December 6, 2021

Alice-in-chains

Automotive forever

Mazda RX-8 Gets Honda Power Courtesy of Keep Gunnin’

This Honda K20-powered Mazda RX-8 (known as “RX-K”) adorned in Senna-inspired livery is the epitome of the Keep Gunnin’ movement. Conceived and carried out in rather cramped quarters (just 500 square feet), the RX-K is just another build on an ever-growing resume of impossible to ignore project cars from Aki and Trappy (the modern-day Bash Bros., as they’ve become known).

The Realest

Based in Yonkers, New York, the Keep Gunnin’ garage, which features a lift, a few toolboxes, a stash of new and used parts of unknown quantities, and just two employees, isn’t open to the public and doesn’t offer mechanical services or parts sales. Instead, it’s used as a home base of sorts, which this duo use to document their builds on the brand’s YouTube channel. Their videos are a vlog-style depiction of the good, the bad, and the sometimes ugly that comes along with real-world car building.

Look down the channel’s list of previous builds and you’ll spot a pattern: all are Honda chassis in various states of tune. This, of course, had everyone asking, “what’s with the Mazda?” Aki noted.

“We just wanted to do something different. Still, Honda powered, but something that wasn’t whored out. There were some K-swaps done on the RX-8 before, but none that were turbo as far as we knew—that was Trappy’s idea.”

Cross-Platform Compatibility

One of the biggest issues with mating Honda’s venerable 2.0-liter I-4 within the RX-8’s engine bay is the proximity with which it sits to the Mazda sports car’s firewall. Getting the engine to sit between the shock towers is one thing but keeping components accessible for future maintenance is another entirely. A portion of the engine bay side of the firewall was carefully cut to create an access panel of sorts, which can be unbolted to remove or change the likes of the valve cover and spark plugs. Additionally, the engine and subframe can all be removed in one fell swoop once the harness is disconnected, the axles are unfastened, and a few other pieces are released. This ought to make future removal and reinstallation that much easier.

Aki explained that Collins Performance Technologies’ adapter kit was key to making everything work. The group’s engine mounts were used, as was its K-to-RX-8 transmission adapter. A custom billet flywheel, also sourced from Collins, allows the melting pot of components to play nice with one another. What should have proven the most frustrating part of this conversion was actually very simple, according to Aki.

“Collins made it easy, everything fit really well. Honestly, the most difficult part of all of this was the wiring. Integrating the complex CAN-BUS system with the K setup was pretty tough. ” An Action Iron Man clutch was brought in to help harness the expected increase in power. About that …

Built and Boosted

The RX-K’s K20 bottom end, built by 4Piston Racing, uses Wiseco 86.5 mm pistons backed by Saenz rods, surrounded by CSS block reinforcement. The effort put into the block was intended to support what’s going on with the top end, most notably the Black Market Fab turbo manifold that hangs a Precision 6262. On the driver’s side of the bay, you’ll spot a K-Miata intake manifold and Skunk2 S2000 throttle body and in between, Ferrea valve springs and retainers that back up original-equipment JDM cams. As with his past projects, Aki relied on Jamie Marsh and his tuning skills to extract a solid power number from the Honda engine—but not at the price of reliability. Despite this restraint, the setup still managed to produce a healthy 572 hp and 409 lb-ft of torque at the wheels.

The engine bay also looks the part of a powerhouse courtesy of meticulously crafted intercooler piping and a slick turbo intake, both of which were scratch-built by Josue Pillot (@spoon860). He also came up with the mounting system for the Speedfactory Racing intercooler and radiator combo. Pillot’s handiwork made its way under the car, too, where he fashioned a customed downpipe and exhaust pipes, the latter of which includes two outlets that sprout through the car’s rear bumper openings. Additional touches such as the one-off TracTuff filler neck and overflow tank, Stash Auto custom brake tuck kit, hidden engine wiring harness, and general obsessive organization are indicative of a long-time Honda builder.

Bar Flies

Being that this is the first Mazda that Aki and Trappy have ever worked on, the two were in for a surprise when it came time to update the car’s suspension. Most Honda applications get the usual coilovers, lower control arms, and camber kit treatment. The RX-8’s rear suspension, however, proved a vehicular jungle gym. Megan Racing’s full array of replacement bars that include rear traction rods, trailing arms, toe control arms, lateral arms, and more were added to the RX-K, as were Hotchkis Sport sway bars (added before the car was properly aligned at Ivans Alignments).

To take advantage of the Mazda’s newfound handling, 18×8.5-inch front and 18×9.5-inch rear Konig Countergram Flow Formed wheels were fit, which were then wrapped in Toyo Proxes R888R rubber. The matte-black wheel centers, surrounded by a silver machined lip and aggressive Toyo sidewalls, make for a perfect combination that goes right along with the car’s exterior style newfound power. That complex, multi-layer vinyl wrap, expertly laid out and installed by Selfmade Autowerks, gives the lean RX-8’s body a different feel entirely.

“We were in Texas when we broke the record for the fastest 99-mm All Motor car in the world,” Aki added. “We caught the Senna documentary on Netflix that night and it just stuck with me … I had to pay tribute.”

As with the Kobe Bryant tribute Civic before it, the Keep Gunnin’ duo built the RX-K with the intention of handing the keys over to one of their followers. While there are many vehicle raffles and giveaways advertised throughout Instagram and YouTube, few go to the lengths Aki and Trappy do to introduce the winner to their new car.

“Doesn’t matter where the winner lives, we hit the open the road and deliver the car in person. We like to meet them, get the gunners reaction,” Aki shared. “After months of building a car in that little garage, it just feels good to get away for a little bit—almost like a vacation for us.”

Play to Win

If you don’t end up winning the RX-K, then don’t worry: the four runner-up prizes are certainly worth the price of admission. Fifth place is given $500 cash, fourth-place receives a set of Toyo Proxes R888 courtesy of Elite Garage, and third-place takes their pick of any set of Konig wheels. This brings us to the runner-up prize, which is surprisingly enough, an EM1 Honda Civic. The car is a quick-turnaround project that sports a matte black vinyl wrap, Sparco wheels, suspension modifications, and more. The car still retains its original B16 engine, too, so it would make for the ideal daily driver or the start of a new project.

Since Aki and Trappy will be delivering the RX-K in person, the team won’t be able to do the same when it comes time to deliver the EM1 to its news owner. Instead, it’ll be shipped, but don’t worry, Aki will take care of the delivery bill no matter where you live. You have until this Friday, July 30th at 6:00 pm EST to enter, with the winners picked and announced live on the Keep Gunnin’ YouTube channel on August 14. Good luck!

Photos courtesy of Leonel Duran

Engine: K20A3 swap; Collins Adapters engine mounts; 4Piston Racing assembled CSS block; Wiseco 86.5-mm pistons; Saenz rods; Type-S oil pump conversion; OEM JDM cams; Ferrea valve springs, retainer; Skunk2 head studs; Black Market Fab custom-built top-mount turbo manifold; Precision 6262 turbo; Turbosmart 45-mm wastegate, blow-off valve; K-Miata intake manifold; Skunk2 S2000 throttle body, fuel rail; LS1 RX8 dual fuel pump hanger w/billet top hat, dual 450-lph fuel pumps; custom AN fuel lines front to back; Aeromotive fuel pressure regulator; Speedfactory intercooler, radiator; Spal radiator fans; Elite Paint & Performance custom-fabricated intercooler piping, intake, bumper inlet, intercooler mounts, carbon-fiber radiator panel, downpipe, exhaust system; TracTuff custom water neck, overflow tank; AEM Electronics EMS V2; Hondata 4 Bar MAP sensor

Drivetrain: RX-8 transmission; Collins Adapters transmission adapter and flywheel; Action Clutch Iron Man clutch

Suspension: Rev9 Hyper Street 2 coilovers; Hotchkis Sport sway bars; Megan Racing rear traction rods, trailing arms, toe control arms, lateral arms, front control arms

Wheels and Tires: Konig Countergram, 18×8.5 +35 front, 18×9.5 +35 rear; Toyo Proxes R888R 245/40 front, 275/35 rear

Exterior: M1 Speed aero kit; APR carbon-fiber wing; Senna-inspired vinyl wrap by Selfmade Autowerks

Interior: Sparco deep-dish steering wheel; AEM Electronics CD5 digital dash; custom carbon-fiber dash bezel