” After an initial enquiry, the seller pulled the old ‘someone else is keen’ trick. Shortly after that, Jonny and a couple of the boys were on the road to Palmerston North, trailer in tow.

She was an unfinished project, but the right unfinished project. Originally destined for tarmac rallying, the metallic-lipstick-pink RX-7 was a totally stripped rolling shell, albeit already fitted with a solid cage. “Everything was there, just not in the car. A bit like buying a jigsaw without the picture to work from,” Jonny mentions. Organizing the parts haul, and a bit of head scratching later, ensured Jonny managed to piece everything together.

“No one really told me how much harder it was to find bits for these compared to the Nissans,” Jonny explains of his FD knowledge before delving into the build. “I hadn’t really researched before I bought it, but after I jumped on Instagram I found a few cars I liked the look of and started figuring out what elements worked.”

Now, a cohesive aesthetic is a huge consideration for any car Jonny builds. “The factory got it pretty right,” he says of the FD, “so why mess with it too much?” Luckily, the car came with an OEM plastic Series 8 bumper, forming the basis for the FD’s distinctive, clean look. Jonny sourced much of the aero from Shine Auto in the USA — the Feed-style front guards, bonnet, carbon side steps, and rear diffuser taking an anxiety-wracked 10 months to land in New Zealand, courtesy of some shipping difficulties.

Nevertheless, with the bits on hand, the FD took shape. Jono Smith took care of sculpting the rear arches in steel, while modifying the new front arches to accept a slightly wider track. Now drenched in Mazda Sunburst yellow — a factory FD colour — the bodywork is wild in its subtlety, with a psuedo-Japanese time-attack visual to it, aided no doubt by the way the front arch radius drapes over the wheel and sweeps to the stubby Series 8 front bumper. It’s the culmination of what Jonny calls a ‘complete’ styling exercise: built to a plan and consistent from front to back.

But those wheels … Jonny’s a sucker for a single-piece wheel, and in this instance they’re Advan RG III, the latest iteration of their iconic six-spoke. 18×9-inch front and 18×10.5-inch rears squeeze into the arches, with sacrificial Kendas out the back and sticky Advan AD08s pointing the front end in the right direction.

Cracking open the motor revealed a tidy base. In the interest of reliability, the 13B-REW has been treated to a Turblown stud kit and Green Brothers 2mm unbreakable apex seals, and a large extend port has been added to help breathing — it needs it. The BorgWarner S363 huffs enough air through for a handy 331kW on 19psi, cooled via a V-mount intercooler and radiator set-up. 

Cog swapping comes courtesy of a CD00A six-speed, more commonly found behind a 370Z. Off-the-shelf conversion kits by Collins ensure a relatively easy install, and in Jonny’s mind a synchro box helps retain a grassroots feel. He claims a dog box would have made it feel “too racecar”, which he feels would detract from the almost OEM-plus theme.

When it came to the chassis, Jonny soon learnt that he’d been spoiled by his Nissan past. After being discouraged from cutting and shutting the stock alloy knuckles, Jonny “pretty much sat and waited for Parts Shop Max to drop their stuff.” A full suite of arms, tie rods, and their Limit Break knuckles keep the front end in check, with Parts Shop Max front coilovers and custom BCs in the back. Surprisingly, the rear end is damn near stock, with factory FD adjustability proving more than adequate for his chassis set-up.

Mazda RX7 FD Jonny Martin (339)-Edit.jpg

With a gleaming, freshly built RX-7 ready to go a week out from the 2019 edition of StreetMeat, disaster struck, with a steering failure sending the FD off course on his first test session. “It was heartbreaking,” Jonny recalls, “but I couldn’t give up and be that guy on a downer. Luckily, Parts Shop Max came to the party, shipping bits from the USA in only three days to get me back on track.”

And the drive? “You’ve gotta be on it all the time compared to the Nissans. The RX-7 has so much grip, so much forward motion. The moment you get off it, it straightens and you lose drift. So the 13B is just kept near the limiter all the time. It’s bloody exciting, to be fair,” he says of the drifting experience.

But above all, the FD represents Jonny’s ideal package. Styling inside and out pays clean homage to the OEM lines — arguably some of the best out of Japan — which in itself reflects the kind of use Jonny wants out of the car. “I’m not super interested in doing a full season of Drift South, but if there’s a day at the track I can make, when the car’s going good, and I can just fix things in my own time, I’m there,” he smiles, adding, “it just keeps it a bit more fun!”

Next on the list? D-Club’s upcoming Animal Style GP, the first pilgrimage North for Jonny, with a crew of the ’03’s finest in tow. North Island aggression meets Southern style. Be assured Jonny will be there, chucking the FD in deep, and banging the limiter all the way out to the edge of the track, grinning all the way.

Mazda RX7 FD Jonny Martin (846)-Edit.jpg

Jonny Martin 
Age: 28 
Location: Christchurch 
Occupation: Signwriter 
Thanks: My partner, Sarah; The Sign Lab; SURfab/Silvesters; Jono Smith; Alex Smith; all the StreetMeat boys, girls, drivers and wider collective; Rapid Performance; Phil at NZEFI; Longboy; Gantley; Willie Nicks; Jason Smith; NZ Performance Wholesale; The Diff Shop; Skeleton Fabrication; Mag & Turbo Christchurch; Hayden at KVS; Tommy at Parts Shop Max; Rob at Link ECU; Will at JDM Carcare; Streeter Corp; anyone else who has lent a hand or offered advice along the way  

1993 Mazda RX-7 FD3S

ENGINE: Mazda 13BREW, 1300cc, two-rotor  
BLOCK: large extend ported plates, Turblown stud kit, Green Brothers Racing apex seals, automatic FD rear plate 
INTAKE: GReddy AirNX mushroom filter, GReddy intake elbow, V-mount intercooler  
EXHAUST: SURfab 3.5-inch stainless exhaust, SURfab four-inch lobster dump tip, AdrenalinR muffler 
TURBO: BorgWarner S363, Sinco manifold
WASTEGATE: Turbosmart 60mm 
FUEL: Aeromotive A750, AEM 320lph lift pump, Turbosmart FRP, Aeromotive fuel rail, Injector Dynamics 1050cc primary injectors, Injector Dynamics 1650cc secondary injectors, MPSNZ Teflon hose and fittings, Jazz fuel cell  
IGNITION: AEM smart coils, NZEFI ignition leads, HKS spark plugs 
ECU: Link G4+ Monsoon 
COOLING: V-mounted radiator, custom radiator ducting, PWR oil cooler with ducting by Skeleton Fabrication  
EXTRA: Modified three-litre catch can, DEI heat sleeving, heat shielding, custom inner guards by Jono, GReddy pulley kit  

GEARBOX: Nissan 370Z CD00A, six-speed, Collins adaptor plate, modified 13BREW auto bellhousing, Collins billet shifter 
CLUTCH: Custom Exedy 
FLYWHEEL: Collins three-piece flywheel 
DIFF: Cusco two-way LSD, RX-8 final drive (4.77)  
EXTRA: SURfab gearbox crossmember, strengthened front subframe   

STRUTS: (F) Parts Shop Max coilovers, 12kg springs, (R) modified BC Gold coilovers, 16kg springs  
BRAKES: Tilton floor mount pedal box (F) Slotted rotors, (R) Parts Shop Max handbrake 
EXTRA: Parts Shop Max lower arms, Parts Shop Max Limit Break  upper arms, Parts Shop Max inner and outer tie rods, Whiteline front sway bar, Parts Shop max S14-FD3S sway bar adaptor 

WHEELS: (F) 18×9 (+25) Advan RG II, (R) 18×10.5 (+15) Advan RG II  
TYRES: (F) 225/40R18 Advan AD08, (R) 235/40R18 Kenda KR20A 

PAINT: Mazda Sunburst Yellow by Longboy and Gantley, yellow pin striping
ENHANCEMENTS: Shine Auto carbon rear diffuser, Shine Auto carbon side steps, Shine Auto FEED bonnet, Shine Auto FEED front guards (modified by Jono Smith), S8 FD3S rear wing, S8 FD3S front bar, ACM lower lip, modified steel rear guards by Jono Smith   

SEATS: Recaro SP-G, Sabelt harness
ICE: Pioneer double-DIN head unit, six-inch speakers  
EXTRA: LRB alloy door cards, MSNZ-spec roll cage 

POWER: 445hp 
BOOST: 19psi