Phil Randall’s built a lot of cool cars over the years, taking his time to make each one perfect. But when his father fell ill, time became the most important factor in his Mazda B2500 build…
Feature taken from Fast Car. Words Dan Bevis Photography Jules Truss
Forward planning and long-term strategising are the key to success in a well-played game of chess. Well, that’s what we’re told, anyway. We have no idea how to play chess, that’s probably a bad example. Risk, then. If you want to win at Risk, you need to throw a cursory showing of armies into Kamchatka and Irkutsk and build up an unassuming power base. Or Australasia – control that, it’s pretty much impenetrable.
That said, life loves to throw curveballs at us, and the luxury of long-term planning isn’t always available. Sometimes unexpected things happen and we’re forced to rush. “In this world nothing can be said to be certain,” said Benjamin Franklin, “except death and taxes”. That’s what’s known as an immutable constant. But his scope perhaps isn’t really broad enough; the universe is packed with such generalisations, harnessing received wisdom to propagate the myths of pseudo-truism. Dropped toast always lands butter-side-down, cats always land on their feet, decrepit billionaires always have hot young wives with plastic embellishments… whichever way you slice it though, life comes at you fast, some things can’t be changed, and you don’t always get to plan for things in advance.
When fate came knocking on Phil Randall’s door, however, he had both feet on the ground. An expert in the field of expecting the unexpected, he’s been building cool cars. “I’ve been building modified cars since I was sixteen; my first car was a Peugeot 205 XS which I converted to Mi16 power,” he explains. “It was pushing 220bhp; in fact, that was a Fast Car feature car back in the day, and quite well known on the show scene. Nowadays I’m the owner of XDR Motors – it all started on the driveway at home, and now I have a company where I specialise in drift and track cars, but also do all other work such as repairs, MOTs and servicing.”
Dabbling with racy machines all day, it’s inevitable that Phil’s own projects would be pretty tasty, and his personal CV following the 205 includes a drift-spec RX-7, a DC5 Integra, a full custom supercharged Honda Accord Type R, and… this Mazda B2500 pickup truck. Yep, bit of a random addition to the line-up, isn’t it?
“I’ve just always wanted to build one,” he shrugs. “It came up as a swap on my Accord, and I guess it was the kid in me who’d always wanted a truck, I just said yes! It came as a stock nat-asp derv with a block lowering kit, that was it – but it was tidy enough. And I had an RB20DET motor in stock, so…”
Yes, you can see where this was going – and it’s fair to say the B2500’s changed quite a bit since that fateful day. It’s interesting, the perennial enthusiasm for pickup trucks is often something that taps into a very special combination of automotive fancies: restoration, modification, unexpected horsepower, the cultural phenomenon of stance, and a fastidious attention to detail that borders on the obsessive. Much of this is fed by the factors of rarity and unusualness – utility vehicles are, by their very nature, quite tricky to find in straight and solid nick after years or even decades of hardcore commercial use; the function of their being means that they get used hard until they break. Pickups that you see in use today are invariably either knackered or pristine, with the latter group having had countless hours of work and untold quantities of love poured into their rejuvenation. There’s no middle ground. And if Phil wanted to shove a turbocharged Nissan straight-six into this unsuspecting Mazda, well, we’re all for that sort of measured mayhem.
“The first move was literally just to fit the RB20 into the Mazda on the stock setup and gearbox, and see what would happen,” he grins. “Basically, it was great fun in a straight line – bearing in mind that it was on a leaf spring rear and torsion bar front. We did some drift displays for Castle Combe in it last year, and quickly realised it needed some work! And so a plan came about.”
Said plan involved building the truck up in full over the course of this year, and so it sat for a while awaiting its turn. However, this was the time when fate decided to roll her cruel dice and shatter Phil’s world to smithereens.
“A week before Christmas, my dad was diagnosed with three brain tumours,” he tells us. “He was given 3-to-6 months. One thing I’d never done was to take my dad around a track; he’d been and watched me compete in the BDC and other events, but never sat by my side. So I knew what I wanted to do with this truck. It had to get done so I could take my dad out in it.”
And thus the heat was unexpectedly on. Naturally this couldn’t be a case of simply throwing the truck together into usable form, as that was never the point and that isn’t Phil’s style; no, this would be finished in the correct way and to the proper specs as originally envisaged – it just had to somehow be done really fast.
“At this point, we had already started to cut the truck about to start fitting BMW running gear to the back,” he says. “After a chat with my team, and with time being of the essence, we all decided that the truck was to take priority over all the sponsor cars and other cars I look after. And so began the 200-hour job of taking a near-stock truck and turning it into what we have now. We worked from 6pm to 2am, night after night.”
The scale of the endeavour really is incredible; the Mazda was stripped right back to a bare chassis, with all the original suspension components removed, mounting brackets, housings, brakes, the lot. Then the team fitted the complete front and rear subframes from a BMW E36 Compact, with an eye-watering amount of custom fabrication to get everything located and able to mate BMW to Mazda to Nissan. It’s a real Frankentruck, this one. All of the original mounting points and bolts from the BMW were meshed into the pickup to ensure that future repairs and upgrades would be as simple as possible, and once the frame and suspension were sorted it was all taken to Trig Bishop at Bishop’s Bespoke Builds to fabricate a tubular front end with custom adjustable suspension top mounts. The brakes are E36 units working with custom braided lines and an OBP pedal box, while custom brackets aid the relationship between BMW steering rack and Mazda shaft. It really is fiendishly clever.
“Then it was back to the shop for a complete stripdown, and off to Elite Panelcraft to be painted by Liam Musselwhite,” Phil continues. “With its fresh new Sunburst Yellow laid down, it was then time for the frantic reassembly, with the build-up finished the day before Spring Action Day at Castle Combe. That’s where we unveiled the finished truck, alongside our S13 for the 2019 Retro Drift Championship. And with that show out of the way, we then returned to Combe the following Wednesday. The entire team and family came. And I finally took my dad out on track – for what was the first and sadly the last time.”
The tightened deadline, the endless late nights, the blood, sweat and tears, it all swelled to a glorious crescendo on that day. They’d made it. Phil and his dad, side by side, out on track at last.
“We were spotted at Spring Action Day by the Retro Rides crew, and invited to Goodwood with them, with dad taking a turn,” Phil continues. “He told me to go to Goodwood and do the show. And sadly he passed on that Saturday. I need to give Goodwood and Retro Rides a massive shout-out; when the news spread around the paddock, they quickly came and offered their condolences, and squeezed me in to an already hectic Sunday track schedule to let me honour my dad on the Sunday. And I cannot thank them enough for that. So the truck now sits shining ready for shows or displays where required, in honour of dad. One XDR car that will never leave me.”
Forward planning, you see, only gets you so far. When life kicks sand in your eyes, it’s friends and family pulling together that makes great stuff happen. This truck build was more important than money, more important than Insta-likes – this was about one man’s tribute to his father. And that’s what it shall forever remain.
TECH SPEC: MAZDA B2500
Sunburst Yellow paint, body prepped and painted by Liam Musselwhite, XDR Motors livery
RB20DET 2.0-litre straight-six turbo, ACL internals, Cosworth head gasket, head drain kit, Plazmaman front-face inlet manifold, 550cc Bosch injectors, HY35 turbo with welded internal wastegate, 55mm Tial external wastegate with screamer pipe, Spec tubular manifold, water pump removed and thermostat modified, rear-mount radiator setup with full Davies Craig water management system inc. control ECU and fan set, custom front-to-rear radiator pipe setup, XDR custom radiator mount, XDR custom front-mount intercooler and pipework, full custom wiring harness with standalone electrics for ECU, water system, boost control and management with custom fusebox (all by Phoenix Engine Management), PMC Motorsport gearbox adaptor with custom flywheel, 6-paddle clutch and race pressure plate, E36 M3 gearbox, E36 2.8 rear diff, custom propshaft designed by XDR and built by Firow Propshafts, A’PEXi Power FC – mapped by Richard Bell, custom intake system and exhaust system by XDR, Cooling Mist meth kit
BMW E39 wheels – painted black, custom-fitted E36 Compact front and rear subframes, wideboy Z3 rear hub set, custom steering rack brackets to mate BMW rack to Mazda shaft, BMW E36 brakes, custom braided brake lines by Proline Motorsport, OBP pedal box countersunk into floor, custom tubular front end inc. caster-adjustable top mounting plates (by XDR and Bishop’s Bespoke Builds), chassis treated and painted, custom rear bed frame to house radiator setup and internal fuel tank within bed – with split alloy top plates powdercoated black
Custom black carpet and panel covering by XDR – inc. doorcards and headlining, side-mount Cobra Monaco seats on custom frames, green TRS 5-point Magnum harnesses, E36 328i dials, custom dash insert for boost and AFR gauges, boost controller and meth kit switches, fusebox and water control mounted on rear plate, race battery behind passenger, electrical cutoffs and fire extinguisher system, custom gearstick, hydraulic handbrake, OMP steering wheel and boss
The support crew
“There are a number of people I need to thank for helping this build come to life,” says Phil. “A massive thank you has to go out to Kieron Browne – he helps me after work, he’s my welder and has an amazing ability to fit things where they shouldn’t go. Without him the truck would never have been completed in time. Liam Musselwhite for painting the truck on such short notice and doing an amazing job. Trig Bishop at Bishop’s Bespoke Builds – a long-time friend who again dropped his workload to get me in at a moment’s notice. Robin at Raw Motorsport for advice and general help and piss-taking. Mitch at Proline for sorting custom brake lines onto my pedal box at a moment’s notice. Team XDR, of course – without the constant support, help and general presence of my team, I’d not be where I am today; that includes my wife, Sam, and my girls, Sofia and Elsie. And finally my mum and dad. Mum for being so strong through the hard times and looking after dad through thick and thin. And my dad. Just for being my dad.”