It’s Friday, it’s nearly the weekend so it must be time for another look back at a modern classic. This week’s is a real hot tamale, with a revolutionary engine this car was fast, exciting and has become an icon of the modifying and drifting world, the Mazda RX-7.
The Early Years
The first generation of RX-7s were launched in 1978 and although they were sporty they were not quite the racer the car would later become. They proved very popular in Japan for 2 reasons, the first was that road tax in Japan in related to car size and the 7 was below a major threshold. The second was that road tax in Japan was also based on the size of the engine in relation to the size of the car, and due to it’s rather unusual Wankel Rotary Engine the RX-7 remained below the threshold there too. There were 3 versions of the first gen RX-7, all getting a little more power and sporty looks as they were launched. The cars were sold right across the USA, Japan and many other countries and the RX-7 was considered a great success. Initially only really launched with 2 seats, there was an option to have “occasional” seats installed in the rear. By occasional Mazda basically meant, you really wouldn’t want to sit in them unless you really had to; they were very small.
The Wankel Rotary Engine was first registered in the early 1900s but did not got into production until the 1950s. This revolutionary engine didn’t use traditional pistons but instead used a spinning “triangle” shape that moves within a set space to create temporary combustion chambers. Without going into too much detail the engine produces a great deal of power compared to its relatively small capacity and offers very high and smooth revving. The way the engine works meant that the first gen cars were basically only 1.2 litre but would out perform larger engined models easily. This carried on right through the RX-7s life and carried on into the RX-8 too.
The second generation RX-7 was launched in 1985 and this is where things started heating up. There was a naturally aspirated version which pushed out 160 bhp and a new turbo charged version that reached 200 bhp, with lighter rotor tips and a number of sporty modifications the second gen cars were really starting to be quite fast but still remained under the 1.5 litre Japanese tax threshold. The car sold like hot cakes in the US and did well in Japan too, with disk brakes as standard and much better handling the second generation RX-7 was a hit.
The third and final generation car was a real rocket, with power rising to 255 bhp and in later models 280 bhp the RX-7 had reached its pinnacle. It no longer complied to Japanese tax thresholds and no one really minded, this turbo charged racer was a firm favourite and people were willing to pay for it. As well as the now iconic engine the 3rd gen cars used a very complex bit of turbo charger kit which essentially included 2 turbos. A turbo charger needs to start spinning before it brings in all that extra air, and that process takes time, this means you can suffer what is know as turbo lag. This is where the power literally lags behind the throttle input and the driver needs to plan for big acceleration by pre revving the engine or keeping it at a high RPM. Mazda’s sequential turbo meant there were two turbines and the smaller one of the two would start spinning sooner, thus bringing in more air as the larger one spooled up and getting rid of any turbo lag. This ultra complex bit of racing kit influenced a great deal of modern turbo designs.
Production sadly ended in 2002 and made way for the beautiful RX-8 but the RX-7 can still be seen racing, drifting and being shown off a car shows all over the world. It is very much an active classic and is showing no signs of changing that habit. The car changed the world by allowing people to run a smaller engine and still have power to play with. It was also a brave move using a totally different kind of engine, a move you are unlikely to see today. The turbo technology Mazda invented is starting to be used in different ways across the range of modern diesel engines to help eliminate the dreaded turbo lag, so thanks to this brilliant little road rocket diesel drivers might one day not have to wait for the power to arrive when they put their foot down.
A good looking, well built, reliable and fast car the RX-7 is a classic and should be viewed with a smile if you are lucky enough to see one. You can still buy them, of course, but look for one that has not been heavily modified. Prices range from around £3000 for a first gen car in poor condition to over £10,000 for clean UK version of the second and third gen cars, there are so many versions of each one you would do well to do your research before buying.