It’s December of 1971, and you find yourself at Fuji International Speedway for the Fuji 500 race.
The track is filled with excitement and gossip; the KPGC10 Hakosuka GT-R is planning to make its 50th consecutive win, and you’re anxious to witness it firsthand. The starting line-up consists of GT-Rs in positions #1 through #8, followed by a group of Mazda RX-3 Savannas.
Knowing the prior generation RX-2 Capella stood no chance against the GT-Rs in previous races, you thought nothing of the grid other than a confident and easy win for the GT-Rs. But you – along with the rest of Japan – would be proven utterly wrong.
The race continues and the adrenaline is pumping throughout the paddocks and stands whilst the Nissan leads the Mazda into the final four laps of the race. Then suddenly, the RX-3 comes out of turn 16 pushing its limits a little too far, resulting in a bent front steering arm. The driver makes a frantic dive for the pits and the crew mechanics quickly scavenge to get the damage sorted enough to finish the race. Almost immediately after, the leading GT-R blows a front tire and damages the front suspension component, and the driver too finds himself aiming for the pits.
Energy is at an all-time high as the two leading cars are both anxiously waiting for repairs. Squinting to clear your sight from the stands, a sudden drop of the RX-3 is seen, followed with a high revving scream, and the Mazda races out of the pits. Shocked, your eyes wonder back to the Nissan and minutes later you see it too bolt from pit lane. Your heart drops, as you realize that by this point, it’s sadly too late for the king’s comeback. Moments later, the RX-3 cruises across the line and takes home the checkered flag, ending the GT-R’s 49 consecutive win streak.
The devastation from the Nissan racing team is chillingly felt in your soul, but you find yourself cheering on amongst the crowd for what was probably the most iconic race to ever take place in the Land of the Rising Sun. You have singlehandedly witnessed what made the RX-3 Savanna one of the most iconic sports cars to ever come out of Japan.
What an absolutely epic event, right? The headlines flocked into the streets with talks about the iconic race, and the entire country found itself in awe of ‘the one to end the king.’ Mazda had already proven itself in Europe with previous racing victories in the European Touring Car Championship, but no one ever expected winning on its home turf. Not only did this race allow the RX-3 to end the GT-R’s competition reign, but it portrayed promise to Mazda’s racing team for what was to come in the following races over the years, where the GT-R and RX-3 constantly battled for back and forth 1st place honors.
If you’re interested in hearing more about the battling stories between the two, you can find them here, where I also borrowed a couple of their vintage racing images to give you a glimpse of the action that took place.
With that type of racing excitement and historical significance embedded within a brand, it’s easy to see why the RX-3 is held in such high regard among vintage Japanese automotive enthusiasts. Though the rotary community was already in full effect prior to the RX-3, this is the car that put Mazda on the marque map. It’s also what drew Joe Feng to purchase his RX-3 coupe in 2013.Joe & The Rotary
Back in the mid ’90s, Joe purchased his first RX-2, and that was enough to get him hooked in the rotary community. The car was running a street ported 13B and draw-through turbo setup. It was thoroughly fast and made for the perfect street car, but Joe always had his eyes set on an RX-3.
Fifteen years after selling that RX-2, Joe was set on finding an RX-3 to get himself back into the rotary game. He scavenged through local for sale ads, but everything that would come up was either a complete pile of rust, or was too over the top.
RX-3s are considered one of the rarer Japanese cars for us in the States, but that didn’t stop Joe from persevering in his quest to find the right car. His goal was to find one with the right balance of originality and survival, as he already had his street car vision in mind.The Advan RX-3
After a short while, Joe finally managed to find the perfect car. It was fairly well preserved and mostly original, with the exception of a 9-inch rear end, as the previous owner used it for street drag racing in the early ’90s. Joe found it reasonable to keep the rear end the same, but also incorporate his own style into the rest of the car, so the resto-modding began.
The original engine was pulled and replaced with a fully rebuilt FD3S RX-7 13B and single BorgWarner turbo setup. Mated to the block was a custom turbo manifold and custom-made intercooler, along with a custom 15-gallon fuel cell and further support. The RX-3 serves its purpose being a fast street car, making a whopping 420whp with a curb weight of around 2,000lbs (907kgs).
With the interior, Joe wanted to retain is originality, as it was already in great shape for its age. He managed to source a pair of Mazdaspeed sport seats and a Momo steering wheel to help give better feel and support from the driver’s seat, but the rest of the interior is simple and clean.
The exterior is where the majority of custom work has taken place. In an era where Nissan based the Kenmeri off the Dodge Charger and Toyota based the Celica RA25 off the Ford Mustang, Mazda drew inspiration from the Chevy Chevelle for its RX-3. They shared the same quad front headlights, circular-ish tail lights, triangulated front grille, and same overall side profile. It truly fit the muscle car styling fad of the ’70s, and Joe couldn’t help but enhance that further.
He went ahead and fitted custom metal flares, blacked out the bumpers and grill, and painted the car custom true-black color. It wasn’t until recently that he applied the Advan livery, only to pay homage to the early ’90s Japanese street car era mentioned earlier.
To complete the look, Joe went with all-black-faced AME mesh wheels with 15×9-inch and 15×10-inch specifications front and rear respectively. Custom coilovers from an MR2 were fitted up front, and the previously fitted 9-inch rear end received a custom 4-link set up as well, giving the car a very functional stance and allowing for ultimate stability with the crazy amount of power it puts down.More To Come
With the RX-3 pretty much complete, Joe doesn’t really have too many future plans for the car other than finding more time to drive it around. I can happily say I managed to help with this since we had to take a short trek up the iconic Angels Crest Highway in Southern California to get to the shoot location.
As I stared at him through the rear-view mirror of the 911 I was in, I couldn’t help but notice how at home it looked through the banking turns and short straights. The thoughts of the RX-3 in Japan, fighting off the GT-R and paving a way for its future played in the back of my mind. It must’ve truly been a sight to see in the early days of Mazda’s racing efforts.
With this set complete, I’m happy to say that you’ll be hearing of Joe again in the near future. His most recent pickup is a Kenmeri that’s currently undergoing restoration, so as soon as it’s complete you can bet that I’ll be out there again for another full feature.
I’m certain it will uphold a high caliber of quality and uniqueness, but we’ll just have to wait and see.
Special Thanks to Japanese Nostalgic CarCutting Room Floor