Unmarked Vol III

Sydney’s indoor car show. Showcasing some of the best rides at the Venue, Alexandria.

HNCR 7th Skyline Day

Heritage Nissan Canberra Region celebrates R31 day in July. With a Hillclimb venue this is a must go event for car enthusiasts in Canberra.

Canberra 86 day

Celebrate Canberra 86 day with us at the Rivett shops in the morning. Then a cruise and photoshoot to follow. All car makes welcome.

Beat the Blue 2024

99 members of the public will test their driving skill against officers from the NSW Police Force, Traffic and Highway Patrol Command.

MazdACT Stories – Tom Walter’s 1999 Mazda NB MX5

Warning – this story contains themes that may be triggering to some readers, caution is advised. 

It’s early April and Autumn has begun in the nation’s capital. Fonz Campa’s MPS 6 story has just been published when the team receives a message from local MazdACT MX5 member, Tom Walter.  

“Hey Justin. If you’re looking for more content, I have a story you might find interesting. It’s a fixer upper. A journey of vehicle obsession, from hail damaged write off to gleaming machine and the mental health reasons that drove it.” 

This is the first time MazdACT has been approached for a story by an owner. What begins as a tale of car ownership and passion soon reveals a story of discovery, tragedy and parental love all within the orbit of Tom’s 1999 Mazda NB MX5. 

Tom hasn’t always been a Canberran. Originating from the rugged countryside of Tasmania, his father was a keen motorcyclist and, while this would occupy his own youth riding dirt bikes on farm tracks, Tassie’s chilly climate and an uncompromising mother put paid to further two-wheeled adventures. 

We learn that several interesting cars have graced Tom’s driveway – a canvas topped 1988 Holden Drover (rebadged Suzuki Sierra), a targa top 1979 Fiat X1.9 Bertone, a 2003 Mazda SP20 and a V8 VZ Holden Calais.

It was the Calais, however, that turned Tom back towards Mazda. While enthusiasts across Australia identify with the ubiquitous Holden and Tom loved it for what it was, it was ‘what it wasn’t’ that left him searching. Something light, nimble, manual and more akin to his first love – motorbikes. Something born far from Australian shores in the factories of Mazda, Japan. 

“I loved the Calais for its power, refinement and versatility. But on a backroad you couldn’t get away from its weight, auto box and family sedan underpinnings. I’d find myself rowing it through ‘1 2 3 D’ just to hear the engine and realized I needed the opposite. Something light, chuck’able, a manual, a point of difference from the mundane, but like the Calais – something I could work on myself” 

In a very Australian manner, after several missed opportunities it was an MX5 Gumtree ad in early 2019 that caught his wife’s eye. Located in Sydney, it was advertised for $5000 when everything else was closer to double and he jumped at it with an inspection.

“I’m a sucker for a fixer upper. I’ve realised that’s why I like older cars. They’re often more straightforward, and as a hobbyist mechanic with more ambition than talent I can be brave and have a crack at things where I wouldn’t dare on a modern vehicle. When people find out how much work I’ve put into the car, they often ask ‘why didn’t you just buy a new car?’ Well; that’d be boring wouldn’t it? There’s nothing to fix” 

A new car may well have been the answer. What greeted Tom was a car that had seen better days. The MX5 had dings and bad paint, a broken wing mirror, mold in the gauge cluster, a torn up steering wheel and broken central console. But it was mechanically sound and drove beautifully. Most importantly, it had potential. Tom drove it home a happy man, having paid $4000.

The next five months were a time of discovery. Tom sourced parts and inspiration from Dave, known to many as the former owner of CarCo – Canberra’s only MX5 specialist and sponsor of the MX5 ACT Chapter. Dave encouraged Tom’s DIY. A better steering wheel, replacement wing mirror and front quarter panel and a lot of elbow grease contributed to a second lease on life for the vehicle, culminating in camping at the mecca of Australian racing royalty – the Bathurst 1000. 

The 2019 Black Summer Bushfires turned much of the capital region and New South Wales South Coast into a cinder, causing devastation unlike any event before it. As 2020 began, what started as a reprieve from the chaos was short lived as the Canberra Hailstorm wreaked havoc across the city. Winds of 117 kmph and hailstones as big as golf balls slammed into the city centre with a damage bill later estimated at $514 million dollars, and 70 percent of that figure in vehicle claims alone. 

Sitting at work, Tom had received a warning to get his car under cover but chose to ignore it after a non-event hailstorm the week prior. It would prove a costly lesson. 

“At the storm’s end there were dead birds everywhere, trees and branches down and cars with smashed windscreens and dents. My car was a kilometer walk away and as I got closer I’m thinking, there’s no way the MX5 could have survived this. I get to it and the car is just battered. The roof is stoved in. There’s holes in the windscreen, no rear glass left at all. Both wing mirrors are on the ground smashed. Every single panel on the car is just beaten to a pulp” 

But the car started, and Tom managed to drive home by looking out the driver’s side window. Dejected, he stripped the interior to save the ECU (located in the footwell). There were puddles of water, leaves and broken glass everywhere. The car was later assessed as ‘uneconomical to repair’ and with only third party insurance, no help was not coming over the hill. A wife who was nine months pregnant and significant hail damage to the house marked the beginning of a challenging period with no time to think about the car. 

The MX5 sat under a tarp as the family marked the birth of their daughter Charlotte in Canberra a week later. What should have been a happy moment was tinged with grief as, on the same day in Indonesia, Tom’s wife’s father passed away in a vehicle accident while awaiting news of the birth. Within days COVID-19 hit and, still recovering from the birth, they were unable to travel to Indonesia for the funeral.

It was some time before Tom could consider what was next for the MX5. Considering the value of a sale, the damage put paid to any prospective buyer. It was at this point he decided ‘to hell with it’ and with just a thousand dollars on the table Tom got the windscreen changed and purchased a new hood that he would fit himself.

I was moping around feeling sorry for myself when it hit me. The car was effectively worthless. There was no better time to get brave and have a go. I literally couldn’t make it any worse! So that’s what I did, starting with the hood. But, for anyone contemplating a hood replacement themselves at home – don’t (laughs). It’s the worst job you can possibly do on an MX5. There’s rivets, glue, screws, sharp edges and wires, clamping and ratchet straps, all kinds of things going on!” 

Tom leaned into the damage and contacted Stickeroo to design a decal for the rear bumper that simply read ‘hammered’. It drew amusement across the territory from drivers and pedestrians alike as the literally ‘hammered’ MX5 sped by. Come the Spring of 2021, he tried his hand at removing the dents himself with an ‘ebay kit’. It would be short lived as he discovered that 20 year old aluminum does not simply spring back, with most of the damage being irreversible.

And then seemingly a stroke of luck. A three year deployment (DFAT) to Indonesia. A chance to boost his income and bring the family together with his mother-in-law, who was not coping with her husband’s passing. Only there was a catch. The high COVID-19 risk in Indonesia meant Tom’s family could not immediately join him. Tom deployed, the car went to Hobart to stay with his father and so began detachment from both family, ironically, and his pride and joy.


Three months in, Tom received a phone call no parent ever wishes to hear. 

“It was my wife. Our son Matt had drowned on the South Coast. She was barely coherent but frantically giving him CPR while awaiting an ambulance.  “GET ON A PLANE RIGHT NOW AND GET HOME!” I couldn’t breathe. My world had just upended and I was far away, at a time when planes weren’t flying. After some diplomatic intervention I was fighting my back to Australia, zigzagging across south East Asia on whatever flight I could get” 

Matt was airlifted to the Sydney Royal Children’s Hospital and placed in a Coma. A bleak outlook held focus as Matt’s prognosis of traumatic brain injury became clear, if indeed he ever woke. But wake up he did, and though every step was hard won over the next eight months – Matt slowly came back to the world. Relearning to move his limbs, eat and even breathe through intensive therapy, permanent brain damage meant a new reality for both Matt and the Walter family.

As Matt’s recovery progressed to the point of hospital discharge and being able to come home to Canberra, Tom made the call to fly to Hobart to retrieve the car – with Matt by his side.

The pair would bond in the cockpit on the long return home. As anyone who’s driven an older MX5 knows; fun it may be, but a highway machine it was not. Especially at the height of summer with a failed A/C system. But the heat was minor in their first real father and son moment since the upheaval.

“I think at one point cruising up from Melbourne, it hit 43 degrees. Yeah, (Laughs). So we went through all the little towns you would usually miss, taking the back roads. Starting from Hobart all the way up, we didn’t take any highways until we hit the NSW border. We stopped a lot, had fun with it, and sampled every ice cream store we could find!” 

From this point forward the MX5 and Matt’s recovery are woven together. Trips to Sydney for medical appointments saw downtime occupied by Tom hunting online for new panels, bodywork restoration and shuttling pieces back to Canberra for application. Piece by piece the MX5 started looking worse at first, with mismatched but straight panels. But in the process it carried both Tom and Matt away from the worries of the world as they worked in the garage and took ‘test drives’ across the territory with each change.

The end of 2023 saw a full respray, and for Christmas Tom cheekily gifted himself White Line sway bars, underbody chassis bracing, a brake upgrade, uprated MazdaSpeed engine mounts, a front lip and sports seats. The standard 1.8 litre engine remained, though a supercharger is still on Tom’s wish list while a roll bar awaits fitment in the garage.

For a car that started out life as a chance to be brave, its legacy is not lost on Tom. 

“I think Mazda, and the MX5 particularly, has a special place in the car marketplace today. It just has this driver-focused quality, no matter the market segment – Mazda’s offering is often the most dynamic. It’s where BMW was in the 90’s in terms of its driver appeal. It’s what they used to call the ultimate driving machine – for the enthusiast” 

As Tom points out, it could realistically have been any car, but the MX5 with its meccano-like construction, strong driving dynamics and open top fun factor. It not only became a car of passion in the family, but also one of consistency, escape and bonding. The car has endured hardship alongside its owners and a rebirth in more ways than one.

But one last challenge lies ahead. As a two seater, Matt’s three siblings also want in on the action, and he might be needing some more seats… 

The team at MazdACT Stories thank Tom and Matt for sharing their story.  

Photographed at The National Arboretum Canberra by Tyler Parrott of Cutbackcbr featuring Tom Walter. Cinematography and article hosted by Kevin Ha at StreetScene. Editing and review by Tom Walter. Words, research and story by Justin Bush for MazdACT Stories, April 2024. 

Canberra 7s day 2024

Canberra 7s day returns to CIT Fyshwick for a day of celebrating the rotary engine and Mazdas.

SDMA Hillclimb May 2024

Check out local motorsport at the SDMA Hillclimb in Canberra.

Free for spectators. The action starts at 9am.

Drift Outlaws April 2024

Not your typical drifting event. This event at Queensland Raceway had a lot of action and entertainment to experience.

Teams parking and setting up their drift cars for the day.

Some callouts before the real drift battles begin

MazdACT Stories: Fonz Campa’s 2006 Series 1 Mazda MPS 6

On the brink of the Easter long weekend in the nation’s capital, team MazdACT has gathered for a pre-meet at the National Dinosaur Museum. Brachiosaurus and Velociraptor models stand silent, inviting interest but ultimately marking the memory of a long extinct species. 

It’s something Mazda turbo enthusiast Fonz Campa knows too well. His snowflake white MPS 6 is from a short-lived breed; the pinnacle of an era where Mazda’s fleet line up was as diverse as a standard city driver to a track ready beast and everything in between. 

“I like it because there’s not many around. I’ve always liked the Mazda 6 MPS because it’s not so common, a lot of people don’t even know it’s all-wheel drive because they’re more familiar with the front-wheel drive 3s. It’s unique.” 

Out on the Barton Highway, he’s escorted to the city by an SP23 and MX5 playing host to Photographer, Tyler Parrott. Some quizzical looks are noted at sets of lights as drivers in their daily midsize SUV’s take note of the white turbo gurgling beside them. Fonz is not letting the 6’s moment in time pass quietly.  

As he points out; he built and tuned it himself. Some fabrication was done by friends, but it was he who cut the designs and had them taped and welded. Notably, everything in the car is custom; an enthusiast would be hard pressed to find another Mazda6 in Australia that resembles the build.  Which delivers us into the extensive discussion of the engine bay… 

“When I first got it, I just did the basic mods, bolt on stuff. I had a tubular manifold, then I had a Cobb access port to allow me to tune it. I also upgraded to a GTX 2867 Garrett and that was good – made about 280 kilowatts” 

A year later he was offered a spare motor from a Queensland MPS owner and after some savings, bought forged pistons and rods and upgraded the head studs and gaskets. With stock injectors limited to about 250 to 280 kilowatts, Fonz added four extra injectors with 1,300 injector dynamics supported by a custom 16W billet inlet manifold. Initially he had an Etune from one of the well-known American Mazda tuners with his new Precision 5558 turbo and would go on to make 379 kilowatts. 

He later decided to learn to tune himself as Cobb allows the access port to be unlocked after completing and passing their EFI course. Tuning the MPS 6 for more power with this access port at the time involved calibrating the OEM direct injection and adding port injection for additional fueling for more power. 

“So, when you’re adding port injection, most people would add a split-second controller. This is a separate box which allows you to blend in the port injection – and it’s a lot more involved and difficult. It’s probably why in Australia most tuning shops don’t want to do it, because they’re not familiar with it. To make power you need to know how to tune both the DI and add the extra port injection with that split-second controller” 

Fonz likes a challenge. The new setup uses a high-mount manifold and 46mm external gate with the 5558 Precision turbo, but now tuned by himself. At the Booster’s dyno comp he would make 470 kilowatts and won the AWD category. This surprised him, as he didn’t really know it was capable of this power at all wheels.  The following year he bought a 6466, which is around three sizes bigger, and went on to make 525 kilowatts and win the AWD category again. 

Fonz would then get the bug to race the car and wanted a better standalone ECU. By this time Powertune Australia had made a plug-and-play kit, now running a MoTeC M150 and still using the Radium surge tank with twin 460-litre Walbro pumps to provide fueling. Surprisingly, the car still retains the stock gearbox, noting it seems to hold up at around 500 kilowatts or 800 newton metres of torque. It’s supported by a dual plate clutch and the transfer case uses upgraded billet caps. The diff is also stock but with an upgraded front mount and rear brace with DSS rear axles. 

The incredible passion invested in this former workhorse is a far cry from the Nissan S15 of Fonz’s prior life. A sale which gave way to home ownership, it was an expanding family and love of turbocharged cars and all-wheel drive that saw the MPS become more affordable than the Mitsubishi EVO or WRX. An all-leather interior sealed the deal and in 2015 a journey started that has only grown since; one that, in a discussion from earlier in the day, he would like his children to enjoy, learn to appreciate and maintain like true enthusiasts. 

Fonz is a humble owner. Accordingly, he makes a shout out to Turbosmart; who recently helped sponsor him with some new parts for his next project. That’s followed by Ross Performance Parts for making and upgrading the harmonic balancer for the MPS and Kelford cams, who also made the new Type C Version 2 camshaft based on the power and midrange he was seeking for his new build. It’s followed by Engineering Motorsport Solutions, who made an upgraded E85 compatible HPFP and finally his family, including his partner for being supportive and mate Dave and his brother Lachlan for helping with fabrication and tuning. Due credit goes to the Mazda MPS Owners Australia Facebook group, which has just clocked up over ten thousand members and to MazdACT for its ongoing support and appreciation. 

As the Photographer calls time on the shoot, we are led to a final question. Should Mazda return the turbo to mainstream production? Fonz thinks so, noting that in America Mazda has produced an all-wheel drive 3. Unfortunately, this model didn’t make it to Australian shores. In a market where the electric car has emerged and hybrids are fast dominating the field, he’d love for Mazda to bring out a sporty hybrid car, especially with the unending speculation over the next-gen RX9. 

“I still like rotaries, but from a reliability and emissions angle it may be a bit hard. But there’s been talks of a straight-six turbocharged Mazda and so if they do that then, yeah, I’d be keen” 

Like the dinosaurs before it, the MPS 6 has a legacy as something that has left its mark on history. Loud and dominating with a presence that has echoed through time, it’s a sight to behold when Fonz Campa is on the road before you, holding steady in the middle lane. It evokes hopes of a resurrection – and one can only hope someone at Mazda feels the same way.

Photographed at Constitution Place and the Parliamentary Triangle by Tyler Parrot of CutbackCBR featuring Fonz Campa. Cinematography and article hosted by Kevin Ha at StreetScene. Words, research and story by Justin Bush of Austography Film Image Inc. for MazdACT Stories, March 2024. 

For more great content, check out:

CutBackCBR

StreetScene

Fonz Campa

MazdACT

JDM Festival 2024

JDM cars return to Sydney Motorsport Park for an evening of car shows and motorsport.