FOUR X THE FUN
PIKES PEAK CHAMPION REBORN
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.
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