Mazda launched the RX-7 series of two-door sports coupe in 1978, powered throughout by their Wankel two-rotor rotary engine. Although not the first rotary engine car from Mazda – that honour goes to the Cosmo Sport – the RX-7 was their most well known and indeed their best until production ended in 2002.
The RX-7 was a front mid-engine, rear-wheel-drive vehicle. The engine sits behind the front axle giving it a 50-50 weight distribution that resulted in a car with excellent handling. It was also sold as the Savannah RX-7 inheriting its name from its predecessor, the Mazda RX-3.
First Generation (SA22C / FB), 1978-1985
The RX-7's silhouette took inspiration from the very popular 1967 Lotus Elan and featured a long bonnet with a curved rear glass hatch. Officially first known as the SA22C, the FB designation became more popular as this reflected the letters for the first generation’s VINs.
The rotary engine's inherent lightness as compared to traditional piston engines gave the RX-7 an advantage even if displacement and power output were lower than other piston-powered competitors in its class. The first series, produced from 1978 to 1980, only weighed 1,043 kilograms and was powered by the 1.1L 12A (77 kW/ 147 N⋅m) with a 4-speed manual and soon after a 5-speed manual gearbox. This engine variant was available up to the end of the first generation.
A 3-speed automatic transmission became an option for the 1981-1983 model years, coinciding with the Series 2 upgrade that featured plastic bumpers, larger fuel tank, shorter gear stick and a redesigned dashboard. European and other select markets received an updated version of the rotary 12A engine increasing its power to 85 kW. Four-wheel disc brakes also became standard equipment for most of the world market.
A Series 3 upgrade was done for the 1984-1985 models, which came with a different instrument cluster, external oil cooler and an updated lower front fascia. Two other engine options became available, a turbocharged 1.1L 12A (118 kW/ 226 N⋅m) and a 1.3L 13B rotary engine super injection (109 kW/ 187 N⋅m), with the latter only available for the US market. The Impact Turbo version of the 12A (121 kW/ 231 N⋅m) was available in some countries but only offered for a short time since at this time, Mazda was about to roll out the next generation.
The turbocharged 1.1L 12A powered vehicles were tested to accelerate from 0-100 km/h in 6.8 seconds with a top speed advertised as 217 km/h. The rotary engines were known to gobble up petrol and oil, with the fuel consumption for combined city and highway driving recorded at 13.2 L/100km. The acceleration and top speed were already impressive for this car, but combined with the almost 50-50 weight distribution, light overall weight, low centre of gravity, and the live axle 4-link rear suspension, its handling was even exceptional. All these figures and qualities gave this a car a huge advantage over its competitors.
Second Generation (FC), 1986-1992
Known as the Series 4 (1986-1988), the second-generation RX-7 FC had a new front fascia and a redesigned rear. The styling closely resembled the Porsche 944, which was very popular in the US. Mazda capitalised on this popularity among sports car buyers since the US was its biggest market in the previous generation. The major improvements were on the mechanical components, notably the shift from the live rear axle to an independent rear suspension with special toe control hubs. The recirculating ball steering was also upgraded to a rack and pinion.
A naturally-aspirated 1.3L 13B-VDEI (110 kW/ 194 N⋅m) powered the Series 4, with a turbocharged version (146 kW/ 265 N⋅m) offered as an option. Transmission choices were either a 4-speed auto or a 5-speed manual gearbox. The turbocharged version is easily distinguishable by the air intake scoop on the bonnet.
The Series 5 introduced in 1989 and sold until 1992 featured better engine management systems and lighter rotors which increased the power for the naturally-aspirated version to 119 kW and the turbocharged version to 149 kW. In other regions, Mazda marketed the Series 5 as the Turbo II to distinguish it from the earlier versions.
The second generation saw the introduction of the convertible version. The convertible top can be folded down by unlatching the catches then activating the power-operated mechanism to lower the roof then finally securing the rigid section manually.
Third Generation (FD), 1992-2002
The third-generation was a completely new design and the chassis designated as the FD32 in Japan and JM1FD for the US, transforming the series from a GT to a genuine sports car in design, handling and power. Mazda didn't try to imitate any offerings from other manufacturers but rather designed their vision of what would later become one of the most iconic and easily recognisable sports cars in the world.
The iconic FD was one of the best handling sports cars thanks to the almost perfect 50-50 weight distribution, powerful engine and superb handling characteristics. The interior had basic instrumentation and a fixed steering column which maintained its simplicity and a no-nonsense appeal.
The third-generation RX-7 was known as the Series 6 and was powered by the twin-turbocharged 13B-REW twin-rotor that produced 176 kW of power and torque of 294 N⋅m for the Australian versions. Elsewhere, this engine was tuned to produce different power levels.
Series 6 (1992-1995)
- Type R, Type RZ & Type RB - 188 kW/ 294 N⋅m
- EU-Spec - 176 kW/ 294 N⋅m
- Touring X - 188 kW/ 294 N⋅m
Series 7 (1998-2002)
- Type RB - 195 kW/ 294 N⋅m
- Type RB 4AT - 188 kW/ 294 N⋅m
- Type RB-S - 195 kW/ 294 N⋅m
- Type R, Bathurst R, RS, RZ - 206 kW/ 314 N⋅m
- Spirit R (Type A & B) - 206 kW/ 314 N⋅m
- Spirit R Type C - 188 kW/ 314 N⋅m
The Series 6 and 7 were available worldwide up to 1999, but the final Series 8 from 1998 to 2002 was only available in Japan and was replaced by the new RX-8. Numerous trims were available in different markets and were available with standard and optional equipment to tailor to buyer's needs. The Series 7 was produced as a right-hand-drive vehicle and exclusively marketed in Japan, Australia, New Zealand and the UK. It included a new ECU with an improved intake system that netted an additional 7 kW but was only gained for the manual gearbox version as the power increase only became available from the 7,000 rpm range.
A high-performance version was offered in Australia in 1995 and named RX-7 SP with an engine rated at 204 kW and torque of 357 N⋅m. This rare model was offered on a limited run, with only 35 cars ever made. Some features that set it apart are the carbon fibre nose cone and rear spoiler, 120L fuel tank, 4.3:1 final drive ratio, 17-inch wheels, large brake rotors and callipers. A modified ECU was also installed together with a highly-upgraded intercooler and exhaust system. The interior was treated to Recaro race seats.
The RX-7, a True Classic Sports Car
The RX-7 is still a sought-after sports car, from the first generations to the last. The weight savings and power delivered by the rotary engines combined with its superior handling rewards the driver a true sports driving experience. Preserved and restored samples of these cars demand a high price, and we've seen them appreciating the past years. Although the rotary engines are known to be fuel-hungry, the power it gives for its weight and ease of maintenance more than compensates the fuel cost.
Owning an RX-7 may involve ordering car parts that are hard to come by. We at Carpart.com.au can help you in this aspect. You may visit our website, and if you don't see what you need, feel free to send us a parts request message.