Home » How An Ohio Engineer Turned A $150 Mazda RX-7 Into The Ultimate Frankenstein Using Parts From Saab, Pontiac, Chevy, Polaris, and Even La-Z-Boy

How An Ohio Engineer Turned A $150 Mazda RX-7 Into The Ultimate Frankenstein Using Parts From Saab, Pontiac, Chevy, Polaris, and Even La-Z-Boy

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“Oh yeah, that’s an awesome idea,” is what I thought when this genius outside-the-box setup came across my desk: Reader Alec Bagley installed a GM Ecotec engine into a FC RX-7, and cobbled the rest together using parts from all over the place, leading to an incredible one-of-a-kind race car. Here’s how he did it.

I’ve seen so many swaps over the years, but this one stuck out. Everyone and their mother can’t get enough of GM LS V8-swapping everything under the sun, from Porsches to Mazda RX-8s, but the Ecotec is a great engine in its own right [Ed Note: Avoid pre-2005 2.2s due to timing chain issues. Ditto for many 2.4s in the later cars, which struggled with oil consumption. -DT], and could prove to be incredibly potent for on-track service. Think of it as the American Honda K-motor in terms of parts availability.

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Anyway, let’s get into what exactly this northeast Ohio mechanical engineer cobbled together, because it is incredible.

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Alec Bagley

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Good Bye, Bees

As much as many folks love a revvy little swarm-of-bees-sounding rotary engine, for budget-minded motoring, the FC-generation’s—that’s the second-generation—original 13B engine may not be ideal. Parts can be hard to come by, the dollar-per-horsepower situation isn’t outstanding, and some folks might not be willing to live the piston-less life when it comes to maintenance and engine building.

For Bagley, he didn’t have to make any hard decisions. “I scored this RX-7 as a rolling shell while browsing Facebook Marketplace during a lecture in school,” he told The Autopian via email. A buddy of his had started running a ‘98 Mustang Cobra in SCCA Time Trials, and he thought it’d be fun to get something cheap to join in with. For just $150, it was a trailer and in his position; now it was time to build it up.

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“I scoured junkyards, eBay, and FBM to build this car, with probably 75% being second-hand parts and goofy hackery.” When you’ve got a blank canvas for short money, why not keep it up and find a potent/cheap piston engine alternative?

He says the Ecotec LK9 (a 2.0-liter turo) engine made sense because it’s a generally well-designed engine and is part of a family of motors put in so many cars for so long. Not only that, but it’s popular in dirt and circle track racing, GM published resources on how to build it for high-horsepower drag racing, and it’s even graced Miatas’ engine bays.

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As far as getting a hold of parts, it’ll be quite a long time before that becomes an issue. Sure, a lot are blown up, but he notes that they might be more prevalent than Honda’s K Series, and those are seemingly, endlessly available from junkyards, wreckers, and so on. The same can’t be said for the 13B rotary.

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Alec Bagley

The Build

Beneath this RX-7’s sleek metal shape, there’s a lot going on. The engine’s from a 2008 Saab 9-3, but rebuilt with fresh rings and bearings from eBay—it’s the same unit found in the Chevy Cobalt SS. Bolted up to the block is a 2006 Pontiac Solstice’s transmission, and it’s all sitting on Solstice mounts with some hockey pucks mixed in. The electric fan is from a Hyundai, radiator from a Silverado, a Cobalt SS donated a smattering of sensors and a water-to-air intercooler coolant pump, the shifter assembly is from a Toyota Chaser, and there are some parts from Polaris and Ski-Doo. There’s a lot going on. 

The build even sports some LA-Z-Boy recliner DNA, by way of some steel bits salvaged from a sofa to make a couple of mounts.

Bagley’s outlined a lot of the build in photos on Facebook, and it’s really cool to page through. So far, it’s seen service in SCCA Time Trials in Northeast Ohio, and is grassroots to the max—in a very good way, he’s invested a lot of time and effort into it.

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“It’s a blast to drive, I’m still learning the limits of the car and myself. With the wide body I can cram some pretty big tires underneath … It handles incredibly well, but I have some suspension tweaks to make, and it actually weighs less than a factory rotary powered RX7, coming in at just under 2,600 pounds in race trim.”

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Alec Bagley

[Editor’s Note: I’d like to just point out some of the photos from Bagley’s Facebook album, because they show some great problem solving. As you can see above, Bagley and his friends sliced a big hole into the firewall to accommodate the inline-four. Here you can see the cutout in-progress:

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 I also want to point out how big of a nightmare it clearly was for Bagley to package that turbo just aft of the water pump outlet. Look at how he had to bend the water pump outlet straight down (the chrome tube, which normally goes straight back):

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This provided just enough room for the turbo:

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As you can see, that area is a bit of a packaging disaster — “10 pounds of shit in a 5 pound bag,” as Chrysler engineers would put it at my former workplace. The turbocharger turbine output (i.e. the exhaust outlet) is really close to the firewall, and that required a custom downpipe:

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Honestly, I’m impressed:

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I’ve pasted more photos of the build at the end of the article. -DT]

As far as how this mighty Frankenstein FC’s held up, it had a generally successful inaugural season last year. “I dealt with a few mechanicals early on, a vacuum line melted, and I over-boosted. Luckily, the charge pipe blew off before I damaged anything. That same event I found out that the turbo had vibrated itself off the manifold. Then, at the following event, the turbo actually vibrated itself apart, with the turbine shaft as the only thing holding it together.” 

Bagley’s also proud of the fact that his car didn’t burn to the ground. We’re certainly glad it didn’t, either.

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Alec Bagley

Bagley Is A Wrenching King

Bagley has been spinning wrenches since he was a teen, and he described to us via email how he got into all this, writing:

I started wrenching in highschool when I was looking for a car to drive. My dad had a 1985 Power Ram 50 and we agreed that it I could get it running again, I could drive it. That was the first vehicle that I did a lot of work on myself, I rebuilt the intake and installed a new carburetor. I drove it daily for about 6 months before it ate an exhaust valve while on my way to my summer job, so I ripped the engine out and rebuilt it with the Cloyes manual and Dr. Google.
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While in engineering school, I participated in the Society of Automotive Engineers collegiate design series, where we built a single seat off road buggy powered by a pathetic 10hp Briggs. I got to travel across the country and compete against other schools. Around the mid point in my college career one of my friends interned for Hawk Brake and talked about racing with me and another friend. My other friend brought a 1998 cobra and began road racing and I bought the RX7 for $150 as a project (there’s a whole other story itself in how I got the car that cheap). It was around this time that I found the /Drive video on Corban Goodwin’s ‘Zero Fucks Given RX7’, which served as the inspiration of my car. This was fall of 2019, and I had planned on getting my car put together for the 2020 season, and we all know how that ended. Work finally started on the car in the fall of 2020, with the car first driven under it’s own power in the summer of 2022, and it’s first race on May 1st 2023, at mid Ohio road course in the snow.
As I built the car I went and crewed at races for my friend, as he transitioned from his 1998 Cobra to a retired American Iron Extreme chassis (if you want to talk to him, he’s got a good story. He holds several regional track records and is overall really good at showing up corvettes in a solid axle mustang). While crewing I met a lot of great people who encouraged the build and helped motivate me to finish my car.
By the way, here’s the Zero F*cks Give RX7:

Anyway, what a cool build, but moreover, what a testament to Bagley’s hard work and resourcefulness. Sure, LS V8s are great, but outside-the-box thinking really works in Bagley’s favor here. Whether by saving some coin, or the fact that the entire teeny Ecotec looks to be sitting behind the shock towers—a great way to bolster the FC’s excellent chassis dynamics, as well as come close to where its original 13B rotary once sat.

This season, Bagley’s moving from 300-treadwear to 200-treadwear tires, and is planning on combining a 2.0-liter Ecotec head with a 2.4-liter Ecotec block for added zest. We hope to get an updates on his lap times, and wish him all the best with his wrenching ventures.

More photos of the build:

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All Images: Alec Bagley

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Shop-Teacher
Shop-Teacher
1 month ago

That’s freaking AWESOME!

Shooting Brake
Shooting Brake
1 month ago

What a brilliant build!!! I love it! I’ve long felt the ecotec is underrated as a handy rwd capable swap engine when you don’t want or need LS power. If only I had fab skills like that…well done sir!

Dinklesmith
Dinklesmith
1 month ago

That’s a pretty nest build. I live near Nelson Ledges raceway, I should check it out

My Goat Ate My Homework
My Goat Ate My Homework
1 month ago
Reply to  Dinklesmith

It just changed owners a few years ago and got repaved and updated.

Phantom Pedal Syndrome
Phantom Pedal Syndrome
1 month ago

Somewhere in Havana, a mechanic is reading this article and thinking…

“What’s the big deal?”
“This is just what I gotta do to keep my customers cars running.”

Mark T Bickford
Mark T Bickford
1 month ago

I like Frankenstein cars. I wish I had taken pictures of more of the weird things I’ve put together over the years. Been tinkering with cars since the mid-70s. And I’ve always been poor. The one that stands out the most in comparison to this car, my Frankenstein van. Mid 80s, I wrecked my car, so I needed some transportation quickly. Looking around the yard & the shop, I had a ’69 Chevy window van that I just pulled the motor out of for somebody else’s project, a rolled 1980 Mercury zephyr with only like 35,000 mi on the engine, which was the Ford 200 cubic inch 6 with a c4 behind it. So starting on Friday, and finishing up on Monday, I threw that Ford 6 in the Chevy van. Had to fabricate the motor mounts entirely, I had an acquaintance that would shorten and balance drive shafts for 25 bucks. Throttle cable and shift linkage were mostly parts from various motorcycle projects that I had laying around. The van had no seats, he had just bought it for the motor (a 4 bolt main 327 that he was putting into a Monte Carlo), I had a pair of bucket seats out of a Subaru GLX that I threw in there. I had a stack of matching wheels and tires from a Ford, and some Dodge hubcaps.

I drove that thing around for a couple of years, always ran good, got in the low 20s for gas mileage. Ended up selling it to a buddy of mine, that moved down to Oregon and I heard he drove it around for more than 10 years.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
1 month ago

Yeah great blah blah blah, I just keep asking why can’t any of these damn mechanical geniuses live next to me? For so.e reason my neighbors come to me for car stuff, they really shouldn’t. For example my 35 year old or so neighbor had a flat tire when he first moved in. I’m thinking he’s young I’m not going to interfere. Ten minutes later this guy is lost and looked like going to do stupid dangerous things. I introduced myself and offered my better equipment. He looked at my quality floor jack and T Bar like it was a nuclear power plant. He learned how to change a tire that day.

Dangerous_Daveo
Dangerous_Daveo
1 month ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

As far as your neighbour is concerned, you are that mechanical genius.

Car Guy
Car Guy
1 month ago

“For just $150, it was a trailer and in his position; now it was time to build it up.”

What does this even mean?

“He says the Ecotec LK9 (a 2.0-liter turo) engine made sense”

…Sounds like he rented someone’s car from Turo and took their motor?

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
1 month ago
Reply to  Car Guy

Yeah I didn’t get it either.

J Hyman
J Hyman
1 month ago
Reply to  Car Guy

I’m going with ‘on a trailer and in his possession’. Let’s see if the author confirms.

Slow Joe Crow
Slow Joe Crow
1 month ago

Respect! that’s some epic wrenching and clever solutions

JDS
JDS
1 month ago

Peter, I think you meant ten pounds of shit in a five-pound sack. The other way around just means your sack is too big.

Voeltzwagen
Voeltzwagen
1 month ago
Reply to  JDS

That was actually an Editor’s Note by DT.

Professor Chorls
Professor Chorls
1 month ago
Reply to  JDS

And that it could be cost-engineered down, while saving weight as well!

David Tracy
David Tracy
1 month ago
Reply to  JDS

Haha. You’re totally right, I had it backwards.

Still makes no sense, but at least it’s the right expression!

JDS
JDS
1 month ago
Reply to  David Tracy

I started using that expression when I was engineering dual-stage driver airbag inflators. You want to talk about packaging limitations! We shoehorned more components, extra propellants, and a whole other squib into an inflator that was exactly the same size. If you drove a GM product between 1998 and 2005 or so, I designed the explosive package pointing at your face.

No, I did not work for Takata. Our stuff worked properly.

David Tracy
David Tracy
1 month ago
Reply to  JDS

I was doing underhood cooling system routine on a new 2.0-liter turbo mild hybrid.

Water cooled turbo, water cooled throttle body, integrated charge air cooler, etc etc.

Was a nightmare.

I’d love to learn more about airbag design!

H4llelujah
H4llelujah
1 month ago
Reply to  David Tracy

Im guessing you cant elaborate on which vehicle that was, (i think i own one of them) but i’d love to read a write up on what that was like. Because I love that motor, but SHEESH theres a lot going on under the hood of mine, and it seems like a lot of modern turbo motors are getting complex in the same ways.

JDS
JDS
1 month ago
Reply to  David Tracy

Ask anything you like, David. My experience is getting pretty long in the tooth, but the basics haven’t changed all that much since dual-stage inflators became a thing. I did some consulting on the Takata Airbag recalls early on, but was ultimately conflicted out of working on the class-action cases.

The engineering was challenging and interesting, the long after-hours conference calls to Japan and overstuffed meetings in Dayton and Auburn Hills less so, but it was a fun gig. I really only left because of a change in ownership.

Ferguson, Turd
Ferguson, Turd
1 month ago
Reply to  JDS

Autoliv? I worked at the pyrotechnic manufacturing site for them in the early ’00s.

JDS
JDS
1 month ago
Reply to  Ferguson, Turd

Originally OEA (Ordinance Engineering Associates) at the plant outside Denver. I came on just as OEA was spooling up for automotive production in 1995ish. They were originally an aerospace firm. I ended up as the Principal Engineer for the single- and dual-stage driver Airbag inflator products mainly headed to GM and Toyota products worldwide.

Autoliv acquired OEA around 2000 or so. The handwriting on the wall said inflator manufacturing was likely going to move to Provo UT, and I didn’t want to move. I left Autoliv in early 2001 for a consulting gig that I’m still doing today.

I’m just glad I didn’t work for Takata, although they were a client. We evaluated the same ammonium nitrate gas generator they used in all those recalled inflators, but decided the technical challenges of the propellant made it a poor choice, despite the advantages of low cost and low particulate output. That was a good decision, if an unpopular one.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
1 month ago
Reply to  David Tracy

It makes sense, think big gal in a bikini too small.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
1 month ago
Reply to  JDS

I am60 years old and I assure you that your sack can be too big. Sometimes you even sit on it and it feels like you got kicked in the balls.
On a different note many guys seem to make decisions by listening to their balls. Never listen to your balls, their nuts!
Points for naming the reference.

Spikedlemon
Spikedlemon
1 month ago

This reminds me of cars from Cuba.

Old 1950’s / 1960’s American cars, powered by quasi-modern Hyundai 4-cylinder engines because it’s what they have available.

Phantom Pedal Syndrome
Phantom Pedal Syndrome
1 month ago
Reply to  Spikedlemon

Beat me to it.
You want an old Russian diesel engine crammed into an old American classic car?
No worries, we’ve got you covered.

Captain Muppet
Captain Muppet
1 month ago

I love this.

One of my FCs had a Rover based 4.6 litre V8 and the roll cage was originally built for an S13 Nissan 200SX. We never got it road legal, so I bought a standard FC to scratch my rotary itch.

My Drift MX5 had a Ford truck intercooler, Mitsubishi turbo, Nissan lights, Lotus brakes and the hydraulic handbrake lever was a length of Harris Performance motorcycle frame tubing. The oil catch can was a SunnyD bottle that had blown in to my yard the day I needed a catch can.

Morgan van Humbeck
Morgan van Humbeck
1 month ago
Reply to  Captain Muppet

God bless that SunnyD bottle

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