Jeff Ritucci of Bellmawr, NJ, started getting into cars when he was in junior high. “I wanted a hooked-up car so I got a ’90 Honda CRX and started building,” he says. Starting off with that car turned the urge to modify into a full-blown disease, as he calls it, and it didn’t take long before he became bored with that car and wanted to start something different. The FD RX-7 is a timeless chassis whose body lines and rotary motor have developed a cultlike following over the years, so it comes as no surprise that Jeff was attracted to it and decided that it was his dream car. “I already had the disease from my Honda, and it was time for me to step my game up,” he says.
When people think of commonly stolen cars, Hondas come to mind. Hondas are some of the most stolen vehicles in the country every year, and I’m sure that Jeff worried about it a bit when he was driving his CRX, but he probably allowed that concern to trickle out of his mind when he picked up his first Mazda RX-7. Jeff found a red with black interior ’93 and picked it up with no hesitation. But somebody wanted it more than he did. “I had the car for only 22 days before it was stolen out of my driveway one night,” Jeff says. To add insult to injury, the vehicle was never recovered, so it wasn’t like he could even start the build over with his dream car. Jeff was forced to look for another vehicle that fit the description of what he wanted. “I searched high and low for another one, but could not find one like the one that had gotten stolen,” he says. So Jeff opened his mind to other less than ideal options.
I already had the disease from my Honda, and it was time for me to step my game up.
In the South Jersey area where Jeff resides, no mechanics wanted to touch the infamous Mazda rotary. Jim Phillips of JPR Imports wasn’t one of them. “He was the only one in the area who worked on the tricky rotary engine,” Jeff says. It was only natural that the two would become acquainted. Phillips happened to have an RX-7 that he was willing to sell Jeff, but this wasn’t just some random chassis—Jeff knew all about this car and its rough past, to put it lightly. Under normal circumstances he wouldn’t touch it with a stick, but he had grown desperate and decided to go for it, regardless of what it had been through.
The chassis that you see before you has one hell of a background. Jeff actually knows the majority of its history, and to make the car what it is now from what it was before is quite a feat. Jeff’s good friend Kevin bought the car “sometime in the late ’90s”, but only owned it for a couple of months before deciding to sell it to a younger guy named Bill. Well, Bill didn’t exactly get to enjoy the car for very long. “Bill had the car for only six hours and decided to take it to some club in Philly to show it off that night,” he says. “Well, Bill must have gone to the wrong club because when he came back outside the car had vanished. It was recovered two weeks later on the side of a street.” The vehicle was stripped of essentially every single part that could be unbolted. It had no dash, no seats, no carpet, and a steering wheel with a blown airbag. The engine and transmission were missing. The fenders, rear hatch, and even the doors were gone too. “The only parts of the car left were the chassis, rear quarter-panels, roof, and frame of the car. And a bunch of wires. That’s it.” At that point the car was towed to JPR Imports where Phillips bought the now salvaged vehicle from the insurance company and proceeded to take parts off of a totaled FD chassis he had on his lot and transfer and piece together the recovered vehicle. Eventually, the chassis resembled a car again. “The car was done, not the cleanest car ever, but it was driveable,” Jeff says. “A couple of different paintjobs and a couple of years went by, and that’s when I purchased the car from Jim.” And here is where the build actually began.
Jeff had his work cut out for him, and he wasted no time in getting to it. Well, he didn’t really have a choice. “I first replaced the motor because the other only lasted for two months,” he says. He then decided that driving around with a steering wheel that had a hole in it from a blown airbag wasn’t classy, so he picked up the MOMO Millennium to replace it. He then addressed the exterior, picking up a Veilside body kit and C-West carbon headlight conversion. With the aggressive aero in place, he directed his attention to what was underhood and made some changes, like having two turbos in parallel rather than the factory sequential designation. He made some other mods here and there and then took the car to some shows and started winning some trophies. The taste of victory and the sight of trophies in his house lit a fire under Jeff, and he decided to take his vehicle to the next level.
Between 2003 and 2004, Jeff poured his time and money into the car and had a vast array of modifications and custom work done to the car. Starting with the powerplant and related aspects, he went with a single turbo setup by Greddy. Fuel upgrades such as 1,600cc secondary injectors and custom rail were added, and drivetrain modifications such as the Kaaz LSD and a different final gear ratio were installed. The vehicle was then equipped with Tein HA coilovers to place it at the height that Jeff desired. He basically began to change over the entire car and go all out. The vehicle was delivered to Jason Barraka at Audio Originals in Bloomsburg, PA, to have extensive interior work done. Anything that was still tan in the interior was dyed black, and the rear half of the interior was fiberglassed and customized to house a TV monitor and various audio components from Polk/MOMO. The car was then taken to Custom Auto Repair in Glassboro, NJ, where he had the entire car, including select interior pieces stripped, prepped, and painted in the custom three-stage blend you see in these photos. He spent many months moving the vehicle back and forth between shops to get more motor, paint, body, and interior work done to his satisfaction. And all that you see before you cost him a pretty penny. Jeff estimates that he’s spent between $100,000 and $125,000 to get the car to be what it is today!
Jeff took a chassis that most people wouldn’t even look at—much less purchase—and used it to create his own personal masterpiece. It is quite clear that he has unique taste and is willing to do what needs to be done and spend whatever it takes to achieve his vision. Looking at what he created out of a chassis that was essentially scraps, it makes you wonder what he would do with a more complete platform. Well, it just so happens that he already has another build in the works. It isn’t a bare-bones, early ’90s, theft-recovery chassis. It just so happens that Jeff is building a ’08 Lexus IS-F. Yea . . . we want to see it when it’s done too. We’re waiting, Jeff.