By on August 14, 2012

Bribery! While TTAC has a Get Behind Me Satan approach to the buffet-table and the press junket, we’re still mostly susceptible to the kryptonite lure of interesting cars.

So when Mazda called me up and asked if I’d like to sample a little of their driving heritage in a blatant PR move, I huffily told them that I could not in good conscience be complicit in helping further burnish their brand image as a manufacturer of sporting products. I reminded them that I thought the Mazda2 too slow, the Mazda3 too ugly, the Mazdaspeed3 possessed of worse torque steer than a one-legged unicyclist, the cabin of the MX-5 designed for people with short legs and prehensile elbows, and that they didn’t even build a rotary engine any more, so what was the point?

Naturally, I said all these things in my internal voice during the 3.7 nanosecond pause before, “OohyespleaseWhencanIpickitupHowaboutnow?”

Who’s ready for some yellow journalism?

I was fifteen when the RX-7 bowed. Fifteen and land-locked up in the hills of Ryder Lake, a good half-hour drive from most of my friends. I’d been technically capable of driving for years, just not legally allowed to, and the prospect of my learner’s license danced on the horizon, as tantalizing as the ladies in Playboy Magazine- bzzt. Victoria’s Secret- bzzt. Sears catalog- ding!

Meanwhile, the industrious people of Nippon were building some of the hottest machinery ever to come out of that country: the last Samurai of the twilight of the Japanese automotive empire.

The NSX put Ferrari on notice. The 300ZX twin-turbo wanted to play hide and seek with the Corvette. The Twin-Turbo MKIV Supra strode the land like a colossus, and – were you a fan of Queen’s “Fat-Bottomed Girls” – there was always the all-wheel-drive Mitsubishi 3000GT VR-4.

The Japanese had all gone completely supercar-bonkers: name a manufacturer and they had a heavyweight in the ring. And then along came Mazda and a slight *pop* was heard as my fifteen-year-old brain exploded.

Even now, even in this somewhat garish hue, this car is beautifully-proportioned. It’s old enough to drink (at least, in this country it is), and yet if the sheets had come off the first FT-86 concept to reveal this shape, everyone would have cheered lustily. After my couldn’t-care-less-about-cars wife followed it through traffic as I dropped it off, she remarked, “I can’t believe it’s not a new car!”

Me either, although this one shows evidence of being repainted. No surprise to ’90s Mazda owners, the paint on my old MX-6 certainly faded from Testarossa to General Lee.

Aside from the paint, it’s factory-fresh in basic trim, with the original lightweight 16” alloys and pop-up headlights. This car sat somnolent in the lobby of Mazda’s head offices in Ontario for some time and has just 20,000kms on the clock. Let’s show it some coastal hospitality.

Forget the modern exterior – the interior of this machine is pure 90s – it’s Ace of Basic, if you will. Cloth seats, cramped quarters and a dearth of amenities: the steering wheel doesn’t adjust and you only get the simplest of gauges. Luckily, I was easily able to install satellite navigation, and internet connectivity…

Everything’s operational! Apart from the mirror adjustment controller. And one of the speakers. And if you go around a corner too quickly, the radio head-unit resets itself and fills the cabin with raspy static. “The air-conditioning works!” as I was proudly told when I picked up the car – it does, but only in a Neville Chamberlain sort of way. Still, these are merely the flesh wounds of time.

And nothing compared to what might not be working on this gorgeous, somewhat temperamental machine. The explosive potential of what lies underhood is legendary: the twin-turbo rotary engine’s fragility makes Royal Doulton look like depleted uranium. I certainly hope whoever had this thing before me didn’t cheap out and fill it with regular.

I coddle the car through the first few miles, letting her get up to operating temperature. It really does smell like the ’90s in here – an unidentifiable plastic miasma that’s exactly like my old Mazda. It’s a whiff of the past, a techno variant of the horse-hair and vinyl that always gets the old codgers all misty.

The needle on the temperature gauge reads 3/4s from “H” – operating temperature as per instructions. It’s fifty klicks to my house, I gotta full tank of gas, half a working stereo, it’s sunny out and I forgot my sunglasses.

Hit it.

Listen kids, don’t meet your heroes.*
*- Unless your heroes happen to kick all 31 flavours of ass.

There’s an old Monty Python sketch which has John Cleese teaching a class called something like, Self-Defense Against Fresh Fruit. At one point, Cleese shouts, “Come at me with that banana!” I come at Vancouver with that banana.

The FD-chassis RX-7’s brittle, sequentially-turbocharged 13b has 255hp (at least it did when new) and the car weighs just 2800lbs. It has a suspension designed with the help of 1990s supercomputers (wow!), a limited slip differential, four-channel anti-lock brakes and traction control in the form of four round black things called “tires” that provide traction. When they’re not too busy screaming.

The low-end power from the smaller turbo provides slingshot torque that has me questioning whether I should bother dipping into the big boost. Oh, go on then. The rotary noticeably pauses before the bigger blower comes online – somewhat alarming given the reputation and the questionable provenance of the fuel, but she pulls strongly, blitzing the onramp and howling through a tile-walled tunnel.

I sit low, snugged in tight by the bolstered seats and fixed steering wheel. It feels very much like a long-nosed Miata with a weirdly satisfying motor (the startup whirr is absurdly sci-fi), and it can and will pitch sideways if flung at a corner in a manner that’d have the entire Initial-D cast eating their improbable hairdos in envy.

It’s raw and elemental and whoopsy-daisy fast, and everything I’d hoped it would be. Every chance I get, I’m out there behind the wheel of Unmellow Yellow, attacking the undulating tarmac with- dear Christ in Heaven, am I out of gas AGAIN?

What killed the RX-7? Well, yes, the tendency to go through apex seals didn’t help, and neither did the astronomical price (this one cost about $45K new, which in 1990s money is approximately one hundred million billion dollars). What kills driving one around today is the fuel economy. Actually scratch that: you can argue that the RX-7 gets oil economy, but when it comes to its gasoline usage, you can’t really use the word “economy”. It gets fuel uneconomy.

In the short week I had it, this thing was costing me about $20 worth of 94 octane gas for every thirty miles of driving I did. The ‘vette I currently have is doing considerably better. Solution: swap in an LS7 for fuel-savings – that’s the kinda hybrid I can get behind!

Even so, the RX-7 provided a brief glimpse of a lost time. While the GT-R can be said to be carrying that world-beating torch for Japan, it’s the antithesis of the RX in many ways. It’s a different kind of dream to a different set of engineers – you might as well compare a katana to a cruise missile.

Expensive to buy, unreliable to own, costly to keep on the road and borderline dangerous in the wet.

In other words: utterly fantastic. I miss it.

Mazda provided the vehicle tested and insurance.

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80 Comments on “Capsule Review: 1993 Mazda RX-7...”

  • avatar

    I had a raging hard on for this car when it hit the showroom. I found a red hail damamged unit that I really tried to wheel and deal on but the sale guy just humored me with my ridiculous offer. This car looked like it had been attacked with a ball peen hammer on every horizontal surface that I thought I would get fixed on the cheap once I had procured this chariot. Ha! I did get to take it for a test drive though and it was a rocket, when it wasn’t dying at every stop light I rolled up to. Something tells me I dodged a bullet with that car but it was a looker to this then young 20-something idiot.

  • avatar

    I probably couldn’t fit in one, but always one of my favorite Cars from Afar.

    How can a country who did that have so far lost the plot?

    Oh well, I’m an American no room to talk there.

    • 0 avatar

      Yeah, I tried to fit in one from this generation when they came out. No dice.

      I’m 5-11, and would have needed at least two more inches of headspace if I was going to be able to sit up straight. (And no, my height is mostly in my legs, and no, I was maybe 140 lbs at the time, so it wasn’t my big American booty pushing me up into the roof.) It was like a car times 0.9. Probably just as well it didn’t fit; I kind of like efficiency and durability in my engines.

  • avatar

    Ahhh, re-living old glories. Didn’t Bruce Springsteen write a song about this? Sad. Love the car though. Always did.

  • avatar

    I owned 2 RX-7’s in my youth; a 1984 and a 1994. I had more problems with the ’94, so I didn’t keep it for long. Ended up with a Miata soon after selling it to a track buddy who was willing to put up with the issues; I couldn’t afford it at the time.

    Awesome car and I miss it, the design of this model is timeless in my eyes. I always will love Mazda’s older sports cars (can’t believe I’m saying a ’90s car is old now. ugh). I actually prefer smaller cars and Mazda delivered with a lot of fun to size ration. I don’t understand why everything nowadays has to be a bloated pig you can’t see out of.

  • avatar

    As I recall the engines were good for about 100K miles. They could not be repaired or refurbished, and had to be completely replaced with a new one, not an inexpensive proposition. I remember driving my friend’s Red RX-7 and seeing the Tach windup. It was fun to drive. But $3 K, in 1990 for a new engine at 100,000 miles, which is about $6,000 in today’s dollars, I could not justify under any circumstances.

    • 0 avatar

      Only half correct… Mazda rotary engines were known for generally lasting about 100k before needing a rebuild. But they could most definitely be rebuilt, and rebuilt better than new, IIRC it wasnt even THAT expensive compared to a normal engine rebuild.

      The problem with the FD turbo was that they didnt always last 100k, especially with “spirited” driving or overboosting; and like the RX8, they burned oil under normal usage, and many owners didnt keep up with that, so then even more engines blew up early.

      • 0 avatar

        Mr. MNM Rebuilding a RX-7 engine is news to me. I thought Mazda did not recommend rebuilding. I do not doubt your words, but how was the inside of the engine refinished due to uneven wear. On a cylinder engine, you just re-bore it to a larger size. How is a rotary engine refinished and is the rotor changed out?

      • 0 avatar

        Well I am not an engine rebuilder and I only had an RX7 briefly (my wife had one while we were dating, but her ex “won” it in thier divorce), so I am admittedly no expert. But I have friends and relatives that have owned several RX7s from all generations, so I have a little info on what it takes to own them.

        From what I remember, the rebuilds are often required to replace the seals, not the casing. Rotary engines do not wear the same way as a cylinder, at least not normally. Its a pretty well known fact, especially on older RX7s, that the engines need a rebuild almost like regular maintenance, but that rebuild usually isnt too involved.

        Google it… “rotary engine rebuild” has hundreds of links and sites and info, the apex seals are wear items, there are lots of porting options requiring machining the case, etc. Perhaps if one was blown so bad as to damage the casing, it might not be salvagable, but I think that would be pretty extreme.

      • 0 avatar

        I think the engine rebuild is half the fun for rotary guys. They get to play with tiny little boxes that, when tweaked just right, produce gobs of power. When it is time to rebuild again they just get to try new things. My brother is one of these, although his RX7 is from the generation before this one.

      • 0 avatar

        Most of the time, rebuild just needs new seals (apex, side, corner) and various o-rings and gaskets. Eventually the peripheral housings need to be replaced. The “irons,” or side housings, sometimes need resurfacing and your bigger rotary shops – KD Rotary, Atkins Rotary, Racing Beat, etc. – have a lapping machine that can do this. I’ve seen the one at KD Rotary and it is impressive.

        Rotors rarely need replacing. If all the seals are in place, and the engine is not abused, the rotor only contacts the rest of the engine at the rotor gears and the bearings on the eccentric shaft.

      • 0 avatar

        MR,mnm4ever: it is true that most of the FDs needed alittle freshup around 100k (so did mine) this was due to the way mazda had designed the older style spexseals, they where 3pice, wich was a better sollution for efficiency(better sealing) but not durability, as it gave less than half the potential seal to wear on. the newer 2pice is far supperior,and with propper maintinance a modern 13b can easily last 200k.
        another problem many engines died from was bad coolant, this eroded the sideplates and gave the engine a “headgasket leak” whan this got bad enough the car would not start, or the cooling system would fail, due to exhaustgasses in the cooling system (this is what got my engine) fixing these problems was not expensive.
        as for the old rx7 beeing even more unreliable than the modern equalent,thats simply not true, the old NA 12aà and 13b`s could almost go on forever, i belive there are a few that has passed 400k without a rebuild, both in the states and in australia, i have one myself thats waay past 200k by now.

      • 0 avatar

        Well I am sure there are some that will last, but I remember back in the mid-80s when my uncle got his first RX7, we were all gaga over the car. It was a fairly well known issue that the seals would eventually need replacing… hence a “rebuild”. From what I remember though, the job was easy enough that it wasnt expensive, back then maybe $500 or so.

        I think by far the biggest issue is owners that didnt properly care for the cars.

      • 0 avatar

        @challenger2012: Well, you’re correct. Mazda recommended/offered replacement of most components versus rebuilding. Generally when an apex seal goes, its pieces can damage the rotors or housing…but these things are pretty simple to rebuild, don’t have a lot of parts and are dead-simple in complexity compared to a piston engine. Often these pieces are all salvageable or only need one or two parts replaced…

        The upshot of this is that Mazda had a huge inventory of 13B engine parts. If you want to replace every part of your engine new, it can be still done easily. This can’t be said for the 12As anymore.

  • avatar
    juicy sushi

    Still the best looking car of all time from Japan, and the best looking car of the 1990s. The 1993 Road & Track review of this car cemented my love of J-tin. In silver or blue without a wing, it’s just stunning. Marilyn Monroe proportions on a pixie that knows enough karate to demolish Chuck Norris and Bruce Lee.

  • avatar

    Hadn’t thought about these in a while, but definitely one of my all time favorites. Probably in my personal top 10.

  • avatar

    you’re a lucky SOB, Brendan. One of the most beautiful and interesting cars of our time (I’m around the same age as you) and you got to experience all the pleasures of a mint condition unit, with none of the ownership headaches or costs.

  • avatar

    Beautiful car, romantic concept, victim of reality. Would LSx though.

  • avatar

    Quick, start disparaging the 5 and CX-5 until they send you their original Cosmo Sports!

    Growing up, most of my exposure to this generation RX-7 was through the original Need for Speed, where as the slowest car, it was sort of underwhelming. Probably the car from that game I want the most now though.

  • avatar

    But how did you put up with such gimmicky instruments?

  • avatar

    Mazda provided the vehicle tested and insurance.

    but not the gasoline? how much was it getting? 12mpg?

    there’s a funny story about these… they sold them all to rich doctors and accountants and the type who weren’t ‘mechanically sympathetic’… who promptly blew the motors within warranty

    Mazda had to engage the services of the local engine builders to run a constant stream of rebuilt rotors to fit them in assembly line style. Some cars had more than one motor in the warranty period.

    It costs upwards of $10,000 for a well built rotor.

    Mazda never even broke even on these.

    Coupled with the oddness of the twin turbo system and the bad cooling the series 6 cars had… what a nightmare

    however i’ve been told single turbo conversions with expensive overhauled and strong cooling systems installed made them more reliable… but not as reliable as the LS1/T56 final solution…

    • 0 avatar

      $10k?? I am pretty sure you can get full blown race-ready rebuild for less than that today, its around $3k for a basic rebuild IIRC. In the early 90s, with factory support, I would imagine they figured out a way to get it done even cheaper given how many of them failed. Plus they only sold like 15k of them in the US, so we are not talking about all THAT many engines.

      But I do agree, the LSx swap is still way more reliable. Though technically doesnt that change it from an RX7 to an LX7? Or a PX7?

    • 0 avatar

      10.000$ for a well built rotor?`that funny, they dont even cost that over here, and this is the most expensive country in the world.
      These cars are somewhat strange, but not that unreliable, the biggest problem the FD had was stupidand ignorant owners, this remains the biggest problem to this date, R***ards that drive the shit out of them without letting everything get up to temp first, this alone is almoos sertain doom, as the 5pice design of the block makes it extremely sensitive to abuse before warm(the orings inbetween the engine parts blew out if you didnt warm upp the engine before abusing it, this lead to the same problem as a blown head gasket)

      and doing a pigironswap in a small light supercar? like understear much?

      • 0 avatar

        +1 — as I said above, I think the owners were the most unreliable part of the car.

        R**ards are annoying, but so is someone saying pigironswap. :) Surely you can understand how the aluminum compact LSx V8 only increases the weight over the TT-13b by something like 60lbs IIRC. It is a pretty elegant swap, even if you do not like the concept.

        One thing I was thinking with all this… since the FD is so light, if someone wanted one that was more reliable and didnt really need rocketship acceleration, how about swapping in a nicely built up non-turbo 13b? I think you can get a pretty solid 200hp out of them, and less weight thanks to removing the turbo plumping. Or a Renesis might work too, though I guess there are questions to the reliability of those as well. Blown motor FDs are pretty cheap…

      • 0 avatar

        lsx in a 7….. would you allso put a cleveland v8 in a lambo diablo? pretty sure the cleveland would be alot more reliable, better mpg to, why not a cummins diesel while you are at it.
        if you want a lsx than buy a corvette, leave the 7 to the people that can maintain a rotary properly,
        and yeah, you could put in an na 13b like the renesis, but then the FD would just be as slow as an rx8.
        why would you want to downgrade the car?
        with some simple mods (not that expensive either) the seven doesnt have to be unreliable. i have daily driven mine for over 8 years now+ i also drive a 78 rx-4 wagon, apart from needing a new starter, its been nothing but reliable

      • 0 avatar

        Well maybe not a Diablo, but a Countach, yea, I probably would! :) The Cummings would be too heavy though, now you are just getting silly. :)

        Seriously, first off, I like engine swaps, something about the hot rod roots of them that appeals to me. And obviously I am not alone, or there wouldnt be a market for engine swaps. Since you are a rotary purist and basically arguing that the RX7 twin turbo is reliable, you apparently do not share that view. I can appreciate the purist point of view, and for some cars, I wouldn’t consider changing the engine. A really nice RX7, well maintained, not abused, low miles etc, no way. My thing is cheap speed, so I would only do it to a car that I could get cheap, aone that would require too much money to “fix” the original engine. Maybe one with no engine, or a salvage title, something like that.

        I was all set to argue about the prices, but I did a quick Google search, and apparently re-man engines for RX7s are not too expensive:

        But the twin turbo engines are still a good $2k over the price of a non-turbo, and that price doesnt include turbos, its just a long block. So if you had no engine at all or trashed turbos, you are looking at big money to replace it. So my point was, you can go with an LS swap for cheaper speed, or maybe a non-turbo 13b for someone who is more interested in the handling and lower maintenance/higher reliability than the pure speed.

        Not that any of this matters, I won’t be doing any RX projects. I already have an MR2 Spyder, and when that engine goes I will be looking to replace it instead. Maybe with a rotary?? :)

      • 0 avatar

        e countach engineswap? u rapist xD, that like looking at kate beckinsale and thinking:hmmmm,yeees, å doghead would do wonders here. i can understand the economical side of doing a swap, but still. buy a corvette, its allready got a 18.century pigiron engine ;) why commit automotive rape? the entire purpose with doing an engine swap to a car is to improve it. if yoo lump a huge POS v8 infront of the front accle you have ruined the car. with the 13b in place it is after all a midengined car (the entire block is behind the front subframe) think what a v8boinger with 2tonnes og scrapmetal 40cm further forward will do to the handling!

        i will not however argue that the sequential twinturbosystem is reliable. it was in its day, but after 20 years of abnormal heatcycling, most of the supporting systems for the twins failed, thats why mine is Single turbo (T60-1)
        that simplifyes the entire engine. 2 boxes of crap you dont need anymore+ much cooler chargeair=happy rotary, couple this with a bigger rad, bigger ic and a meth/water injection system and you have the makings of a reliable unique streetmonster

      • 0 avatar

        Now listen there will be no joking about Kate, she is perfect as is.

        Of course, you do realize shes had quite a bit of work done on her too right?? Google pics of her back when she was first starting out. Like a different person! LOL

        The problem with a Vette is it weighs quite a bit more than the RX, plus its doesnt have the look or the quality, especially ones at that price range. I would have to spend $25k+ on a Vette I would be happy with. And the LS is hardly old tech, its quite modern, compact, and light. I know a guy locally who has one with a swap, I will ask him how it fits in the chassis relative to the 13B.

        I am not knocking the rotary, I like them a lot, always have. Yours sounds like a beast too. Plus, Vin Diesel drove on in The Fast and Furious, and it beat all the other cars. Dom is never wrong… :)

      • 0 avatar

        Hehe, the one Vin drove in F&F is dubbed over with a v8, same in 2fast, drives me insane when i watch it, a tuned rotary would have been so much better (like the bridgeported one in tokyo drift)

        and dont call the ls engines modern. they have 2 valves per sylinder! hallo 1970! and the manufacturing toleranses on those engines are so bad, that where they to be put in a japanese engineshop, it would have been considered worn out (true fact)
        the v8 swap in a FD is just so unrefined, sledgehammer technice in a presition instrument. its just wrong :(
        at least put a JDM v6/v8 in it if you HAVE to have a boinger

      • 0 avatar

        @ rx-7fd3s – get with the times man, cleveland in a lambo – thats so early 80’s. If your looking for real Ford iron (literally) it would a 07-09 GT500 motor swap into the lambo – super reliable, tons of power and 700 pounds (I think thats the weight of the 5.4 with all the supporting gear and supercharger) on the back axle (well amidships but thats besides the point).

        Pffft…. old guys these days, its all small journal 327 this and 351 cleveland that and OMG hemi is king.

  • avatar

    At $4/ gallon for Premium, $20 is 5 gallons every 30 miles, or 6 miles to the gallon.


    Our 460 cubic inch (7.5 litres for you kids today) big block Ford-powered LTD gets better than that while thrashing it around a racetrack. I can’t even fathom how one can get _6_ miles to the gallon in a car that makes less power and weighs half as much.

    • 0 avatar

      19-year-old seals, a design that was more focused on power than economy and an extremely tempting Go pedal might have something to do with it.

    • 0 avatar

      Canayjuns buy gas by the (expensive) liter so I guesstimate that Brendan was getting closer to 8-9 mpg. Why they use those unChristian metric units is beyond me.

      PS – thats real money – the loonie is worth more than the greenback

      • 0 avatar

        Ah…shoulda paid more attention to that speedo pic and noticed the big numbers were km/hr. Also, the tachometer is in metric revolutions per minute.


        My arbitrarily-defined system of measurement is clearly superior to yours!

      • 0 avatar

        that cant be right! unless he was thrashing it the entire tank, mine is at 400HP and i get about 20-22mpg
        with some spirited driving it gets about 16

      • 0 avatar

        That made me laugh – unChristian metric units. Gonna add that to my daily vocabulary along with destructions.

    • 0 avatar

      In BC, you’ll probably pay about $1.50 per litre of 94 octane — more than for premium, and the premium upcharge in Canada is already high. So figure on 13.5 L, 3 imperial gallons or 3.5 US gallons per 30 miles. That’s about 9 mpUSg or 28 L/100 km. Still atrociously bad, even around the city.

      Oh yes, the Flying Spaghetti Monster (see told us to use litres and kilometres rather than gallons and miles!

  • avatar

    Why did Mazda want you to drive this car, Brendan? I’m still not over the one I drove fifteen years ago; it’s also when I learned about the torture of being stuck behind a minivan.

  • avatar

    My favorite RX7, I remember when they hit the local Mazda dealer who promptly put a 10k markup on it. As I recall you had the standard car and the R1???? Which was a track model of sorts.

  • avatar

    Great review Brendan, and you get super terrific extra fun points for the Moe Szyslak reference.

  • avatar

    I am amazing at just how beautiful these cars still are 20 yrs later. Too bad the engines are so fragile. But an LSx swap is perfect in these…

  • avatar

    Why were you putting 94 octane in this car?

    Back when I bought a new RX-7 in 1980, the normally-aspirated rotary was cable of running on 70 octane fuel. In fact, that’s one of the reasons why rotaries get such poor fuel economy. Granted, boost should increase the octane requirement, but I seriously doubt it would push it 24 points.

    • 0 avatar

      Yes, they require premium fuel once you add boost. Apex seals don’t like knock – at all – so you want the highest octane you can find on a turbo rotary.

    • 0 avatar

      Mazda recommended “the highest octane available” for the FDs…

      This is different from the FCs where they recommended 87 octane, even on the Turbos and most owners find 89 to be the best to use.

      I mistakenly was using 93 when I first bought my stock Turbo FC and the car did not like it at all.

      This all goes out the window once you’ve modified the exhaust, turbo and fuel system.

  • avatar

    by the way… is the Nissan Figaro the new TTAC “where’s wally?”

  • avatar

    This is the one I missed. I test drove a 1983 and a 1988. Both put a huge stupid smile on my face. There was a video game that came out with this gen though, that I wore the f*** out. I think it was even yellow! Good times.

  • avatar

    I was just a year into college when this came out and I wanted one badly. I still do want one. The performance of this machine is why the FR-S seems so disappointing to me. The FR-S should’ve be the second coming of the RX-7… with Toyota reliability.

  • avatar

    Great review! Did it have the “bass tube” that wrapped around behind the seats?

  • avatar

    Always wanted one? That’s me, too. I remember seeing one for the first time, on a trip to the west coast, Santa Barbara Mazda dealer prepping one. Loved that series RX-7 ever since. Very glad we’re done with RX-8. I would rebuild an RX-7 over buying an ‘8’ anytime.

    The rotary engine, to me, is its only downside. I wonder if folks really into the last version RX-7 have come up with a motor swap to a practical V6 or big four cylinder. I saw an otherwise original(1970) Challenger a couple of years ago with a neatly installed Viper V10 motor, and if that’s possible – swapping out the rotary motor can’t be any harder.

  • avatar

    This is the car of dreams, like the NSX, Supra, 3000GT, 300ZX (is one behind you in that pic?!?) of the same era. Many hours spent behind the virtual wheel of Gran Turismo tells me the RX-7 was the easiest to rotate and could be held in a sideways drift longer. My college professor owned a red one… I hated him. Such a sexy shape and TWO turbos? Madness! The best I could do was 3 years later: an Eclipse GS-T. Right engine, wrong wheel drive, but 30 MPG and slightly less oil consumption.

  • avatar

    Good GOD that is one phenomenal looking machine, even in garish yellow. IMO one of the all-time best-looking, and more importantly, best-aging (in looks) cars by any automaker.

    I rue the fact I was only nine during those heady days of Japanese sports cars. There are few still around that are totally unmolested.

    I only need to look in my friends’ backyard to see a ’92 Supra rusting away. They don’t have the time to fix it, nor the heart to junk it.

  • avatar

    Bravo Brendan, very well written and enjoyable. This one’s getting shared on facebook.

  • avatar

    There is one of these taking up space in my garage. It belongs to a friend that is deployed to Afghanistan. I’ve never seen it running, but I’ve heard it is extremely fast with a couple times its stock output.

  • avatar

    Always loved the car but could never afford one back then. But the unreliability… I had a friend who summed this car up pretty well by saying: “I refuse to buy a car that doubles as a piece of [email protected]#$%^&*”.

  • avatar
    el scotto

    You have to like any car that has the tach in the center of the instrument cluster. Did you appreciate the serendipity of how your phone fit in that small storage space?

  • avatar

    Brendan: Props for being the car car blog that I have read that has used the word `somnolent`.

  • avatar

    Love the 9th picture – blasting(?) over Lionsgate bridge at sunset always gives me a thrill. I bet it’s an especially good feeling doing it in such a kick-ass car!

  • avatar

    My dad bought one lightly used (to replace his ’88 5.0 Mustang) when I was in highschool. As Brendan says, mainlining pure 90s: black with tan interior and the Bose soundwave tube thingy in the back.

    “Whoopsiedaisy fast” is entirely accurate as both he and I can attest to. Can also attest to the fact that once you get it wound up, it’ll hang with a late-90s Cobra Mustang in a straight line.

    Dad overheated it coming out of Yosemite, so it was new motor time. Except you can’t (or couldn’t at the time) technically buy a “replacement motor”, as GM owns the patents for the wankel and something something legal BS. So you had to get a “rebuild kit”, which was a replacement motor with like 3 bolts removed or something.

    Back to whoopsiedaisy…the guy he sold it to spun it and crashed it (lightly) on the test drive.

    Still one of the best looking cars ever, particularly in black or silver.

  • avatar

    I always loved this car – though yes, it’s even better with an LSx…

    Speaking of the LSx, is it just me, or does this car look a lot like a C5 Corvette? I still need to read “All Corvettes Are Red” – perhaps don’t spoil it for me too much – but did the C5 designers use this car as a benchmark?

    Edit: some Google searching reveals they indeed did.

  • avatar

    Probably my favorite car of all time, in the best and rarest color. Only 350 of these were sold in the US in Competition Yellow Mica and command a price premium. All CYM cars in the US were R-1 models, which had twin oil coolers, a very stiff suspension setup and some other bits including a rear spoiler. Looks like it may have been different in Canada as this example lacks a spoiler.

    I’ve not owned one yet as the reliability isn’t really there. The sequential twin turbo system was a bit ahead of what early 90s engine management could handle. They have a real rats nest of vacuum lines to control it. You can adapt the better organized vacuum cardtridge setup from the later versions that weren’t sold in the US, and that can help. Most engine failures seem to come about when the boost pressure is increased without proper engine management to compensate.

    They will never be as simple and reliable as the NSX – then again, they sold for less than half the price, and offered comparable performance at the time. I wouldn’t use one as a daily driver but I intend to have one as a weekend toy. They just don’t like being tuned within an inch of their lives – rotaries are far less knock resistant than turbo piston engines.

  • avatar

    Error in the writeup….these cars didn’t get a 4 channel ABS system until much later in the production run. The car you drove has a 3 channel ABS system.

  • avatar

    I remember seeing one in the Mazda showroom on a raised platform when my parents were buying their 1994 MPV. I remember as a kid, that I’d see a lot of Miatas, but not a lot of RX7s, and even wrote up a build list.

    A few years ago, a friend of a friend bought ’94 R1 because he wanted “something different” vs his roommate’s Supra. I thought his priorities were a bit out of line, since he had sold an RSX to buy the RX7. And since he and I were both college students, I thought it was more important he have a reliable car…but being ‘different’ was still more important. He tossed me the keys and let me take it for a spin. It was cramped (I’m 5’5, my knees touched the steering wheel), looked and smelled an awful lot like my family’s ’94 MPV. I met my hero that day, and it was awesome.

    I could theoretically afford to buy one and fulfill most of my childhood dreams. But I keep thinking that for the trouble and cost, I could easily pick up a/an [german car here] and get better gas mileage, etc. Or skip a step and buy a C5 Z06.

    Maybe someday.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    The ultimate Rotary madness . . . rotary with twin turbos! This car give meaning to the term “bleeding edge” and, IIRC, the gauge of the sheet metal of the body was extremely thin. It would yield to finger pressure.

    I think the assumption of the folks who designed the engine was that the owner wouldn’t give a damn about fuel economy . . . and, when the car was likely designed (late 1980s), gasoline was pretty cheap.

    There was always talk of having more than a 2-rotor Wankel engine as a source of more displacement and power. I think there were stories about using such an engine in a Corvette. I wonder why Mazda didn’t pursue that route, instead of forced induction . . . maybe the fuel economy was just too horrible.

    My experience with the very first commercial Wankel (the RX-2 sedan) was a lot of fun. My engine, never run out of oil, never overheated, was quite reliable. But, by about 70,000 miles, compression was obviously down . . . no doubt because seals needed replacement. And the best the car could do on the highway, even at 60 mph (when the double nickel speed limit was first rolled out, it was stringently enforced) was 20 mpg.

  • avatar

    Back in the mid to late 90’s you couldn’t go to an SCCA autocross without seeing at least one of these. I was lucky enough to know someone that had one and had a chance to drive one (an R1 package) in anger on many an autocross course. Still my absolute favorite production based car to drive around the cones. I also know the current owner of the car, but just can’t bear to ask for a drive. Too afraid of toasting the engine.

    Want an aural thrill? At Pro Solo’s the proper launch was to bring it up to about 6K to get the big turbo spinning just before the lights started to drop, then launch at 3K just as the third yellow lit up. Now imagine pairs of RX-7’s doing this with no mufflers. The sound was just incredible.

  • avatar

    Back when the third generation RX-7 hit Mazda dealers lots, I was driving the first of my two first generation RX-7s. I drooled over the third generation… but back then in no way could I have afforded to buy one.

    What a car… they still look cool today. Nothing like a rotary engine at a high RPM. I still regret that I sold my last first generation, unless I had replaced it with a third. But I did not…

  • avatar

    Timeless styling. Absolutely gorgeous. Inspired me to do a quick search on Autotrader to dream “if I had a garage, what would I fill it with” before reality set back in that I do not have the time, space, or funds to properly upkeep a machine like this one.


  • avatar

    If memory serves, a red one of these appears in Office Space right at the beginning of the “damn it feels good to be a gangster” montage.

  • avatar

    For all of you who would have bought an RX7 (had the price been considerably less), wait until you read this: By March of 1995 Mazda had huge discounts on the unsold ’94 RX7s which I had been following in AutoWeek. Then I saw a local Chicagoland dealer who had 5 ’94s available at huge discounts, so I went to check them out. The one I eventually bought was discounted from the $42,000 sticker (it was the loaded touring model lacking only a spoiler – an item I did not want) to $28,000. That’s right, an advertised $14,000 discount. With my trade (which I could not sell for even $2,000), I got an out-the-door (IL sales tax, license, and all) price of $20,180.

  • avatar

    By all accounts, these seem like the modern, (slightly) more affordable and reliable equivalent of a sixties’ Italian exoticar: beautiful styling and performance but upkeep is only for those truly dedicated souls.

  • avatar

    I’ve also never owned or driven a 3rd gen RX-7 (save for countless hours in Gran Turismo) but together with the Acura NSX, E36 M3, and Boxster S (yeah, I know, it ain’t a “real Porsche”), it’s one of my all-time favorite “in another life, brother” cars I fantasize about. I used to have a fold-out poster of one of these in silver that I picked up at the LA car show way back in high school. This was a great trip down memory lane, Brendan – a very enjoyable review.

    Also, hat tip to Mazda PR, if they’re reading. Brand building is, to a certain degree, as simple as reminding people what they love about a brand. The FD RX-7 is a tremendous emotional asset to roll out from time to time in this manner.

  • avatar

    A nice write up on an old car.

    What I loved about the writeup was how you loved the car despite its issues like a half working stereo, an iffy AC etc.

    This is obviously unrestored, but it was freshened up with a fresh spray in that delicious yellow goodness. This car works that yellow, as does the Miata (especially the first gen), as does the later Protege 5.

    I like the front a lot as it reminds me a lot of the first gen Miata. Something about how the turn signals are large, and inset into the otherwise, smooth front clip. It’s simple, but modern looking and yes, this car does wear its age well design wise.

    I’ve never driven one of these, but I will say, the Protege 5 sure are fun to drive in and of themselves (I own one, sadly NOT in that delicious yellow, but in black).

  • avatar
    hands of lunchmeat

    I think Mazda is one of the few japanese companies who still cater to enthusiasts, and are willing to share some gems from their past with journos.

    I could never fit in a FD, so for me its a sort of attainable, yet forbidden fruit. Ive owned a couple 1st gen RX’s, probably the best car to learn throttle steering on, benign handling and humming of the rotary always beckoning you to spin it more. Its tricky to get something more sublime in terms of just driving. An LS motor in one of these would definitely be more reliable, and more powerful, but i feel that this car is kind of a package deal, the rotary a major part of it.

    The car you drove was definitely repainted, the finish on these from the factory was superthin, you never see one of these with original paint due to the amount of rock chips they have from even weekend use.

    Also due props for a simpsons AND Monty python reference in an article.

    • 0 avatar

      If you follow Mazda on Facebook, you’ll frequently see them featuring RX-7s and RX-8s getting results out on the track. I even got some love from them for a picture of my bone-stock anniversary FC. I definitely feel like Mazda still gets it. I don’t think that can really be said for the rest of the Japanese autos ‘cept maybe Toyota — and that seems more like a series of happy accidents.

  • avatar

    This post put a big smile on my face, thanks.

    Definitely the thing that people have to realize is that with rotaries, the most unreliable thing about the car is often the driver. This may not be true for those FDs though — they seem to be temperamental even for some of the most dedicated owners — that said, they really aren’t that _expensive_ to maintain. They just need you to be consistent about how you treat the car.

    I own a 1988 10th Anniversary RX-7. I have a love-hate relationship with my car…There’s an annoying hot-start problem, the security system sometime bugs out and locks me out of my car, I’ve got to replace some parts that break constantly (FTP lenses, stereo panel/surround, wiper switches). There’s no airbags or ABS or safety features of any kind and the factory-bronze-tinted windshield is currently irreplaceable — I can’t break it. I have to be hyper-conscious of how I treat the car to make sure it lasts… But when I’m out there driving the thing, that drive makes up for all of it. The first time I pushed it a little on the highway I laughed — giggling like an idiot for nearly an hour.

    I really wish everyone would drive one of these things (well, an SA/FB or FC) at least once. It’s hard if not impossible to fall in love with this car behind the wheel. LS swap comments kind of hurt because it really changes the character of the car completely and the looks aren’t what make these cars great.

    Rotary love.

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