LOTS OF REVIEWS
The time came in 1978 for Mazda to launch the most exciting new model in its history – the RX7. With 1.1 litres of twin rotor engine replacing conventional pistons the low-slung coupe with its hidden headlamps and hatchback access changed the shape and concept of sports car motoring. Selling in Australia for a whisker less than $15,000 the Mazda was pitched directly against Alfa Romeo’s ageing 2000GTV and undercut Nissan’s heavyweight 280ZX by almost $5000.
Mazda’s route to success was made easier by the imminent demise of open-top British models including the Triumph TR7 and MGB. Certainly the RX7 was fundamental to revival of the lucrative North American sporty car market.
The original RX7 was not fast in absolute terms but made amends via a responsive chassis. The tiny engine initially produced only 77kW and needed to be spinning above 4000rpm before delivering full performance.
From a standing start the 12A engine didn’t win a lot of drag races but mid-range performance once the rotors were spinning hard would out-gun direct competitors like Nissan’s 280ZX and the Alfa 2000GTV and come close to V8 pace.
Standard equipment included air-conditioning, with automatic transmission optional from 1981.
On the race-track, the Mazda’s light weight and durability ensured excellent results. The most obvious beneficiary was Allan Moffat, who abandoned his long-running Ford allegiance for a peripherally-ported RX7 that won the Canadian his 4th Australian Touring Car title. Moffat’s international results included first in class at the 1982 Daytona 24 Hour sports car race.
Late in 1981 a Series 2 RX7 arrived and pacified most of the original car’s critics. Under the rear sat a very welcome pair of disc brakes in place of the S1’s drums and beneath the bonnet an extra seven kilowatts of power. Alloy wheels in a distinctive four-spoke design were fitted but still only 13 inches in diameter and carrying skimpy 185-section tyres.
For 1984 the Super Deluxe was renamed Limited and sold in Series 3 form at an increased price. Improvements included a larger 63-litre fuel tank, bigger wheels (finally) with wider tyres, a sunroof, cruise control and fairly redundant headlamp washers.
Seats in later RX7s were significantly better than in S1 cars which were criticised for lack of support. Headroom is tight if you’re tall and rear leg room with the front seats fully forward is only 190mm. The area behind the seats is best regarded as a luggage platform.
RX7s run happily on 91RON fuel (but not E10) or 95 Premium. Another bonus is that you don’t need to fiddle with lead replacement additives as rotaries don’t have valve seats that wear due to lack of lubrication.
There is no excuse for choosing a really ratty RX7 unless you’re in the mood for a full rebuild. S1 models are becoming harder to find, however the cost of a for decent car remains below $20,000. Exceptional cars in preserved original condition will exceed $30,000.
Series 2 and the Series 3 Limited models are also easy to find however some vendors are looking for extreme money. In common with the Series 1, top condition examples reach $30-35,000.
Considering where and how you typically drive has an effect on which style of RX7 to choose. For predominantly suburban running or as a daily commuter the Limited automatic has more gear in it and combines easy operation with good performance.
If you plan some club-level motor sport, one of the 13B-converted or even turbocharged cars with brake upgrades and rigid suspensions will be more viable. They generally don’t cost any more than an excellent standard car.
Plenty of repair outfits specialise in rotary Mazdas, so finding parts and the expertise to keep your car running won’t be difficult.