Midnight Touge: FD3S Dream Drive
Strange workshop

One aspect I really enjoy about being involved in the car industry is constantly getting to meet new people. Cars are a social hobby – let’s face it – you tend to leave the house a lot more than you would if you were into knitting or washing cats. Whether it be from going along to a local meet, spending time on forums or in particular this case visiting a local workshop, owning my Datsun 280Z ‘Project Z’ has led to me being introduced to some genuinely awesome people.


Last week Project Z was loaded onto yet another truck and transported over to Strange Workshop near my home in Auckland, where we’d been given a tip that local car builder Jon Sowden was an all-round good bloke that could give us a hand and the use of a hoist to fit a bigger fuel pump and fuel lines, sort out the throttle set-up and fabricate a new exhaust system to go behind the new headers.


Since opening his own workshop last year, Jon has already built up an impressive reputation, having built and worked on some of Auckland’s coolest performance cars, like 4&Rotary head Azhar Bhamji’s 507hp 20B Mazda RX-3, and this highly modified 13B turbo-powered R32 Skyline – both of which have recently featured on the cover of New Zealand Performance Car magazine.


But when I arrived at the workshop there was one car in particular that I couldn’t take my eyes off. Sitting nice and low and oozing JDM character, this menacing FD3S RX-7 looked as if it had just arrived fresh out of a container from Japan. I was instantly taken down memory lane back to 2011 when I visited RE-Amemiya in Chiba, as this car emulated that same aggressive function-over-form styling of some of the rad 7s sitting around the RE-Amemiya shop when I was there.


As I soon found out, this particular FD was actually Jon’s personal car, an ongoing project which he has owned for around six years. You wouldn’t be able to tell by looking at it, but it used to look like this when he originally bought it. For some unknown reason, pretty much every panel had been attacked with a ball-peen hammer (angry ex-girlfriend maybe?), but with a bit of cash, time and TLC he has eventually rebuilt it into the tough street machine you see here.


I say tough not just because of its angry looks, but because of the healthy 410hp the extend-port 13B powerplant is supplying to the rear wheels. The car is not built for show in the slightest and the pure function-over-form engine bay is a good indicator of that, but all the necessary work has been done to ensure that the FD performs to its peak on both the street and on the track, where Jon tries to take it out as often as possible.


The FD also runs a Garrett GT35R turbo with a 60mm wastegate, and when Jon turned the key and brought it to life I couldn’t help but smile. The idle was loud and rough, but not too abrupt. It sounded so damn good! It made me scratch my head as I began to wonder – when did I start enjoying the sound of a rotary so much? I never used to be a huge fan, but I guess over time I’ve slowly began to form an appreciation for the Wankel engine. Perhaps it’s something to do with a certain ‘mad’ Kiwi drifter? As I dazed off into an absent-minded fantasy about racing through the mountains in an Initial D-style hill climb battle, my daydreaming was suddenly interrupted by a serious question. “Do you want to drive it?”

A dream opportunity

I think we all know what my answer was. I arranged a time the following week to meet back at Jon’s workshop with my camera gear, and I was bubbling with excitement. In all honesty, I’d only ever driven a stock Spirit R RX-8 in the past,  and I was curious as to what its badder, meaner big brother had to show for itself, especially in modified form.


We followed Jon onto the northern motorway and over the Auckland Harbour Bridge, away from the bustling city…


… but before we headed out to some quieter mountain roads for a bit of fun, it only seemed right to make the most of the fine spring evening and grab a few quick photos next to the Auckland city waterfront.


After its unfortunate panel damage, the FD was fixed up and repainted in Series 8 Innocent Blue mica paint, and it looks so good with the understated factory spoiler – an adjustable item, also from a Series 8 RX-7.


It also has a Series 8 front bumper and front guards, with a front lip…


… and a Scoot Sports vented bonnet to add further aggressive styling to the exterior.


With its C-West side skirts, RE-Amemiya rear diffuser and well-suited 17×8 & 17×9 Rays Gram Lights wrapped in sticky Bridgestone Potenza semi-slicks for that early 2000s Japanese tuner feel, the FD3S definitely gives off a tough JDM street vibe. While we were taking these photos, two cars (on separate occasions) nearly drove off the wharf trying to get a better look at it!


As I sunk into the comfy Mazdaspeed driver’s seat, I started to get a feel for the interior. It felt good to sit low down in the cockpit with the dash wrapped around me.


I also liked the feeling of the hand brake and gear shifter being mounted high up on the transmission tunnel, again helping that feeling of being nice and low down in the car.


The centre console and Defi gauge arrangement was a flurry of flashing lights and colours which made me feel like an excited kid that had eaten way too much candy. By this stage I was well and truly ready for a bit of Tokyo Drift/Initial D/Wangan Midnight-inspired action…

Into the night

… and the FD3S was most definitely capable of giving me just what I wanted. The temptation to chop down a gear and get some blue and orange flames going throughout this tunnel was too strong to resist!


This was also the first time I’d driven a car with a pucked clutch and I was curious to see how it would feel. I’d read about how they can be quite touchy and difficult but I was really surprised how easy the custom 6-puck was to drive with. I’m sure my opinion would change pretty quickly if I were to get stuck in Auckland rush hour traffic though.


The more the FD heated up, the more it popped and banged as it dumped fuel into the exhaust system as I stepped off the throttle – it was like a hyperactive child screaming for attention, or perhaps more like a wild animal embracing its predatory instincts.


It was a thirsty animal too, and we had to stop off to fill up on 98 high octane. Yes, that’s available at most gas stations here in NZ, thank goodness!


This is no show car, and I think that’s what I love most about it. It’s not easy for me to admit this (especially coming from someone who is so openly passionate about slammed cars with ridiculous-fitting wheels), but I love how raw, functional and well-used this car is, and if it was my car I wouldn’t change a thing. It might not be the newest or most technologically advanced vehicle out there, but the FD3S is a beautifully designed street car created with the driver in mind, and I loved every minute of being behind the wheel of it.


Later that night we headed out to Scenic Drive and Piha Road, two well-known local routes snaking through the Waitakere Ranges above the city, and I was finally able to live out my midnight touge dream.


Though there’s plenty of FDs out there making more power, I felt like this car provided a beautiful balance of handling, grip, stopping power and raw, surprisingly linear acceleration – it was an exciting, if slightly frightening car to drive, yet stopping just shy of being overly terrifying.


The Bridgestone semi-slicks never once protested as the car dipped into cambered corner after cambered corner, and as long as the 13B was kept above 4000rpm, the GT3540 effortlessly pulled the car out onto the next straight and all the way to the rev limiter, before the next gear was slammed with a loud thud from the exhaust and an accompanying eerie orange glow illuminating the bush that lined the worn bitumen.


Had I somehow had a bird’s-eye view of the scene, it no doubt would have been a beautiful thing in the otherwise dead-calm of night. Did I pretend that I was Keisuke Takahashi racing in a heated hill climb battle through the Japanese mountainside? Yes. Am I embarrassed to admit it? No – I won, of course.


Thanks to Jon, I’ve now been given a glimpse into the life of a modified FD3S owner – and a quick one at that.

I want one!



Comments are closed.


by Oldest
by Best by Newest by Oldest


God I love FD's. One of these days...


Great car, great article, GREAT leading shot. Nice work Taryn/Pedey! 
What's wrong with washing cats though? :D

turbo beams ae86

good one.  more street tune jap car please.


Soooo simple makes it Soooo clean! Looks sexy af even though it's very functional.


FunctionFirst You stole my comment ;)


SuzyWallace thanks Suzy! Haha oh sorry I totally forgot that was one of your other hobbies! :P


Taryn Croucher SuzyWallace They make superb car washing mitts!

Pete the perfect pilot

Remember though, a young Rod Millen was the first kiwi to show just how awesome the mazda Rotor motors are, way back when the rx3 was ruling the rally roads.....


Great article.  If there's anything this site could use, its more Rotary Love.  
Rotary powered Skyline is awesome.  Calls to mind a rotary S14 Garage Boso had back in the day.  You New Zealanders kill it in the rotary game.


Love it!!!! I am thinking about moving my family to NZ and that road looks like one more good reason. My favorite line from your write up. "Did I pretend that I was Keisuke Takahashi racing in a heated hill climb battle through the Japanese mountainside? Yes. Am I embarrassed to admit it? No"


I'm not sure if I'm just doing it wrong, but how do I download the opening image with the blue flame as a wallpaper? Every other image has the option when you mouseover, but not that one


Moisty it works for me if I open the story in 'presentation mode' then save the image :)


Great article. But man.. The new Speedhunters site setup is extremely slow and buggy. Unbelievably so. Way to much going on..


eldensj NZ is very beautiful indeed! I have no shame huh - but no matter how many initial D references I make I'll still never be as much of an otaku as Mike Garrett! :)


eldensj NZ is very beautiful indeed! I have no shame huh - but no matter how many initial D references I make I'll still never be as much of an otaku as Mike Garrett! :)


Great article, I enjoyed the read!


Keep the 7 alive!!!


only 410 hp and no air filter? does it really restrict that much that it's worth getting shit into your engine and damaging everything? strange priorities..


Taryn Croucher Moisty Thanks for that


The FD is such a timeless design.


Does this thing have rocket boosters?


seriously u should get one its a blast to have fun in and most of all its not going to get rust


Larry Chen Yes Larry, yes it does.


I crushed my nuts getting in this car.


I love the roads up through titirangi and out scenic drive/ piha, Me and my friends have been driving those roads for years , as we grew and so did the quality of our cars and motorbikes , Awesome article, You go right past my house even!, Would have loved to have been lucky enough to see this and follow in my S14.5 on my roads :-) SPEEDHUNTERS!


Great article, but its ALL about the flame thrower shot: looks like it was lifted straight from an anime!


*sigh* I want one. But I'll never fit in one so guess that dream is over before it even began.


Taryn  Where can i get a SpeedHunters Window banner is there anywhere here in NZ? I REALLY want one for my silvia , i read this site everyday , Please Email me if you can help


damn. Clean and Nice <3 FD3S. 
hope i can get one when i have the money but. no road in hong kong for the ride duh. 
also the bodywork with the color is Dope Early 2000s Japanese cars FTW!


xD washing cats! Great article


I wish u had at least one actual shot of the car running the pass. We don't wanna see no lights. That's sometimes what I don't like about speedhunters' more artsy photographers tryna experiment about some weird lighting and angles that obscure the actual cars just to capture the "emotion", which is kinda corny. I like it raw and real. The subject are cars after all. Other than that, great post! Thanks! Really awesome car! Nailed the early-00's JDM style!


dovvv: It does have an air filter. It just isn't present in the photo.
410hp is currently a safe tune. The power will eventually be wound up. There are other precautions that Jon wants to take first to ensure that he doesn't destroy his engine. 
Jon is a very clever cookie. His priorities are well in check....


@boron Me too, Scenic Drive is a great road but unfortunately it's absolutely pitch black with no lighting whatsoever so it's pretty tricky to shoot a moving car there, so we tried to mix it up a bit! Glad you enjoyed the article though :)


You're an inspiration to me and all the female car enthusiasts out there Taryn! Been a fan ever since the first post of your mx-5 on here. Great article as always.


How big are you? I'm 6'6" 245lbs and I owned an FD for 3 years. Aftermarket steering wheel with quick release hub FTW.


xxmeghan Thanks Meghan! :)


EpicSandwich I'm about 1.95m so about the same hight I guess. Damn, well that's good news then, thank you. :D


guReMcO EpicSandwich THERE IS HOPE!!!!! Don't give up the dream! :D


Lockie That's nice to know lol


Taryn Croucher guReMcO EpicSandwich I'm 1,96 and I fit, barely but I fit. The dash/doorcard do annoy my knees after a while(as Taryn stated the dashboard is really wrapped around you) and it's a shame that the seat can't move backwards just a little bit more.
Great article, great car, thumbs up from me ;)


S1DWYS I think Mad Mike is the official retailer for SH goodies in NZ?

Christian RevillaCobos

very nice article and very nice rx-7 love it


westhave Taryn Croucher guReMcO EpicSandwich Wouldn't it be possible to modify the seat? Thinner after-market seats maybe?


I always kept a little feminine lines of the RX-7. but this is a great little street fighter is not at all girly car. A great iron! Congratulations!



Tarryn Croucher and Peter Kelly are ruining nz scene


haha I remember that car sucked at doing skids - don't know if it was the driver or the car... but it kept on cutting out for every half arse donut it was trying to do at skidfest


4 comments, all the same on Peter/Tarryn articles. The internet really should require parental supervision for minors.


What's going on with the intercooler and front fuse box? I hate to be that guy, but the quality looks really bad. I hope that was just a temporary solution while you were awaiting parts or something.

On a side note, This is crazy how similar this is to my 7. I also have a blue 99, gold wheels, GT35R with Defis/Power FC mounted in the same location. The 7 in the article is definitely more aggressive, but it's still crazy how similar they are. Looks like you guys had some good fun with the article.


This has to be one of the best articles with the best photos ever posted on this site. WOW.


Great article! 
Have to love the RX-7 such a special car. (Love your hair aswell haha).


@errwtf_com This 7 has never been at skidfest. My old 7 did and yes it was a lemon, that day I was sick as hell plus the car didnt have a surge tank fitted so anything below half a tank of gas it would cut out in fast donuts/sideways. Overall the worst skids I've ever done.


USArmy Thanks for your positive comments on the car and feedback re the intercooler and fuse box etc. I was trialling an airdam system as it was getting too hot on the track hence the "rough look" and I didnt really want that part shown too much. That whole set up including my fuel system is being moved and changed to a rear mount fuel set up and V-mount intercooler and radiator setup as well as re-positioning the fuse box for a much tidier and functional set up over all.


Jamie20  Just another keyboard warrior....


Lockie dovvv Dear Dovvv, this car is still in development for track use, the air filter was removed for the shoot so everyone could see the turbo and the fact it only has 410HP at the wheels is a safe tune so I can change and test things until I am happy with a new set up before cranking it up to around 550HP. BTW, you drive a ford fucus TDCI, how are you even qualified to comment on the HP my car makes when yours makes almost none....... My RX-7 would still sh!t on your diesesel morning, day and night without missing a beat. Try posting some positive comments from now on so you don't make yourself look like such a tool. YOU, have been served.


Great article. I like the license plates. LLS!