This is no ordinary RX-7, and with lineage back to the street-legal, strip-chomping peach-coloured Series 1 that clocked up flat 12s
Words: Rotor Dave Photos: Brad Lord
There is no easy way to describe Arnie Nguyen’s 1992 ‘Batmobile’ RX-7. ‘Awesome’ would normally, suffice, but that doesn’t quite cut it. Stripped and rebuilt to a show-winning standard, this beast was undoubtedly ‘the car to see’ at the last year’s Four and Rotary Nationals.
Arnie’s previous drive was the famous (or infamous) peach-coloured Series 1 RX-7 which was one of the first local machines to prove that Japanese cars could cut the mustard down the strip. Repowered with a 13B (and a monster T51 turbo) and stripped down to the bare essentials, the Peach Flash layed down times like 12.0 @ 120mph. Pretty fast for sure, but like all speed-hungry rotorheads, Arnie yearned for more.
A look to the states provided Arnie with the path to follow. Adam Sarawatori was blasting his way into the ten-second bracket with his A&L ‘93 RX-7, and onto the covers of magazines worldwide. Arnie researched Adam’s car thoroughly and set out to make the Kiwi equivalent. He soon found a suitable specimen, fitted with a Veilside front end (aaargghh!!). After two weeks, the novelty of his new ride was wearing thing, and parts started flying off, right down to the dash and carpet.
First to go was the front end, to accommodate the massive Greddy Drag intercooler. So big was this unit that the chassis had to be modified to accept it. The new KnightSport nose cone was also modded around the intercooler. The standard pop-up lights had to go for the sake of intercooler piping, replaced by an RE Amemiya Sleeklight kit which was imported from Japan at a cool cost of $2,000.
Chop bash boost
Arnie also had some fresh parameters outlined for the engine. He treated the end plates to a mild port and polish job, and sent out the rotor housings to Universal Tooling to machine the six (yes, six!) extra dowels to stop torsional twisting of the housings. The rotors were machined for 3mm seals, and the eccentric shaft was cross drilled for extra oil flow.
The massive Garrett TV51R turbo was retained from the series 1, and mounted together with an HKS Racing Wastegate on a custom made stainless manifold. Now would be a good time to tell you that Arnie is a welder and fabricator by trade, so most of the work on the Seven was done by him, including the aforementioned manifold. Ditto for the massive 80mm stainless exhaust system and the polished stainless rear muffler … all constructed by the man himself. Thanks go to Mr Polish for polishing all the shiny bits!
The fuel system was majorly upgraded to feed the beast … an aluminium surge tank resides where the space tyre once lived, and it’s fed by two standard Series 6 pumps running in unison. An american SX fuel pump and filter combo pumps around eight-litres-per-minute from the surge tank through XRP Speed Flow lines to the Paxton rising-rate fuel regulator. This is enough fuel flow to keep a smile on most faces. The four standard injectors remain, joined by four extra 390cc injectors in the plenum manifold, fed by an Arnie-made fuel rail. An HKS
Additional Injector Controller keeps control of the extra fuel flow, while Sard silicone hose handles the vacuum pressure. An Apexi Power FC computer keeps tabs on under bonnet goings on. The beauty of the Power FC is that it is a fully-dedicated computer that simply plugs into the existing loom and replaces the standard ECU — no extra sensors or ugly wires. A eftpos-looking handpiece allows modification of ignition, fuel and boost, and all parameters of the vehicle including water temp, oil temp and oil pressure can be monitored from the display … a boy racer’s dream.
Arnie has dynoed the car at 451 horses (at 16psi boost). Further mods will undoubtedly unleash even more ponies,m as it’s obvious Arnie has a tendency towards the overkill. A trick OS Cusco twin-plate clutch setup feeds the power to a standard Series 6 five-speeder (which has proven more than adequate for the task) and Arnie swaps cogs with a C’s quick-shifter. Ohlins’ 27-point adjustable gas shocks replace the standard items, allowing up to two inches of height adjustment through the adjustable spring platforms. A Cusco strut brace tightens up the front end. Beautiful Panasport Racing rims were brought in from Japan in 17x9.5-inch up front and 17x10.5-inch at the rear. Yokohama A520 rubber bands are the treads of choice.
The rear guards had to be flared 45mm to accommodate such large rear rubber — thanks goes to Shane at Performance Panel & Paint for doing the honours. Shane also sprayed the car in its custom red with crimson pearl. Arnie tried a few colours and this one was, to Shane’s relief, to his liking. A MazdaSpeed rear spoiler joins the KnightSpeed nosecone, and a few obligatory stickers to top it off.
Inside the cabin, Arnie fitted a matched pair of MazdaSport seats. A giant Autometer Electronic Memory tach dominates forward vision. No sounds in here, boom boys — they were replaced with electronic Greddy oil, water and exhaust temperature gauges. An RE Amemiya boost gauge sits in a pod atop the steering column, and Greddy fuel and oil pressure gauges are mounted on the A pillar.
Arnie plans to fit a half cage ASAP, so he can run slicks at the strip. Speaking of the strip, he ran a 12.6 at 116mph at Nationals … on a motor that was only 170-odd kilometres old. Now with a few more kilometres under it’s belt (1700 more, to be exact), a 11.4 at 122mph on Mickey Thompson drag tyres is the time to beat.
Sure to be bettered after further development …
And Arnie did better that time, only a month after this initial feature, running into the 10s with a 10.91s at 121mph — a first for an import on New Zealand soil — and faster again to a 10.6 after further development. He was not only a talent behind the wheel, but as a fabricator too, having worked on many of the country's fastest imports over the years. He will be greatly missed around the traps, rest easy Arnie.
Tuan (Arnie) Nguyen
August 4, 1972 - September 14, 2017
This article originally appeared in NZ Performance Car issue No. 41