This wild RX-3 is another crazy feather in Mike Westwood’s Canadian cap
The world of racing is filled with a cast of characters and it’s always those tough-as-nails types who leave an impression. Think of Matt Damon’s portrayal of Carroll Shelby in 2019’s Ford v Ferrari. That particular rendition of the story overlooked much of Shelby’s trials and tribulations, both personal and professional, but no one can say that the creator of the Cobra wasn’t as tough as they come.
I learned about Mike Westwood from my old pal and racer’s racer Russ Bond and it turns out that Westwood’s beaten more challenges than Shelby could have imagined. Whether it’s getting wrecked on a motocross bike or in race cars, putting himself directly in harm’s way in mixed martial arts, or overcoming health trials, he’s proven he can endure anything.
Generally, Bond will ring me up with one crazy idea followed by another, whether it’s an invitation to drive one of his Lexus ice racers or to get my thoughts on a car purchase. I think everything to do with cars is brilliant, so I don’t know if he’s calling me for my point of view or simply for validation of his latest scheme.
A few moons ago, Bond decided that his real Mazda RX-3 was becoming too rare to race—we all know what happens to race cars—so he decided to build something a little less precious and perhaps a little quicker.
“The RX-3’s getting more and more expensive and it’s becoming more of a challenge that if you smash it, it becomes an expensive car to smash up,” he recalls. “So I said, ‘Hey, I got an idea, why don’t I build another one?’ If I smash it, it won’t matter, so that’s a good idea. After another beer, that looked like a great idea.”
Bond can fabricate just about anything, but he had some specific criteria in mind. It had to look like a Mazda and it had to look like a proper race car—and it had to drive like a proper race car, too.
There was only one place for Bond’s project: Mike Westwood’s shop outside the small town of Rockwood, Ontario. They had met years before when Bond was invited to drive a Hurricane Midget on which Westwood had wrenched. After he built dozens of race cars and won his share of races, the on-track performance of Westwood’s creation solidified his reputation in motorsport circles; but it was Westwood’s hot rods that captured Bond’s imagination.
Every one of Westwood’s street builds has that secret sauce, but it was his recent “Nasty 38” project, a 1938 Ford pickup hot rod with patina for the ages, that confirmed Bond’s decision. “He’s got as good an eye as he has skills. To put it in context, if you have a photographer and they’ve got a seventy-thousand-dollar lens and the composition of the photo is not quite right, but then you’ve got a photographer who could work with an Instamatic and his photos are always right because he’s got the eye for it. That’s Mike,” Bond says.
“The idea was to give it to him and let [Westwood] run with it. Now, I’m good at micromanaging people, but I want him to do it well, so I gave the project to him,” Bond says. “We had a very good heart-to-heart discussion and originally he was just going to put the body on it, but then I told Mike, ‘I want this to be your car, too, but I don’t want to get to the same price of a Lamborghini.”
With that direction and a modest budget, Bond’s latest race car was born. “Fahren” is a rotary-powered, tubeframe, Mazda RX-3 race car with custom-fabricated bodywork. While it’s recognizable as a Mazda, nearly every panel had to be reshaped or re-formed for the original bodywork to fit the chassis.
“Russ found this Mazda RX-3 body,” Westwood says, “And it was kind of tacked together to hold it as a shell. Russ is like, ‘Is there enough there?’ I said, ‘I don’t need a whole lot, I just need some of it.’ He bought the body and then I went to work on it.”
“The body’s all steel and it’s all hand-formed, all on the English wheel. The door panels look like factory door panels, but I made the doors on the slip roller in the English wheel,” Westwood says. After a year, Bond is still reluctant to paint the Mazda, but it’s no surprise that it looks correct and balanced. Westwood knows both his tools and his trade well.
Westwood’s father Larry started racing before his son was born, and the younger Westwood has raced everything from karts to motocross to nearly everything you can race on an oval, but it doesn’t matter what he’s doing, he’s in it to win it—no matter the cost.
He honed his competitive skills both on and off the track, investing serious time in tae kwon do after accompanying a girlfriend to a class. The instructors recognized his natural fighting ability, and encouraged him to pursue tournaments. Before he knew it, Westwood was training for MMA, competing—and winning.
“I’m doing good. UFC is just starting. Then, I’m fighting this guy and he was about five-foot-five and three hundred pounds, so he’s a pretty big guy, but he’s fast and he used to do these wicked spinning heel kicks.
“To do a spinning heel kick, you have to set up for it, so as an opponent, you can usually tell when it’s coming. Usually, you can get out of the way, but I was feeling cocky this night.”
Westwood saw his rival shift stances. He planned to step under, catch his opponent’s leg, and lay in a punch—“and I go to step in and his foot comes around and it caught the tops of my fingers and bent my fingers back. Then his foot comes off and his heel hits me in the side of the nose.” The contact shattered Westwood’s nose. A few hospital visits and surgeries later, however, he was back together, though with some additional plastic around the bridge of his nose.
While you don’t see it often on television, fighting is occasionally a part of racing—unsanctioned, of course—and it was inevitable that other drivers would find themselves upset with Westwood and decide to communicate that message with their fists. His father learned to sow seeds of caution among the paddock before tempers rose: “You had better think twice before you start a fight with Mike.”
Westwood has recovered from serious injuries in racing cars and on arenacross bikes, but perhaps his biggest personal victory is beating cancer. “There’s not much that can kill me.”
That’s a good thing, because he’s got a long list of waiting clients and in-progress projects to finish. Nasty 38, that hot rod pickup project, was done for a client and Westwood was able to present it to the customer on his birthday. The truck reflects Westwood’s racing sensibilities, his eye for balanced design, and his top-notch fabrication work.
Coming from the stock-car world, sports cars are an entirely different breed of automobile; but when you have the eye of a fabricator, any vehicle is workable material. The racing community is a small one and when word of a good fabricator gets around, even Canadian sports car racers have beaten a path to Westwood’s door.
“Do you know what a Lotus Cortina is?” Westwood asks me. I smile, of course, and Westwood tells me about a client who had one and wanted to shave a little weight by installing aluminum door skins, bonnet, and boot. The client brought in a pre-fabricated panel kit from England but, as things often go with projects like these, none of the panels fit. After Westwood was done with them, they looked factory perfect.
In Westwood’s shop now sits an Allard that needs a little fabrication work, along with a couple of pickup trucks. The blue Model A project—which rides on a Datsun truck chassis—is another client project, and the rusted cab pickup is a personal one. Originally put into service as a fire truck for the city of Weyburn, Saskatchewan, it’s now receiving the full Westwood treatment.
Because this International Harvester was manufactured in Hamilton, Ontario, it’s been dubbed The Hamilton Hauler. The cab is a bit of a mishmash—the fenders don’t match the cab—but everything is in service of a cohesive aesthetic. Everything from the chassis to the cab is receiving some form of custom fabrication or another and when complete, his wife has promised to drive this truck to work.
Looking back after my visit to his shop, Westwood left an indelible impression. He’s a fabricator with an eye for aesthetics, a mechanic who knows how to build race cars, and a racer who knows how to drive them. Westwood’s a modern-day automotive renaissance man.