This article on Ian's Morris van was originally published in the November 2018 issue of Street Machine
AMONGST a sea of European supercars, high-revving Jap sports cars, and Aussie and US muscle at Motul Racewars sat the bright blue ’53 Morris panel van of Ian Latta. Talk about standing out like the proverbial dog’s balls!
Watch the video: Ian's Rotary-powered Morris van
It had some widened steel wheels and an exhaust that exited just in front of the rear wheel, but that’s about the only hint you got that something special might be hiding under the bonnet. At a guess, I would have said a hot Holden six, maybe even a V6, or possibly an SR20 or some kind of turbocharged four-cylinder. Well, it was Japanese and it was turbocharged, but I would never have thought of a rotary!
“My first car was a ’53 Morris van and I always wanted another one – you always go back to what you had – but it had to be quicker this time,” Ian said. “I’ve never owned a Mazda before, but when I was about 20 I heard a bridge-ported 13B go past and loved the sound.”
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To make his dreams come true, Ian chose a 13B-REW mill out of a Series 6 RX-7, keeping the Mazda five-speed ’box and mating it to a HiLux diff with 4.5:1 gears. I saw it race a couple of times and was pretty impressed with how well it went; not surprising considering the 350hp at the tyres and a kerb weight of around 800kg. If you do the maths, it would be similar to having a Commodore or Falcon with 700hp at the tyres, but in something with a much shorter wheelbase and the aerodynamics of a wheelie bin.
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The engine work was handled by Rotomotion, including all of the polishing and prettying-up. From the factory these engines ran a twin-turbo set-up, but that would never have worked in the tight confines of the Morris’s engine bay, so a Garrett GTX35 got the nod instead. The engine is running 850cc primary injectors and 1200cc secondaries, and it’s all controlled by a MicroTech LT-10 ECU. By today’s standards, it’s a pretty mild build for a turbo rotary, but you have to remember how little it has to push along.
Ian’s planning on taking it to the track soon, so while he doesn’t have any timeslips yet, you’d have to think it would be good for a mid-12, maybe even an 11-second quarter – if he can get it to hook up and get through the gears happily. One change Ian has made since we last saw him is a new set of brakes: “It had disc brakes before, but they were off a Morris Marina, so I got a set of big vented discs out of the UK. It was meant to be a bolt-on fit, but you know how that goes.”
There are also a few custom touches on the body; some subtle, and some not so subtle. Flares have been added to the front and rear guards to allow the fitment of widened 14-inch steel rims, which wear 245/50 Bridgestone Eagers on the rear. That might not sound too fat by modern standards, but it’s about twice as wide as what was on there originally. There’s also a flip-front utilising the original sheet metal, moulded into a one-piece unit. As that would mean everything was on show once the front was flipped, the underside has been finished off as nicely as the topside. Inside is a mix of old and new, with RX-7 seats and an XU-1 dash to keep an eye on things.
Most of the work on the car was completed in Ian’s shed over a period of about seven years, and the hard effort has paid off with several trophies, including Top Wagon/ Van at the WA Hot Rod & Street Machine Spectacular. With its short wheelbase and peaky power, as the plates say, it’s just a fun way to get from A to B.
1953 MORRIS VAN
Type: Mazda 13B-REW
Turbo: Garrett GTX35
ECU: MicroTech LT-10
Radiator: Koyorad aluminium
Box: Mazda five-speed
Diff: HiLux, 4.5:1 gears
Front end: Stock
Brakes: Vented discs (f), drums (r)
Rims: 14in steelies
Rubber: 175/75/14 (f), 245/50/14 (r)