My Project Car: Rebel

Back in July 2014 I finally pulled the trigger. I went and looked at a 1988 Mazda RX-7 GXL and after a few days of internal debating and gathering what money I had saved, I decided to buy it.

Driving it home was rather fun as the brakes didn’t really work at all. Luckily since it is a 5speed I could downshift and use the engine to slow down when I needed to stop. It was stored in a barn for 2 years so a lot of things were in need of attention. It was a cheap project car that I could build up and make unique.

For those of you who don’t know RX7s are powered by two rotors instead of pistons. They make a pretty unique sound and rev fairly smooth and high compared to other engines. However the way they are constructed means they need a bit more maintenance than your regular piston engine and my new project Rebel was no exception.
I couldn’t wait to dig into the car and make it mine but before any custom modifications I had to first complete the repairs. New rear calipers, new master cylinder, new power steering lines, and modifying the neutral safety switch was first up on the list. After completing those and realizing that every bolt was bound to strip or cause headaches I stumbled into my next roadblock.

Rebel is a 1988 RX7. Well back in 2011 or something like that our Ontario government changed the 25 year old emissions omission rule and changed it to 1987 and older. Why? Why that year? So I discovered that if I bought a 1987 instead I wouldn’t have to go through one of my biggest hurdles with the car: emission testing an old rotary engine. After replacing the entire exhaust, making sure the air-pump worked, and that clean gas and fluids were flowing through the vehicle I still failed. I threw in the towel and parked the car for the winter.

Fast forward a bit. I eventually got her to pass e-test with the rotary, pulled the old carpet out, put in new fixed bucket seats, and purchased secondhand coilover suspension off a friend. I was finally enjoying the car! I even got to take her to the racetrack and then discovered my clutch fan on the engine was doing squat! After overheating I decided that was enough for her first track event.

Fast forward another winter and I purchased a Nissan SR20DET blacktop engine. This is a popular Japanese turbocharged four cylinder. I then stared at it for months because I was still driving Rebel around carefree (minus having to take my sparkplugs out to clean them every other time I went to start it).

I then took way too much time pulling the old rotary out. Putting the SR engine and transmission actually in wasn’t even that big of deal since I had mounts already pre-made from a buddy of mine. The thing that took me the longest was figuring out how to mate RX7 wiring to a Nissan S14 wiring harness, with an S13 engine, and a S13 Automatic ECU. Eeek!

If I’m getting my timeline correct, I then bought a Lexus IS300 as a new daily and got sidetracked with that fun car. Rebel sat with her new heart but was unable to pump any blood.

Spring came! And with it so did the motivation! I relocated the battery from the engine bay to a compartment in the car. I then completed the engine wiring and started the new beast! She wouldn’t rev, only idle, and I soon found out why. I had my fuel pressure regulator in the wrong spot. After that fix she roared to life and I actually got to drive my project car again! It was loud, the turbo sounds make me giggle and snort, I was in heaven. I then brought it to a more reputable exhaust shop this time around and got a full 3″ custom exhaust done properly.
A project car isn’t a project car without problems right? Rebel seemed to be running rich for some reason. This problem stayed until the next year, so she sat for another winter.

Spring of 2018 Rebel got spoiled and was gifted a brand new outfit. A full BN bodykit replica from Duraflex. Since before purchasing the car I have always loved these bodykits on these wedge shaped cars.

I fixed a few more issues, bought a truck and a trailer dolly, and brought her back to the track. Discovered some new things to fix and new parts to add.

The project is still fairly far from being completed but my list has never been so short. Optimistically I’m thinking everything will be tidy and cohesive come 2020. However by writing this article out I realize my speed on building this car is a lot slower than it is in my head. Anyways, stay tuned!