FOUR X THE FUN

PIKES PEAK CHAM­PION REBORN

NZ Performance Car - - Contents - WORDS: MAR­CUS GIB­SON PHO­TOS: ADAM CROY

The year was 1987, and ex­pat Kiwi Rod Millen was at the foot of Pikes Peak, strap­ping him­self into his lat­est and wildest cre­ation — a 4WD turbo 13B pe­riph­eral-port (PP) tube-framed FC RX-7. What lay be­fore him was the world’s most gru­elling hill climb, 20km of snaking gravel as­cend­ing to over 4200m above sea level. No tar­mac, no bar­ri­ers, and sheer drops that of­fer lit­tle more than cer­tain death to any­one slid­ing off.

He placed third — it was the first year Millen tasted the sweet flavour of vic­tory cham­pagne at such alti­tude — and that began a ca­reer chase.

Two years later, he re­turned to the mountain with the FC, but, this time, it was pow­ered by the lat­est Mazda ro­tary of­fer­ing, a 20B turbo cou­pled with the lat­est Elec­tro­mo­tive elec­tron­ics. But what made the FC a suc­cess was the 4WD sys­tem de­vel­oped by Rod and his team for the early RX-7s he’d cam­paigned in stage ral­lies. De­spite the hot-rod na­ture of the build, the sys­tem gave the Mazda Quat­tro-beat­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties, and 1991 saw Rod take the class win and the class record. How­ever, his time with Mazda was com­ing to an end, and, with a move to Toy­ota and the famed Cel­ica, he sold the FC, a very un­char­ac­ter­is­tic move for Rod, who tends to keep the ma­jor­ity of his cars.

No one knows what it sold for, but the price tag was ru­moured to be around US$250K, paid by ro­tary guru Isami Amemiya of RE Amemiya fame.

Once it landed in Ja­pan, the car was stripped and re­built for the fa­mous Op­tion mag­a­zine zero to 300kph time tri­als, and it de­buted — in new colours and with a ton of new parts from Trust and GReddy — at the 1997 Tokyo Auto Sa­lon.

What hap­pened to the big-dol­lar build af­ter this point is a lit­tle un­clear. But one thing is for sure: it was ne­glected big time and left sit­ting out­side the work­shop, where it might have rot­ted away to noth­ing had it not been for the very keen eye of a ro­tary leg­end —

the late Glenn Munro. Glenn had been on the mountain in 1987 and wit­nessed his good friend Rod take third place, so, when fel­low rota heads from the Mazda Ro­tary En­thu­si­ast’s Club showed Glenn some shots from their trip to RE Amemiya, he in­stantly rec­og­nized the car and set in mo­tion the process to pro­cure it.

The con­tainer landed in New Zealand in 2002, but it was an­other eight years be­fore a span­ner touched this for­got­ten piece of his­tory. Sadly, Glenn passed away be­fore his dream of restor­ing the car to its for­mer glory could be put into ac­tion.

Even­tu­ally, his son Grant, who took over the fam­ily busi­ness, de­cided that he’d been star­ing at it gath­er­ing dust for too long and that it was about time to put the resto into ac­tion, with the pure in­ten­tion of hav­ing fun with it.

Sur­pris­ingly, the car had been very com­plete when it ar­rived from Ja­pan, and its con­di­tion wasn’t as bad as its ap­pear­ance seemed to sug­gest. Bet­ter still, the likes of the chas­sis hadn’t been mod­i­fied too much from what Rod had built. How­ever, the looks had changed via the ad­di­tion of some RE Amemiya aero parts, and as a bonus it came with a bunch of new com­po­nents, like a T88 turbo fit­ted in Ja­pan.

Look­ing through the rear hatch gives you a good in­di­ca­tion of just how light­weight the FC is. You’ll find noth­ing here that is not needed

A com­plete strip-down, fol­lowed by chas­sis sand­blast, re­vealed the car’s full con­di­tion. No re­pairs were nec­es­sary, so the chas­sis was coated in a fresh coat of Mazda white. As per the class rules that it had been built to, the chro­moly tube chas­sis makes up 95 per cent of the frame­work, with only around one-third of the orig­i­nal fire­wall and the A-pil­lars re­main­ing as from fac­tory. The lat­ter do lit­tle in terms of struc­tural sup­port, as the com­plex frame­work of chro­moly tubes with in­te­grated roll cage tie ev­ery­thing to­gether, in­clud­ing the front and rear diffs.

Like Rod’s ear­lier 4WD RX-7s, the car runs a mod­i­fied Alfa Romeo front lim­ited-slip dif­fer­en­tial (LSD), cho­sen due to its com­pact size and off­set head. This al­lowed it to be pack­aged tight to the front of the en­gine, where it does not dis­turb the bal­ance. The rear diff is sim­ply an FC Maz­daspeed LSD, with the Weis­mann trans­fer case de­liv­er­ing a 50/50 torque split, as in all Rod’s 4WD ma­chines. When we in­ter­viewed Rod a few years ago, he talked about al­ways be­ing a fan of an equal front-to-rear bal­ance: “I had al­ways been a big fan of a 50/50 torque split. If you look at a lot of the rally guys, they had these ac­tive dif­fer­en­tials, ac­tive cen­tres, torque split, and all that. I tried it with the 323 in the Asia Pa­cific, but I still wasn’t con­vinced. My deal was, if I could pull all four tyres off the car and stack them up and not be able to tell the dif­fer­ence be­tween the front and the rear, then we had the chas­sis right. If they weren’t wear­ing equally, then it was an un­der- or over­steer­ing car. It’s pretty in­ter­est­ing now, if you look at all these high-pow­ered Global Ral­ly­cross cars, they all have 50/50 torque split, so I think the ac­tive diffs and all that crap was smoke and mir­rors, quite hon­estly.”

Front and rear, the tube chas­sis wears light­weight chro­moly dou­ble A-arms and some of the few fac­tory com­po­nents found on the car — front-wheel-drive Mazda 626 hubs. In the rear, the hubs

All the al­loy pan­elling that pro­tects the driver was re­made and then an­odized to give it a durable fin­ish

were flipped up­side down and sim­ply run lock­ing arms, which al­low toe ad­just­ment.

The axles them­selves are also 626 at all four cor­ners, the kind you might find lurk­ing at your lo­cal Pick-A-Part. It’s all this com­po­nen­try that Grant metic­u­lously pieced back to­gether over a four-year pe­riod spent restor­ing and re­build­ing.

It hadn’t been years of run­ning that had taken its toll but the long Ja­panese win­ters, so, while ev­ery­thing looked stuffed at a ca­sual glance, when parts like that Weis­mann five-speed and trans­fer case were stripped, it was ob­vi­ous that the car had re­ally done lit­tle work, and, thank­fully, ev­ery­thing was like new. This also turned out to be the case when the 20B block was stripped. When fit­ted to the car to run Pikes, it’d been a bog-stock 20B — Mazda’s lat­est and most pow­er­ful en­gine of the time. It was con­verted to sin­gle turbo, and made around 373kW (500hp) on race gas — in a sub-800-kilo­gram car, that’s some se­ri­ous boo­gie. But Grant planned to up the wick a lit­tle, and stripped the 20B for in­spec­tion and his usual mods, along with some stage-two port­ing, and found the GReddy T88 also looked as if it had never run.

While the me­chan­i­cals were in great con­di­tion, the al­loy

pan­els which formed the floors and fire­walls were not, so a new set was pro­duced us­ing the old as tem­plates. This was also the case with the win­dows, and a lo­cal pro­ducer built a set of formed Lexan items to sit in­side the FRP shell. Yip, al­though it might look like a stock RX-7 from the out­side, the en­tire shell is fi­bre­glass.

The fi­bre­glass was re­paired and re­turned to the ’91 spec with the re­moval of any­thing RE Amemiya, like the head­lights and bon­net, which the Ja­panese had in­stalled. When it came to the graph­ics it was sim­ply a case of mea­sur­ing off the wealth of im­ages around and ap­ply­ing them to the shell — the re­sult is some­thing Grant is pretty pleased with.

The only items miss­ing to com­plete the ex­te­rior look are the Panas­port rims the car ran in pe­riod. It’s re­ported that Rod binned them, so a set of three-piece BBSs “will have to do.” Which if you ask us seem much more suit­able, given Grant’s plans with the FC, as it’s not likely to ever see gravel again. It’s built to have fun at the likes of lo­cal events and hill climbs.

The car ran Pikes in a few dif­fer­ent guises, in­clud­ing some whacky ex­per­i­men­tal aero, shown at left, while it was still pow­ered by a 13B, though, sadly, a did­not-fin­ish (DNF) due to an elec­tri­cal prob­lem stopped Rod run­ning on that par­tic­u­lar race day The 4WD con­fig­u­ra­tion is not as com­pli­cated as one might think — it uses a mix of stock FC parts, fron­twheel-drive Mazda 626 com­po­nents, and a Weis­mann five-speed with trans­fer case. The front diff is a mod­i­fied Alfa Romeo unit with an off­set LSD head that sits tucked up and in front of the en­gine

Due to the pro­duc­tion-class rules it ran un­der in ’91, the body lacks any real aero aids apart from the rear wing. It gives the car an al­most sleeper look, de­spite the fact the en­tire body is fi­bre­glass

This is a ve­hi­cle with some se­ri­ous his­tory, il­lus­tri­ous enough to be fit for a mu­seum, but Grant is not the kind of guy to make a song and dance about a car the world has seem­ingly for­got­ten about. In­stead, he would rather jump in and have a blast ped­alling the now-450-kilo­watt beast at lo­cal events, and, bet­ter still, he has added a pas­sen­ger seat so that he can share that pas­sion with oth­ers, rally-spec sus­pen­sion and all. This is one pas­sen­ger seat we would love to get into just to imag­ine what it was like for Rod, when he nav­i­gated all 126 cor­ners of Pikes with that power, no aero, and some good old Kiwi can-do.

SUP­PORT

STRUTS: (F) Bil­stein, (R) ex­ter­nal-reser­voir twoway-ad­justable BRAKES: (F) FC four-pot calipers, two-piece al­loy hat with 280mm ro­tors, Hawk pads; (R) FC four-pot calipers, two-piece al­loy hat with 280mm ro­tors, Hawk pads EX­TRA: Chro­moly tube chas­sis, Mazda 626 hubs, cus­tom dou­ble-A-arm sus­pen­sion

HEART EN­GINE: Ro­tor­sport Rac­ing–built Mazda 20B, 2000cc, triple-ro­tor BLOCK: Stage-two-ported 20B plates, bal­anced and clear­anced ro­tat­ing assem­bly, stud kit, com­pe­ti­tion ro­tor bear­ings, mod­i­fied oil gal­leries, 2mm un­break­able apex seals IN­TAKE: Four-inch al­loy in­take EX­HAUST: 3.5-inch stain­less side exit, stain­less muf­fler, stain­less man­i­fold TURBO: GReddy T88 33D WASTEGATE: 60mm Tur­bosmart BOV: TiAL 50mm FUEL: Dual Bosch 044 pumps, Aero­mo­tive 1000 fuel-pres­sure reg­u­la­tor, Xtreme Ro­taries fuel-rail kit, six 2000cc in­jec­tors IG­NI­TION: AEM smart coils, MSD ig­ni­tion leads, NGK plugs ECU: Hal­tech Plat­inum Sport 2000, Hal­tech wide­band O2 COOL­ING: Al­loy radiator, Spal fan, large oil cooler, Trust in­ter­cooler EX­TRA: Al­loy catch-can, heat shield­ing

SHOES WHEELS: 17x8-inch BBS LM TYRES: 225/45R17 Nitto NTO1

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