This article was first published in May 2001.
Those of us who swing a spanner from time to time know that scrapes and bruises are a fact of life - sometimes they may even serve as badges of honour that we wear to remind ourselves of a job well done. Or, sometimes of a job not so well done. In either case, when completing a project, a little black and blue here and there never hurt anyone in the long run. But sometimes a project can find itself the focus of the completely obsessive behaviour of its creator - and that leads to a lot more bruising than you might consider acceptable under normal circumstances. And US-based Jeff Abrams sure knows about that...
What started out as a fine example of "the car that America forgot to buy", this 1993 Mazda MX-3 (in Australia, the Eunos 30X) has been transformed into "the car that Hiroshima forgot to build", and along the way both vehicle and owner have picked up more than their share of black and blue.
Jeff bought this car with 5km on the ticker in 1993 (actually 18 after the test drive) and drove it over 210,000 kilometres in 6 years without so much as upgrading the floor mats. Then one day the car bug bit and the quest to improve on the little hatch began. This was to prove a difficult task - not only because there has been little done in the aftermarket to support the MX-3, but also because it turned out that people seemed to like smashing into the car every time some part of the project was completed.
Round #1 were the typical modifications - wheels and tyres, lowering springs, struts and exhaust. Then the serious stuff - the 1.8 litre V6 (the smallest V6 ever created for a mass-produced automobile) was yanked out in favour of a 2.5-litre motor from the not-so-distant cousin of the MX-3, the MX-6. This is also the same power plant that pulls the '92 - '96 Ford Probe around. Jeff opted for the American-spec KL-03 engine, since in the US the chic Japanese-spec KL-ZE motor is more difficult to find and its higher compression wouldn't easily support his next choice of power modification - forced induction. The new motor was coupled to the transmission through an ACT Stage Two clutch and the gearlever throw shortened with a Pacesetter adjustable shifter.
No sooner than he completed the swap than tragedy hit. On a short trip to the local 7-11, the car was broadsided by an uninsured but not un-intoxicated speed demon in a Chrysler mini van. Mini van: 1; MX-3: zero. The damage to the body was extensive (including one of the new corners - the front right strut, wheel and spring were destroyed), but the frame was still sound and repairs began immediately. While the body was healing, the interior was ripped out and adorned with all-new duds, including new seats, panels and dash treatments. The suspension was further upgraded with Ground Control adjustable springs and the brakes fortified with Goodrich stainless steel lines.
After a few weeks, the MX-3 was back on the road and so was sent out for an alignment to ensure everything was straight. Unfortunately, the tech at the henceforth unnamed national tyre chain felt it was acceptable to use an oxy-acetylene torch to loosen the tie rod ends! This severely fatigued the metal and led to a failure on a turn on the open road the next day. Curb: 1; MX-3: still zero.
Back in Jeff's garage, the damaged sheet metal was replaced, along with most of the front of the vehicle and the mechanicals of the steering system. The whole car was then re-sprayed in PPG pearl blue on black, fading to a silver-blue in the rear, also with a pearl clear coat. The black and blue graphics package from Signs by Tomorrow was applied and all was better than new with Black and Blue. Thankfully, it seemed all of the bruising was over.
Now, attention could be turned back to the go-fast parts.
The 2.5-liter engine was then given a fairly big dose of testosterone via a belt-driven Vortech V5 D blower. The supercharger pushes 9 psi of boost through a custom-built air/water intercooler and past a set of additional 550cc injectors controlled by a Simple Digital Systems computer. The result is over 240hp at the wheels, as measured on the dyno at Altered Atmospheres in Gaithersburg, Maryland. It is interesting to note that at 2000 rpm, the engine is already putting down more power than the stock engine did at its peak!
Additional fuel delivery finesse is addressed through a Link Electrosystems AFM controller and a Cartech 8:1 FMU. All of the goings-on in the engine are monitored through a full compliment of Autometer Phantom Gauges strategically placed around the cockpit.
The result? A daily driver that can pull a 13.7 second quarter mile at 107 MPH, still with a full interior and on all-season street tyres. What is even more impressive, however, is the fact that all of the work - inside and out - was performed by Jeff himself in his town house garage.
What's left to do?
"I think I'll leave it alone and just drive it for a while," says the proud owner.