Chicago Car Life FC RX-7, the Long Road Posted on 20 Apr 14:53

 

     If you've been following Chicago Car Life's social media feeds, you may have seen my RX-7 pop up a few times.  I did an impromptu photo shoot with it a while back, and while it is not as in depth a shoot as I would normally want for a feature car, I wanted to get the back story of the car on the blog.  I owned a couple of modified Honda Civics previous to this car, and the modding/go fast bug bit me hard. After I was forced to sell my 00 Civic for need of more doors (new little additions to the family), and my more heavily modded 92 Civic HB was stolen, I was on the hunt for the "next thing". As much as I really enjoyed the Civic's, I did not want to go back to one for fear of having another one stolen, and I was determined to have something that was a purpose built sports car. This eventually led me down the rabbit hole of RX-7's, mostly lured in by the odd yet fascinating rotary engine. The first generation FB seemed too old tech, the third generation FD seemed too complex and costly, so the FC fit the Goldilocks model perfectly, just right.

     My searches turned up this TII model in Connecticut, and having an inspection I set up come back good, I decided to make the deal. It was late April, and I decided I would fly out on a one way ticket and drive the car back home to Chicago. I flew out, inspected the car (poorly I might add), drove it through some winding, sandy roads in the rolling hills of a CT suburb and I was immediately smitten, and bad. I began the long trek home with a huge grin on my face. The weather started off as a cool, gray and misty rain in Connecticut but as I crossed into NY, progressed to a heavier rain, and a fairly heavy wind. About halfway through NY, it was now a downpour with flooding in the area, and heavy winds that had put at least one truck in a ditch. A bit unforeseen, but I soldiered on. As I transitioned into Pennsylvania I had some...concerns. It had begun to snow lightly. It was at this point during a fuel stop, that I realized my tires were a summer compound, and also not at all the amount of tread the inspection said they were. Unfortunately I was dealing with somewhat worn front tires, and nearly bald rears, all summer tires. A bit worrying, but being late April I assured myself this would be a light snow that blows over quickly and I could manage. I was wrong, and hours later I would find myself crawling at a snails pace behind a plow truck in Pennsylvania high country, with very little of anything around. Snow was accumulating by several inches on the road at this point, and traction was nearly non-existent. I found the value of fog lights in the now heavy snow fall that also cut visibility dramatically. I found the value, because I didn't have any fog lights at the time, and it was like driving through a series of white curtains, hoping there was nothing to hit on the other side. Traveling at about the pace of a bicycle now, it had gotten into the wee hours of the morning and I resolved to stay overnight somewhere in OH, hoping the storm would blow over and the April morning sun would erase all evidence of it happening.

     I was awakened the following morning by the familiar and at this point, horrifying sound of plow trucks clearing the motel lot. Yep, still snowing, and with over a foot on the ground I had no idea if this thing would get me home. I spent about 30 minutes trying to find a clean enough path with no incline to fight against, and managed to somehow get out of the lot and onto the interstate highway again. The snow let up and visibility was better, but the road was a slushy mess so I was still moving pretty slowly. I struggled on, and the road conditions gradually improved, and when I was greeted by sunny skies in Indiana, I knew I would make it home. I did, and having survived this journey, made my bond to this car that much stronger. It washed away any regret about the condition of the tires, or many imperfections I would later find. I just loved that it felt like nothing else I had ever owned before.

     I would continue to drive it and enjoy it for the next year or so, and that would begin a second chapter of it's life... Eventually a small coolant leak that I was negligent in fixing, led to the engine running a bit too hot on a couple of occasions. I started noticing starting the car became more difficult, idling a bit more erratic, and it would stall at times. This led me to test engine compression and unfortunately the numbers weren't great. I probably could have run it for a while as it was, but I decided to pull the engine and rebuild it. I got as far as removal and tear-down, but life circumstances intervened and I had little time and no money to continue the rebuild. The car sat for two years before I could begin thinking about rebuilding it again. Of course at this point, I was now thinking it was going to need more than just a fresh engine, and project escalation began. What proceeded was several more years of amassing new parts, stock and aftermarket, upgrades wherever possible, all with the goal of building a completely refreshed and "OE plus" version of my TII FC. After seven years of sitting, I now had enough parts amassed and some time to allow me to start the process of restoring it. Everything came off the car, I removed some rust and repainted where an ABS module leaked brake fluid, new OE brake calipers went on, all of the mods in the list were almost entirely during this time, all at once. The work moved slowly, and many of the hours spent were on the engine rebuilding itself. I had gotten closer to completion, but now was faced with having to move to a new home, but the car was not ready. In a rush, I cobbled everything I stockpiled for the car onto it or in it and ended up shipping it off to Banzai Racing. It was a three quarters complete basket case when they got it, and they did an amazing job of piecing the remainder together and sorting some issues that I had not realized were there. I would get the call that it was ready, on my birthday fittingly enough. Thus began it's second chapter in life, and my second favorite road trip home in the old FC.

      Since then, I have had to sort a variety of issues that have popped up along the way, mostly brought on by mistakes I had made installing the engine to the transmission.  As it sits now, it is finally sorted well enough to get it tuned.  I had been running it very gingerly on a base map tune for the last two years while breaking in the engine extremely slowly (it was tricky getting many miles on it for various reasons).  It is due for it's dyno tuning session soon, and I will have an update in the very near future.  It has been an extremely long journey for this car, but completion is near.  I am now looking forward to putting it to track and autocross duty, as well as the occasional joy ride, everything I spent all the time and effort building it for.

 

Spec Sheet:

1989 Mazda RX-7 Turbo II

13B-T engine rebuilt with new OE Mazda seals and bearings

APEXi power intake filter on custom intake

BNR Turbo stage 2

Top Speed single exit 3" turbo back exhaust

Injector Dynamics 725cc primaries and 1000cc secondaries

Deatschwerks fuel pump

APEXi dual chamber blow off valve

GM 3 bar MAP sensor

AP Engineering APEXi Power FC w/ commander

Mazdaspeed competition engine & transmission mount bushings

Mazdatrix short shifter

Ground Control coilovers

Bilstein custom valved struts and shocks

Mazdatrix DTSS delete

Infini IV front strut bar

RE Sugiyama three point rear strut bar

Custom front suspension lower tie bar

Mazdaspeed competition lower control arm bushings

Goodrigde stainless braided brake lines

OE replica front lip spoiler

Carbon Fiber sun roof

Carbon Fiber radiator panel

Mazdaspeed steering wheel and horn

Sparco racing seat

-photos and writing: Robert Sixto