Wide arches and engine swaps make these the most mental Mazdas you’ve seen! What does a panda, a bunny and two chihuahua dogs have in common? these two insane engine-swapped Mazdas, that’s what. confused? so were we… Words: Dan Sherwood. Pics: Adrian Brannan.
We’ve come across a few strange stories in our time, but none to rival this tale. Or indeed tails. Two furry woof-woofs, two Mazda RXs, both with turbocharged Nissan engines under the bonnet. Considering both Mazdas originally had Wankel rotary engines – a twin-turbo 13B-REW in the RX-7 and a naturally-aspirated 13B Renesis in the RX-8 – the cylinder count has jumped from zero to ten.
What the heck is going on? Brendan Gordon, the owner and creator of these bonkers beasts explains: ‘I’ve built these cars to push the boundaries. I’ve always loved the Mazda RX-7, it’s an iconic car and one of the fastest Japanese tuner-cars of its era. As for the RX-8, they’re well-balanced machines and completely underrated. I’d always thought an RX-8 would make an excellent base for a track car.’
So he ended up building both. Along the way, the projects took on unexpected nicknames. Brendan explains: ‘I started putting photos of the cars up on the forums and somehow they became attached to my two Chihuahuas, Romeo and Caesar – Romeo owned the RX-8 and Caesar owned the RX-7. The name Romeo Caesar stuck and I created a Facebook account with that name. From there I developed the brand now known as Team Chihuahua.’
‘As I made the transition to Instagram, I saw hashtags were used to identify certain cars and Romeo Caesar was too common, so I created logos and new hashtags for each car. The RX-7 is now known as the #rabidbunny and the RX-8 is known as the #phatpanda, both of them together make up Team Chihuahua.’ See, we told you. Absolutely barking mad… Brendan does build jawdropping cars, though. These show-stoppers are made even more impressive by the fact they’re rescue cars. Both motors had issues that could have resulted in their previous owners putting them down. He bought the RX-8 first, back in November 2011. The Renesis engine had blown, which made it the ideal candidate for a heart transplant. The RX-7 came shortly after, in December 2012.
That needed more work, as it was nothing more than a rolling ’shell. Brendan has breathed new life into both these cars, carrying out most of the work in his garage at home.
He explains how the RX-8 project quickly evolved into something very different: ‘My original plan for the RX-8 was to convert it into a lightweight drift machine…but then I realised I had some Works Meister S1s left over from a previous project. They’re pretty wide; 11x18in on the front and 13.5x18in on the rear, so the RX-8 needed to be wide-arched from the very start. The whole car was built in the garage at the side of my house. The garage is 8ft wide but the car is 6.6ft wide so it was a tight fit. Pretty much everything on the car is custom built.’
He’s not joking either. Pop the bonnet and instead of a rotary there’s a Nissan SR20DET engine staring back at you. Both cars have engine conversions, with all the work carried out by Co. Kildarebased Stone Motorsport.
Custom engine mounts locate the conventional four-cylinder turbo motor in place, along with some clever wiring work to integrate the loom and ECU.
There’s also a V-mount setup using a chunky J-Speed intercooler and radiator combo. In addition to looking good, the V-mount arrangement results in short pipework which theoretically means less pressure drop, resulting in faster boost-building and better throttle response.
Whether this is the case in reality has been debated on the forums for some time, but there’s no arguing the RX-8’s engine bay looks immaculate. All signs of wiring have been tucked away, the cam cover has been colour-coded, highlighting details such as the bright pink GReddy fuel rail and motorsport fuel fittings and lines. To the right of the engine is a TD06 turbocharger that sucks cold air through an A’PEXi air filter and a larger Z32 Nissan 300ZX mass airflow meter.
With some upgrades to the fuel system and an A’PEXi Power FC controlling everything, Brendan claims the engine produces 360bhp. More than enough power for a stripped-out RX-8. Interestingly, the SR20 engine is attached to a custom drivetrain that begins with an RB25 ’box. The RX-8 looks like a crazy show-car, but it can dance.
The bodywork on both cars is a direct result of cramming wide, low-offset wheels under the arches, or indeed several inches outside them. Sexy, splitrim Work Meister S1 wheels that would get any wheel-addict salivating like a long-haired dog on a hot day.
Each car has frankly ridiculous bodywork. Brendan mentions RicksCarCare and MG Crash Repairs during our chat, both of which have had an impact on the curves of each car. The RX-8 has an imposing front bumper that’s so low it could scoop a steaming dog egg clean off the road, while its hind quarters have clearly been given an injection of testosterone, beefed-up and extended down into the rear bumper. They’ve been fabricated out of metal, too, so they’ll stand up to the abuse when Brendan is pushing the RX-8 to its limits.
By comparison, the RX-7 has cut-back arch extensions and sucked-in bumpers, but it’s still really a fatty. The S1s on the FD are even wider than those on the RX-8, so its proportions are even more extreme. Brendan explains: ‘The RX-7 was originally meant to get a BN Sports Blister kit. In fact, I bought the kit long before I ever owned an RX-7 to fit it to! But when the Rocket Bunny kit became available, I ordered it immediately. Everything on the Seven is there to push the boundaries, from the physical size of the engine, to the 13x18in and 15x18in wheels, everything is exaggerated and oversized.’
Both cars feature bright white paintwork with distinctive red-centred wheels, graphics and red seats. Brendan explains why: ‘My very first car was white. It reminds me of JDM culture so I wanted the cars to embody that. I was going to paint both cars in the same red I’ve used on the wheel centres but the styling was crazy enough already, so I figured a subtle colour would work better. The red seats are there to tie in with the wheels, and the graphics include the name of each car on the boot lid; RabidBunny and PhatPanda.’
Where on earth did these names come from? Brendan laughs: ‘RabidBunny came from the Rocket Bunny bodykit, only I thought mine was a bit more mental, hence rabid. Everyone called the RX-8 phat, so that became PhatPanda. The stickers are to tie in with Japanese Anime and their love of animal references. So if you want to see more of the cars, just search for the hashtags #rabidbunny and #phatpanda on Instagram.’
One of the main talking points on this Rabidbunny RX-7 has to be the engine under the bonnet. In place of the compact 13B-REW rotary engine is a 2.5- litre six-cylinder turbo’d RB25 from a Nissan Skyline R33 GTS-T. Quite how Stone Motorsport has managed to squeeze the long twin-cam piston engine into the relatively small engine bay is a mystery. Once again, a whole load of custom parts were needed for the job, from bespoke engine mounts to a list of drivetrain tweaks to install the matching RB25 manual gearbox too.
‘At the time, I couldn’t find anyone in Ireland I trusted to build me a really incredible rotary engine, so I had to find another way,’ Brendan recalls. ‘I’ve already built several cars with engine swaps, including an SR20-powered Toyota Altezza and a Mitsubishi Colt with a Lancer Evolution engine, so I was up for doing something a little bit crazy. I love doing engine conversions, pushing what people expect and doing something new. In addition to the engine-swapped Colt and Altezza, I’ve also had a 20v KP61 Toyota Starlet, 20v AE86 Toyota Corolla and two RB25- engined Nissan S13s.’
This time around, Brendan’s cross-breeding resulted in a lightweight two-door coupé with the torque and power that usually pushes a heavy Skyline around at a decent pace. The RB25 is far from standard though. It’s been fully built by Stone Motorsport with the highlights being uprated bottom-end components, a pair of HKS cams in the ’head and a Garrett GT3037 turbo providing the boost. Once again an A’PEXi Power FC has been used to recalibrate the ECU and the engine now makes 501bhp, which is more than enough to spin those huge 335/30/18 Pirelli P-Zero tyres into clouds of rubbery smoke.
Brendan adds: ‘It goes like stink and I love the noise it makes. My favourite part of the car has to be the view from the rear though – it looks ridiculous with those massive tyres poking out either side!’ We have to agree. These Rocket Bunny style kits have been in fashion for a while now, yet few cars have the deep-dish wheels to pull them off, let alone engine swaps like these. Both cars are truly bonkers in a rather wonderful way. And so they should be with an estimated 100k Euros invested in building them!
It seems like Team Chihuahua is going to get at least one more member, too. Brendan was recently invited to a show where he won gongs for Best Wheels and Best Bodykit. After the show he asked his eldest son, Reese, who turns 11 on the day this issue hits the shelves, which one he preferred. Reese chose the PhatPanda, so Brendan signed the car over to him. ‘Maybe Finley, my eight month old son, will like the RabidBunny when he gets older?’ he laughs. ‘I’ll definitely build more cars, all with this colour-scheme and in my own distinctive style. I’d like to build a third car to match and bring all three to Ireland’s Japfest show in September.’
So the pack is set to grow and grow. Brendan has built some wild cars in his time and this pair are right up there with the best. With the widest Work S1s money can buy, a vivid imagination and lots of custom parts, Brendan has managed to build two of the most unique Mazdas we’ve ever come across. You could say they’re the dog’s bol…
Widest wheels in Ireland
‘I BOUGHT THE SEVEN WITH NO WHEELS, NO RUNNING GEAR AND NO BODY PANELS. WORK WHEELS JAPAN HAD JUST RELEASED THE 15JJ VERSION OF THEIR MEISTER S1 WHEELS. I ALREADY HAD THE WIDEST WHEELS IN IRELAND WITH 13.5JJ BUT I WANTED TO GO EVEN WIDER. THE REAL CHALLENGE WAS I INTENDED TO PUT 11JJ ON THE FRONT BUT THEY LOOKED CRAP WITH THE 15JJ ON THE BACK. LUCKILY, JDM DISTRO HAD A PAIR OF 13JJ IN STOCK. I OFFERED THEM UP AND THE CAR LOOKED SO MUCH BETTER, SO I BOUGHT THEM. I ALWAYS WANT TO TEST THE ABSOLUTE LIMITS WITHOUT LOOKING STUPID, WHICH I’VE HOPEFULLY ACHIEVED? THE BN SPORTS KIT JUST WASN’T WIDE ENOUGH, HENCE THE ROCKET BUNNY KIT, WHICH WAS BRAND NEW AT THE TIME AND IS 100MM WIDER ON EACH REAR QUARTER. THE REAR WHEELS STILL WEREN’T STICKING OUT ENOUGH FOR MY LIKING, SO I SWAPPED THE CENTRES TO GET EVEN MORE NEGATIVE OFFSET, GOING FROM -7 TO -27. PEOPLE SAID I WAS MAD AND THAT IT WOULDN’T WORK, BUT I MADE IT WORK. HOPEFULLY IT INSPIRES OTHER PEOPLE TO JUST BUILD WHAT THEY SEE IN THEIR IMAGINATION, NOT WHAT OTHER PEOPLE THINK YOU SHOULD BUILD. IF YOU CAN DREAM IT, YOU CAN BUILD IT.’
THE NEXT PROJECT
BRENDAN HAS STARTED HIS NEXT PROJECT ALREADY: ‘I AM CURRENTLY BUILDING A KP61 TOYOTA STARLET THAT WILL EVENTUALLY BE RUNNING A TUBULAR CHASSIS, TURBOCHARGED K20A2 HONDA VTEC ENGINE AND A SAMSONAS SEQUENTIAL GEARBOX! THE PLAN IS TO GIVE IT A 1:1 RATIO, SO FOR EVERY 1KG OF WEIGHT IT WILL HAVE 1BHP. THE GOAL IS 800–850KGS/BHP. I HAVE ALREADY IMPORTED A SET OF CUSTOM WATANBES IN 10X15 AND 12X15IN. I’VE ALSO JUST PICKED UP ANOTHER TOYOTA ALTEZZA THAT WILL BE WIDE-ARCHED AND GIVEN A NEW HEART; EITHER 1JZ, 2JZ OR 1UZ V8. ALL CARS WILL BE WHITE, ROLLING ON DISHED WHEELS WITH RED CENTRES. I KEEP MY CIRCLE SMALL, I WORK SEVERAL JOBS TO PAY FOR IT ALL, WHATEVER IT TAKES TO BUILD MY DREAM CARS. NOTHING IS HANDED TO ME, EVERYTHING IS HARDEARNED. THAT HELPS ME ENJOY IT EVEN MORE.’
TECH SPEC Mazda RX-7
ENGINE 2.5-litre, 6-cyl, 24v Nissan RB25DET engine swap from Nissan Skyline R33 GTS-T (rebuilt with 1mm oversized Mahle pistons, Eagle H-Beam con rods, rebalanced and polished OE crankshaft, ACL Race bearings), Nissan N1 oil pump, polished cylinder head, HKS camshafts, ARP head studs, Spool head drain kit, A’PEXi Power FC, Turbo Dynamics Garrett GT3037, Japspeed exhaust manifold, custom downpipe and midpipe, Blitz Nur Spec cat-back exhaust, Z32 MAF sensor, Nismo fuel pressure regulator, SARD 280lph fuel pump, 550cc fuel injectors, anodised blue lightweight pulleys, RB30 sump and pickup, plenum adapter, modified intake and exhaust manifolds, sump fabrication, custom intercooler, 100mm radiator, Motorsport radiator fans, side feed intake plenum, custom engine mounts and pipework, wires tucked, relocated battery, Nismo low temperature thermostat
TRANSMISSION 5-speed manual gearbox, custom mounts, HKS twin-plate clutch, lightweight flywheel, short-shifter, custom one-piece propshaft and differential bracket, Cusco 1.5 limited-slip differential
SUSPENSION Tein Super Street coilovers
BRAKES OE Mazda 4-pot calipers up front, dimpled and grooved discs front and rear, EBC pads all round
WHEELS & TYRES 13x18in ET-22 (front), 15x18in ET-7 (rear) Work Meister S1 3-piece wheels with red centres, 295/30/18 and 335/30/18 Pirelli P-Zero tyres
EXTERIOR Genuine Rocket Bunny kit consisting front bumper, wide arch extensions, rear spoiler and rear diffuser (destroyed on the way to the ’shoot!), Re-Amemiya headlight conversion, Ganador mirrors, tubbed rear arches, rear wiper removed, rear aerial removal, LED bumper pack, full respray in Toyota 040 White with a Team Chihuahua sticker pack #rabidbunny
INTERIOR Nardi Personal steering wheel, Bride sparkle-backed bucket driver’s seat, Bride recliner passenger seat, Bathurst carpet, rare rear bin setup
‘THE RX-7 NOW RUNS A 501BHP RB25DET ENGINE’
TECH SPEC Mazda RX-8
ENGINE 2.0-litre, 4-cyl, 16v Nissan SR20DET engine swap from a Nissan 200SX, custom engine mounts, TD06 turbocharger, JSpeed V-mount aluminum radiator and large intercooler setup, motorsport radiator fans, Z32 300ZX mass air flow sensor, uprated fuel pressure regulator, GReddy fuel rail, 740cc fuel injectors, Bosch 044 external fuel pump, Group 4 filler neck, alloy fuel tank, motorsport fuel lines and fittings, smoothed and wire-tucked engine bay, A’PEXi Power FC and Commander
TRANSMISSION 5-speed manual gearbox, RB25 adapter plate, Exedy clutch, lightweight flywheel, short shifter, custom gearbox mounts, custom one-piece propshaft, custom differential bracket, powdercoated rear subframe, arms and diff
SUSPENSION BC Racing coilovers, 32mm spacers up front to clear brakes, RX-7 steering rack, custom front subframe, Powerflex bush kit
BRAKES Brembo 8-pot Titanium calipers and 356mm discs, Ferodo brake pads, aftermarket pedal box and reservoirs, braided lines
WHEELS & TYRES 11x18in ET+10 (front), 13.5x18in ET-10 (rear) Work Meister S1 3-piece split-rim alloy wheels with red centres, 255/30/18 and 315/30/18 Michelin Pilot N2 tyres
EXTERIOR S15 bonnet vent, widened R-Magic front bumper, flared R-Magic sideskirts, number plate delete and customvented rear bumper, AE86 rear spoiler modified to fit, custom-made +70mm wider metal wings, custom +80mm wider and flared rear quarter panels in metal, full respray in Toyota 040 White Respray with a Team Chihuahua sticker pack #phatpanda
INTERIOR Acewell digital-dash, NASCAR-style rollcage, hydro handbrake, custom switch panel, Sparco snap-off boss, Sparco steering wheel, Bride seats with head protection, dry cell battery
THANKS Stone Motorsport, JDM Distro, RicksCarCare, MG Crash Repairs, Team Beard, David Scotson, Juiceboxforyou, Mid West Tyres, Antoinette, Reese and Finley
BRENDAN TALKS US THROUGH THE RX-8’S BODYWORK: ‘THE SPOILER WAS ORIGINALLY DESIGNED FOR AN AE86 TOYOTA COROLLA. I CUT AND RE-SHAPED IT MYSELF. THE BONNET IS MADE USING PART OF AN S15 NISSAN SILVIA, I CUT OUT THE VENTS AND MADE ONE BONNET FROM THE TWO PIECES. THE FRONT BUMPER AND SKIRTS I CUT AND WIDENED, DELETED THE LICENCE PLATE MYSELF AND THEN WIDE-ARCHED THE BUMPER. I STRIPPED THE INTERIOR AND SANDED IT DOWN, BEFORE HANDING THE CAR OVER FOR PAINT. OH, AND I CUT ALL FOUR ARCHES MYSELF TOO. JOHN STONE HELPED ME WELD IN 70MM AND 80MM PLATES, SO THE ARCHES ARE ALL METAL
‘THE SR20DET ENGINE SITS IN A TUCKED AND SMOOTHED BAY’