Showa Savanna: The Tokyo Brapper

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 GodzillaDoraemon 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.

Toby Thyer
Instagram _tobinsta_



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"But new technology, ideas and culture flooded into Japan like a psychedelic tsunami, filling the country with televisions, fridges, McDonald’s and Marlboro cigarettes. "

Thank God they got rid of their oppressive parents, how else would they have been able to consume poison in every physical and virtual form?


what doesn't kill you.....


Rough and ready old shool, love these non-turbo rotaries.


That video made the article.

See, Speedhunters? There is more to life than just pretty pictures!


Everything is so right with this Showa Savanna!.

The rotary engine definitely needs a longer stretch of road to max-out the "brappiness".
Tokyo road with too many traffic-light isn't gonna cut it.


very true, it wasn't very happy idling around town.


This is very Brapper




OHHH man I can't believe Sohei made it into speed hunters. I've been following him for a couple years now and never he ceases to amaze me with his BRAP machine.


He's a legend!


you know what thanks to this article im slowly realizign that you dont need massive rims to have a good build, the rims should fit the car and not be too big or too small. this person did a good job and im realizing they race it so they went with 15s to make it faster instead of 17s.


im trying my best on my build but my patients sometimes runs out.


Have you tried cold calling?


All the shots except one were from low angle...


No good?


That video is so good. I just want to drive around Tokyo all night now.


If I could afford the petrol and Highway tolls I would!

Jay Soh Tsu Chung

Oh wow, the sound it makes is sure intoxicating!


Most interesting piece I've read on here in a long time. Very educational


Glad you enjoyed it!


I see him post up on the 1st gen FB group all the time. Great to read about his history and see pics of the interior.


I've been waiting for this feature for ages, as Sohei's insta updates are the highlight of my day. Also considering this is his daily driver I'm all the more a mad fan. Thanks for sharing this one!


My absolute pleasure


"...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…"

Oh, I don't know. One of my oldest friends did Civil War reenactments when we were in high school and his "General" and "Battalion Commanders" would go down to the local bars afterward IN COSTUME. And then head home thoroughly plastered.

I mean really, how often do the Pennsylvania State Police arrest a Union infantry colonel for drunk driving?


Wow! Seen one of his videos on Instagram, great sounding engine!

Very nice to be able to learn a bit more about the car, thanks SHs!


I removed his nonsense comment and, sorry for the trouble Justin.

Jay Soh Tsu Chung

What are you on about? Lol!