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My Rotary Addiction – The Beginning

Long-form, wordy content warning.
I’d like to start my blog section with my rotary car history. Like many other rotary enthusiasts, I got into these weird cars pretty unassumingly. I actually wanted a Z car, but my dad suggested another little, red, Japanese sports car as my first car: A 1986 Mazda RX-7 Sport Model. Even though it was my money, he convinced me that it would be better to purchase a car we had a bit of knowledge of the service history on (the FC was owned by a friend of the family and the Z31 I had my eye on was just randomly for sale on the side of the road). Even though I was hell-bent on the Z car, I also had a basic knowledge that the RX-7 was also a well-respected car line as well. [It should be noted that the year is 1998, so Gran Turismo 1 had just been released, and as a 16-year-old, naturally that began to fuel and influence my car interest.] So, I acquiesced, and we purchased the car for something like $2300. I had no idea what a rotary engine was, or any special maintenance requirements of the cars…..hell, I wasn’t very mechanically inclined to begin with, so I went in with none of the ‘fears’ that are often associated with the purchase of an RX-7 these days. Obviously, this was my only car so I was daily driving it through the winter and everything. The only issue I came across was the car would flood every once in a while. I didn’t really know why or how to deflood the car, so this little hiccup in the car led me to the internet and the RX7club.com. It was here I really began to learn about these cars, the engines, and what it took to make them better. Around the same time, my dad had been researching the car on the internet as well, and came across a site: rx7.com. He ended up calling the shop (as still did in those days) and began discussing modifying the car with the employee. Now, in addition to Gran Turismo influencing my intrigue of the car world, I had also been purchasing magazines like Super Street, Import Tuner, Turbo, etc every chance I could. Since drag racing was the biggest form of motorsport in the US at the time (short of things like NASCAR), these magazines would give a lot of coverage to the import drag racing world. I was no stranger to the red rx7.com FD and its driver Ari Yallon. So, when my dad handed me the phone and said “This guy, Ari, wants to talk to you about what to do with your car” I was a bit gobsmacked. I couldn’t believe I was talking to this guy I had been reading about in actual magazines. It felt like talking to a celebrity. He discussed with me what he felt would be the best way to begin to modify the NA FC. He felt we should start with some bolt-on parts like exhaust and intake, then maybe a bit down the line, we could start into suspension and tires. Obviously, I was happy to go this route. I mean, what 16-year-old wouldn’t want an obnoxiously loud car?? So, I purchased an Apexi N1 single cat-back, a Bonez high-flow cat, and Bonez intake. I honestly believe this conversation was the major catalyst for me transcending from an import car enthusiast to a rotary car enthusiast. And so, my rotary journey began.

A keen eye will be able to spot some…shall we say….period correct interior modifications in these pics.  The magazine feature cars of the time would often have much of the interior bits color matched to the exterior of the car.  Since I had just spent all my savings on a car plus exhaust and intake, I didn’t have anything left to further modify the car, so I did what may of my friends and other enthusiasts did at the time:  Find cheap things to modify the car.  The interior plastics were the perfect canvas for that.  I also went down ”that isle” for things like shift knob/shift boot and pedals.  Yeah, yeah, I know…but that was actually popular at the time, and I had no money for the really cool stuff.  I make no apologies for these times; it was a big learning experience for all of us.  We found out the hard way why you don’t pull fragile interior pieces out to paint them:  they all break.  We found out why you don’t buy cheap mods from PepBoys:  they are all junk, and all break.  Luckily, we learned this stuff early, because very soon the Fast and the Furious came out, and the tackiness factor was ramped up to 11.  But that timeframe and phenomenon is a story for another time.  The only thing that I did with that car that I really really regret was to remove the louvers from the rear hatch.  When I bought the car, it had (unbeknownst) to me a very rare set of louvers.  At the time, it felt too “80s” so I felt that it dated the car too much, so I threw them out.  Since then, I have only seen 3 other sets of these louvers.  For those familiar with the FC chassis, they were not the FinishLine louvers, they were slightly different, and reminded me more of louvers you’d see on a 3rd gen Camaro or Firebird.  You can see the tabs for them still on the rear glass in the pics above.  I was never able to get them off, as they were wrapped around the actual glass and the gasket was overtop of them.  Live and learn.  Never throw anything away, no matter how ugly it may look at the time…..styles have a way of coming back.

I daily drove that car through highschool, college, and it was during college that another event happened that would cement my rotary passion.  I was home for Christmas break, hanging out with some of my high school car friends (I’d say it was the 01-02 break?), and one guy had mentioned we should go visit a new speed shop that had opened in Washington, PA.  So we went, and as we go there, we discovered not only was this a new import tuner shop, but they specialized in rotaries.  The shop was called Sevenspeed, and ironically it was probably less than a mile from my dorm room.  Anyhow, as the owner of the shop showed us around, him and I got to talking pretty extensively about RX-7s and the work he does.  He had a box truck parked out front, and he pulled me aside to show me what he had just received from Japan:  the front clip of a 20B JC Cosmo.  Now, at the time, 3 rotor swaps were about as rare as 4 rotor swaps are today [slight foreshadowing here] so to see a 20B in person was wild.  I would end up having that shop help me with a headlight switch issue that is somewhat common on FCs, but above my wiring ability.  Unfortunately, the shop wouldn’t last too long.  The import tuner fad was not strong enough in this area to really sustain the business, and the owner pursued his other passion:  lasers.  Thankfully, this wouldn’t be my last interaction with this individual.

After college, I drove the car down to Florida for grad school.  Unfortunately, this is where the story for that car ended.  During the drive I believe I hurt a coolant seal.  Then, I tried to change out a thermostat in my apartment parking lot, but I didn’t wait long enough for the sealant to set up, and ended up overheating the engine on the highway (remember when I said I wasn’t too mechanically inclined?).  From there, it was obvious that I had blown the engine.  Hot starts were virtually impossible without bump starting the car.  I ended up having to sell it.  That was painful, but I didn’t have the ability to fix the car, and I needed a reliable car.  I was essentially down there by myself, with no family or anything around to help, so I posted it for sale on the forum, and I bought another vehicle I had always wanted, a YJ Wrangler.  Maybe I’ll get into detail of my non-rotary car history in another post.

Even though I had always wanted a Jeep, it wasn’t very fun to drive around a lifted Wrangler on the straight, flat, highway roads of South Florida.  The rotary bug was ever-present.  I’d find myself on the forum quite often still, and really wanted back in an FC.  So, as I neared graduation, I decided to purchase a little graduation gift to myself.  There was a 1989 GTUs that had come up for sale on the forum, and it happed to be somewhat local to me.  The engine was blown, and the paint was completely destroyed from sitting in the Florida sun.  But it had some nice additions:  a TII hood, and a TII transmission.  The price was right too, I think I negotiated it to $800.  Now, as a slight aside:  people often say that the GTUs is a TII without the turbo.  This is quite a bit of a misrepresentation.  The GTUs did get the brakes, seats, and aero of the TII, but that’s really where the similarities end.  The cars are nice and spartan, bare-bones chassis (no power windows, no sunroof, etc.) so they are a great platform to build.  And since the car had over 200K miles and the paint was junk, I didn’t feel bad about modifying the car further.

As soon as I picked up the car, I began to search out the parts that would convert the car to an actual TII.  Luckily the guy I bought the car from had an N1 style exhaust, with a straight pipe that he was willing to throw in the deal.  Next, I began to look for a short block.  I ended up finding one relatively close to my apartment, and I was also able to get a Koyo rad from the same person.  From there, it was sourcing things like ECU, wiring harness, MAF, turbo and manifold, intercooler, fuel pump etc.  I went with all used OEM components, aside from injectors and fuel pump.  Both would turn out to be an error on my part.  The injectors were 750cc primary and secondary, so I was never able to get the car to idle correct, and it would fall on its face when any throttle was applied at all.  Once again, I had stretched myself so thin financially, that even though I had a very good indication of the problem, I didn’t have the money to risk a big purchase like an aftermarket ECU just for it to be something else that I had missed.  So, I posted it for sale on the Rx7club.

This is definitely my biggest car regret.  The new owner would be kind enough to keep me posted on the car as he got everything squared away.  He confirmed that the fuel issue was resolved with an Rtek ECU.  Though he blew the engine shortly after I sold it to him.  Turns out, the Walbro fuel pump I had purchased of a forum member was actually a copy and failed on him during a WOT pull.  I felt pretty bad about that, but he was able to rebuild the engine himself with a mild street port and the car came back better than ever.  I would check in with him occasionally throughout the years, and even reached out and said if he ever wanted to sell the car, to please let me know…..unfortunately I checked his profile on the forum not too long ago, and I see he sold the car.  It’s a shame.  I’d really love this one back.

Well, this is getting a bit long in the tooth, so let’s end this first post here.  Soon I’ll do a write up on where my rotary addiction has landed me today:  a ’94 FD and a ’90 20B JC Cosmo.  Oh, and I reconnected with that old speed shop owner a few years ago.  Remember that four rotor foreshadowing I mentioned earler?…..

Goober Goalie

Just an old guy who's into rotaries and all things 90s Japanese. Been involved in the rotary community for over 20 years now, and have dabbled in other platforms over that timeframe as well. I'm so old, I took a modified FC RX-7 to see the original FnF in theaters. I'm looking forward to sharing my experiences and learning some new things from this community.