Mazda's much-loved RX-7 was unquestionably one of the best sports cars for the money for nearly 25 years.
Now that the all-new Subaru BRZ and Scion FR-S/Toyota GT-86 are on their way to dealerships throughout the globe, we wanted to take a look back at another affordable Japanese sports car that has given owners plenty of fond memories. Unlike those new sports coupes, the RX-7 had a front-midship layout, as opposed to the new BRZ/FR-S's front-engine layout. However, both are rear-wheel-drive and come standard with manual transmissions. The bottom line: both are affordable sports cars that focus on driving enjoyment.
However, that's where many of the similarities end, as the RX-7 was also the recipient of Mazda's legendary Wankel rotary engine. Located slightly behind the front axle, the engine design was and remains unique, as other brands stick to the conventional internal combustion engine design. The first generation RX-7 was launched back in 1978 and was built until 1985. It was powered by two engines during its lifetime: a 1.1-liter 100hp or a 1.3-liter fuel-injected 135hp unit. Mazda claimed at the time that its rotary engine allowed the car to go from 0 to 50 mph in 6.3 seconds and a top speed of about 120 mph, which was very respectable at the time.
The first RX-7 also had a live axle four-link rear suspension, a 50/50 weight ratio, and weighed less than 2,500 lbs., making it the lightest of the three RX-7 generations. Handling was also superb for a car in this price range. Needless to say, sales were solid, with almost 475,000 first gen units sold. The second generation was launched in 1986 and its styling was greatly influenced by the Porsche 944. This was done on purpose after the Mazda design team spent quite a lot of time in the U.S. studying RX-7 owners and other popular sports cars. The 944 was selling very well then so it made sense for Mazda to emulate it.
The new car received a power boost thanks to its naturally aspirated, fuel-injected 146hp rotary. A turbocharged model was sold in the U.S. which had a total of 182hp. Although it was a bit heavier than the model it replaced, it still won Motor Trend magazine's prestigious 'Import Car of the Year' in 1986 and was named one of Car and Driver's Ten Best in 1987. Like the first-gen car, Mazda continued to make the rear seats optional, but were generally not very popular in the American market. Other advances included rack and pinion steering, an independent rear suspension, and Mazda's then-new Dynamic Tracking Suspension System.
The third generation RX-7 came out in 1992 and was on the market for the next decade. Along with its redesigned body, it had the first-ever Japanese mass-produced sequential twin-turbocharger system. All told, its 1.3-liter engine had an output of 252hp (this was increased to 276hp by 2002). Not only did the third-gen car receive the same awards from the aforementioned car magazines, but Playboy had actually declared the RX-7 to be better than the Dodge Viper, after they tested both cars in 1993. Handling was still considered to be world-class. All three generations also had successful careers in motorsport, such as at Le Mans and Daytona.
The 1984 RX-7 featured here has the GSL trim package that included 4-wheel disc brakes and a rear limited slip differential. Currently with its second owner, the only updates he's done are a new set of wheels, unique yellow headlights, and a major exterior cleanup. He also added a factory tape deck to replace the CD player the previous owner installed in order to keep things original. With Toyota/Subaru once again building a proper and affordable sports coupe, we can only hope that Mazda will once again revive their famous rotary in a future model. An RX-9 perhaps? Photos courtesy of jnp1402