There’s a good rea­son why sur­geons pull in the big bucks. Come slice and dice time, who would you rather have hack­ing you open and piec­ing things back to­gether; the butcher work­ing out of his shed down the road, or the proven pro­fes­sional with years of train­ing, sharp scalpels, and a clean op­er­at­ing room? Yeah, we thought so, too. The same can be said when it comes to taking the knife — or, in this case, a grinder — to your project car. Rolling your pride and joy through the doors of a grot-laden barn to be preyed on by a mate of a mate who’s “a mean panel beater” of­ten does not end well — much as if he were to of­fer you a new kid­ney while you wait.

When the project is noth­ing short of a com­plete re­con­struc­tion, us­ing a body from one model, an­other’s floor­pan, and a mo­tor for­eign to both, the risk that it would come out look­ing like a case on a botched­surgery re­al­ity show is right up there. Luck­ily, Shaun Wil­liams’ brother Scott is an or­thopaedic sur­geon (panel beater), who could eas­ily take care of the bones of the build, and he him­self a plas­tic sur­geon (spray painter), so the ex­e­cu­tion of his rear-wheel-drive 1990 Mazda 323 wagon was in hands that he trusted more than any oth­ers, and the end re­sult has turned out any­thing but botched.

The shaved and smoothed en­gine bay is home to a Law­ton-built 13B with monster bridge­ported plates, S4 ro­tors, and car­bon apex seals — and, in typ­i­cal ro­tary fash­ion, deci­bel lev­els are kept just un­der ear split­ting thanks to three straight-through muf­flers and a pro muf­fler dumpy at the rear

It’s easy to over­look how slammed the 323 ac­tu­ally is. Served up courtesy of the 1.5-inch (3.8cm) body drop, C-notched and mini-tubbed rear end, and AE86 coilovers paired with flat­tened leaves down back, it sits mere mil­lime­tres off the ground

Be­ing a New Zealand–new four-wheel drive model, the ini­tial plans were sim­ple — di­vert all power rear­wards, with the sin­gle­cam­mer thrown in the skip in favour of a raucous rotang. “I’d al­ways played around with BF-shaped hatch­backs, front-wheel-drive Maz­das low­ered on ROH Re­flexes, that sort of thing,” Shaun tells us, “but I was hang­ing around with guys that had RX-3s, ro­tor wag­ons, rear-wheel drives, and wanted to build some­thing in that vein.”

But Shaun and Scott soon found that, although it was a four-wheel drive chas­sis with power go­ing to the rears al­ready, it wouldn’t be a straight­for­ward task. Ef­fec­tively a front-wheel drive with sec­ondary drive sent down back, the steer­ing col­umn crossed down over the fire­wall, block­ing the space a bell­hous­ing and rear­wheel-drive gear­box would nor­mally oc­cupy.

This meant one of two things for the build: ei­ther a rear-wheeldrive front sub­frame of some de­scrip­tion would have to be swapped in and god knows how long would need to be spent fid­dling with all the steer­ing pieces, or the ex­treme route would have to be taken, with the body chopped off its base and thrown onto an al­ready rear­wheel-drive ex­am­ple — a fairly easy so­lu­tion given the dereg­is­tered Toy­ota KE70 DX wagon, of no real value to ei­ther of them, that was taking up space in the work­shop.

It would only take a cou­ple of cold beers and a quick whirl with the mea­sur­ing sticks to make sure that the fairly out-of-the-gate con­cept would work di­men­sion­ally and con­vince them that a touch of surgery with the grinder was the log­i­cal next step. The DX wheel­base turned out to be bang on and only 5mm skin­nier than that of the 323: “So we de­cided to cut the whole body off the DX down to a rolling floor,” ex­plains Shaun, “leav­ing the steer­ing wheel and sus­pen­sion in­tact. There was no body, outer sills, or fire­wall, just a rolling floor­pan. Then we sort of did the same to the Mazda and sat the body on the hoist, rolled the DX un­der­neath, and low­ered the body down on top.”

The mash-up of Mazda and Toy­ota steel was mated to­gether, with the body dropped 1.5-inch (3.8cm) over the chas­sis, and the rear given the C-notch-and-mini-tub treat­ment to en­sure that ride height could be set at chas­sis-rail-de­stroy­ing low. The miss­ing fire­wall was re­placed by a cus­tom 3mm plate ex­am­ple for strength, while the now-one-piece body un­der­went a se­ri­ous amount of seam weld­ing, mak­ing for a far more suit­able plat­form to shoe­horn the new mo­tor and box into.

Call­ing the en­gine bay home now is a Stu Law­ton–built 13B bridge­port that makes use of a We­ber 48mm IDA and is backed by a Cosmo 12A turbo five-speed. Not that you’d be able to tell

With one model’s body, an­other’s floor­pan, and a mo­tor for­eign to both, splic­ing to­gether a mish­mash of looms would have cre­ated more heartache than it was worth, so the guys at Blair’s Auto Elec­tri­cal were tasked with whip­ping up a fresh loom

Although it shows off the se­ri­ous amount of fab­ri­ca­tion that has gone into mat­ing the two pieces to­gether — in­clud­ing the C-notched and mini-tubbed rear — the floor will soon be car­peted to fin­ish off the cabin

As with any long-term build, the rules about mak­ing ev­ery­thing road le­gal can change, and a cou­ple of pieces need to be al­tered for the car to be put back on the road. But it’s some­thing that Shaun tells us has al­ways been a part of the plan, with cer­ti­fiers in­volved from the get-go

that the mo­tor even runs with the way the en­gine bay is fin­ished — not a wire in sight, it’s shaved, smoothed, and bar­ren enough to fit a few more ro­tors in­side. The con­ver­sion was an easy enough task, too, as, for a good amount of time, you couldn’t set foot on the main street of any small town without risk­ing be­com­ing a bon­net or­na­ment on a brap­pin’ DX, mean­ing the same prin­ci­ples could be ap­plied to the DX-bot­tomed 323.

And, with all the orig­i­nal Toy­ota un­der­pin­nings ported over with the floor­pan, and a back-cat­a­logue of parts wait­ing to be bolted straight on, han­dling was al­ways go­ing to be im­proved from the get-go. The front makes use of AE86 BC Gold coilovers, with FXGT calipers and cross-drilled ro­tors af­fixed via cus­tom brack­ets, but Shaun ex­plains that, while he’s used the var­i­ous other Corolla com­po­nents up front, the rears are a sim­ple flat­tened leaf-and­shock combo that re­tains the fac­tory drum brakes, as, at the time that the ma­jor­ity of the work was taking place — some eight years ago now — it was “just what you did”. Re­do­ing the rear end is on the cards in the fu­ture, ac­cord­ing to Shaun, but he tells us that it works per­fectly well as is, so there’s no real rush to pull the car back down any time soon.

“At RE­union it han­dled re­ally well and [I] could re­ally throw it into a cor­ner. Ob­vi­ously, it’s still got a leaf-sprung rear, so it’s not a race car but def­i­nitely sticks to the road well,” Shaun says With Shaun and brother Scott mak­ing up a panel-and-paint combo, it comes as no sur­prise that the ex­te­rior fin­ish, in a cus­tom­mixed biomor­phic green, has been im­mac­u­lately done

How­ever, the glass-like rear end that those leaves would have typ­i­cally sup­ported was sent pack­ing, and a Mit­subishi 10bolt lim­ited-slip dif­fer­en­tial (LSD) taken from an L300 van slapped in its place. Again, a straight­for­ward task that didn’t re­quire any short­en­ing of the hous­ing and al­lowed the pair to slice the old mounts off the DX ex­am­ple and stitch them onto the Mitsi diff, ready to be bolted straight in. “It all went to­gether pretty sweetly … the big things like that were sur­pris­ingly easy to fit,” says Shaun. “And [it] han­dles re­ally good, su­per rigid; it’s not a race car but def­i­nitely sticks to the road well.”

With the bones all but taken care of, beaten into shape and prepped by brother Scott’s own hands, it meant that Shaun could take over and give the shell a fresh lick of paint in­side and out. Although choos­ing the right colour wasn’t as easy as he thought it would be.

“We were toss­ing up be­tween the green, and a Land Rover gold that had just come out at the time. I’d al­ready painted a car bright green, so wasn’t sure if I wanted to do it again,” ex­plains Shaun, con­tin­u­ing, “But I re­ally like the colour, and ev­ery­one we asked said it was the one, so we ran with it.” The biomor­phic green that the 323 now wears is a tweaked Rover Group colour pro­duced by PPG that Shaun opted to leave the black out of and to dump around one-litre of straight yel­low pearl into, to en­hance the al­ready nat­u­rally yel­low colour.

Look­ing back on the build, Shaun rem­i­nisces about a car that was never in­tended to be this mint, or take quite as long, telling us that work started all but a month af­ter it was pur­chased, and, although the ma­jor­ity of the hard yards were com­pleted in the first cou­ple of years, it has now panned out over 10 years and count­ing. He es­ti­mates that an easy 1000 hours has gone into the met­al­work alone, and we hate to think what’s gone into the rest. But it’s a tes­ta­ment to taking the time to cut only where re­quired (and then some, when jus­ti­fied), form­ing strong bones, im­plant­ing a strong heart, care­fully stitch­ing it back up, and en­sur­ing that the fin­ish is pre­cise enough to never leave a scar from what has taken place. Yep, those are the tell­tale signs of a proper sur­geon.

HEARTEN­GINE: Law­ton-built 13B bridge­port, 1300cc, two-ro­tor BLOCK: S4 ro­tors, car­bon apex seals, monster bridge­ported S4 plates, S4 hous­ings IN­TAKE: We­ber 48mm IDA, high-rise IDA man­i­fold, five-inch K&N fil­ter EX­HAUST: 2.25-inch head­ers, three straight-through muf­flers, Pro Muf­fler dumpy FUEL: Hol­ley Red fuel pump, Hol­ley low-pressure reg­u­la­tor, 10mm braided lines IG­NI­TION: Twin GT40 coil packs, cus­tom MSD leads, NGK plugs COOL­ING: Cus­tom Fenix ra­di­a­tor, 12-inch elec­tric fan, repo­si­tioned over­flow, S4 RX-7 oil cooler with braided lines EX­TRA: De-loomed en­gine bay

SHOESWHEELS: 17x7-inch Ad­vanti Apollo TYRES: 185/35R17 Nankang NS-11

GEAR­BOX: Cosmo 12A turbo fivespeed, ex­tended tail shaft CLUTCH: Exedy five-puck FLYWHEEL: Six-pound (2.7kg) DIFF: Mit­subishi 10-bolt solid diff EX­TRA: Cus­tom one-piece drive­shaft STRUTS: (F) BC Gold AE86 coilovers, (R) short­ened KYB, flat­tened and hard­ened DX leaf springs, two-inch blocks BRAKES: (F) FX-GT calipers, FX-GT cross-drilled ro­tors; (R) DX drum brakes EX­TRA: No­lathane bushesDRIV­E­LINE SUP­PORT

EX­TE­RIORPAINT: Re­sprayed biomor­phic green with yel­low pearl by Shaun Wil­liams EN­HANCE­MENTS: 1984 Toy­ota Corolla DX wagon floor­pan and chas­sis, 1.5-inch (3.8cm) body drop, one-inch (2.5cm) rear C-notch, raised tun­nel, mini­tubbed rear, 3mm plate fire­wall, cus­tom in­ner guards, notched diff-hous­ing head, notched rear doors

IN­TE­RIORSEATS: Mit­subishi GSR Re­caro STEER­ING WHEEL: Momo IN­STRU­MEN­TA­TION: Auto Gauge oil-pressure, wa­ter-tem­per­a­ture, and tacho gauges EX­TRA: Momo gear knob

DRIVER PRO­FILEDRIVER/OWNER: Shaun Wil­liams AGE: 33 LO­CA­TION: Welling­ton OC­CU­PA­TION: Owner-op­er­a­tor, Sil­ver­stream Panel Beat­ers BUILD TIME: 10 years LENGTH OF OWN­ER­SHIP: 11 yearsTHANKS: My brother, Scott Wil­liams, for the body­work; Shane, Greg, Vaughn, and a few other mates for a lot of hours and late nights in the garage; the guys at Blair’s Auto Elec­tri­cal; and Shaun Kelly at Kus­tom Tint­ing

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