Forced perfection: 1974 Mazda RX-3

Posted in Cars
Published in NZ Performance Car Issue No. 197

When Jason Ferguson purchased his 1974 Mazda RX-3 from a mate, he had no idea of the unwanted surprise that lurked under the bright-orange paintwork, and it would be many years before it reared its ugly head. The 3 sedan had been imported a few years earlier from the motherland for vintage Mazdas — Australia. It had fresh paintwork, a 13B stage two, and was a pretty tidy, genuine car.

It passed through a few hands here before taking up residence in Jason’s shed in 2008. After a year of enjoying it as is, Jason decided to pull it off the road and fix all the shortcomings, as he explains: “The main focus for that first build was the engine bay, it was basically stock, multi-coloured and pretty rough looking.” So out came the 13B stage two and long-time friend — and owner of No Cams Motorsport — Brendon Copeland built up a new 13B bridge-port. The block featured a lightened and balanced rotating assembly with high-comp rotors and a cross-drilled eccentric shaft. The old Nikki four-barrel carb also found its way into the trash and a new 48mm IDA was bolted on. While the engine was out, the bay was smoothed, painted to match the exterior and de-loomed. They also took care of the suspension, building a set of Bilstein coilovers for the front and re-setting the leaf springs in the rear. The diff was also upgraded to a modified Mazda B1600 housing with a Mazda Bounty LSD head.

It was in this guise that the car stayed for three years of happy rotor ownership and Jason, with his second kid on the way and a wedding to plan, had no intentions of carrying out another full rebuild. That was until a chance glance down the side while the RX-3 was on a hoist kicked off the bare-metal adventure. “We had it on Brendon’s hoist while converting to a Toyota Supra five-speed gearbox. I just happened to look down the side and noticed small bubbles down the entire side.” He feared the worst, so the car was taken to another good friend, Grant at GT Refinishers, for an expert opinion. Sure enough, it was Jason’s worst nightmare — surface rust on almost the entire body, just bubbling away under the paintwork, the result of no etch primer having been used when the car was painted back in Australia. Left untreated it would continue until it rotted the car from the inside out, so Jason was left with no option but to strip it to bare metal for a respray. This is how the snowball effect started, as Jason recalls: “Initially the plan was to just bare-metal the car and repaint it orange. But because I had to strip it to a bare shell, one thing led to another and soon we had a full rebuild on our hands.”

The shell was taken back to bare steel with a soda blaster, and thankfully the rust was no worse than being at the surface stage. Grant then took the opportunity to hammer out any and all imperfections in preparation for the new gloss black paintwork. But that was also about to change … a friend of Jason’s, who was at Powercruise the week the car was to be painted, sent a pic showing a gloss-black RX-3 sedan on polished 16-inch Simmons. So basically with Grant spray gun in hand, Jason was frantically flicking through colour swatches trying to choose a new colour. Eventually he decided on the colour you see before you, a deep and dark Ferrari Rubino.
Anyone who knows Grant will know he doesn’t take things too seriously, and he took the tempting opportunity to get one over on Jason, threatening to paint the 3 in chocolate brown — Jason’s not-so-favourite colour. Grant even had his paint supplier write ‘brown’ on the paint tin. By using a brown etch on the steel, Grant really had Jason going, until the Rubino-coated shell rolled out of the booth.

Now only a month out from Jason’s planned debut at the 2013 V 4&Rotary Nationals, the bare shell was towed back to Jason’s shed so assembly could begin. While the shell was being done he had sent all the undercarriage pieces, which had been rattle-canned black in the last build, off to be powder-coated, and all the alloy away to be polished, so it would be ready and waiting come the shell’s return.

That last month was an extremely hectic time for Jason, as not only were Brendon and he slaving away each night until 1am to meet the deadline, but there was also the birth of his second child to contend with. But despite all the chaos the car was fired up and shipped off to GT Refinishers for the final touches only days before the event. Jason himself wouldn’t see the finished product until Grant and his team rolled it into the show.

The end result is an excellent example of an RX-3, a fact mirrored in the eyes of judges as it picked up not only Best RX-3, but also the very coveted and hotly contested Best RX Engine Bay, a small reward for all those late nights carrying out a build that was never supposed to happen. Sometimes you just have to man-up and make the best of a bad situation, as Jason did, and he now has one of the best RX-3s in the country calling his shed home.

This article is from NZ Performance Car 197. Click here to check it out.


1.3-litre two-rotor rwd
Engine: Mazda 13B 1300cc two-rotor
Block: Custom No Cams Motorsport CNC bridge-porting, lightened and balanced rotating assembly, cross-drilled eccentric shaft, modified oil pump, aluminium sump baffle plate
Intake: Port-matched aluminium intake manifold, 48mm IDA carb tuned by Weber Specialties, 114mm K&N air filter
Exhaust: Custom No Cams Motorsport tuned length headers, twin 51mm mandrel-bent system collecting into 4x stainless packed resonators, 64mm pipe into stainless rear muffler
Fuel: Carter fuel pump, Holley pressure regulator
Ignition: Modified electric distributor, high-output electronic coils (in-cabin), 10mm ignition leads
Cooling: Fenix aluminium radiator, Fenix oil cooler
Extra: Engine bay de-loomed, Gilmer belt drive
Gearbox: Toyota W55 five-speed
Clutch: Exedy four-puck clutch plate, Exedy pressure plate
Flywheel: 4.5kg billet steel
Diff: B1600 differential, Bounty 4.3 LSD head
Struts: (F) Custom Bilstein adjustable coilovers, Toyshop camber plates; (R) Reset leaf springs, lowering blocks
Brakes: (F) Standard; (R) Nissan Bluebird U13 rotors and calipers
Extra: Full Nolathane kit
Wheels: 16×7-inch FR Simmons
Tyres: Toyo Proxes 195/40R16
Paint: Full GT Refinishers bare metal panel and paint in Ferrari Rubino
Enhancements: Underbody reseal, full soda-blast back to bare metal, reproduction badges
Seats: Factory
Steering wheel: Momo
Instrumentation: Auto Meter oil pressure, water temp, volt and tacho
Extra: Full retrim in black and grey

Driver profile

Jason Ferguson 
Age: 29
Location: Auckland
Occupation: Directional driller
Build time: Six years
Length of ownership: Six years
Thanks: A huge thanks to Brendon and Grant — without all their help and hard work, the car wouldn’t have been ready for the Nats; Brendon at No Cams Motorsport, 32b Andromeda Crescent, East Tamaki, ph. 021 768 279; Grant and the boys at GT Refinishers; Toots at Manukau Mag & Turbo; Dan at STA Parts; Dean at Partmaster Manukau; Jimmy Tubigg for all the polishing; Azhar Bhamji at 4&Rota; all the boys who helped out with the build; and a massive thanks to my fiancée for all her help and looking after the kids on all those late nights that I was down at the shop

Words and photos: Marcus Gibson

Marcus Gibson

Marcus Gibson has spent his life getting a little grease under his fingernails growing up with a fascination for all things loud, fast, and low. Growing up during the boom of the import scene, the last ten years have seen him work for a few publications, as well as running his own website before taking up a role at NZ Performance Car in 2011. Marcus is as at home with a keyboard or camera in-hand as he is getting dirty in his workshop or at the track, championing that Kiwi DIY attitude.