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Mazda RX-3 - Beyond The Edge

Rotary Revolution wanted to create the ultimate RX-3. They have more than achieved their target. Mission accomplished.

Date Published: 07 Nov 2019
Mazda RX-3 - Beyond The Edge

Rotary Revolution shows no signs of slowing down in its pursuit of redefining rotary performance for the contemporary era and the Bangkok-based company has just pulled the wraps off its latest exciting creation. It’s something very special, something will certainly rock the boat – and this time it’s one off project. The mission brief was quite simple: to create the ultimate RX-3.

The Ultimate RX-3

The Ultimate RX-3

The Ultimate RX-3

First some background. It’s quite hard to pin a label on this company. They’re a maximum performance extracting tuner in the classical sense for sure, but they’re now also a constructor of race cars on a scale presently unmatched in Thailand and it’s all done in house, even the chassis fabrication is now carried out in their workshops. They’re artisans too – certainly the stunning forms of their creations is one of their key selling points and the moulds and bucks are all made in house as they reinvent the styling of rotary cars with their own stamp. Their workshops are a spicy fusion of the traditional visuals of a Fast & Furious underground scene but with dataloggers, ECUs and all the modern tools needed to max out performance. They understand their roots but they also know they must deliver a product that can hit the mark in an ever-tougher game. They know that when it comes to mainstream trends rotary is the overlooked power source so they understand they’re going to have to be bigger, bolder, noisier and more tenacious if they are going to elbow their way into reckoning. They have plenty of the street fighter in them.

Their halo now is building racing versions of the RX-7 and RX-8. Since they developed their own RX-7 racer from the ground up three years ago they have built nine – an impressive statement in a country where the art of building racecars has almost been mostly lost as top teams now reach for turnkey European imports in the pursuit of winning at the highest level. We covered their exciting RX-7 build programme recently, read about it in depth here.

The Ultimate RX-3

Then there is the owner, Mr Titapon Phaojinda, who is regarded by many as South East Asia’s go-to guy for rotary whether you want blistering, standout cars for either street of track. Like just about every company of this ilk, there has to be a strong person behind it, a driving force who can fuse bold dreams and big ambition with getting the job done, turning those attributes into cold, hard machinery that people want to own. You will meet very few people with the enthusiasm and passion for all things rotary that he carries inside him. He doesn’t have time for small ideas, he’s just not that sort of person. The cars that this company turn out certainly aren’t designed by committee. That attitude empowers his technicians and enthuses his customers who think in pretty much the same way.

The Ultimate RX-3

So, when Titapon decided he wanted to build a one off racecar especially for himself, it was always going to be something pretty special, something unique, it was going to have to raise the bar, to be like nothing else in the world and be something that would fly the Rotary Revolution flag another notch higher. That’s a heck of a mission brief.

It also had to reflect on himself, a creator of dreams can never go mainstream and he wanted to meld something that matched his persona. He’s already building RX-7s and RX-8s on almost mini-industrial scale so that wasn’t an option and – as he freely admits – in his lead driver, Briton James Runacres, he has someone whose lap times on track he’s simply never going to match.

The Ultimate RX-3

However, the solution wasn’t very far away. Tucked away in the corner of his rambling workshops was an RX-3. Decaying, gathering dust, cannibalised over the years and virtually invisible under the mountains of used components that tend to gather over the decades in any garage of this kind.

For starters though, this was no ordinary RX-3 as it has a unique history, aside from the fact of the sheer exclusivity as the number of genuine RX-3s in Thailand is probably barely out of single figures. That’s because when it was on Mazda’s price list here back in the 70s it was never any more than an import to order machine with a hefty price tag that matched the big Mercedes’ of the era and that made it of interest only to the tiniest handful of buyers.

The Ultimate RX-3

“My dad bought it 31 years ago,” recalls Titapon. “I used it for ten years as my own car when I was at school, it was my first car. But when I went to Rangsit University I stopped using the RX-3, it was a longer distance and so more practical to use a truck.”

The Ultimate RX-3

The RX-3 had a bit more life in it – and appropriately for this family, it found its way onto the track. “My dad changed this car to a drag car,” he explains. “He didn’t do anything to the body, it just had a 13B engine with no turbo. It ran in the MMC drag and could do a 12 second time.”

After its stint as a drag car it was laid up – and in fact until just last week it hadn’t rolled under its own power in more than two decades.

“When I started Rotary Revolution, I brought it with me,” he says. “When I decided to build a racecar for myself I think maybe it’s time to build an old car as the RX-7s are for young and fast drivers like James.

The Ultimate RX-3

“At first, I thought to build a drag car again as the RX-3 is famous for drag racing not on the circuits,” Titapon continues. However, his company has long since grown out of drag as its focus is firmly on the circuit cars, emphasised by the striking RX-7 build programme as well as a clutch of RX-8s. That’s where Rotary Revolution is at – and clearly that’s its future.

“I want to drive a racecar and the RX-3 is a legendary car with a lot of history,” he adds. All the boxes were ticked. Now it was time to unearth this car and turn it into something that would make it famous – not the easiest task to hand for a model that is a cherished part of automotive history, both on and off the track.

The Ultimate RX-3

First to the practicalities. “It was rusty so there was a lot do first,” he says with a laugh.

The fundamental direction of the chassis had to be decided. Just how much of a balls-out racecar was he going to build? No surprise that the direction he decided to go was straight to the edge of what is possible.

The Ultimate RX-3

The RX-3 is a racing legend but it’s one that has never been enhanced to really hug the track as tightly as possible. So, ride height was a key metric that would drive the way the project would unfold. “How can I make the car lower as most of the RX-3 aren’t that low? Titapon says. “I discussed it with an experienced fabricator and I decided to take out everything.”

The Ultimate RX-3

That means the chassis has been refabricated to sit lower than one ever sees an RX-3 ride. The car now features a tubular construction while body panels are made from lightweight composite materials. The knock on is the much lower centre of gravity will give the car enhanced handling capabilities and the ‘blank piece of paper’ development process has allowed the suspension, drivetrain, steering and other components to be laid out optimally, building on the company’s long racing experience.

The visual aspect of this project was always going to be a crucial metric and as everything moved into gear this took up a lot of thought process time – but it would have to respond to the fundamental chassis dynamics of a no compromise racecar. In this case form would follow function. However, with lots of creativity and bold thinking both could be equal partners in the big picture.

The Ultimate RX-3

The RX-3 has certainly been visually enhanced to the max by the world’s leading Mazda tuners over the years, the pumped-up racing versions are undisputed legends of the track – so this project had to stand apart from all the other RX-3s built over nearly half a century. A tough call.

Clearly the RX-3 has an historical styling DNA, in particular lavishly wide bolt on arches are synonymous with this car. Titapon, however, wanted to reinvent that image with the benchmark of a sophisticated and integrated aero design that would fuse the historical with a modern approach to create a car that could appeal to everyone – and in particular the young generation that, while they know the RX-7/8, are somewhat less aware of this icon.”

The Ultimate RX-3

“There are kits for the RX-3 but I want something totally different that works with the shape,” he says. Is he going to be upsetting a few purists with this car? For sure!

Rotary Revolution’s current racecars clearly follow Super GT traditions, even if they’re reworked for the contemporary era. For the RX-3 project it was time to take the aero package in new direction.

“We think about the styling a lot and how we are going to do that and we looked at the DTM cars and we were inspired by this to be like this,” he continues. “Because the DTM car is a standard car, a personal road car, it’s not a real sport car like the RX-7.

The Ultimate RX-3

“This car is from 1973, it’s same age as me,” he notes, adding with a laugh: “It’s like me, I don’t want to be an old look.” So, a more modern image was called for and that also reflected the fact the project incorporates a lot of current technology.

The result is an incredibly low and wide car. It’s like no other RX-3 on the planet but it’s still unmistakably of that breed. The ‘widebody’ is integrated from front to rear with a flowing form, a deep snout and wide skirts melting into bulbous arches.

The Ultimate RX-3

The car also has many beautiful details that harmonise with the overall design and offer nods to the world of motorsport. That attention to detail can be seen for example in the headlights where an X-shaped plastic trim inside the light unit give the effect of the protective tape crosses applied to classic rally cars. Meanwhile, the inner lights have been jettisoned and, in their place, a tapering carbon insert funnels extra air into the engine bay.

The Ultimate RX-3

In fact, complimenting the huge jutting new splitter, the front bumper has been retained, but such is the strength of the feature sweeping out below the production shaped part, which has been reworked in a composite material of course, now looks more like just a styling trim.

The Ultimate RX-3

More details. The side skirts contain pressed out slots (in fact the right-hand side box-profile skirt contain a bespoke side exit exhaust system which was designed in house) while behind the rear wheel where the widebody kit tapers round to the diffuser, a set of triple exit slots are a beautiful detail. Each part was designed and realised in house. The slight arching curve on the fins of the big diffuser also add to the overall flow of the car. Meticulous thinking has gone into this project.

There are further well thought out touches, such as the period Mazda badging, decals naturally to adhere to the weight-saving racing style. Kerb weight is excellent too at almost bang on 1,000 kg although he admits that they had at first targeted around 100kg less. It compares favourably with the RX-7 racers which tip the scales at 1,150 kg although the RX-7 is a somewhat bigger car and runs with a turbo.

The Ultimate RX-3

In terms of the suspension the rear arrangement has been lifted from the RX-8 and reworked while at the front it has been developed in house using the double wishbones sourced from the RX-7. Racing dampers are fitted while the steering is also from the RX-7.

The Ultimate RX-3

The Ultimate RX-3

Engine bays created by Rotary Revolution are normally extravagant fusions of raw-looking aluminium and polished steel components, dazzling arrays of brightly coloured, pipes and hoses, enormous turbochargers crammed in, glittering pulleys. However, this is the opposite, it’s much more minimalist and functional without the packaging requirement of incorporating a turbo and is dominated by a large carbon fibre airbox. The alloy radiator is specially designed as are a myriad of other engine bay details.

The 13B engine has been reworked to feature a peripheral port setup, which is mainstream for this power squeezing company, but there is no turbo. “Because the original is non-turbo I think a turbo is not what you expect from the RX-3,” explains Titapon. “What I want from this car is to show people, the young guys who haven’t seen RX-3 before, the pure sound of rotary because they all know sound of rotary with turbo, particularly with our racecars.”

The Ultimate RX-3

“The engine is from the RX-7, we made it PP port and we fit injectors and an ECU so that’s not like the old days,” he continues. “Everything inside is from the RX-8, the rotors are from the RX-8 and that’s given us a compression ratio of 11:1.” Expect around 250hp from this engine. The transmission meanwhile also comes from the RX-8.

The Ultimate RX-3

Inside the cockpit there’s a scene of pure purpose. The composite material dashboard has been specially designed and made by Rotary Revolution and houses the data logger as well as switches and a couple of circular gauges that offer a hint of classical style with their chromed trims. The door card is one smooth trim. Open the fibreglass door and a third of its surface has vanished thanks to the aggressive lowering and the big box skirts. The car has an integrated roll protection cage.

Last week the new car took to the dyno for 3 hours of lapping and everything checked out. “The water temp was good, the right side of where we wanted it to be,” Titapon says. “We tested for leaks and running issues ahead of it going on track for the first time.” So far so good.

The Ultimate RX-3

The Ultimate RX-3

That debut will come this weekend during the final round of the PT Maxnitron Racing Series at Pattaya’s Bira circuit where it will enjoy a shakedown during the free practice sessions. The team is focused on the still up for grabs championship and will run a gaggle of cars, both its own and supporting customers. The title is the target so the RX-3 will be getting a first run out without diverting the attention of the team.

The Ultimate RX-3

This week, with the decals applied, there was time to roll it out for the cameras and the decaying backstreets of Bangkok’s Onnut district, where the company is based, was simply the perfect fit. The RX-3 looks mean and aggressive, visually enhanced on these tough streets by its ‘battleship grey’ finish.

The Ultimate RX-3

This car is pure underground, you could easily imagine Vin Diesel behind the wheel, racing through the grubby back streets of Onnut, kicking up the litter and scattering the ‘soi’ food sellers’ carts in every direction. It sounded amazing too in the heavily built-up area. Despite no more of a dab of the throttle than necessary to trundle it into position, the unmistakeable rotary scream reverberated off the surrounding buildings.

The Ultimate RX-3

It looked so much more than a racecar in this scenario, a machine for a street wise Mafioso. In fact, to fit with the RX-3 heritage maybe this is something for the toughest Yakuza speeding along the backstreets of Tokyo. A matter of pride.

It’s will remain a one off. It checks all the boxes off and really, it’s just perfect. For sure, it’s going to be on the map. Rotary Revolution has ticked off the RX-7, RX-8 and now the RX-3. Mission accomplished.

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    Text & Photos by:

  • Edd Ellison
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