Craig Saywell unashamedly lives and breathes rotaries thanks to memories forged in his formative years back in New Zealand. The passion has never subsided; the urge to race has only grown stronger, and the respect for the marque is at an all-time high. This RX3 is the culmination of dreams, hard work, persistence and encouragement from his wife Vicky, who also shares his fondness for Mazdas.
“My dad was a panel beater when I was just a lad and so I was bought up around cars, having spent numerous weekends ‘helping’ dad at the panel shop. We also frequented our local stock car track and I recall sitting in an RX3 that my old man had worked on. I was around ten years old and it was just something about the noise and smell that crept its way into my blood,” said Craig.
Securing his licence and his first car, a Ford Anglia, it wasn’t long before the thought of getting into a Mazda soon started to take shape. “I quickly realised that flogging old Fords was just like flogging an old horse and so began the rotary era,” laughed Craig. He managed to source a mint blue RX3 coupe from a local car yard not far from where he grew up.
“My obsession with everything rotary started there I reckon, and despite my trade background involving twisting wires together all day, I quickly found I had a natural talent and passion for turning spanners as well. I developed an increasing circle of mates who also had an affinity with the rice burners of old. Many of these guys are still very good friends today and while we have spread all over the globe we still catch up occasionally and reminisce about the old ‘Pinga Motors’,” laughed Craig.
A little down the track Craig created quite the beast. “One car which provided many years of fun was the 1972 RX2 4 door I called ‘The Troll’, which I purchased as a rotted out shell and turned it into a purpose built circuit race car. Given we had no money in those days, I pretty much did everything myself with a bit of help from mates and my dear old dad who was always happy to help out. I managed to turn a pile of junk into something to be proud of and while it was never a front runner in the group I raced, it certainly used to turn heads.”
The attention The Troll received was mostly due to the supercharger Craig decided to fit during a ‘moment of madness’. “As far as I was aware it hadn’t been done previously, but I’m sure there will be someone out who claims they did it before me. So for the record, in 1989, I custom-made everything in the garage at home to fit a TS3 Commer truck scavenge pump (a blower once you convert it to suck air and fuel rather than just push air), to a bridge ported 13B.”
The combination stuck right out the bonnet with a 650DP Holley Carb jammed on the top. “I ran it on a dyno and from memory it was producing something like 290 HP at the rear wheels. People today still talk about the noise it used to make as I ran it at 1:1 so the straight cut blower lobes were spinning at rotary RPM! It only made seven pound boost, but man it fixed the rotary curse of having nothing downstairs. When this thing turned on, it was instant and it threw you right back into the seat and it quickly challenged the grip level of the very average tires we could afford back then,” explained Craig.
Fast forward a heap of years and this RX3 is now Craig’s pride and joy. As soon as I saw it, I was in love and it reminded me of all the plastic model kits my brother had collected back in the ‘90s. To see an RX3 coupe with massively flared guards, old school-looking aero and retro wheels in real life, well it was almost too much for me to handle! I could see why Craig was so proud of it.
For Craig, the journey of this car started on New Year’s Day in 2016. “I bought the car from over East as a ready to go racer. The plan was to race it in the WA State Speed Event Series, and a few other events here and there. From the log book history, it’s been 16 years in the making of its conversion from a road car, to the ever evolving race car you see today. From my point of view, it made the perfect platform for me to work with and improve upon with my own spin.”
The car was far from what you see today and ‘Orange Roughy’ has received a whole lot of love thanks to Craig. “I can’t help myself, I have spent countless hours re-doing and tidying up what was an excellent car with fantastic equipment for my own sense of satisfaction,” he said.
The body was one area where Craig applied his skill set. “The car was showing the signs of a few hard seasons of racing so it needed a bit of work to bring it back to its former glory.” Craig’s old man decided to get involved, and the pair massaged the body before laying on the eye-searing Dulux EE97 Orange. “The car was in the original Mazda OA Hershel Orange, but I wanted it to stand out so I lifted the shade two or three spectrums.” I think we would all agree the car now stands out. The custom flares, whale tail spoiler, and front air dam all add to the funky aesthetics of the coupe.
Inside the car is all purpose. No carpets, no cup holders or cd players – just the sound of a rotary at 10,000rpm rattling your head! That is real carbon fibre on the door panels, and the adjustable anti roll bar controls and brake bias controls aren’t there for looks. A Motec dash, a heap of switches and a full cage complete the theme.
Under the hood is what draws the people in like ‘bees to honey’ according to Craig. “You just don’t see and hear these things on the roads anymore, so people are inquisitive and want to see what is making all that racket.” That extra-lumpy idle is from the 250HP peripheral ported 13B rotary built by Rohan Ambrose. The donk wears a 48mm throttlebody fed by twin fuel pumps, with the spent gases being expelled by a decent-sized twin system. A Motec M84 controls the symphony.
A reverse leg, straight cut, five-speed dog box is noisy, but efficient and that’s all that counts! A bronze, solid plate clutch gives Craig a good calf workout, whilst the power gets laid to ground thanks to a spooled, Mazda BT50 diff wearing 4.1 gears. Porsche 944 disc brakes are fitted all round, but are shadowed by 16 x 8 Rota wheels shod with Yokohama A050 Advan rubber.
The suspension of the car is pretty damn serious with the back of the car converted to feature an adjustable four-link with a Watts Linkage and rear anti roll bar. Adjustable Eibach springs are located on all four corners.
“To me, I just love the simple fact that it’s a genuine RX3 Coupe with an old-school style, but it has modern upgrades and performance to match. This car has all the stuff I dreamed about having when I first started working on early Mazdas back in the mid ‘80s. It turns heads wherever it goes no matter what town we pass through or event we compete in. Everyone wants to know more about the car and recite fond memories of either having one, or getting scared shitless by some mate who had one!”