Lito Pejoro’s Japan-spec, first-generation RX-7 is a racer with roots

While the first-generation RX-7 is instantly recognizable to most enthusiasts of both Mazdas and iconic sports cars, some in the United States might get thrown by the “Savanna” badging on Lito Pejoro’s 1978 model. The confusion comes from the fact that the Savanna name was never introduced to America; we got the same great car, but the Japanese got to keep the cool name.

The first Savannas were known in non-Japanese markets as the Mazda RX-3, a venerated rotary powered, front engine, rear wheel-drive sports car of the 1970s that boasts an impressive racing history and still has scores of fans today. In 1978, the so-called “FB” (in chassis speak), front mid-engine RX-7 was born, and carried the torch for fans of the Wankel engine across the globe. It also proudly carried on the Savanna name – but again, only in Japan.

Pejoro’s Savanna is the real deal, from the right-hand drive to the original fender mirrors, but no longer does it roam the streets of Japan. The bright lights of Las Vegas now glow on this coupe, which seems to have found new life as a race car-inspired weekend toy.

In the engine compartment, Pejoro dropped in a 13B motor to replace the 12A that came from the factory. Prior to installation, the rotary was given a bridge port, a process that adds an additional "eyebrow" opening alongside the original modified port for improved airflow into the engine.

Greater induction is only one element of three needed for creating more power, though, so Pejoro next addressed the fuel required to maximize the engine’s bridge porting, choosing a 48mm Weber DCOE Series carburetor. The line is one of Weber’s best, boasting infinite tunability via interchangeable calibrated parts to suit any engine and application, from full- race use on down.

With air and fuel taken care of, Pejoro next turned to MSD for a little help with the spark; he went with the company’s 6A Ignition Control for maximum multi-spark discharge. Post combustion, gasses exit through a set of Racing Beat headers and ultimately a Racing Beat exhaust system.

Power is sent through the sport car’s five-speed gearbox to the rear end from a 1983 RX-7 GSL. The GSL package provided an optional clutch-type limited-slip differential, and Pejoro further upgraded the drive train with a 4.88:1 final drive, substantially shorter than the stock 3.909:1 version.

The ’83 RX-7 GSL also featured disc brakes all the way around, and Pejoro got the rears with the rear-end swap to replace the stock drum aft binders on his ’78. Further modification to the chassis came in the forms of a KONI adjustable suspension and an Autopower race rollover bar.

Pejoro went minimalist with the Savanna’s exterior, not wanting to draw away from the car’s inherent uniqueness. Beyond a re-spraying of the OEM Mach Green color, the Panasport rims are pretty much the only outer adornment the coupe flosses.

The same tack was taken in the spare cabin, where little more than Simpson harnesses draped over 1970’s-appropriate Recaro N-Joy seats are featured. Pejoro takes pride in saying the car still has its original back seats; unfortunately, not every part has survived the last 30-plus years in pristine shape, which is why the owner had to source a brand new right hand-drive dashboard from Australia.

Pejoro’s brilliant Savanna RX-7 has turned out to be great fun, currently set up for autocross but having seen action on raceways at Laguna Seca, Palmdale, Irwindale, Buttonwillow, and Willow Springs.

The Mazda has also become a fitting tribute to Pejoro’s son, Francis, for whom Pejoro built the coupe; in September of 2009, Lito tragically lost his son, and vowed to build this Savanna in his honor. We think Francis would be proud.

For helping make his Savanna RX-7 a reality, Pejoro would like to especially thank Carlos Rodriguez for the motor, Chito Soloman, Raymond Gonzaga, Warren Trinidad, Alan, Rommel, Rodel, Oliver, Orly, and Armand Aquino Nuncio Autobody Las Vegas.

Lito Pejoro’s 1978 Mazda Savanna RX-7

13B engine w/bridge port
Weber 48mm DCOE series carburetor
MSD 6A ignition control
Racing Beat headers and exhaust system
1983 RX-7 GSL rear end with limited-slip differential
4.88:1 final drive

KONI adjustable suspension
Autopower race roll bar

1983 RX-7 GSL rear disc brakes


Painted in original Mach Green

Recaro N-Joy seats
Simpson harnesses

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