FLOOR-SWAPPED 13B-POWERED FAMILIA WAGON
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