Austin Owens is a hero. Yesterday, after seeing a picture online of one of his dream cars—a Mazda RX-7—sitting in a nearby garage that was actively flooding, Owens took action to save a random person’s car. He and a friend drove down several flooded roads near Biloxi, Mississippi to place bricks under the legendary Japanese sports car’s tires to prevent it from drowning.
This all went down at the Golden Nugget Casino in Biloxi, a city that is still being affected by Tropical Storm Cristobal. Owens, a car and motorcycle enthusiast living in Gulfport, Mississippi, saw on his local Cars and Coffee page the post below from Jacob Carl Adams. The post includes two photos of an orange FD RX-7 with floodwater up to its rocker panels. The post, whose caption reads “Bottom story of the golden nugget right now, oof,” prompted Owens and his friend to take action.
“The first thing I did was hopped into the car and went to Home Depot and bought eight cinder blocks,” Owens told me. He and his buddy, riding in the Ford Bronco, avoided numerous road closures and braved streets that had water “probably about three or four foot in some areas,” Owens told me.
When he arrived, Owens found the RX-7 sitting on some bricks and wood planks. The car’s owner, and two others including Keean Le H (who posted the photo below to the Biloxi Cars & Coffee page) had arrived at the garage to pick up a Ferrari 360 that belonged to one of the three, and while they were there, they jacked the RX-7 up a bit.
“The owner and I brought the trailer to tow the Ferrari out and added some thick 2.5 in bricks + orange rubber wheel mats on the rear with a 6 inch lift up front using same method + plus 3 inch wood to raise the 7 enough to counteract the slowly rising water,” Keean Le H wrote me over Facebook. “Austin came a little while later as we were in our first phase to remove one of two vehicle out of Golden Nugget Casino.”
“Austin came in (as we were leaving with the first vehicle) with larger bricks as seen on the front tires to give the 7 a sturdier foundation with our flat 2.5 inch bricks + orange wheel mats in the rear as the car was actually parked at a slope thus giving the impression that it was under water,” Keean Le H continued.
“It did give us adequate time to combat the rising water. Just so you guys are aware, the water was knee deep in some parts of the parking garage.”
Upon arrival, Owens and his buddy took the Harbor Freight floor jack out of the Bronco, the two slid cinder blocks under the RX-7's front tires (the rears were high enough due to the slope of the parking spot) and then they left.
“We actually killed the [Bronco’s] transmission on the way out,” Owens told me. “We actually had to drive in second gear all the way home,” he said, telling me that water had gotten into the trans.
I asked Owens why he decided to go through all that to save a Stranger’s car. “It’s a beautiful rare car, and there’s not too many of them around anymore. It’s one of my dream cars,” he told me over the phone. “There’s no way I can leave that car sitting there like that.”
Owens, a big fan of Japanese cars like Nissan Skylines and Toyota Supras, someone admits to being heavily influenced by the Fast and Furious franchise, and a wrencher who used to build cars with his dad, clearly loves the RX-7.
“It was definitely worth it. It’s a rare car...I would hope somebody would do the same for me if I was in the situation with a car of that stature. I didn’t have it in my heart to leave it there.”
Keean Le H, buddy of the two gentlemen who owned the RX-7 and Ferrari, told me over Facebook why the RX-7 was in that spot in the first place. It had to do with bad weather seals:
To sum it up, the weather was predicted to be bad and the fact that the car went through several thousand of dollars in full paint and bodywork about a month ago and the sunroof and trunk seals evidently got shot in the process of the bodywork. He ordered an entirely new set of OEM seals, but they are apparently on back order. The car would leak really bad during rain so he left the car there by the family boat (marina lot/GN) as shelter from the rain not knowing that water would get this high from a supposedly “weak” tropical storm. The surge totally caught all of us off guard as seen in the photo.
Update June 8, 2020 10:50 P.M. ET: The person who, together with his brother and business partner, painted the car, wanted to make it clear that the car initially came to his shop with bad seals. He also told me that his team removed the seals prior to paint, and advised the owner to replace them. Per my discussion with the owner, he took the shop’s advice, but leaks still existed from other areas.
Khuong Nguyen, owner of the RX-7, told me over Facebook Messenger why the car was in the garage in the first place. He wanted to make clear that this isn’t a case of insurance fraud, as he only has liability insurance on the vehicle (he showed me a screengrab of his policy). He also described how water leaks were responsible for the car being in that garage in the first place, telling me:
Trunk and windshield seals has already been replaced by someone that came down and redid my seals. My car leaks mainly from the top of the door frame on the driver side and my rear windshield motor that doesn’t have a wiper or seal keeping water from coming in. This was why we parked it inside the garage to keep it from the rain. What we didn’t expect was the surge to really flood the garage.
Clearly the spot they chose wasn’t exactly optimal, but luckily they had a random stranger in Austin Owens to help them keep the nose of that classic rotary-powered sports car out of the drink.
Keean Le H told me over Facebook Messenger that his friend’s RX-7 runs just fine. When asked about the interior, he responded with: “Still fine, water didn’t get in. In fact drove it. No issues whatsoever.”
Thank the rotary gods.
This story has been updated with information from the owner and of the shop that painted the car to clarify a quote from Keean Le H about why the car was in the garage in the first place.