Coming Full Circle: The Return Of Mad Mike’s FURSTY


Mad Mike Whiddett’s car-building and tyre-burning exploits need no introduction, especially in this little corner of the internet. What you might not know, is where it all started. For that, we need to step back to 2004.

At this point, Mike had already been playing around with Mazda rotary engines for over a decade – well before he could even obtain a driver’s licence in New Zealand – all the while living up to the ‘Mad’ moniker bestowed upon him in freestyle motocross. Mike and his friends were regularly rotary re-powering cars, which while often somewhat rough in execution were more than effective for their intended purpose: swinging doughnuts in industrial areas late at night.

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The recipe was simple: the cheapest rear-wheel drive car he could get his hands on; a bridge-ported (minimum) rotary engine swap; a locked diff; chopped and blocked springs; 13-inch chrome Modular (Modgie) steel wheels; rattle can paint jobs (camo a favourite); mirror tints; and Mike’s now-iconic ‘Rotang Klan’ graffiti insignia.

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When Mike wasn’t getting up to no good on the streets, he was entering every local burnout competition he could, which eventually led to the creation of his ultimate skid machine – a 1976 Mazda 808 station wagon, better known by its personalised/vanity licence plate, FURSTY.

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The 808, which was sold as the Grand Familia in Japan, was the four-cylinder version of the rotary Savanna RX-3. While RX-3s and 808s in coupe and sedan form were sold new in New Zealand in the ’70s, the only wagon on offer was the piston-powered 808.

That made them ripe for a rotary engine conversion and, like FURSTY, a genuine RX-3 front-end facelift.

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In its final and most famous original form, FURSTY was powered by an Alec Bell-built, naturally-aspirated 13B peripheral-ported engine with a Weber IDA carburettor and K&N air filter poking out of the hood. It was loud, powerful, and definitely got the job done, taking Mike to numerous New Zealand burnout competition wins.

If there’s one win that stands out above all others though, it’s Skidfest 2004. If anyone in the local modified car scene didn’t know of Mad Mike before that event, they certainly did afterwards. Thankfully, the in-car video footage still exists, and you can check it out by hitting the play button above.

The following year, and on the back of his burnout competition exploits, Mike entered the drifting world with an FD3S Mazda RX-7 that would later be known as MADBUL, and the rest is history.

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Although sponsorships came quickly, the cost of competing meant credit cards were maxed out, and anything that could be sold to fund Mike’s drifting dream was. That included his blue 808 wagon. While Mike has probably lost count of the cars he has built since selling the wagon in 2005, the idea of creating another never escaped his mind.

The blue 808 changed hands multiple times after Mike sold it, and although he once had an opportunity to purchase it back for next to nothing as a rolling body resprayed white, the timing wasn’t right then. But last year, on the back of an idea to contest Japan’s 2024 D1 Grand Prix International Drift Championship in something old school, it most definitely was.

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Thankfully, the then-current owner of the 808, who had restored the wagon to its 2004 look, was willing to part ways with it so the next chapter in its Mad Mike history could be written, albeit 20 years after the last. With the 2024 Tokyo Auto Salon deadline to meet, there was zero time to waste.

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Stripped down, FURSTY was wheeled 100 metres from the MADLAB to IMR Fabrication, where Ryan Johnson spent two solid weeks working on it, first 3D-scanning and mapping the Mazda for a custom Rocket Bunny body kit, and then completing all the custom chassis work. That included c-notching the rear for an effective 150mm (6-inch) body drop, fabricating a new transmission tunnel, and mounting a complete first-gen Mazda MX-5/Miata IRS setup. The latter was a crucial upgrade that has provided the 808 with a modern and completely adjustable independent rear suspension – featuring KW/ST short-stroke coilover shock absorbers and Destroy Or Die drop knuckles – with perfect geometry at the wagon’s super-low ride height.

After fitting a Radium Engineering fuel cell, surge tanks and pumps, a Bulldog XR-420i quick-change differential and axles from The Driveshaft Shop, Mike’s final act on Kiwi soil was cutting the rear quarters and trimming the back doors to accommodate the increased track and much wider wheel and tyre combination. We’re talking an extra 180mm added to the 808’s width on each side.

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Two and a half weeks later, FURSTY arrived in Japan, allowing Taisuke Kawato and his team at Total Car Produce Magic in Kobe to jump headfirst into the build. After an FIA-spec roll cage was constructed and the engine bay was prepped for its new heart, Kei Miura was on site to fit the Katayama Racing-inspired Rocket Bunny overfenders, front chin spoiler and an upswept aluminium rear wing.

The front suspension and steering were also addressed, with Jay Duca from Low Standards in Australia coming through with a modified RX-3 cross-member, before a Toyota AE86 steering rack, Techno Toy Tuning (T3) and Car Factory Ai arms, T3 tie rods and knuckles were added into the mix. Wilwood brakes feature front and rear, as do custom Rotiform 15-inch wheels – 10 inches wide at the rear – wrapped in Toyo Proxes R888R rubber.

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Compared to the tyres used by other D1GP teams, those on FURSTY are tiny, but there are no deficiencies in the power-to-weight stakes. The compact 808 is very light, and the custom TCP Magic 26B four-rotor engine produces around 700whp with nitrous oxide and 600whp off the gas. All that power gets to the rear end via an HGT 6-speed sequential gearbox.

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With EFI Hardware quad throttle body fuel injection and Haltech engine management (now Nexus R5), this is essentially the same 26B setup that was used in the TCP-built JAPBUL RX-7… with giggle gas on top.

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Inside, Mike has retained some nods to the past with his original aluminium dashboard and gauges – including a 5-inch AutoMeter Auto Gage ‘Monster’ tachometer – while embracing the present with a Bride seat, Tonnka pedal box, ASD hydraulic handbrake, Haltech CAN keypad, and a Haltech digital display mounted on a Woodward steering column ahead of his own signature series NRG wheel.

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When Toby visited TCP Magic to shoot FURSTY, Kawato-san was putting the finishing touches to the wagon ahead of its very first D1GP drift competition outing – rounds 1 and 2 of the 2024 championship, which were held back-to-back at Okuibuki Motor Park in Shiga Prefecture. Unfortunately for Mike and his Toyo Tires x Red Bull TCP Magic team, even a solid 90.08 scoreline in Round 1 qualifying wasn’t enough to make it into the battles, while wet conditions in Round 2 qualifying tested the limits of the fresh setup. But with crucial data to draw from and plenty of promise in the chassis, it will be cool to see how far Mike and Kawato-san can go with it.

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Not that anyone is under any illusion about its championship-winning potential; that’s not why FURSTY has returned. It’s about Mad Mike coming full circle with the now near-50-year-old Mazda station wagon that helped jump-start his drifting career two decades ago, and keeping the tradition of ‘putting on a show’ going in his OG skid car. What’s not to love about that?

Brad Lord
brad@speedhunters.com

Photography by Toby Thyer
Instagram _tobinsta_
tobythyer.co.uk





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