In terms of cars, Jay Leno has seen it all. The former Tonight Show host owns nearly 300 vehicles in total, ranging from ultra-rare classics to custom jobs like his 27-liter 1930s Bentley, so it takes a truly special ride to give the comedian pause.
On a recent trip to the Peterson Car Museum in Los Angeles, Leno saw exactly that — a subtly modified Mazda RX-3 with Lamborghini paint and a headlight delete air intake. Often called the Savanna, the rotary-powered coupe was the successor to the revered RX-7, but there was something special about this one. So he waited.
The owner of the car turned out to be professional MMA fighter and coach Savant Young, who has thoroughly revamped the 1973 vehicle into something altogether unique. Underneath the understated, classy exterior lies a heavily augmented version of the RX-7’s 13B rotary motor, which has been bridge-ported, methane-injected, and enhanced with 15 pounds of boost to produce something on the order of 400 horsepower. A rear end from a Toyota Hilux pickup transfers power to the back wheels, and disc brakes all around help bring the tiny import to a stop. For Young, the car’s appeal comes from its sleeper-esque disposition.
“As a kid growing up I just noticed this was the car that always sounded different, this was the car that a lot of guys were a little bit leery of lining up against,” said Young. “So I kind of had this attraction to it since it was a small car that went up against most of the V8s.”
Like Young does in the cage, the small RX-3 can definitely hold its own against the bigger boys. At around 2,100 pounds, the little Mazda is a rocket once the midrange boost kicks in, and as Leno exclaimed from the drivers seat, “Something you’ve built yourself, a lot of times really is more fun than driving some of the high-performance stuff. This car, when it hooks up, it feels dangerous. It’s a lot of fun.”