If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?
In this day and age of social media, we know it all. You know what your mother ate for breakfast without calling her, or that your mate got a ticket for speeding in his M5 – even if you’re on the other side of the country. It sometimes feels as if social media is where life happens.
If your party isn’t documented, is it even worth throwing? If your car doesn’t amount to a certain number of likes, is it even worth building? On my journey as a novice Speedhunter, it has felt this hopeless at times. I get home, excited, with a new batch of photos. I spend hours in Adobe Lightroom perfecting my ‘masterpiece’, and then I post to Instagram to harvest a massive… 24 likes, and nothing more to account for.
Is this it? As it turns out, it doesn’t have to be.
You see, somewhere along the line I lost track of why I picked up a camera in the first place. Much like how it seems we, the car scene, sometimes forget why we modify. When I met Christoffer Öhrling at the Swedish Japanese car show Japdays, I got a reminder.
As we all know, it’s been a bit ‘different’ lately. But through it all car culture must prevail, and so Japdays 2020 took place behind closed doors at Mantorp Park, Sweden.
While walking around the masses of cars and their proud owners, responsibly socially distancing of course, I suddenly spotted a beige Mazda 323, and my heart full of old school JDM love skipped a beat. I was dumbfounded by the charm of this little hot hatch. How had I never seen this before? Where and why had this fantastic machine been hiding? After standing there mouth wide open for a while, I met the Mazda’s owner and builder, and told him that I had to photograph his car before he left later in the day.
I bided my time for the track pits to clear up enough for a photoshoot, only when that time finally came I could only watch on as the little Mazda exited the Mantorp Park gates. Luckily Christoffer had given me his phone number, but by the time I got hold of him he had already covered some distance. He was still keen to shoot though, so I jumped in my trusty Corolla and took off after him with a plan to meet Christoffer in his hometown an hour and a half away.
So let’s get to the car in question, which has been a family affair of sorts, having been through a number of Christoffer’s friend’s hands before he got his on it. While it had remained completely original up until this point, Christoffer had other plans for the 40-year-old nugget.
While a rotary engine would be the obvious re-power for most, initially Christoffer swapped a turbo Mercedes-Benz engine into the unsuspecting Mazda. As you can see though, that was eventually replaced by the B4194T2 (from a Volvo V40 T4) that now takes pride of place in the bay.
Internally the 1.9L four-banger remains factory spec, but the exhaust manifold and turbo were replaced to enhance the engine’s breathing capability. To match this, there’s a flow of high-octane E85 fuel delivered by a mix of Radium, Walbro, and Nuke Performance components.
The fuel tank is neatly tucked away beneath a bead-rolled panel in the trunk. For functionality, the filler neck was moved up to the right-side rear window, which was replaced with Lexan.
For cooling, there’s a radiator and intercooler mounted in a v-configuration ahead of the engine, and assisted by a Trackspec vent – originally intended for a BMW E90 – on the bonnet. Christoffer has also added a Lexan air deflector that steers air more effectively towards the intercooler.
Tuned through a MaxxECU engine management system, the setup delivers a neat 344hp and 431Nm via a BMW 320d gearbox, which in a chassis that doesn’t weigh a whole lot makes the 323 a real pocket rocket.
Under it all hides a subframe built from scratch by Christoffer himself. Of course the Swedish DNA of the build doesn’t stop at the engine, and the easiest way to ensure it would all fit the Japanese hatch was the custom route.
The front suspension is based on Volvo 740 struts converted to a coilover setup, with the added flair of camber plates (once again of Christoffer’s own design) and a custom set of BILSTEIN dampers supplied by Sellholm Tuning. The control arms were also sourced from a Volvo 740 (which is quite big, if you didn’t know) resulting in a 75mm wider track – on each side. The setup was measured and thought out by Christoffer to ensure the car would have the perfect alignment and handling capabilities for the track use his Mazda is now intended for.
Sticking to the winning formula of Swedish car tuning, out back the 323’s dinky rear end was replaced by a – you guessed it – Volvo axle. Power is sent to the wheels through a limited slip differential, also provided by Sellholm Tuning. For the rear axle and four-link to fit properly in the little car, the floor where there once was a rear seat was raised up, and again finished off with nice bead-rolled panels.
If you’re not living in Sweden you might not think anything of the fact that Volvo parts were used in the build, but Christoffer tells me he didn’t want to go the Volvo route at first. Seeing how the 200/700/900 series are extremely common in Sweden, it’s what everyone does. And because of it, it’s become the expected – kind of comparable to an LS swap in certain cars. In the end, what won Christoffer over was the fact that Sellholm Tuning, which is quite local to him, had a lot of parts to offer. Sure, the change-everything-out-for-Volvo method is not original in any way here in the north, but there’s a good reason for it – it gets the job done.
To accommodate the aforementioned wider track width, Christoffer added fender flares made for a BMW 2002. Currently they sport the raw finish he bought them in, but in due course they will be color-matched to the body.
For wheels, Christoffer’s gone with a set of classic Rial Mesh in a 15×7-inch +11 Volvo 5x108mm fitment. The turbofans, of which there’s a full set of four should Christoffer want all wheels covered or just two as pictured here, were made specially for the car by one of his friends.
Inside, the cabin is a real mix of old and new. There is, wisely, a full welded-in roll cage, plus OMP WRC-R seats, an iconic Momo Prototipo steering wheel, and a tablet display providing full data from the aforementioned ECU. The standouts have to be the neatly integrated Stack speedometer and tachometer gauges, and the very cool CNC-machined Suvi Performance H-pattern shifter.
The list of modifications made to this little Mazda is massive, yet it only took Christoffer 18 months to get it done. His estimation is that in that time he had a total of 21 days off from the build. As he expressed it, “I remember I was there on Christmas Eve to work on it before dinner with my family.”
To connect the dots, all this work over such a short amount of time could result in a very interesting Instagram feed, don’t you think? Well, it actually has – check it out here – although you’ve likely not seen it. When I asked Christoffer where he’d been hiding and why I’d never seen or heard of the car before, he simply told me that he wasn’t really into social media.
And there it was – the breath of fresh air. The sign to me that Christoffer has found his automotive home. What he gains out of the build is not the approval of others, it’s the build itself. The reward lies not in trophies or followers, not in praise or pats on the back. The reward is the finished product. The reward is the 344hp Volvo turbo-powered, road-legal Mazda 323 race car sitting in his garage.
As I left Christoffer’s small hometown, I felt excited to share my discovery of this build. Not for my own winning, but for Christoffer. I truly believe he deserves the attention, and I usually don’t feel that way. And so here we are. One car builder and one Speedhunter, both without any significant social media following, on top of the world on Speedhunters.com.
It turns out a falling tree always makes a sound, sooner or later.
How To join the IATS program: We have always welcomed readers to contact us with examples of their work and believe that the best Speedhunter is always the person closest to the culture itself, right there on the street or local parking lot. If you think you have what it takes and would like to share your work with us then you should apply to become part of the IAMTHESPEEDHUNTER program. Read how to get involved here.