I’ve been gradually driving the car around and putting it through its paces. There are a few more details that need to be finished up before I can deem the swap to be finalized. Namely, a tune is mandatory. When temperatures are cold or the engine is not fully warm, it has the tendency to stall out when idling. Otherwise, drivability is mostly fine except for some low-speed bucking once the car is moving.
When the rain stopped yesterday, I met up with a local photographer named Kace to do a quick feature shoot. More on that later once his pictures are ready. While on location, I had my camera with me as well and grabbed a couple pictures of my own.
The Shine FEED Type II spoiler that has been on the car for the past 2 years served its use well, but it is time to expand towards bolder directions. Since I had the ’99 front bumper installed for the third time, I decided to maintain a congruency at the rear as well with a ’99 spoiler. I hesitated on this choice because I originally never liked the ’99 spoiler. I always thought it looked a bit too “JDM”, if that’s even a proper way of describing it, and reminded me of Evos and STIs. After looking back at these spoilers for so many years, I eventually acquired its taste. At the same time, I yielded to my inner Ricer and simply embraced it. Which probably explains why I coincidentally drive an Evo X as a daily.
I was attracted to the FEED Type II spoiler for its carbon fiber center and race oriented appeal. While perusing options for the ’99 spoiler, I was immediately drawn to the Odula center section for the very same reason. It has a 3D profile with an extended lip for a more aggressive look. I picked it up during the same time I was sourcing an OEM ’99 spoiler in Japan.
Once everything was ready, I dropped the spoiler and center section to William and asked him to clear coat and tint the carbon fiber. He also did a nice, subtle black fade at the front and back edges. Lastly, I asked William to install everything since I didn’t trust myself to drill the additional holes in the hatch required for the ’99 spoiler.
The ’99 spoiler really makes an impactful update to the car’s aesthetics. To make a more understated change, I switched out the Efini emblems with the contemporary “Flying M” Mazda emblems. I liked the ambiguity and mystique of the Efini emblems, but eventually decided it would probably be more favorable if the masses could actually recognize this car. I would rather people (and cops) know that it’s “just a Mazda” than to potentially have the idea that it’s a kit car, or the like. Plus, with the now ’99 exterior, it seemed apt to keep with the times for the emblems, too.
These emblems and part numbers are specifically for the ’99+ RX-7.
The front emblem is larger than the rear.
In my sly ways, I was then able to convince (trick) my lovely female half to utilize her smaller, more precise hands and deep clean the engine bay. While she was busy scrubbing away at all the metal surfaces and nooks & crannies, I was on the floor fine-tuning the front bumper’s fitment and simultaneously giving out slave-driver orders. And with that, the engine bay was rendered spotless. Not a bad way to spend a Sunday afternoon.
Attempts were made to re-bleed the clutch but its behavior started to become increasingly erratic. Instead of having the clutch pedal gradually fall to the floor, it would randomly fall to the floor and then come back up. The usual pattern was no longer observable, which disproved the theory of an air bubble expanding with heat. The next step was to simply replace the Wilwood 7/8″ master cylinder with another new unit – this ended up solving the problem. In one way or another, the previous Wilwood master cylinder I picked up from Hinson Supercars was defective. Similarly, Marcus ran into issues with the 929 1″ master cylinder while bleeding the brakes… it wouldn’t hold fluid properly. In the end, both the brake and clutch master cylinders were initially purchased new and both were defective and needed replacing.
Thankfully, the clutch is working flawlessly now and that’s all that matters. Once Marcus was done, I asked him to directly drop the car off at William’s AutoBody to have the ’99 spoiler installed, and I picked the car up from there. More on the spoiler in the upcoming post.
Later in the week, I scheduled a late-night appointment with Trackspec Autosports in Fremont to get the alignment knocked out. I went with these alignment specs: -3.0* camber front, -2.7* camber rear, 1/16″ toe-in front, 0 toe rear, 6.1* caster. The car tracks straight and there is no rubbing from normal driving conditions.
Once the alignment was completed, I had the chance to put the car through its paces and try a couple light pulls. A large displacement V8 in a light Japanese chassis is truly a savage combination… the car pulls like an animal and picks up speed like the rotary never did. You might think having such a linear power band would be counter-intuitive to the sensation of speed, since it’s too smooth, but that is far from the truth. Having torque on tap and a constant pull is ideal way to define “fast”.
Work was measurably amped up during the past couple of weeks to push this swap through the finish line. Once the engine was started and running, attention was turned to ironing out all the minor bugs and any drivability issues. Marcus spent a good deal of time locating and silencing noises and making sure the driveline was solid. Leaks were checked, the tachometer was brought to life, and the swap was technically complete.
After waiting so long, the day I was finally able to pick up the car was quite surreal. It was sensory overload since there was so much to take in, all at once. I had high expectations going in and they were certainly met, it was immediately apparent how cleanly everything was installed and the car starts right up as it should.
The moment of truth came when I got in to drive it for the first time. What a rush that was… the first thing that crossed my mind was how BEASTLY the LS3 sounded and pulled. After the initial HOLY S#!T moments, I quickly adjusted to normalcy and the drive home was remarkably easy, that is until I stopped to get gas.
When I started the car back up, I noticed that the clutch was engaging lower and lower to the floor. After a couple more minutes of driving, it was evident that pressure was being lost in the clutch hydraulics – as if the fluid had boiled over. However, it is virtually impossible to boil RBF600 fluid after 30 minutes of casual driving. I was able to keep the car in gear and limp it back home to my garage. Not quite the triumphant return I was hoping for, but this comes with the territory when you perform such a major swap and shouldn’t overshadow the fact that the other major features of the car performed beautifully. Not bad when you consider the fact that over half of this car was essentially rebuilt during the swap process.
By the next morning, the clutch was usable again so I carefully drove the car back to Marcus. Right around the 30 minute mark of driving is when the clutch starts to lose pressure – after everything in the engine bay comes up to operating temperature. The likely explanation and theory points to the clutch line’s routing as the culprit.
The clutch line was routed upwards and over the master cylinder in order to gain the maximum clearance from the exhaust. In doing so, this works against gravity and can create an air pocket at the top of the line. The clutch line is also a relatively large bore at -4AN, which leaves even more room for an air pocket to form. And of course, since air expands with heat, this would explain why the clutch gets worse as the engine gets hotter.
Since my reunion was prematurely ended and my driving experience with the setup is limited, I will save my commentary on its characteristics for another post – hopefully once everything with the clutch is squared away. To be continued!
With the exhaust fabricated, attention has turned to finishing up the wiring and mounting the battery box. Marcus also redid the intake piping that came with the Samberg radiator kit and its LS7/LS3 MAF adapter. The fitment of this pipe puts it close to the hood with the LS3’s drive-by-wire throttle body, so the goal is to achieve enough clearance to not make contact.
The fusebox was also simplified and moved forwards. I’ll need to pick up a new fusebox cover in the future because the peeling sticker is distracting.
Back when I was still amassing parts for the swapping and in the planning phases, I gave the battery notable thought. I knew I wanted to have the battery moved out of the engine bay. The most popular relocation method has been to place the battery into one of the storage bins behind the seats. It is a clever and compact way of mounting everything, but I didn’t like how the battery was kept near the middle of the car and inside the cabin directly behind the passenger or driver. The ideal position for the battery is at the rear, in the hatch.
After researching the subject, I decided upon an interesting solution: mounting 2 dry cell 6-volt batteries on their side in the spare tire well, and wiring them in series. I picked up a pair of Optima 6-volt batteries to meet this purpose. With the batteries laid on their sides, they should still remain mostly flush to the hatch’s floor when mounted in the tire well. Slide the carpet over and presto.
In the beginning, I shared this concept with Marcus and printed him a picture to follow. Here is the battery box he fabricated for the batteries:
Mounted into the car with the batteries:
Cabling complete. The positive cable goes along the channel through the chassis and directly to the alternator. The ground cable is attached to the chassis and there are 2 more engine grounds in the bay.
With the batteries connected, the car STARTS! Marcus noted that it cranks fast and sent me a quick clip of everything running. Needless to say, things are starting to become very interesting.
The moment of truth has been reached. There are still a few more bugs to be worked out and then hopefully the metamorphosis will be complete.
FINALLY, progress. The car has admittedly been sitting mostly idle inside the shop while other matters came up. Marcus is in the process of opening another, larger shop and has likely been spending most of his time there setting it up. I know extended wait times come with the territory with these large scale projects, but the push towards completion needs to be strong.
Attention has been returned to the car and the exhaust system is now fabricated and installed. It consists of 3″ stainless piping coming off the headers’ v-bands into a y-pipe and Borla muffler. At the other end of the muffler is a single 3.5″ section to a 4″ tip – race style.
Everything is Tig welded together.
The “catback” section has an additional v-band.
Making the cone to adapt the 4″ tip to the exhaust piping:
With only 1 muffler in the entire system, I can only guess that this will be on the louder side.
Here is what the catch can lines look like routed in the engine bay:
Although the car is taking longer than initially expected to finish, the passing time has given me a new perspective. I can’t hide the fact that I’m anxious to have the swap completed, but at the same time I’m comforted by having the luxury of busying myself with other aspects of life while the work is performed. If I were to tackle the swap myself in my garage, like the Single Turbo conversion, my weekends and free weeknights would have been greyed out by laborious wrenching. It takes this relativity to understand the magnitude of dedication required by a “hobbyist” to build together a large project by himself. Looking back over the years, I can see just how many weekends were sucked away from me because I had to spend hour upon hour in the garage instead. Granted, I’ve gained invaluable experience from doing so and it wasn’t necessarily a bad way of spending time; however, after having done it, I can really appreciate the convenience of leaving this V8 swap in the hands of a professional instead.
I stopped by the shop the other week to pick up a few remaining leftover parts. All of the crankcase ventilation AN lines were routed to the catch can. The car is getting close, so it’s just a matter of knocking out the last remaining items on the list: finish the wiring, fabricate the exhaust system, fine tune the ride height, install the battery and cables, install the front bumper, and anything else in between.
While Marcus continues to plug away at the car, there isn’t much to update at the moment. So as a filler, here are a couple pictures of the Samberg radiator setup which I forgot to post earlier:
The assembly is fully shrouded with dual SPAL fans and features a cut out for a K&N air filter. The level of quality is very high and I personally think this radiator setup is far superior to any rotary V-Mount offering out there, purely based on its simplicity and integration. I’ve said this before, but if Samberg’s products did not exist for the RX-7, I most likely would not have considered swapping a V8.
In the background, I purchased another new OEM ’99 bumper and rebar. This is my THIRD ’99 bumper and the fourth bumper I’ve had painted for the RX-7. Figuring out the bumper has truly been an enduring task. To make a positive outcome more certain, I also picked up a new set of mounting brackets and rivets from Mazda (which was surprisingly expensive, more than the ’99 bumper skin). The minor deformity issues in the bumper skin from the past was due to transferring the old mounting brackets. The Mazda rivets have a specific torque and do not pull excessively on the skin when installed. The topside of this bumper finally came out nice and flat, and is hopefully something I can live with.
I’m going to hold onto my pre-’99 bumper just incase I decide to flipflop again. At first, I was conflicted with which bumper I preferred, but my cognition was mostly skewed from the feeling of disillusionment of all the failed ’99 bumpers. In the end, I know that the car needs to have the updated look of the ’99 bumper.
As the weeks slide by, I can feel my anticipations and anxieties starting to swell. I am having to consciously suppress images of myself terrorizing the streets of the Bay Area with tire smoking abandon, for that time is not yet ready.
Nonetheless, progress can’t be rushed and the waiting should hopefully help make the finished product that much sweeter. Now, to catch up with recent developments. Marcus finished measuring and mounting on the transmission brace. The TR6060 transmission has a different tailhousing which required a modified bracket to be fabricated to mount up with the bushing and brace.
Next, the 2 arms from the MGW Short Shifter and the shifter linkage were measured and cut to move the assembly into the optimal position in the tunnel opening. Otherwise, the shifter would have been mounted too far aft with the TR6060.
The MGW arms feature a straight section, which made the shortening work easier. The cuts had to be exact in order to insure that the arms are the same lengths for proper installation.
Arms and linkage welded back together:
With the transmission sorted, the driveshaft could then be installed.
Here’s a closer look at the trick CV joint…
The crankcase venting and PCV elimination sub-project as suggested from the previous post will tie into this aluminum vented catch can, near the position of where the ABS pump was.
Marcus also took the time to change out various fasteners in the engine bay with nicer, stainless steel allen heads.
Both the front subframe/engine and rear subframe/differential are installed. Work is now focusing on the smaller items on the to-do list. This portion is all detail-oriented and deservedly requires the most time due to its inherent tediousness.
Here is a snippet of some of the progress that has been recently made, as this swap creeps towards the finish line.
Marcus cleaned up the thermostat housing by welding up and blocking the heater coolant nipples. After consideration, I decided to obviate the heater lines and plan to eventually remove the heater core entirely from under the dash. With the air conditioning removed already, this was the next progressive step. Since my RX-7 is principally a fair weather car and I live in California, I foresee no requirement for a heater. Now there is no need to worry about the heater core leaking.
AN fittings were welded onto the valve covers. This is part of a sub-project to improve crankcase ventilation. The PCV will be obviated and an externally mounted vented catch can will be routed in.
Keeping in theme with the generous reliance on AN fittings, the crossover tube at the front of the engine was optimized as well. Before, there was a rubber line that was awkwardly routed in a loop (see the penultimate picture in this post: radiator overview).
The location of the proportioning valve had to be revised due to clearance issues with the LS3. New lines were bent and the valve was positioned further upwards.
Lastly, here’s an overview of the Samberg radiator setup in the engine bay.
Getting close! All the major parts are in, like this custom length aluminum 3.5″ driveshaft from none other than The Driveshaft Shop.
We had to place priority on getting the front and rear subframes prepared and ready for mock up in order to take the measurement for the driveshaft. I then placed the order immediately with Driveshaft Shop because the production is supposed to take 3 weeks. Conveniently, they actually finished it for me in a little over a week. Like all the other top-notch offerings from Driveshaft Shop, this one is no exception. It features a bolt-on CV joint adapter to the TR6060’s flange and then a universal joint at the 8.8 differential’s end. Incorporating a CV joint is more expensive, but features a higher range of adjustment with lower vibrations.
The fuel lines were another item on the list that needed to be measured up and then custom ordered. There will be a total of 3 “flex” lines: 2 from the gas tank to the Wix fuel filter/FPR and 1 from the fuel rail to the firewall bulkhead. The rest of the fuel system will be plumbed with a -6AN stainless steel hardline. I really wanted to overkill this area to eliminate any chance of fuel issues in the future, including fumes and having to smell gas in the garage.
I picked the XRP HS-79 hose for the lines, which is aerospace quality and incorporates smooth-bore Teflon with a Kevlar composite construction. Unlike other hoses which can be assembled at home, these have to be machine crimped. Marcus made the measurements and I gave them to XRP to pre-make. The quality of the HS-79 is certainly reflected in its pricing. This unassuming box of 3 lines was close to $400!
Here’s a look at the Wix filter with the stainless steel hardline routed.
Marcus made this bracket to hold the bulkhead connector for the long section of the hardline. Attention to detail – epitomized.
At the other end on the engine bay’s firewall, there is another bracket that holds together the fuel hardline and hardline for the rear brakes.
The goal is to remove redundant wires and relays from the engine bay to have a clean, tucked install. A great deal of effort is obviously required for this portion. Marcus has been working on the wiring harness over the past week. Any splices made were done properly via soldering and heat shrinking.
It was also determined that the spot-welded brackets which used to hold the stock radiator’s crossmember needed to be removed from the frame rails.
Alas, here is the engine mounted for the final time in the car.
The view from below… the Samberg components are truly superior to the factory Mazda counterparts.
The Spoolin headers have a good amount of clearance on both the passenger and driver sides.