Want to strike fear in the hearts of enthusiasts? Build a Wankel Rotary. Often misunderstood and regarded as complicated, this platform has resulted in more motor swaps and parked cars than a tax refund check. It’s really quite a shame considering the Wankel rotary was bred for making power while being light.
Photography by : Viet Nguyen
Video by : Matthewos Patroni
Words by : Rocky Pacifico & Cindy Tran
The truth is, when done right, it’s almost seamless. Low center of gravity, small amount of moving parts, and small parasitic drag make for smooth, explosive power delivery. Power to weight is the name of the game when moving out quick and that’s where the triangle lump really shines. Let’s take a look at a few competitors; Chevrolet LS1 450 lbs, Toyota 2JZ 594 lbs, Nissan RB series engine 500 lbs, Mitsubishi’s 4G63 300 lbs, Mazda’s 13b 270 lbs. Quickly you start to see the advantage, considering the weight savings from an LS1 is calculated out to 2 tenths of a second in the quarter mile. Internet, before you get your pushrods in a bunch, keep in mind this is ball-parking a few things.
Arguing with results is almost futile. Mazda and their Wankels have one of the most colorful and celebrated histories in the competitive automotive world. In almost every facet of racing we’ve seen the crown taken with a vehicle that is rotary-motivated. Possibly the most recognized Wankel champ has to be Mazda’s 787B. 1991 marked the only year in Le Mans history when a non-piston powered vehicle claimed the checkered flag. Couple that with fact that the 787B is the only Japanese car to win this historic race is nothing short of an amazing feat. Turning left and right isn’t your thing? Current record holder for the fastest Wankel powered car is a Mazda 20B powered RX8 (okay, so it’s a full tube drag car) which has gone 6.20s at 218mph. While not the fastest import in the world, it’s not far behind. And the accomplishments keep on going, notably a certain gentleman by the name of Mad Mike who’s been making waves in Formula Drift as well.
The feature at hand is Brett Stebel’s 1974 Mazda RX3. This car fits right into rotary heritage and utilizes all the strong aspects of said platform. At first glance, you almost get lost in the fact it resembles American muscle of the time period. Make no mistake: this is JDM to the bone. From the color scheme to the race livery, this RX3 is all glory with no guts (more elaboration on this to follow). The spirit animal of this build is in fact a semi-peripheral port 20B rotary, which is the same building block as the world’s fastest Wankel rotary. Take a glance through the mod list and you realize that this is no vintage street car; she is built to make strong power and stay together. A Haltech Elite ecu ensures combustion is kept in check, ITBs and a 90mm throttle body that open only 90% for the peripheral port to ensure it stays civilized until it’s time to go, and enough cooling power to make any road racer jealous. From the outside, the RX3 almost looks as if she should sit inside the Mazda vintage museum. Make no mistake, this RX3 is all show and a ton of go. The rear is a custom 3 links Ford 8.8 with 4.56 gears connecting to a JDM Mazda RX8 5 speed tranny, helping this car lay down some serious track time while also being a fun street-friendly cruise car. Every detail on this build was carefully planned; to not only balance the car’s vintage spirit but to also convert non-believers into rotary fans.
Speaking to Brett, you quickly learn that it isn’t about a straight line for him. A set of custom coilovers and 13×10 vintage SSR Star Shark wheels helps the car enter and exit curves like a champ. An experienced driver and diversified owner, his archive has ranged from Lotus to various other Japanese makes and even to a vintage Ferrari. Brett took what he learned from driving other cars in his collection and implemented it to this RX3. A few examples of this can be seen throughout the build, such as the bed liner paint covering all the major body parts that will see heavy road debris from the track. And remember the “No guts” part? The interior is completely stripped to only a few important elements that the driver needs: one single bucket seat, a custom road cage crafted by RAD Industries, and a Racepak display helps to see all the important information without having a ton of gauges distracting him from the podium. This car embodies the very phrase painted on its exterior, “No guts, all glory.” And boy does it have glory!
One final thing you quickly learn about Brett is his thirst for perfection. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that this is the 2nd time the car has been redone, now with the help of Louie at DNA Garage, who’s no stranger to successful rotary builds. And just like a rotary motor has to be built with the right formula, this partnership between Brett and Louie is sure to yield more amazing builds.
Chasing Js wants to say thank you to Rad Industries for connecting us to Brett and thank you to Louie and his wife for staying after hours for us to shoot Brett’s amazing 1974 Mazda RX3 at DNA Garage.