Boasting an insane 1200whp race-spec V8, Sam Morris’ Rocket Bunny Mazda RX-7 is all the proof you’ll need that the guys stateside do it best…

We thought we’d take a look back through the archives at this – a former SEMA showstopper. Here’s the full story behind an unforgettable Rocket Bunny Mazda RX-7, which has gone under the knife for 2022, featuring a new Live to Offend bodykit and Zonda V12 engine. 

Words: Sam Preston, Photography: Mike Kuhn

February 2004. An adolescent Sam Morris finishes another day at his Kansas high school and heads straight to the newsagent across the road to grab the latest issue of his favourite Japanese car tuner magazine.

Gracing the cover of this issue is a bright red Mazda RX-7 FD with all the trimmings; its boosted rotary motor benefiting from the latest offerings from Nitrous Express and meaning the car would feature on the firm’s stand at the prestigious Vegas-based SEMA show later that year.

Connecting with this stunning coupé in a way he’d never done so before with any other car, an amazing set of circumstances meant that just a couple of years later, Sam was lucky enough to become the proud owner of that very same Mazda. By this stage, it was nothing more than a rolling shell. So, the following 13 years were focused on revitalising the icon to ensure that it would one day be special enough to show off within SEMA’s capacious halls once again.

We’re pleased to report that Sam has stuck to his promise religiously, with the car not only attending SEMA recently, but bringing home a ‘Car of the Show’ award while it was there. And once you trawl through the insane amount of work that he’s put into this absolute stunner, you’ll soon realise why…

A front shot of a Rocket Bunny Mazda RX-7 FD

The co-founder of Florida-based fabrication company Gooichi Motors (alongside his partner, Sabrina), Sam’s natural talent that can be witnessed on countless satisfied customers’ builds was also applied to his very own RX-7 project, too.

“I wanted to develop a raw street car… something on the verge of insanity that would see everything being purpose-built with one aim in mind: to be driven hard on the road,” he recalls, explaining how virtually no part of the RX-7’s previous form was transferred over as he started the overhaul completely from scratch.

The most important aspect from the start was to make sure that, regardless of how pretty this ’90s icon ended up looking, it would always have an equally as impressive amount of drivability to back it up – a thoroughly no-holds-barred approach that the US tuning scene in particular has become famous for in the last few decades.

The side profile of a Rocket Bunny Mazda RX-7 FD

“It was pretty ratty when I picked it up; the bodywork sported four different colours and it had a completely gutted interior,” Sam continues, revealing that one of the first tasks on the list was to swap out that tired 13B Wankel engine in replacement of something a little meatier. “I picked up the LS motor that’s still in the car for $75! Back then, it was a basic standard unit that we simply added a small turbocharger onto. It’s developed a bit since…”

It might be a hugely popular (if a little controversial) swap for RX-7s these days, but back when he performed this GM-derived V8 conversion, Sam’s car was something of a revolution amongst tuning circles. And to make sure it’s remained at the bleeding edge of what’s physically possible with these cars, the upgrade process has been a constant evolution process ever since, now resulting in the mother of all power plants being on-hand under that long bonnet.

Beginning by forging and stroking the internals and offering up Dart LS3 cylinder heads – complete with Gooichi Motors’ bespoke valve and cam profiles – a monster 88mm Comp Turbo CT6 turbocharger now supplies the boost, along with twin Turbosmart wastegates. Running on E85 fuel and with a Devilsown methanol injection system also present, the immaculately executed job has already yielded some pretty savage results…

The engine bay of a Rocket Bunny Mazda RX-7 FD

“A few weeks ago we went on the dyno, where we reached 880whp on its break-in tune at 13psi,” says Sam casually as he drops this ballistic figure into our conversation. “We’re planning on pushing it to 25psi, so it should make 1200whp when turned up… completely unnecessary for street or track use, but this is America… What can I say?!”

Despite the monstrous performance capable from that V8, Sam has been keen to ensure his RX-7 has remained fully driveable throughout its transformation, as to him, this has always been far more of a fun street machine than a clinical show car trailer queen. It’s probably why you’ll find an incredibly sumptuous Spec-25 straight-cut manual gearbox attached to the engine now – a seriously satisfying cog-shifter that’s also more than up to the job of handling all that grunt (thankfully!).

With everything mounted up to the humble coupé in a completely unforgiving, solid fashion (with Sam utilising bespoke Gooichi Motors’ engine and transmission crossmembers), Sam’s Mazda was soon becoming something of a mythical beast within RX-7 communities, even if it was still sporting a slightly mismatched and ropey aesthetic at this stage. That, too, was set to change before long, though…

The rear of a Rocket Bunny Mazda RX-7 FD

“It was looking pretty rough but had a solid turbo motor and was originally just built to shred tyres in!” Sam grins. “But then we got the opportunity to show it off at SEMA on the AutoMeter stand, so it was time for a complete rebuild.” Because, in a satisfyingly full-circle twist of fate, Sam was eventually given the chance to live out the same journey with this car that had made him fall in love with it in the first place all those years ago. And it wasn’t an opportunity he was going to take lightly.

“I wanted to showcase Gooichi Motors’ levels of design and fabrication work by putting in the same level of detail as we do with all of our customer builds,” he explains, meaning it was likely there was going to be some seriously bespoke fabrication work performed to the RX-7 before too long to make it stand out from the crowd even more.

The result is one of the most brutally functional yet stunning examples of a Rocket Bunny Mazda RX-7 to ever grace this planet: now boasting that striking ‘Pistachio’ paint job and Lexan windows, as well as countless custom touches from the Gooichi team to fully ensure there would be no passers-by at the SEMA show that wouldn’t stop dead in their tracks upon first sight of it. These include those trick LED front and rear lights that both look like they’ve been completely blanked-out in a race car-style fashion at first glance.

To fill those new curves, some retro German-inspired Fifteen52 split rims now sit proudly under each corner, coming in at an insane 14in wide at the rear and ensuring some serious Nitto rubber is required to successfully wrap around them. With hefty Wilwood stoppers tucked away underneath, this is one machine that successfully strikes the perfect balance between looking equally as ready to hit a show or the race track.

With an interior that offers similar levels of OCD-fuelled clinical perfection as the rest of the build, it’s little wonder Sam walked away with a ‘Best in Show’ trophy after a week of breaking necks at the Vegas-based super-event. But now he’s stormed the show scene, he’s ready to once again begin using his Rocket Bunny Mazda RX-7 for what it was always intended for… “It’s getting torn down very soon for some new, functional aero to be applied, as we’re about to hit the track in a serious way!”

TECH SPEC: Rocket Bunny Mazda RX-7 FD

Full re-spray in custom ‘Pistachio’ green; Full Rocket Bunny wide-arch body kit (comprising front bumper with DRLs, rear bumper, wide arches with blended side skirts and ducktail-style rear spoiler); HotWater Labs fixed headlight covers with custom LED bar headlights; Gooichi Motors full digital LED tail lights; APR carbon fibre wing mirrors; carbon fibre sunroof cover; Aerocatch bonnet pins; Bubbletech Lexan door windows with sliding hatches.

6.7-litre ‘408 LQ9’ stroker GM LS1 V8 turbo engine conversion; fully forged rotating assembly; Dart LS3 cylinder heads; custom-spec Gooichi Motors valvetrain and camshaft design; Gooichi Motors turbocharger kit (comprising 88mm Comp CT6 turbo, Turbosmart blow-off valve/wastegates and Gooichi Motors titanium up-pipe); KRC CT525 accessories; Shaun’s Custom Alloy inlet manifold and billet valve covers; titanium downpipe and wastegate dumps; Ron Davis custom radiator; 2200cc Siemens Deka fuel injectors; custom catch can and methanol tank; Devilsown direct-port methanol injection system; Accusump oil system; Haltech EMS ECU and terminated harness; SmartEFI full MIL-spec wiring harness and Smartwire system; Braille B128L lithium-ion battery with Gooichi Motors billet battery tray; Spec-25 Muncie straight-cut four-speed manual gearbox; Exedy triple-disc carbon clutch; Gooichi Motors solid axle conversion; Strange centre section; Detroit 8.8 Locker LSD.

10.5x18in (front) and 14x18in (rear) Fifteen52 Bergmeister forged three-piece alloy wheels; Nitto NT01 tyres; Tikore titanium wheel nuts; Gooichi Motors engine and transmission crossmembers; TEIN Circuit Master Pro coilovers; Tanabe swaybars; Wilwood 365mm brake kit (front); Wilwood 223mm brake kit (rear); Wilwood pedal assembly; full ABS delete; stainless brake lines; line lock; Gooichi Motors custom brake reservoirs.

Fully stripped and colour-coded cabin; full Gooichi Motors colour-coded roll cage; Tecnocraft carbon fibre fixed-back bucket seats with Takata 6-point harnesses; MOMO Mod. 08 steering wheel; Gooichi Motors ‘Boss’ gear lever with Longacre gear knob; Bubbletech carbon fibre dashboard; Gooichi Motors switch panel and billet surround trim; Stack gauges; AutoMeter LCD display; carbon fibre door cards; carbon fibre boot cover; custom fuel cell; Lizard Skin ceramic and sound-deadening coatings on floor.

To my love, Sabrina – without her none of this would have been possible; my friends and family; my sponsors: AutoMeter; Comp Turbo; MOMO; Braille Battery; Fifteen52; SmartEFI; Turbosmart; BYC Designs; Devilsown; Ticon; Tecnocraft; Bubbletech; Shaun’s Custom Alloy and Nitto Tires.