NZ Performance Car - - Contents - MAR­CUS GIB­SON ADAM CROY


plit it which­ever way you want — 12 months, 52 weeks, or 365 days — it still sure sounds like a long time, but, in car­build­ing terms, that span can ebb away with­out so much as spin­ning a span­ner. So, when we learned that that’s all it took for Sven High­man to take a di­lap­i­dated left-hook RX-2 coupe and turn it into some­thing truly show­stop­ping, we were floored. Why? Be­cause this was no ‘slap-on-some-paint-and-wheels-and-call-it-a-day’ af­fair. No sir, this was a com­plete ‘tear-down-to-a-bare-shell, mount-it-on-a-ro­tis­serie, and me­dia-blast-it’ restora­tion. While most sane peo­ple would have set a re­al­is­tic goal of a few years to com­plete such a mam­moth project, Sven had other ideas, and pinned a tar­get of 12 months to go from rags to riches. We sus­pect this was be­cause he had been out of the game for a few years fo­cus­ing on other as­pects of life, so when it was time to get back amongst it, he didn’t damn well want to waste any time.

But, first things first — he would have to lo­cate his dream ma­chine, which was eas­ier said than done when said ma­chine was an RX-2 coupe. Af­ter all, back in the early ’70s, car-buy­ing folk gen­er­ally favoured the fam­ily-friendly sedan for­mat, with its four doors and eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble back seat, which dic­tated that pro­duc­tion vol­umes would sway that way. Fast for­ward 40 years, and those buy­ing trends have left their mark. Find­ing a sedan is not a prob­lem, but lo­cat­ing a de­cent coupe is where you start to run into trouble. Sven’s hunt sent him to the Mazda cap­i­tal of New Zealand, as he ex­plained: “It didn’t take too long, and I was in Hamil­ton look­ing at a cou­ple of cars, which turned out to be sacks of sh*t and dis­ap­point­ing, as they had no orig­i­nal fea­tures left. I wanted some­thing hon­est, with as many of the old orig­i­nal parts — that make these cars cool — still in­tact. I was told of a coupe that was re­cently im­ported from Amer­ica and in pretty av­er­age con­di­tion, so thought, why not look while I’m down here? As soon as Paul and I saw it, we knew this was the car. She was all there and com­plete but very ne­glected, with 40,000 orig­i­nal miles [64,374km] on the clock. An un­mo­lested orig­i­nal gem; the per­fect car.”

Be­ing a US-model RX-2 meant that it was left hook and had a few other lit­tle odd­i­ties that set it apart from the more com­mon New Zealand, Oz, and JDM mod­els com­monly found here. Some of them he planned to keep — like the side marker lights — but left hook wasn’t some­thing that in­ter­ested him, so it had to go. From the out­set, the idea was al­ways to re­store the car, al­though want­ing it to look old yet han­dle and per­form like some­thing a lot more modern meant they had to walk a fine line to get it right. En­ter Stephen Dean from SD Per­for­mance (SDP) — the man be­hind the un­der­pin­nings you see be­fore you.

To achieve this set of goals, Stephen quickly turned the idea of a resto into some­thing a lit­tle more sin­is­ter — with much more chop­ping than Sven had ever imag­ined. Start­ing with a set of 16x8-inch V5 Sim­mons, the en­tire project was then put to­gether around the need to fit the wheels at the ‘suit­able’ ride height. To do so re­quired the kind of surgery that might’ve seen a lesser man faint. First, the shell was bead-blasted on a ro­tis­serie to re­veal the true ex­tent of the work needed. Chop­per’s Au­to­body took care of some rust in the reg­u­lar places, and, while there, the team also re­placed both front chas­sis rails, stitch­ing in a pair from a right­hand-drive front-cut that Sven had ac­quired. Chop­per’s team was also charged with han­dling the rest of the panel work and the lus­cious paint job.

But be­fore any paint could find its way onto the shell, the car was re­turned to SDP, where Steve con­tin­ued the cut­ting, rais­ing the en­tire gear­box tun­nel around 40mm to al­low drive­shaft clear­ance, while a sec­tion of the rear floor was raised to al­low a bigger Hilux diff.

Get­ting it slammed was one thing, but Sven still wanted it to han­dle, so the rear sus­pen­sion ge­om­e­try was re­worked, with POWER: Full dyno tune still to come the fac­tory four-link ditched in favour of a three-link de­sign. Tra­di­tion­ally, run­ning a three-link means a cen­trally lo­cated link sit­ting on top of the diff, which is fine in a race car, but be­cause Sven wanted to re­tain the rear seat, a re­work was needed. The third link now re­sem­bles a lad­der bar, with a piv­ot­ing rose-jointed link lo­cat­ing the diff. The two outer body mounts were moved to cor­rect ge­om­e­try. Up front, a com­bi­na­tion of RX-2 and later-model FC RX-7 parts make up the sus­pen­sion, with BC Golds found at each cor­ner. The brakes were adopted from an FC.

With the fabri­ca­tion side of things fin­ished, it was back to Chop­per’s for paint. What was laid on the shell was a new Mazda Soul Red, al­though, un­til that point, Sven would have laughed in your face if you had sug­gested paint­ing the car that hue. Orig­i­nally, it was go­ing green, but, af­ter a few test pan­els, he found that he didn’t re­ally vibe the colour, and Mazda Soul Red was sug­gested. He checked it out on a few cars and fell in love, es­pe­cially when sat next to the gold-cen­tred Sim­mons.

While all this was go­ing on, the in­te­rior was get­ting taken care of, again in that fac­tory-but-re­fined style, and, thank­fully, the colour orig­i­nally cho­sen to go with the green also suited the red

EFI Hard­ware ta­pered throt­tle bod­ies with 650cc in­jec­tors sit atop a lob­ster-back pe­riph­eral-port man­i­fold. The en­gine is based on an S6 RX-7 block with pe­riph­er­al­ported hous­ings, en­larged ex­haust ports, light­ened and bal­anced S5 nat­u­rally as­pi­rated ro­tors, and ported and pol­ished oil gal­leries. The front cover is from an early model RX to al­low both an S5 Crank-an­gle sen­sor and cus­tom front en­gine mounts

that the shell even­tu­ally ended up. The project was steam­ing along well, and, with ev­ery­thing falling into place, a dead­line was set for the V 4&Ro­tary Na­tion­als show a few months out. It would be close, but the push was made by ev­ery­one, and, at 5am on the morn­ing of the show, the coupe was run­ning and driven into the hall un­der its own power: “Peo­ple were telling me to for­get mak­ing it run and just push it, but I wanted to drive it in; there was no way I was push­ing it.” Sadly, he missed out on judg­ing, which had taken place the night be­fore, but that didn’t re­ally mat­ter — the car was com­plete, and it was never in­tended as a show pony; it was, af­ter all, built as a 100-per-cent road car.

With any build, the road to com­ple­tion is never an easy one, and Sven’s path was no dif­fer­ent. A few dyno dra­mas have been ironed out and all those lit­tle jobs ticked off the list. Now, all that stands in Sven’s way is get­ting it road le­gal here in New Zealand, a process that is about to go down. So, next sum­mer, this RX-2 will be ready to hit the streets with a vengeance — and it would seem that the bug is well and truly back, as he is al­ready eye­ing up a new project to keep him­self busy. Some might say he’s a sucker for pun­ish­ment.


DRIVELINE GEAR­BOX: FC RX-7 five-speed CLUTCH: 7.25-inch Quar­ter Mas­ter twin-plate FLYWHEEL: 13-pound chro­moly DIFF: Toy­ota Hilux limited-slip SUP­PORT STRUTS: FC RX-7 BC gold coilovers BRAKES: FC RX-7 calipers, FC RX-7 slot­ted ro­tors EX­TRA: Cus­tom SDP three-link, FC RX-7 front knuck­les, RX-2 lower arms, re­vised rear sus­pen­sion points, left- to right-hand con­ver­sion, raised gear­box tun­nel

DRIVER/OWNER: Sven Higham AGE: 34 LO­CA­TION: West Auck­land OC­CU­PA­TION: Real es­tate agent BUILD TIME: 10 months LENGTH OF OWN­ER­SHIP: 10 months

THANKS: A spe­cial thanks to Stephen Dean and the boys at SDP, for all the cus­tom fabri­ca­tion and wiz­ardry to get the car to sit, go around cor­ners, stop, and sound how it does; Chop­per and Dar­ran at Chop­per’s Au­to­body, for their skills do­ing the left- to right-hand con­ver­sion, panel work, and epic paint job; my good friend Wil­lie Green, for all the late nights in the shed build­ing my motor, gear­box, and diff; Matt McBride at Red­line Auto Elec­tri­cal, for his epic work; Kyle from Waikumete Uphol­stery — you are a ledge; Ian and Phil from Key West Sup­plies, for noth­ing ever be­ing too hard to get; Mayson Day, for help­ing me suss nu­mer­ous parts and for the knowl­edge of left-to-right con­ver­sions; Paul Taly, Steve Ford, Sam New­son, Kelly Walden, Andy Cheals, and all the boys from Ro­tor­west; all the boys at PWA; and, lastly, to my amaz­ing girl­friend, Bree, for be­ing so un­der­stand­ing DRIVER PRO­FILE

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.