By on November 2, 2012

 

 

Deciding what to do with a 662 hp muscle car was hard enough. Deciding what to do with the last pristine nearly new RX-7 in the country is even harder — because you can’t do anything with it, really. You certainly can’t street park it. I left it in an open lot the first night, only to discover that someone had put out their cigarette on the decklid. That was it. I ended up paying prices that would make a Manhattanite blush just so I could leave it in a covered multi-story garage visible from the bedroom window of my condo. Night after night I would stare at the slippery yellow shape under the glow of the cheap halogen lights, like a father staring at his premature baby in the neo-natal unit, checking and re-checking despite the near zero probability of anything bad actually happening.

“We’re having a kegger tonight, if you want to come.”

The text message is from my brother, who was born in November, 1992. The same month and year that this RX-7 was delivered to Mazda Canada. It’s a weekday night and I’d have to drive 125 miles to get there, on an empty, mostly straight highway.  But here’s a chance for us to spend some time together, in a car as old as he is, without parents or peers around. It doesn’t happen as often as it should. I throw a change of clothes and my laptop into a bag, then make a beeline for the garage.

My old Miata, shod with slim tires and shaped like a bullet at both ends, lent itself well to being wheeled around parking garages. Not so with the RX-7. The air dam has the same profile and effective clearance as a bulldozer’s blade, and the 255-width front tires mean lots of clenched jaws and bicep work. Exiting the angled ramp of the garage requires popping the door and angling half your body outside the car, Valentino Rossi-style, to make sure you’re not scraping the front end on any curbs.

All of those picayune concerns evaporate once you’re out on the road. The width is still there, but the low hood and near 360 degree glass canopy offers amazing visibility when trying to change lines or dart in and out of traffic. The clutch takeup is beefier than that of the Miata, but has the same intuitive takeup point. Once I’ve escaped the urban hell of rush hour gridlock, the empty highway ramp beckons, and I can finally see what all the fuss is about the rotary engine.

Clarkson likened the Audi R8’s performance to smearing honey inside Keira Knightley, another example of his frequently bestowed, but rarely deserved,  superlatives. In the RX-7’s case, the 13B twin-rotor engine really is so smooth, so thrilling and so unlike anything else today that it could accurately be compared to twisting the adjustment knob on Bertel’s favorite adult novelty while it’s inside two of your favorite female celebrities at once. It really is that satisfying.

There is no real perceptible noise or furious forward thrust like that found in a Boss 302 Mustang  – in fact, it’s about as fast as a brand new V6 Mustang. Then again a protein bar and a steak can have similar nutritional value. The cable throttle itself is a welcome change from the lifeless servo units in every other car today, and every millimeter of travel translates into a bit of forward thrust that is undeniable and tangible. From 0-4500 rpm there’s a decent shove forward that feels perfectly adequate itself. Once the second, larger turbo comes in, however, there’s a hellfire blast of power, more Tesla than Mazda, and the scenery starts to move very quickly. The 7000 RPM upshift is punctuated with a crisp wastegate ppsshhhtttt and before you know it, you’re at the point of “I really didn’t know how fast I was going, officer”. The RX-7’s effortless ability to warp time and space belies the 255-horsepower rating until you consider that the car weighs 2800 lbs.

And yet before I can non-ironically give this old Mazda a non-ironical “greatest car in the worrrrrld” award, I’m harshly interrupted by its glaring flaws. The seats were apparently designed by the same people who ran the Hanoi Hilton and by mile 75, my lower back felt like it had an awl punched through it, repeatedly. The Bose Acoustic “WaveGuide” stereo also seemed to work on its own schedule; sometimes there would be radio reception, sometimes it would play very well out of one side of the car.

At mile 110, there is a bang and a clunk as the car begins to sag and thump on the driver’s side. Pulling over on the busy 401 freeway isn’t the life-threatening nightmare it usually is, on account of the light traffic at 10 P.M., and there is a Highway Patrolman situated on the shoulder a mere 25 yards behind me. The friendly constable shines a flashlight on the wheel, and it’s apparent that I suffered a full blowout. The sidewall is still attached to the rim, but the rest of the carcass hangs limply off the rim like a badly broken limb. “Holy shit bud,” he says with an almost too stereotypical Canadian accent, “I don’t know how you didn’t end up in the rhubarb.” We are not in Toronto anymore.

 

 

The plan is to get the car to my brother’s house on the temporary spare, and somehow get a tire sent down from Mazda HQ. It’s doubtful that the small college town will have the 255/45/16 tire in stock anywhere, so Mazda’s Chuck Reimer agreed to deliver one himself – apparently Mazda has a second RX-7, and they’ll simply borrow a wheel and tire from it to get it there. Of course, the temporary spare has gone flat overnight as well, and a flat-bed truck is now required to get to the dealership just a few miles down the road. It wouldn’t be an RX-7 if things didn’t go wrong.

The next day, after all impediments are removed, the drive back is less eventful. Pouring rain gives way to clear skies. My brother and I pig out on fast food, pour nearly $100 of premium gas in the tank, and stop to get parts for a beer funnel. We curse the poor seats and crappy stereo as he takes in what a car from his birth year was like. He’s incredulous that the RX-7 cost $47,000 Canadian dollars in 1993, roughly $100,000 in today’s money. “You’ve got to be kidding me. With this interior? This is so crappy. I get it on the Miata, but one hundred grand?” The quirks of the car are totally foreign to him too. “I’ve never been in a car that needs to be warmed up and cooled down. Or one where the exhaust gas can get too hot [there's a warning light for that on the center console].”

We’re in suburbia now, stopped at a long traffic light. The timing is right. “Get out of the car,” I say. “Drive it. You tell me if it’s great or not.”

“Nah, I better not. Don’t want to risk it.”

In truth, I’m tired from the ordeal of the last 24 hours and my back is aching from the uncomfortable seats. My brother is one of the better candidates for this task. He is responsible and dispassionate enough not to test the limits of the RX-7. “It’s ok. You’ve driven my car, you’ve driven the EVO, you’ve driven the Boss and the GT-R. You’ll be fine. And you need some context.”

After the driver change, my brother approaches the car with a mix of joy and trepidation as if he were nervously cradling a newborn. I urge him on. “Go ahead, lay in to it, nothing’s going to happen. My warnings about no traction control and double the power of my Miata may have spooked him.

The smile on his face broadens in time with the sweep of the tachometer needle. “I’ve never felt anything like this before. I love the torque – and I always love a real cable throttle.”

He continues. “I’s like watching sports highlights from the same period. If you watch hockey then versus now, they game is still great, but the players are so much bigger, faster and stronger. It’s weird, because this car is 19 years old – but it’s brand new, and I’m judging it like it’s a new car.”

As he speaks, I’m listening to his argument while examining his technique behind the wheel. For someone who doesn’t live and breathe cars, he drives well. Hands at 9 and 3, steady with his movements, eyes looking well ahead. His friends have all grown up ensconced in marshmallow-soft luxury crossovers loaded with every active safety feature known to man, but he’s been in a few real cars and understands that “sporting” doesn’t just mean a trim level on the BMW X5.  Somewhere in the four years that separates us, however, things changed irrevocably and the appeal of an elemental, eccentric sports car faded. At least the driving skills needed to enjoy one have been imprinted on him, should those cars ever return. Fortunately, driving adventures with your loved ones never require context.

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34 Comments on “Capsule Comparison Part 2: 1993 Mazda RX-7...”


  • avatar
    niky

    Were those tires as old as the car, perchance?

    Lovely, extremely flawed, but lovely car.

  • avatar
    raph

    Derek, did you ever figure out what caused the tire to go flat?

    Anyways, a 255/45R16 – that seems a bit bigger than I remember? IIRC 225/50R16 was the original size

  • avatar
    ringomon

    Another entertaining write-up. (Especially as I’m a Mazda man) Thanks Derek.

    In this sentence:
    “Clarkson liked the Audi R8′s performance to smearing honey inside Keira Knightley”
    I think “liked” should be “likened”.

    Also, if this story took place in America, what you and you’re brother planned would be illegal. I’m talking about the legal drinking age of course…
    One of the many sensible things about Canadians.

  • avatar
    LeeK

    My buddy was looking for a sports car in 1994, so he and I checked out a number of cars: 3000 GT, Supra Turbo, M3, and an RX-7. What struck us about the Mazda is that it was not meant for anyone over 5′ 10″ inches tall. Both he and I are over six feet and simply could not adjust the seat in any fashion that would prevent our heads from being firmly planted on the roof liner.

    He bought the then-brand-new E36 M3 and still drives it to this day.

  • avatar
    racingmaniac

    You know you are older than you thought when the car reviewer you are reading is younger than you…by quite a bit….and I am only 29….

    Love this piece….

    • 0 avatar
      Advance_92

      Ha, try working at a university some time.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        I do a fair bit of consulting work in universities – I find it impossible that I ever looked THAT young.

        When you really feel old is when you realize that you are the same age as the owners of the company you work for, AND 10 years older than your boss. Sigh.

        But to Derek – GREAT writeup of a simply fabulous car. Then, now or anytime in the future. Not one for everyone, and that makes it just that much more special.

  • avatar
    Virgil Hilts

    My black 1994 RX-7 was cramped, temperamental, unpredictable (turbo + no TC = sideways), and blew through two turbos and 1 tire and wheel in 9,000 miles.

    And it was the best sports car I have ever owned. Period.

  • avatar
    gessvt

    “I’ve never been in a car that needs to be warmed up and cooled down…”

    He’s never driven a turbo Subaru?

    Great piece, BTW Derek.

  • avatar
    mnm4ever

    I am amazed at how huge the RX8 looks next to the RX7!

    And these are still gorgeous cars. I do not remember the interiors being crappy either, but my perception might have been skewed by the performance.

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      One is a true two seater, the other has four seats. Shame Mazda didn’t have the sense to put a turbo in the RX-8. Love the shape of the ’93, very organic and flowing, the way cars from Japan looked before they went all Pokemon crazy.

  • avatar
    Commando

    I am now reading reviews of a 1993 car where one of the pilots is the same age as the car and the main jockey is only 4 years older?? What a waste of a great car and the review is worthless .
    Reading the impressions of a 20 YO of a final gen Rx-7. Boy, that tells me what demographics TTAC wants to attract, now. Guys doing keggers. I’v been a daily follower of TTAC almost since it’s inception and I can see the transformation and the unwritten mission statement that was implied in the beginning is all but lost by all the present staff and contributers.
    Next I’ll be reading about awesome and yummo stuff. TTAC is losing me but I don’t think anyone at TTAC cares and it’s because your latest breed of contributers need metaphors of lesbian dildo play to express themselves. All the intellect that compiled the excellent GM Death Watch chronicles is obviously now not in the future vision of TTAC.

    • 0 avatar

      *shrug*

    • 0 avatar
      iNeon

      The world exists for the young. 30’s the new 50, nigga– u ain’t hot still.

    • 0 avatar
      chris724

      Teamsters? Are you in the mafia?

    • 0 avatar

      No offense, but if I had this much of a beef about an article, I’d take it up directly with the author in an email, not in a comments section where I end up looking like a whiny chump.

      Again, no offense.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      You have a very different memory of TTAC from the one I have. Berkowitz and Ed were both around Derek’s age when they served as managing editor.

      You also must have missed the post RF did about gay porn stars, the Shoemaker article with a line about child prostitutes, the RF post about guys having sex with cars, the time Paul posted a NSFW pic of a guy having sex with a car, the F-bombs in the podcasts, and the week where every post had a picture of a scantily clad woman attached.

    • 0 avatar
      Japanese Buick

      Don’t be such an old coot (and I’m 47). If articles like this were all ths site was, you’d have a point. It’s one of many perspectives here. Personally I think it’s interesting to see what today’s young men think of the cars that were new when I was a young man.

      And oh yeah don’t bitch about how kids today aren’t into cars and then bitch when kids today write about sports cars.

      Finally: get off my lawn.

    • 0 avatar
      JuniperBug

      The article was about a car enthusiast sharing the experience of a near-20 year-old car with his brother of the same age. It was even-handed and insightful. What about that is immature? What about that could possibly raise your ire? That’s about as deep as a car enthusiast site could and should get, in my opinion.

      I’ve been following TTAC since near its inception, too, and while I appreciated the format then, I prefer the present format which retains the honest analysis but does away with the “This is my (often undersubstantiated) opinion, and if you disagree, you’re wrong,” undertone.

      You’re right that no one will care if TTAC loses you; nothing in your post is remotely relevant, informative, or adds to the discussion about cars. This is very much the opposite of Kreindler’s writing, which I’m sure many will agree is excellent. Find another way to deal with the fact that you’re the only one to consider a 19 year-old car review too new, and the fact that your stuck-in-the-past viewpoint is no longer relevant.

      If the young people’s contributions are so irrelevant, why is Kreindler’s writing loved, Edward a Wall Street Journal-published former editor, and you’re just an old man writing the equivalent of, “Hey, you kids get off my lawn!” as a comment on one of their articles?

  • avatar
    AJ

    Back then I owned two 1st generation RX-7s (so I always had one working to drive). They were cool, fun little rockets. I could run along with Corvettes. Life was good.

    Back then I also use to drool at the 3rd generation RX-7s that sat on my Mazda dealer’s lot. My paycheck back then kept me from owning one. Just recently I found a very low mileage 3rd generation for sale just an hour away from me. It’s been garage kept and rubbed with a diaper. But instead of now the paycheck issue, now it’s the wife issue… She just wouldn’t go for myself having a third car.

    • 0 avatar
      Japanese Buick

      I hear ya. When I met my wife her DD was a 1st gen RX7. Great fun but you had to treat it just right all the time or else. At one point I calculated that it saw the mechanic every 700 miles. In fairness to the car this was partially because her job moved so it was no longer practical as a commuter so it started sitting for several days or a week at a time. And as our mechanic said, these cars need to be driven.

    • 0 avatar
      Steve65

      Trade the wife for the RX7. Both problems solved…

  • avatar
    ajla

    Pre-Y2K cars forever!

  • avatar
    Jeff Jablansky

    I’m a Manhattanite. Make me blush.

  • avatar
    nrd515

    I never would even think I would see something like the comment on the width still being there. Thinking an RX-7 as wide is mind boggling.

  • avatar
    fttp

    Those PZero Neros are are a terrible choice for that car. Totally inferior to the original ones–that were standard on the R2–and the current PZeros.

  • avatar

    I had a first-gen RX-7 that I drove for a relatively trouble-free 100K miles. Thrashed it mercilessly to get what power I could. I did yank out the marginal air conditioner, the “thermal reactor” pollution control system, and replaced the point-eating ignition system with an aftermarket electronic upgrade. Synthetic Amsoil lubricants helped with longentivity I suppose.


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