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The Magic Number – 1974 Mazda RX-3 Savanna GT Coupe

24 April 2024

For Andy Duffin, it might just seem that three is most definitely the elusive magic number. Revered for his exploits in his crowd favourite 3-rotor FD RX-7, he’s come to the party with another magical three. Except this time, it’s old, it’s loud, and it’s a retro riot!

Words and Photos: Richard Opie

Lay back on your sofa, put your feet up, close your eyes, and imagine this scenario. You’re a bloke who’s pretty well indelibly linked to racing rotary-powered weapons around various strips of tarmac across New Zealand, and occasionally abroad. 

Your chosen steed? A highly developed, superbly balanced, and above all, wicked fast FD RX-7, dripping in carbon, aero, with flames belching from its backside at every lift of the loud pedal. And that 20B up the front is loud, all right. This is peak rotary racing, surely?


Eventually though, those svelte lines start to show their age. Season upon season of serious competition takes its toll on a racecar. An antidote is required, to recharge, and reinvigorate the racing mind. 

You’re prescribed a small-wheeled, grip-limited small capacity rotary, dripping in a lairy paint job you might’ve seen rifling through your grandad’s slides, shot sometime in the late 1970s.


It’s everything your FD isn’t, it seems like a backwards step. But au contraire, this is what absolute coolness feels, smells, and looks like. For much-loved Kiwi rotary nutcase Andy Duffin, this is now his retro reality. If the name’s not totally familiar, perhaps the words ‘3 Rotor Racing’ might jog your memory a touch.


It’s Andy’s alter ego, a brand structured around campaigning one of the quickest circuit rotaries in the country — his iconic, carbon-clad FD3S RX-7. In various guises, the RX-7 took Andy to SS2000 championships, endurance racing podiums, and has even graced Aussie tarmac three times at World Time Attack Challenge. “We had a lot of fun with the RX-7,” explains Andy, “we campaigned it all over the place, got a lot of good results, and it was time to do something different.”



The RX-7 was also starting to show the strain of many, many seasons of competition and by Andy’s own admission was due for a bit of a birthday. It’s not the end of the RX-7 chapter — hell no— but it was the beginning of something of a side quest for the 3 Rotor Racing enterprise, and it came in the shape of a 1974 Mazda RX-3 Savanna GT. Even before the decision was made to whip out the spray gun, the little coupe had been sitting in the workshop corner waiting for it’s time to shine. Its journey with Andy begins a decade or so earlier, like so many others, with a lazy browse through Trade Me. “The RX-3 popped up at the right place at the right time,” says Andy, “I wasn’t looking for one but I thought it was the coolest thing I’d ever seen.” 


This might seem like a big call for a bloke who’s punted a range of pretty damn cool ‘tangs around Kiwi circuits, but let’s paint a picture of that listing. The RX-3 was a vibrant purple from top to tyre, with a chunky set of 13-inch Watanabes snuggled beneath a behemoth set of fibreglass flares. The RX-3 screamed shakotan, and no sooner had the deal been done on the car, than Andy’s imagination was running wild.



“I’d never really dipped my toes in this genre of racecar,” laughs Andy, “but the big flares, the little wheels, that’s a bit of me!” In Andy’s own words, the RX-3 was a bit rough, a little bit unloved, but offered a bucketload of potential. “It looked fairly untouched, except for the big flares and a bolt-in half cage,” explains Andy, “but everything else was there, the original motor and ‘box, the GT interior. I figured it was a Savanna GT, the real deal top spec RX-3, so really there wasn’t anything to lose.”


The flares and the cage told a bit of a story, and it’s one Andy managed to get a bit of extra intel on, thanks to the reach of social media. He managed to track down the last owner in Japan, a gentleman well immersed in the shakotan lifestyle. “This guy was right into it. He sent me some footage of the car doing gymkhanas, parked up and revving that little 12A to the moon,” Andy grins, “and it turns out he’s stoked the car’s been refurbed, he thought it’d just go to the crusher!”

Once safely back in Andy’s workshop, the usual forensic examination revealed the RX-3 was actually in pretty good shape, with only a handful of minor rust issues lurking under the lurid purple hue. Andy even reckoned the clock showing around 60,000km was fairly accurate. “The engine ran, but the last owners never drove it,” says Andy, “but once Richard and Chris Green [Green Brothers Racing] got their hands on it, it was right up their alley. They like stuff that’s a bit more rugged.” The verdict showed the RX-3 was “totally usable,” so the purple coupe was pressed into action in the interim as a bit of a trackday warrior, for a bit of a giggle.


“We did lots of Chrome, REunion, those sort of events,” explains Andy, “then got a bit more serious and threw some good brakes in the front, went through a few unknown quantity engines, and by the time the third engine let go, the Greens built a decent little street-ported 12A for it, and beat on it some more. It did lap after lap with pretty much all my friends having a burn, and having a laugh in it!”

The car was even MSNZ logbooked, and taken to competitive events, such as Leadfoot Festival and the Waimate Street Sprints. The car proved to be a bona fide grin-generator, a lively, noisy little ripper of a car that provided maximum giggles thanks to a basic set-up — a theme that’s retained even in its current form. Andy even reckons it’s done the most mileage of any race car he’s owned, but all the while the RX-3 was getting run ragged. He’d been accumulating what period-correct parts he could, in anticipation of what the coupe would eventually morph into. 


The transformation of the Savanna into a period-style racer isn’t a recent notion for Andy, though. This fascination got a kickstart not long after he actually procured the coupe — some 10 years earlier, remember — and only in the last 18 months or so has the build taken shape into the vibrant, rowdy little track-terror that looks like it’s burst straight out of the mid-70s.

Dr Google provided the inspiration initially. Tapping in a few key search terms gave Andy the bones to form a concept. But before Andy was able to pretty the coupe up, some attention was needed. It turned out that all those miles spent being thrashed with all manner of maniacs behind the wheel had taken its toll on the 49-year-old sheet metal, and poor old RX-3 was literally tearing itself apart. “The chassis was flexing up front, and it needed a bit of tidy-up work,” explains Andy, “and we’d been getting more and more serious about events, so it really needed a proper cage stitched in.”


Add to this, the six or seven years Andy had spent accumulating Mazda Factory Racing (MFR) 12A bits, the increasing popularity of period-style racing, and the fate of the purple RX-3 was sealed — although its future would hold substantially less purple. “There’s no point all those special parts just collecting dust,” Andy smiles, “so I thought we had to put them to good use, build a cool wee MFR motor, chuck a cage in it, and make this a proper little race car!”

The genesis of the build was the Kiwi Autosport eight-point cage following a strip down, but meanwhile the Greens got to work piecing together the special 12A that forms the heart, and, importantly, the character of the RX-3. The block comprises MFR housings, heavily ported, stuffed full of all the good stuff. Ultra lightweight (brand new!) rotors with Mazda carbon seals, a race-balanced rotating assembly and proven mods to the oiling set-up ensure a stout set-up between the RX-3’s struts.


Initially, an IDA carburettor sat atop the MFR intake manifold, but after a bit of mucking around on the dyno the lads made the call to go injected. An EFI hardware throttle body lurks under the Group C style airbox, all controlled by a Link G4X Fury, enough for a fiery 239kw at the fat rear tyres, the trademark 12A shriek emanating from the big boiler muffler in between bursts of flame.

But we digress — with a caged shell back in his shed, and a fresh 12A ready to go Andy’s panel work magic wand was pulled from the tool box and put into action. The flares were repositioned and mounted lower on the body work, to more aggressively hug the fat rolling stock, a set of custom 13-inch three-piece items from Pine Engineering, measuring nine-inches wide at the pointing end and 10-inches at the skidding end. The shell now features a bunch of fibreglass parts. The nose, boot, bonnet, front guards and doors are all composite, all helping to get the weight down, but also ensuring easy replacement in the event of a whoopsie, as RX-3 steel panels don’t exactly grow on trees. 


What’s on top of that fibreglass is pure 1970s. Andy’s taken inspiration from Japanese RX-3 racers of the era, and transposed the colours of the infamous 787B Le Mans winner, to create his own take on disco-era track weapon. Unique would be an understatement. On Kiwi shores, at least, it stands on its own four fat feet as maybe the only period-style RX-3 track car, a welcome change from usual Escorts in the classic saloon stakes. Underneath, the RX-3 is still a pretty old-school, basic arrangement. “I didn’t want to start hacking up the shell,” explains Andy, and the “‘70s tech” keeping the RX-3 on the road is testament to keeping things in check. The car still features original struts up front, with Koni dampers and King springs, while a set of good old cart springs keep the rear tyres grounded — sort of.


“It’s a bit of a wild ride; it’s got a mind of its own,” Andy explains, “you ask it, rather than tell it, and that leaf spring rear gets a mean hop going on mid-corner, it winds up and bounces through corners. The short wheelbase makes it snappy, especially with those big tyres, and you just have to respect it, it’s not easy but it’s freakin’ cool!” Andy and the RX-3 made their track debut at the annual King of the Rotaries weekend, a title he’s held a couple of times with the FD.


“It blew me away how quick the thing actually was,” nods Andy, “and we ended up qualifying seventh out of a field of 26-odd cars with a respectable lap time, a 1:11-something. I was having so much fun driving I didn’t really care where I was, I didn’t even know until they brought my time to me!” A testament to Green Brothers meticulous preparation, the RX-3 ran like clockwork, belching fire at every opportunity and creating grins on the mugs of the drivers and spectators alike. The reception is fitting really, given the RX-3s purpose in life since joining the 3 Rotor Racing fleet has been to turn frowns well and truly upside down. So, hey, sometimes we need a break from the seriousness of it all — motorsport included — and in Andy’s case, the RX-3 is a verified dopamine hit, a welcome detour from the stresses of serious motor racing.


This article originally appeared in New Zealand Performance Car issue 305


1974 Mazda RX-3 Savanna GT Coupe



ENGINE: MFR 12A, 1200cc twin-rotor

BLOCK: Ultra lightweight clearanced rotors, race balanced, modified oil system, modified oil pump, modified porting, Mazda carbon apex seals, Mazda springs and seals, gated and baffled sump 

INTAKE: EFI Hardware IDA style throttle body, Group C airbox, modified MFR intake manifold

EXHAUST: Twin 2.25-inch into three-inch exhaust system

FUEL: Carter lift pump, Walbro main pump, Radium surge tank, fabricated fuel tank

IGNITION: NGK 11 race plugs, IGN-1A smart coils

ECU: Link G4X Fury

COOLING: MFR aluminium radiator, MFR aluminium oil cooler

EXTRA: Custom wiring, MFR waterpump



GEARBOX: S1 RX-7 synchro gearbox (1:1 fifth gear)

CLUTCH: 7.5-inch rally Tilton single-plate

FLYWHEEL: Lightweight chromoly

DIFF: RX-3 LSD, 4.77:1 gears

OTHER: Modified S1 RX-7 driveshaft



STRUTS: (F) Koni (R) QA1

SPRINGS: (F) King Springs (R) leaf

BRAKES: Nissan brake master cylinder (F) AP Racing calipers, AP Racing discs, custom hats, Hawk blue pads (R) Wilwood calipers, AP Racing discs

ARMS/KNUCKLES: Modified RX-3 sway bar



WHEELS: (F) 13×9-inch custom three-piece Pine Engineering (R) 13×10-inch custom three-piece Pine Engineering

TYRES: (F) 200/45R13 Yokohama slick (R) 240/50R13 Yokohama slick 



PAINT: Custom orange and green 

ENHANCEMENTS: Fibreglass doors, bonnet, boot lid, front guards, and nose cone, custom GT flares, front lip, and rear spoiler by Shaw Fibreglass



SEATS: Racetech RT9119HRW, Racetech Magnum six-point harness

STEERING WHEEL: 350mm Racetech 

INSTRUMENTATION: Speedhut tachometer, oil temp, oil pressure, and water temp gauges

OTHER: Custom switch panel



POWER: 239kW

TUNER: Richard at Dynopower


Driver Profile


AGE: 51

LOCATION: West Auckland

OCCUPATION: Self-employed

BUILD TIME: 18 months



THANKS: Green Brothers Racing, Link ECU, Fortune Auto, Motul NZ, Mike Shaw Fibreglass, Kiwi Autosport, AdrenalinR, Zoom Print Hamilton, Prosport Auto, Pine Engineering, Richard Green, Chris Green, Andrew Mouat, Liam Duffin, Kelly Duffin, Tatyana Duffin