Small & Scary: 13B Turbo Mazda 323

Last week, I gave you a taste of the Kiwi import scene with my coverage of the 4&Rotary Nationals Show. As I mentioned in that article, I’ve decided to take a little time out for a closer look at some of my favourite cars from the show. 

First on my Spotlight list is Josh Smith’s 1979 Mazda 323. Known around the local traps as H8STY, this particular 323 hatch, or ‘Spud’ as they are sometimes called here in New Zealand due to their uncanny resemblance to a potato, gets my vote as the best rotary-converted example in the country.

Mazda 323 05

Originally built by Sam Willetts a few years ago, this tough little RX323 street car was sold to another enthusiast, Steven Johnston, before Josh purchased it about eight months ago and continued to develop the package. So what is it exactly that I love so much about this manic little hatch?

Mazda 323 06

The answer is simple, from bonnet to boot, this car is just plain tough – and that’s no easy thing to achieve when you’re working with a car shaped like the world’s most popular vegetable. I love the way that, via a completely custom set of adjustable coilovers, the perfectly straight, jet-black body sits nice and low over the 3-piece Simmons wheels, which measure 17×7-inch up front, and 17×9-inch in the rear.

Mazda 323 07

The interior is tough, too. The stock dash has been replaced with a simple alloy sheet, which houses a bunch of Auto Meter gauges and not a whole lot else.

Mazda 323 02

I like that although the car is essentially stripped right out, with some basic carpet covering up the bare metal just to make it feel that little bit more homely.

Mazda 323 01

Clearly though, I’m saving the best to last… So let’s take a look at what’s lying behind the signature 323 ‘jailbar’ grill. Josh, with help from Haynes Rotary, has just finished rebuilding this FD3S RX7-sourced, 13B full-cut bridgeport motor. The new engine is built tough with big 3mm apex seals, and is controlled by a MicroTech engine management system.


Pulling air through an absolutely monstrous Turbonetics T76 turbo, the setup currently makes 362hp at the rear wheels – pretty scary for a car that weighs in at 850kg, but still well under the potential of the motor and turbo. Josh explains that the small front-mounted intercooler is a serious bottleneck, and once that has been replaced with something more appropriate, there’s nothing to stop the power rising up to around the 450hp mark, which is when the injectors will find their limit.

Like I said in last week’s article covering this event, my single favourite thing about the rotary scene in New Zealand is that very few cars, if any, are trailer queens. Most Mazdas here get driven, and driven hard – either on the racetrack or a deserted country road, where perhaps you can test your third-to-fourth gear skids in peace…

Mazda 323 08

Thanks to Josh for showing me around the car and please stay tuned for more Spotlight features on the most interesting cars from this year’s 4&Rotary Nationals.

Peter Kelly
Instagram: speedhunters_pedey



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Talk about a party on four wheels. 

That thing's got "WHOA, SHIIIIIIITTTT!!!" written all over it.


These little 13B's are really getting my attention. 
Small and packing a punch with the right combination.


Mazda 323/Familia FA4 & Toyota Starlet KP61 are probably my favorite oldschool japanese small RWD hatchbacks. So many great builds.


Nice gauges especially nice tachometer.


Glad to see this thing is still around!


Just good fun right there!!

Chris 'Haffy' Hafner

Sounds goooooooood!


BTW As a fact, the potato isnt a vegetable.

None the less amazing litle thing.


Oh, but this potatoey Mazda is a vegetable, botanically: 'Essentially, vegetable is the entire plant, so potato is botanically classified into the group of vegetables and specifically nightshade vegetables. However, it is nutritionally considered as a starchy food due to its high carb content but not a fruit...'
Pretty Maris Piper 323.


What a BEAST !... Nice work done on that all MAZDA machine.


I approve of New Zealand.


The entire plant is the plant.. And its not a vegetable. So,the U0001f33d is a plant there by your analysis is also vegetable, no? Or is a fruit of to? U0001f602 if you are so stubborn, go bite that black "potato", if you do, bite the tire otherwise you'll damage the pain.
So , this article made me look into some ols and new Mazda on sale in Japan and so a nice yellow cosmo from 76, that i might be interested in If it sells lower than An type rs Or bathurst r.


THANK YOU SH for starting to put a video amongst all your great photos -- Hearing the rotary scream tops off a great article


She actually has 2mm E&J auto works apex seals but beautiful writeup as always Speed hunters!


Super cool Mazda


RX323s are definitely a NZ thing. Not many of them here in Aust. And none built to this quality.


'Land of the Long White Cloud' doesn't refer to the weather...


That thing leaves skidmarks on both the road and in your pants...


More small car features, please. Hatchbacks in particular.


Great Little Car or as what we know them as GLC's. I had 2 of them and I wish I could get my hands on another.


SH, are you aware of what rear end combo was used in this build? Is there a water to contact Josh to find out?