Mention the Showa period to a Japanese person and they will inevitably use the phrase natsukashii-na (translation: it’s nostalgic, right?) at least five times as they look off into the distance dreamily, thinking about days gone past. Sohei-san’s 1984 Mazda Savanna RX-7 oozes nostalgia, so naturally the best place to shoot it was in one of the best-preserved Showa period towns, Odawara City.
The Showa period can be split into two distinct parts: pre-WWII and post-WWII. Pre-war, Japan was still basically living in the shadow of the shoguns and samurai, and it’s pretty wild to think that they were roaming the streets right up to 1876. To put that into perspective, imagine a knight of the Round Table making a phone call to Thomas Edison… When people talk about the Showa period nostalgically, they generally mean the latter half, specifically the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s. That was the fun half when Japan really came together as a unified nation and things started to get wild.
When I asked some Japanese friends and acquaintances what memories they had of this golden era, the answers were a mixture of wonders and woes. One thing that lots of people remember fondly is how colourful this period was. ‘Showa Retro’ was all about brightly-coloured advertising, fashion and even architecture. Anime and movies was also a huge part of the youth scene, and Godzilla, Doraemon and Astro Boy captured the imaginations of kids right across the country.
It wasn’t all rainbows and flowers though because, equally, people are also thankful that times have changed. Apparently rivers were dirty and the air was thick with the pollution of progress. Parents ruled their homes with an iron fist and kids had to endure endless torment about how things ‘were much worse before the war’. Schools were run like boot camps and the youth generally had a hard time growing up. It all sounds like a wonderful nightmare to me.
But new technology, ideas and culture flooded into Japan like a psychedelic tsunami, filling the country with televisions, fridges, McDonald’s and Marlboro cigarettes. Japan’s economy exploded with business and manufacturing, creating the famous bubble economy that spawned so many iconic Japanese products. For petrol heads, it gave us the likes of the Toyota Supra, Honda NSX, Nissan Skyline GT-R and, of course, the Mazda RX-7.
Like the other models mentioned, the RX-7 was a legend in its time and still is. This was a true sports car from a small manufacturer, and it nipped at the ankles of its dominating competitors.
I’d been looking for an SA22C RX-7 to feature for ages; I think they look properly cool and for me are a kind of bridge between classic cars and modern classics. They still have that raw metal, muscular structure of a ’70s muscle car, but with the sleek and refined poise of a modern sports car. I probably could have found something with a wild body kit and a big-boosting turbo engine, but I’m glad that I connected with Sohei Kakuta and his tastefully-presented example.
You see, the great thing about Sohei-san is that he is bonkers for rotary engines.
This love affair with the rotary started 30 years ago when Sohei-san bought his first Mazda, an FC3S Savanna RX-7 Cabriolet. He didn’t drive it for long though; an accident behind the wheel of a Toyota Starlet left Sohei-san without full mobility of his right foot. It took 10 years for his injuries to fully heal, and when Sohei-san was comfortable driving again he wasted no time looking for his dream rotary. He found that in this Series 3 Turbo.
SA22C values were very reasonable back in 2002, and being a 12A turbocharged model this one came with rear disc brakes and an LSD differential from factory. Sohei-san longed for a pure rotary experience, so the 12A Turbo ultimately gave way to a 13B naturally aspirated engine.
Sohei-san enlisted the help of Saitama-based rotary performance and motorsport specialist ERC (Elite Racing Corporation), and working together a 13B from a Mazda Luce RX-4 was built up with high-compression 13B-MSP Renesis (RX-8) rotors. As you can see from the photos above, the engine is supplied fuel and air via a Weber 48IDA carburettor; with a bridgeport it’s pretty hungry for both.
The metallic-sounding brap of a naturally aspirated, ported rotary has spawned its own global subculture, and from the passenger seat I quickly understood the attraction. I’ve said before that I thought about buying an RX-7 but was terrified of delving into the unknown. After spending time with Sohei-san and learning about the rotary engine, however, I’ve come to realise that the mysterious triangle is just like the Bermuda Triangle – there really is no mystery at all.
With a mostly free-flow and barely-silenced stainless steel exhaust system underfloor, Sohei-san’s RX-7 is far more obnoxious than my somewhat rowdy Impreza, and driving through the quiet back streets of Odawara, he constantly had to kill the engine to keep the locals happy. It revs out quickly too, thanks in part to an OS Giken 1st through 3rd cross mission gear set.
Another talking point is the car’s exterior, which aligns perfectly with late-Showa period RX-7 tuning style. From the louvered hood, to the front bumper, integrated fender flares, aero mirrors and rear spoiler it’s perfectly period correct. And those flares are filled out nicely thanks to custom-painted SSR MK3 wheels with 15×8-inch +13 front and 15×9-inch +-0 rear fitments.
You have to love the interior, too. There’s a lot going on in here – from the bolt-in roll cage, Recaro SPG seats and Sabelt harnesses to the Momo steering wheel and gauge-filled center console – but it all fits perfectly.
Just like the historic buildings in Odawara, Sohei-san’s RX-7 is a mixture of new and old. It really is a thing of beauty and it’s as raw as a slice of fresh sashimi caught off the coast of this popular and nostalgic seaside town.
Sohei-san is pretty active in Japan’s RX-7 owner community, and you’ll always find him at any given 7’s Day or even out touring with other rotaries around the mountains of Kanagawa. He also has a YouTube channel where he posts a lot of videos (mostly in- and on-car) of him driving his RX-7 around the city streets and expressways of Tokyo. You can catch one of Sohei-san’s most recent uploads above, but be warned: you’ll definitely want to watch more.