93′ RX-7 FD R1 – Jason Silva
Jason Silva’s 93′ RX-7
Written by: Aaron Britto
It’s become such a clichéd line: “Don’t meet your idols.” –or in the case of the automotive world, “Don’t drive your idols.” Many automotive journalists and bloggers have lamented getting behind the wheel of the car that adorned the walls of their childhood bedroom. Jason Silva is glad he never heeded the advice of the naysayers. After a long winding journey through the automotive world, he bought his idol, which just happens to be rotary powered. That’s a whole lot of “Wait! Don’t do it!” which meant exactly nothing to Silva and I as we backed his 1993 Mazda RX7 R1 out of his garage. Even before the 1.3 liter motor reluctantly fired up after its long slumber, it was plain to see that this was no mistake. The little Mazda is remarkably attractive; the voluptuous curves and lithe stance still stun over two decades after their debut. Now a remarkably rare car, I couldn’t even recall the last time I’d even seen an FD (Third generation RX7) in the flesh.
Prior to getting on the road, Silva took me on a brief trip down memory lane, chronologically naming his previous rides and explaining what lead him to jump down the rabbit hole of rotary ownership. A 1993 Honda Civic EX was Silva’s starting point in high school. The first car he ever owned received a few basic bolt-ons before he sold it and purchased a 1993 Acura Integra GSR. The Integra proved to be a better base and was eventually given more than the basic Honda bolt on treatments, such as extensive suspension tweaks and lots of carbon fiber bodywork. Silva had intended to turbo charge the car, but it was unfortunately stolen and stripped down to a shell.
Despite this setback, Silva remained undeterred and switched allegiances, joining the AWD flat four crowd with a 2002 Subaru WRX. The WRX would again receive all the usual go-fast goodies, and a slew of higher end JDM parts from Cusco, Zero Sports, and J.I.C. Magic. While he had fun with the car, it eventually succumbed the fate that befell many early WRX’s: a blown transmission. I was replaced with a new WRX, this one a 2007 STi, and many of those parts were transferred onto it.
By this time, Silva was a college graduate with a better source of income and he was able to ramp up the build. It may have required living on the same shoestring budget for a while, but the car was transformed into exactly what Silva wanted. The STi received a completely redone, fully adjustable coil-over suspension. Equal length headers inspired by Silva’s favorite rally driver, Peter Solberg, a roll cage and Bride 6-point racing seats were notable additions as well. Ultimately, the Subaru would make 318 horsepower and 380 lb/ft of torque courtesy of tuning by Dent Sport Garage before Silva stepped away from the scene briefly, selling the car to purchase a home.
In the interim, he purchased a 2004 Honda CBR 1000 Repsol to quench his thirst for performance and daily driver duties were relegated to a small Nissan pickup. As Silva worked for a bank, he found he needed a more “professional” vehicle than a lifted old truck with an air-horn and 2002 E46 BMW M3 appeared in the driveway. The downside of this purchase was that it eventually lead to neglect of the bike. Since the BMW wasn’t exactly ideal in snow and the bike collected dust more than racking up miles, the CBR was sold and replaced with an a 2001 Audi A8L. If anything could prepare one for the potential pitfalls of rotary ownership, surely it the ownership two older high end German vehicles would be it. The tipping point was when the BMW needed a line replaced in its SMG transmission, and the Audi required new linkage for its windshield wipers. Both parts were over $700…Each.
Around this time, Silva met Steven Gomes of SMG Racing a locally renowned rotary specialist, through a mutual friend. Silva had wanted to get back into the tuning scene, perhaps with an S14/S15 and doing the popular SR20 or even RB25/26 swap. As fate would have it though, Gomes happened to have a 1993 Mazda RX7 for sale. Eventually the Audi was sold, and the BMW traded for the RX7. It was a former drag car, but Gomes went through the whole vehicle, educating Silva on what makes an RX7 faster, what it needs to run reliably (aside from a few quirks, they’re no worse than a piston car) and what to avoid. The Mazda had already been converted from its factory twin turbo setup to a larger single turbo, making 318 wheel horsepower in this configuration.
Breaking parts is, of course, bound to happen, and as most gearheads would agree, a great excuse to rebuild with the goal of increasing performance and durability. One year into Silva’s ownership, a blown turbo seal provided the impetus for the first build. The old turbo was replaced with a Garrett GT35-R and a Tial MVR wastegate. Never one to leave well enough alone, Silva also paid attention to the suspension, installing a Stance Pro coilover kit, and brakes with Stoptech cross-drilled, slotted rotors and Hawk pads. With 418 whp in that tune, suspension and brakes were a natural addition to round out the package.
This is where the project might been considered complete. The car was fun to drive, looked great, and as any 2800 pound car with over 400 horses at the rear wheels would be, it was brutally fast. Then a piece of the old exhaust manifold broke off, damaging a fin on the turbo. Rather than simply rebuild the turbo, Silva saw the chance to really crank up the power. Everything else was in place. The money was going to be spent. Why not go for more? So, on went a Precision 6766. Why stop at 418 rwhp when you can more than double what the car had at the crank when it was new?
Off we went to meet Gomes at Precision Dyno in Cranston, RI. As the RX7 burbled down the street, people stopped and stared. Most heard it before they could see it. Many of them probably didn’t even know what it was. They were mesmerized nonetheless. As we rolled into a gas station to fill up before hitting the dyno, Silva explained to me some of the Mazda’s unique requirements. Just as in many high horsepower turbo applications, it is not a good idea to just roll into a parking spot and shut the motor down immediately. The motor needs some time to cool down. While the little rotary is only 80 cubic inches, that small motor generates a bit of heat—actually, a lot of heat—enough, in fact, to leave a vaguely rectangular singe mark on the underside of the hood. While vented hoods might be just for looks on many vehicles, they are almost a necessity on a highly tuned RX7.
In a rotary, one side of the rotor is perpetually engaged in the combustion cycle, which means that managing the heat that builds up is imperative. Pulling out a container of additive, he added some to the tank “It helps to think of these things like a two-stroke sometimes.” Indeed, as a boat owner, I’m familiar with burning oil, abysmal fuel economy, questionable reliability and having to treat my gas…and knowing that all the work is worth the reward many times over.
Fully loaded with 93 octane we continued to the shop, we listened to Rammstein on the Alpine 7876. The radio was from the same era as the car, a homage to Silva’s high school days of installing automotive electronics at Circuit City. This created quite a feeling of nostalgia. Back in those days we’d ride around in my 1994 Firebird Formula picking off slower vehicles. Pop-up headlights and German Industrial Metal; apparently neither one of has had truly grown up yet, although the piles of bills on our kitchen tables would attest the opposite.
Shortly after reaching the shop, we were greeted by two other red FD RX7’s, both of which would surpass 400 rear wheel horsepower along with Silva’s. Steve Gomes arrived first in the car he’d built as a showcase of his work. He was followed a few minutes later by “3 Rotor Juan” in a diabolical sounding big turbo triple rotor car also built by Gomes.
Silva was first up on the dyno, and it took a few pulls to start seeing consistent numbers. Not to be deterred, Silva, along with Gomes and his crew began tinkering with the car. Spark plug wires were the first component to be addressed. In addition to being susceptible to damage from the relentless heat of the FD’s powerplant, they’d been an issue on his car last time. After finding a little more power the car had again plateaued. A spark plug check was in order. Silva dove in and removed the plugs himself. While not badly fouled, they were, as Gomes found out, severely over-gapped. After some wrenching, the plugs were back in and the FD was again wailing towards 7000 rpm. While the horsepower per liter output from the car was impressive, the scream the car made was bloodcurdling. I suppose “decibels per displacement” could be measured into a scientifically quantifiable amount, but for the intents and purposes of this article, let’s just go with “Extremely !@#$ing Loud”! It was nearly impossible to stand behind the car as it shrieked on the rollers. Thankfully my GoPro had a mount and I was able to spare my ear drums any further damage.
Shortly thereafter, the session had hit yet another snag. It seemed that Silva’s boost controller was only able to provide single digit pressure, when the car was setup to make power at XX16XX psi. Ultimately, 3 Rotor Juan offered to lend Silva his own manual boost controller and all the guys scrambled to help. Some offered a hand, a flashlight, or tools, while others took to scouring eBay and frantically sending out texts to see if the correct part could be sourced to attain the day’s goal over 500 rwhp. Despite the herculean effort of all involved, a fix to the problem would have to wait, and Silva’s car would only see 430 horsepower to the tires.
The staggering output of these unique and tiny motors may be impressive, but the camaraderie between the owners was even more admirable. Guys from all different walks of life were united by their love of the rotary. While car culture in general may have a way of bringing people together, there is definitely something unique about the rotary scene. The Wankel engine’s oddball, yet effective design, coupled with relatively low production numbers (surely helped by being encapsulated in such a beautiful shell) has bred a unique group of fanatics. I felt privileged as an outsider to be allowed a glimpse of this amazing automotive subculture.
I’d venture a guess that anyone in attendance would rather be buried in their FD with a triangular tombstone before LS swapping it. While I wouldn’t bash the idea of performing such a swap, I was soon to find out that the RX7 is special because of its motor, despite any of the design’s idiosyncrasies. Any lingering doubts I would have had were about to be dispelled in the upcoming test drive.
After watching the other FD’s get their time on the rollers, Silva and I headed out to find some open roads. After all, what good is all that power if you don’t put it to use it every once in a while? I had never driven an RX7 and had never even been in one up until this day, so there was a mix of excitement and trepidation as Silva and I swapped seats.
I had spent considerable time digging up old 90’s articles on the car trying to prepare myself for what the drive might be like and wondered how this highly modified example would compare to what I had read about the a stock models. Had it aged like great vintage Bordeaux, or had it lost some of its luster over the decades in a world of 700 plus horsepower Hellcat Chargers and 350 horsepower Focuses?
In its day, the FD was something special. It was a key player in the war between the Japanese manufacturers of the mid 90’s. While Mitsubishi sent in the technological tour de force (and relative sumo wrestler) 3000GT, Toyota had the all-conquering Supra twin turbo, and Nissan gave us the wonderful 300ZX, (unfortunately depriving us of any Skyline GT-R’s) Mazda submitted the Featherweight FD. Based on my readings, it seemed like the Mazda was punching well above its weight class, as stock to stock, the little FD would easily hang with most of the heavyweights in acceleration, top speed and handling despite a significant power deficit. It also cost less.
Perhaps the greatest thing about the car was what it didn’t have: unnecessary weight. This is no surprise considering it was spawned by the same company who gave us the ultimate no-frills modern sports car, the original Miata. Of course, the RX7 was higher tech than its little brother MX5, but there was surely some common DNA shared between the two. It just so happened that this particular car had essentially been genetically modified into some sort of steroid-enhanced monster. Would it still have the communicative handling and toss-ability of a stock FD, which apparently lead to “nervous and darty” high speed behavior? How about the supposedly gutless low rpm performance, which would surely be exacerbated by the bigger single turbo? Would it try to kill me? Would it break, causing Silva to want to kill me?
Surprisingly, the car proved very tractable and easy to drive at low speeds. The clutch was smooth, easy to modulate, and the rotary responded instantly to minute throttle blips, the revs rising and subsequently falling instantaneously. The passenger seat may have felt cramped, but that is because this car caters to the driver. All the controls are perfectly placed and the instruments easy to read. One doesn’t so much sit in an FD, you wear it like a perfectly tailored suit. The cockpit is a place for work, and your job is to drive–that’s a good thing in my book. It does ride stiffly on the coilovers, but not so rough that one would be cracking fillings as in some other modified cars I’d been in before, or even my own pickup truck for that matter. Turn-in was immediate and the car lived up to its legend. Despite being highly modified, all the components seemed to work in cohesion, allowing for easy part throttle driving.
Finally having felt the car out, I took it onto the highway. While the power really piles on in the higher rpm’s, I did not find the car to be “gutless” in the lower portion of the tachometer. Sure, peak power arrives close to the lofty 7000 rpm redline, but the delivery is linear and silk smooth. Rolling my ankle gently onto the gas pedal resulted in riding a wave of torque (330 ft/lbs at peak) which eventually crests and develops into a cascade of horsepower. No doubt the car’s light weight was a huge plus here. Before I knew it, we were hurtling down the highway at triple digit speeds. There was no violent “here comes the boost, hang on!” moment, just a steeply rising crescendo of thrust. I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face.
Silva really wanted me to see the true ferocity of the car and gave me two pointers. One: “Drive it like I’m not here.” Two: “Make sure you’ve got plenty of straight road and hammer it at just under six grand.” Happy to oblige, I found my “oh shit” moment. With a jab on the loud pedal, the FD would immolate its rear tires…rolling along at around 70 mph. The acceleration with the car on boost was shocking. Remember, the car at this point wasn’t even capable of generating it full potential; we were just working with what we had. If you’re familiar with the opening credits of Star Trek, picture the Enterprise hitting warp speed and vanishing into deep space…if the Enterprise was a little red 2800 pound sports car and deep space was route 295.
The crew of the ship may have been blissfully unaware of their velocity; however Silva and I were completely aware of our face-distorting acceleration. In a car where you feel everything chugging around town, unleashing the full fury of the massive turbo is one hell of a sensory overload. Your mind struggles to cope with the acceleration after your hands gain control of the wheel to point the car towards the horizon, which is now part of the rapidly disappearing scenery in the oddly convex JDM spec rear-view mirror. Then there’s the sound. The famous “BRAAAAAAAAPPPPP!!!!” of the exhaust augmented by the scream of the turbo. The throws in the five speed shifter are delightfully short and upon grabbing the next gear the car rockets forward seemingly unhindered by aerodynamic drag.
While I’ll decline giving you the exact number of our peak speed, suffice to say, it was enough to get more than a ticket. Probably jail time. I could see how some road testers may have felt the car was a bit touchy close to its terminal velocity of 160 or so mph. We didn’t go that fast, but could have gotten there much, much quicker. Given an additional gear, I have no doubt this particular car could have roared much closer to the double ton mark. My smile had turned into maniacal, unrelenting laughter. This Mazda was amazing!
Throttling down, the transmission again proved to be a wonderful piece of kit and a quick prod of the gas and flick of the wrist resulted in seamless downshifts. At highway speeds and in corners, the FD had limpet-like grip, but after experiencing the herculean power the car was able to deploy, I was sure to treat it with respect in anything resembling a corner. Especially as the Toyo R888 R-comps were back in the garage, awaiting installation.
After all, this car is from an era where traction control was up to the driver. Floor it mid corner? You deal with the consequences of your actions, my friend. Aside from ABS, there are no electronic guardian angels to save you on the FD. There’s also no air conditioning (although it was originally an option) which can really highlight just how much heat the RX7 produces. In all honesty though, most of the sweat was probably just from pure excitement. There was a significant amount of heat emanating from the firewall and transmission tunnel, but that was no worse than what I’ve felt driving a Viper…around a parking lot.
As we headed back to Silva’s house we swapped seats for the last time. I didn’t want to be the one who had to negotiate the steep driveway with a low slung, carbon fiber clad sports car. We took the long way back, giving the car adequate time to cool down under easy throttle on the side streets and discussed Silva’s goals for the FD. “I’ve always wanted to have a car that was worthy of a magazine feature”. He can check that one off the list. As far as power goals, he said he’d like to see 500 horsepower to the tires, done safely. While the end result of this session yielded less than the desired result, we both agreed that 430 to the pavement is nothing to be ashamed of especially in a lightweight 1.3 liter car. With the help of Gomes and the rest of the rotary community, it’s a goal we were sure he’d attain soon. While certainly capable of track use Silva said the car’s rarity made him reluctant to turn it back into a track day/drag strip special. That’s not to say he doesn’t want to spend time competing. He plans on purchasing a GC8 Subaru Impreza for that purpose at some point. The car itself will likely find its place as a weekend cruiser, something to take out not just for shows but to be driven for sheer enjoyment. And perhaps dusting off the occasional unsuspecting Challenger Scat Pack…or whatever else makes the mistake of crossing the FD’s path. Just as many a baby boomer was finally able to purchase a Chevelle or Roadrunner, Silva now has the car he coveted in his youth. He just happened to grow up in the age of turbochargers and high tech, when a war amongst foreign manufactures raged in all its brief glory on our shores. I can attest to the fact that at least one of these warriors is just as impressive over two decades after its first battle.
Jason wanted to thank the following people:
Steve Gomes at Smg racing for a solid motor and countless tech support( this car is as much yours as it is mine) ; ideal plating for restoring old parts to new, friends and family for dealing with my addiction and my local rotary family (Dfunn, 3 rotor Juan, nopistonJerry, pretty Ricky aka dkrick35, rx7_Josh, matchew_B, jasenrain, reef_herrington and many more) for literally taking parts of your cars to help trouble shoot/ finish my ongoing build and drink countless beers under the hood.
1993 R1 Rx7 mod list
1.3L 13b 2 rotor
Smg racing built motor
Street ported by SMG
Banzai racing oil pan brace
Power FC standalone engine management
Apexi rep fmic
2.75″ custom aluminum piping wrapped in DEI reflectagold heat shielding
Silicon couplings with tbolt clamps
Banzai racing aluminum pulley kit
Poly v belts
Custom stainless exhaust manifold and downpipe by Gleaseman manufacturing Inc
DP is 3.5″
Turbo is a precision 6766
Two Tial 38mm MVS To atmosphere
Tial 50mm BOV to atmosphere
Big Single turbo conversion
Cooling mist.com meth injection dual nozzles in greddy intake elbow by SMG
Dei reflectagold wrapped jdm LIM
Factory AST delete
Odyssey pc680 dry cell light weight battery
Custom battery tray
Custom engine grounding wires
Trust (greddy) titanium exhaust
Borla high flow midpipe/cat
R1 strut bar
Titanium mounting nuts by tiburnt.com
Jetted factory primaries (roughly 800cc)
Bosch 1680cc secondaries
Boach 044 fuel pump modded for intank use
Pegasus racing fuel sock and adaptor
Kgparts fuel rail and SS lines
Hks twinpower ignition amplifier
SS oil feed and return lines
SS OMP lines
Halman pro rx manual boost controller
Aero motive Fuel pressure regulator
Deleted factory “rats nest”
Deleted factory fuel pulsation dampener (fire creator haha
ACT single plate clutch
Turbo II rear diff
Sparco 345 suede wheel
Pfc power commander
Banzai racing power commander holder
Alpine 7876 oldschool radio ( from the same era as the car)
Plx dm6 multigauge ( egt and afr)
Hidden Cooling mist meth tank, pump and low level sensor
Boost juice for meth injection
Apexi avc-r electronic boost controller
Oversized rear view
Valentine 1 Radar detector hard wired
Custom roll bar made of chromoly
Rx8 shift knob
Shine auto cf
Rear race diffuser all accessories
Cf exhaust shield
99 spec front bumper and lip
99 spec tail mod
Replica rx7 dealer ad plate courtesy of “dfun”
Vis vented hood (not yet installed)
Real jdm efini badges
Lamin-x yellow light uv light protecting film
Wheels, suspension and braking:
Fikse FM10 3 piece wheels
17×8.5 fronts (37mm et) to 17×9.5
17×10 rears (43mm et) changing to 10.5 with new lips (stepped)
Current Falken Azenis 255x40x17 and 275x40x17 now will be toyo R888 same size
Stoptech cross drilled and slotted brakes
Hawk hps pads
SS brake lines
Stance pro coilover kit (32 way adj. dampening
Kics r40 light weight lugs