Having spent a lot of money on the Seven’s frame and body panels, it was hard to justify fitting my roadster with an old Hyundai motor and began a search for a spiffier engine., The list of options that fit nicely into a Lotus Seven-style engine compartment is surprisingly small and I knew I didn’t want any sort of scoop or blister protruding from the hood and that I preferred the simplicity of a carburetor fuel system. Any modern engines tend to be quite tall compared to the Ford crossflow or BMC A-series that the frame is designed around, and another, more obvious snag is that engines tend to be very heavy things to move about. Of course I couldn’t find anything in Canada, but there were several candidates in the United States. Shipping an engine is already a pricey affair, but shipping one across the border is monstrously expensive. A solution was to ship the engine to a border town in Montana and transport it on my own from there. The family minivan was too new at the time to subject to dirty hauling duty, and the border warehouse insisted on a pickup or cargo van to load the engine into, so buying a cheap, disposable truck was the solution.
I’ve never been a big truck person, but have always been intrigued by the mini trucks that were popular in the ’70s and ’80s. My first choice would have been a Datsun purely for style considerations, but no dirt cheap runners were available to buy on short notice, so I began a search for my second choice, the Mazda B-series. I managed to locate a good runner with higher kms on it for $400. For this sort of price, there would obviously be compromises. The looks were probably the most obvious, with rust spots on the body, mild front end accident damage, a windshield full of cracks and neglected looking wheels being the most visible imperfections. The second most notable compromise was not seen but hear; the exhaust had partially rotted away in front of the muffler making anything over idle a little (very) noisy. On the plus side, the clutch was brand new.
While not blessed with an overabundance of power, the FE-series 2.0L straight four engine ran like a top. You can just see a hint of it under the giant air cleaner housing and all the computer-controlled carburetor-related hoses. A single overhead cam design, the engine was perfectly square with an 86 millimeter bore and stroke. Output was rated at only 86 horsepower which was fully usable with the slick five-speed manual, which shared its guts with the Rx-7 sports car, making it uncommonly smooth shifting for a truck.
The interior was actually in quite good condition, if a little dusty. A quick wipe down with a wet cloth had it looking quite presentable and I actually enjoyed using this little truck as my commuter vehicle for just over a month.
Since the Toyota 4AGE engine I’d arranged to have shipped from Florida to Montana did not have a gearbox included with it, I needed to find a Toyota T50 manual transmission. These gearboxes were only (for North America) found in the now iconic rear-wheel-drive Corolla GTS and I had to travel in order to secure a reasonably priced one. It came attached to a 4AGE parts motor, so I knew I’d have all the needed bolts and fittings. While cheap, the snag was that I would have to travel to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan–just over 600kms (372 miles) away–to pick it up. The trip out there was uneventful, but I didn’t arrive until late in the evening. Not being familiar with the town, I took along my wife’s uncle who was a local. We met the seller in a parking lot and manhandled the engine from his truck to mine well after the sun had gone down. The drive back the next day was a little more exciting, with temperatures dropping to -30C /-22F along while a massive snow storm blew in. All sorts of vehicles had skidded into the ditch along the highway, but somehow my cheap little Mazda made in back in one piece.
I took a trip of similar distance in much better weather to Montana to pick up the good engine two weeks later, which proved uneventful. I was really enjoying the dependability of the little Mazda and briefly flirted with the idea of fixing the muffler and windshield and keeping it for myself, but eventually decided that I couldn’t justify the cost of an additional vehicle. The insurance company was starting to nag me as I had not yet completed the mandatory insurance safety inspection. In its then-current state, the truck would not have passed, so I ended up selling the truck to a coworker for the same $400 I’d bought it for. He put a modest amount of work into it and was still driving it years later when I lost contact with him, making the Mazda a great little short-term hauler indeed!