Lawton Rotorsport’s Stu Lawton and his rotaryconverted Mazda 323s were a mainstay within the New Zealand import drag scene throughout the 2000s. The zero to 400 dash was Lawton’s poison, and his Pro Import SP20B hatch, which dropped on the cover back in ’ 05 when the model was only three years old, was a huge step forward for the local import drag scene. The fulltube 323 was built by Stu and a handful of his mates, and has run a multitude of engine and driveline combinations over the years, starting with a Cosmo 20B and TH350 auto. It ran into the 10s straight off the trailer, and was soon into the nines, with a best of 9.86 for the combo.
Although the 20B was quick for the time, most will remember the 323 for the engine that came next, an angry turbo quad-rotor with Lenco trans, which quickly dipped the car into the eights — where it sat for four meetings — and then a small adjustment on the clutch pushed Stu into the sevens at the 2008 Rotary Summer Drags, when he ran a 7.86 and 7.92 back to back.
In 2010 Stu decided to retire the big block and try pushing a 13B with a big single turbo. The car also made a switch from a hatch to a Famila sedan shell. With only a basic Cosmo engine, as Stu called it, the 323 ran easy eights, which was enough to convince him that 13B was the way, and a more serous package was built. It became a constant seven-second runner with a best of 7.54. In 2011 the sedan shell received a new chromoly chassis with a billet 13B, and the PB further improved to a 7.50 at 268kph. Sadly, in 2013 — following a massive rebuild for the car — Stu experienced a huge roll-over at Masterton Motorplex, an incident he is lucky to have walked away from, but his Kiwi Pro Import icon was all but destroyed.
This spelled the early retirement from the Pro ranks for Stu and his team, made up of some of the most dedicated folk in the Pro Import field. Week in, week out they towed the car the 6.5-hour journey from Paraparaumu to run at Meremere.
Stu says his best memories from those days are lining up Brent Curran at the 2011 and 2012 NZDRA Sport Comp finals where, although Curran took the win both times, Stu hit his personal best, “Saving the best for last”.