I couldn’t have picked a worse day to shoot Nat Graham-Helwig’s slick FD RX7 – the last thing I was expecting was a torrential downpour in the middle of the Western Australian summer.
We both agreed the worst was past us, so we planned on meeting up at 8 PM. We hadn’t even set up the car for the first photo when the next deluge occurred. As the rain belted down, we both scampered for cover.
The rain didn’t bother Nat though; he doesn’t sweat the little things, he hasn’t got time for that. The car is a street car, no need to panic about a bit of water The rain actually did us a favour; we had a chance to catch up and chat.
It had been a few months since we had last seen each other. Nat runs two hugely-successful restaurants and is a father of two, so spare time isn’t in his vocabulary these days. For me, well, I am a professional procrastinator and time waster, so I am all over the shop. We are two very different people, but we have been mates for over 20 years now, and we share the same passion – modified cars.
As we chatted away, the conversation bounced from topic to topic with ease, and as usual, we began to reminisce. Nat and I became mates when the ‘Auto Salon’ days were kicking off, so that became a topic that created a tonne of laughter and old stories shared as the thunder clapped in the distance.
I was busy rolling old school Mazdas back then, while Nat was into the late-model, plastic bumper stuff. He was well-known in the scene, and his over-the-top GC8 WRX was a polarising car. That car went on to be Fast Fours & Rotaries cover car and cleaned up at a tonne of major shows. It was one of Perth’s finest imports.
Since then, Nat has moved through high-tech Euros, bikes, back to Japanese rides and then more Euro stuff. One thing he has a knack of doing is taking the mundane and flipping it to create a head-turner. His current RX7 is proof of just that.
Over the years, the car has evolved and gone through several changes. Funnily enough, this is the most subtle version of the car I have seen to date and is the look that Nat prefers most. The one thing he would change though is getting the chance to have the factory pop up headlights retrofitted one day. The previous owner had cut the supports to install the aftermarket units. In all honesty, Nat isn’t a fan.
“I think that changing wheels gives the most significant and most dramatic change towards the look of any car. I do take it to extremes though. From stanced; race wheels, old school and street wheels I have set for all occasions.,” laughed Nat, and he isn’t joking. For the shoot, we used two sets of wheels – the Work Zistance 19×10 and 19×11 with Nitto 255/285 Invo tyres and a set of Volk CE28RT’s with Nitto Invo 235/265 rubber.
With the rain not giving up, we decided to ditch our current location and head back to my workshop to try our best to get some images. Throughout the night, the rain hampered our progress almost as much as our constant conversations.
Getting back to the car, the FD was all about firing up an unrequited love for Nat. “I previously owned a 2000 FD RX7 in my early twenties but, it was short-lived because I couldn’t afford the up-keep nor the fuel. It wasn’t practical, it was loud, low and tiny but it had an unmistakable raw style to it; it was a drivers car, it was my favourite car to drive, along with my E46 M3. I thought back to those days, and I realised that was the car that I needed to get again for my adrenaline fix. After giving up riding my Ducatis for safety reasons, I wanted to share my passion with my boys, so the Mazda was the best option,” explained Nat.
He located a ’99 FD3S locally, which was blessed with a fresh rebuild and some goodies thrown at it. “I wanted a nice streetcar; it was to be a ‘fast’ daily driver with some neat cosmetics and of course, a bit of go. I had the intention of just leaving it as-is, but that idea lasted literally five minutes – I started tearing the car apart on the first day, and that night, I was already ordering parts online.”
The car had an oversized GT wing, which was far from Nat’s taste, so that got the boot and that one alteration opened up a can of worms. “I had the holes welded up and got the hatch resprayed, but then I decided to paint the whole car in the BMW San Marino Blue instead. It was a snap decision but a good one, I think,” remarked Nat. I tend to agree, the new colour suits the classic 90’s lines of the Mazda.
On this version of the RX7, the body mods are more laid back. It has worn several radical aftermarket parts, but for now, the latest list of aesthetic improvements are limited to Ganador mirrors, the carbon front lip and Feed side skirts, Rocket Bunny rear side flaps, Abflug wing and the Glow Shop tail lights. Previously, Nat had the rear wiper and side markers shaved for a smoother look.
The car was looking the goods now, but it was far from running the best. “After six months of driving, the sequential turbos started to play up, and the only solution I felt was to go a bigger single unit, nothing over the top, just a solid application for the street. While everybody suggested a T04Z and Microtech, I went a different direction with a BorgWarner 8374 and employed a Haltech Elite 1500 for tuning purposes. I like to be different.”
The 13b was extend ported, dowelled and given a full rebuild. Twin 044 pumps send the E85 hurtling towards 2000cc Bosch injectors, while the spent gases exit via a 3-inch straight-through exhaust. Cade Bell from Racing Dynamics got the whole package to work the way Nat desired. “It is pointless having a car that makes big power but then doesn’t have a decent cold start or can’t idle for that matter. Cade made the car fun to drive and a pain-free experience. I am more than happy with the 527rwhp it made on 26psi. I don’t need any more; I can assure you of that,” laughed Nat.
Locked in behind the 13B donk is a standard 5-speed ‘box with a twin-plate carbon clutch. Pulling the rocket up are Wilwood front callipers with slotted discs. Tein coil overs got the go-ahead, as did a Cusco strut brace.
Inside the ride are Bride kevlar Stradia seats, a Nardi wheel and some neat touches from renown tuning-house RE Amemiya. The subtle changes are just enough.
“I don’t plan on doing much more to the car now, but that is easier said than done. If I can stay away from making more changes, I will maintain it for my boys. They can enjoy it together when they are older. They think it’s so cool, so I know they will appreciate it. They love helping change wheels and parts over; it must be in their DNA. Having them involved with this car is the best part of the build, by far. I am blessed.”