Some real horsepower puts a Precidia into the 14s
By Grant Yoxon

Sean Matthew's Mazda MX-3 Precidia GS-'R'
© 1999 Sean Matthews

At the risk of sounding like a dinosaur, I don’t normally think of front-wheel drive imports when I think about hot rods. Maybe it’s the era of my youth – the late sixties – that influences my thinking in this respect.

But in the 90s, the typical hot rod is no longer an American muscle car, but is more likely to be a tricked-out Honda Civic Si or Volkswagen Golf GTI GLX. These cars are plentiful, as are aftermarket performance enhancement parts. Typical modifications include free-flowing intake and exhaust systems, performance computer chips and racing suspensions.

Just as it was in my youth, the road to a faster car is fairly straight forward – make an existing engine perform better, or replace it with something bigger. The hotrodders maxim – there’s no replacement for displacement – is as true today as it was thirty years ago.

A case in point is the Mazda MX-3 Precidia.

Introduced in 1992, the MX-3 was offered with a choice of two engines – a 1.6 litre multi-valve four cylinder and a 1.8 litre V-6, the smallest V-6 ever produced. While the 1.8 V-6 was acknowledged to be a well-engineered motor, at 130 horsepower it was not as powerful as many four cylinder cars in its class. Zero – 100 km/h times were 8.5 seconds and a quarter-mile of 16.3 at 85.2 mph. The benchmark for sporty cars back then, the Nissan SE-R, ran a 0-100 km/h time of 7.6 seconds and a quarter-mile of 15.8 seconds at 88.3 mph.

So what was the MX-3 owner who wished to challenge the benchmark to do? The answer for 22 year old Ottawa resident Sean Matthews was an MX-3 GS-R.

Before you grab for your 1993 new car model guide, Mazda never made a GS-R. The ‘R’ model is what MX-3 enthusiasts imagine Mazda might have called the car if they had decided to build a 2.5 litre MX-3 instead of dropping the line completely at the end of the 1996 model year. The only way to get an ‘R’ model is to build it yourself.

Mr. Matthews had tried a variety of modifications to his 1.8, even adding a 75 hp nitrous oxide kit, but came to the conclusion that the only way to seriously increase the horsepower of his MX-3 would be to swap in the 2.5 litre motor such as is found in the Mazda MX-6 and 626.

However, the motor in his MX-3 is quite different from that found in North American Mazda products.

“What makes my engine unique is that the 2.5L engine I used is not the standard (164 – 170 hp) KL-03 2.5L found in the 93 and newer MX-6, Mazda 626 and Ford Probe GT. My engine is the KL-ZE, which is only available in Japan and Australia in the MX-6 and a luxury car called the MS-8 (similar to the Mazda 929 Millenia). The Japanese engine has a compression ratio of 10:1 instead of 9.2:1 like the normal KL-03. ”

Mr. Matthews provides a step by step account of the engine swap at his Web site,
Sean’s MX-3 GS-R Home Page. Visitors will also find complete details on other performance improvements to the car, including costs, and ‘how-to’ accounts of the many modifications he has performed.

Mr. Matthews is the first to admit he is not a mechanic. He is a 3rd year commerce student at Carleton University and part owner of a computer store, ACB Services Ltd. He credits friends Dan Leggitt at Bank Street Auto and Clive Vreeswick at Auto-mobile in Ottawa for their technical assistance, and Internet friends and fellow 2.5 L MX-3 owners Vaughn Nishimura and Luc St. Pierre for the inspiration.

“I found their web pages about a year and a bit ago, met them in person at a car show in Montreal and picked their brains for all they knew,” says Mr. Matthews. Vaughn and Luc were the pioneers of this swap and although they weren’t the first to do it, they let the world know it was possible.”

Mr. St. Pierre, an electrical engineer from Grand-Mere, Quebec replaced his 1.8 with a 2.5 from a 1997 Mazda 626 donor car. He provides complete details of the engine swap on his web site –
the MX-3 GSR Page.

St. Bruno, Quebec resident Vaughn Nishimura converted his 1993 MX-3 to Mazda 2.5 power in 1995. His web site provides details on all the modifications made to the car, plus technical information to help owners of four cylinder MX-3s.

Together, Mr. St. Pierre and Mr. Nishimura have compiled a comprehensive technical resource for the Mazda MX-3. Both sites are inter-linked, with some articles appearing on one site indexed on the other. While Mr. St. Pierre’s MX-3 GSR Page has more technical content, much of it has was authored by Mr. Nishimura.

“Vaughn is the only reason I even thought about this swap,” says Mr. Matthews. “He even came down from Montreal on a Saturday to help me out with the swap.”

The engine swap has made a tremendous difference to the nimble, but docile MX-3.

“It currently runs a 0-60 (mph) in 6.1 seconds and a 1/4 mile of 14.1 @ 103 mph. That’s with stock sized tires and a few quirks to be worked out with the air flow meter and the computer chip tuning,” says Mr. Matthews. “I expect the car to run mid-high 13s with the current drivetrain once I get the suspension and traction problems worked on.”

These are times more often recorded by high-performance V-8 street cars, but increasingly being attained by new generation hotrodders who recognize the performance potential of the front wheel driver imports.

For Mr. Matthews, breaking into the 13 second quarter mile bracket is not the end of his quest for speed.

“I have a computer controlled 75hp single fogger wet nitrous shot ready to be installed (hopefully before fall). I also have a Garrett T3 Turbocharger (next winter’s project). With the turbo and nitrous it should be near the 300hp mark and into the mid-high 12s.”

Not everyone is going to take the drastic step of an engine swap to hop up the performance of their Mazda MX-3 Precidia. Whether the intention is performance improvement or simple maintenance, a ‘must stop’ on the Web is Toronto resident Jeff Aycan’s Mazda MX-3 Precidia Page. Mr. Aycan’s detailed pages of MX-3 information, including links to enthusiasts, clubs, aftermarket parts suppliers, historical information and background articles is a useful resource for Mazda MX-3 Precidia owners.

Also see: Steve Istvan’s MX-3 page.

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