All generations of the Mazda RX-7 may be pretty far below the radar, but there’s one thing that any car enthusiasts knows – that all three generations were powered by a rotary engine. This made the RX-7 unique in the marketplace for a whole raft of reasons, some good and some not so good.
The two key winners were the compact powerplant allowed the Mazda to have a lower nose than its more conventionally engined adversaries while its inherent smoothness meant the more you piled on the revs the smoother things got. But the rotary engine was also not as tough as a regular piston engine, it wasn’t as torquey and it also used a lot more oil. Fuel consumption could be an issue too.
Mazda made a pretty good job of addressing these inherent shortcomings but there was only so much it could do. Bolting a pair of turbos on gave the RX-7 seriously impressive performance though, and the handling was superb. Equipment levels were generous and the looks are nothing short of fantastic. Throw in hatchback practicality, excellent grip and beautifully sweet steering and you’ve got a brilliant – if flawed – sportscar.
Which one to buy?
A high price tag when new meant relatively few RX-7s made it to the UK, although plenty of grey imports have come in since the car’s demise. As a result you’ll be able to choose from UK-spec cars as well as JDM (Japanese Domestic Market); it’s up to you to decide which suits you best.
Because this generation of RX-7 (known as the FD) remained in production until 2002, by opting for a grey import you can buy an automatic (all UK cars were five-speed manuals), a raft of special editions and cars with occasional rear seats. UK cars were two-seaters only. Whatever you buy the chances are that it will have had at least some modifications, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The problem is that many RX-7s have received some seriously overblown upgrades that spoil the car’s character and can compromise reliability. Be wary about any deviation from the standard spec, because a factory-spec car is so good that modifications aren’t really needed. Any car that’s had a lot of them has probably been thrashed to within an inch of its life at every opportunity.
Original-spec cars aren’t easy to find though, and it’s reckoned that fewer than 200 cars were brought into the UK officially. So if you want an official UK car, in good condition and to original spec, be prepared to wait.
Performance and spec
Engine 2x654cc rotary Power 237bhp @ 6500rpm Torque 218lb ft @ 5000rpm Top speed 156mph 0-60mph 5.4sec Consumption 18mpg Gearbox Five-speed manual
• While corrosion is pretty well controlled thanks to the factory-applied rustproofing, it’s not unusual for a bit of rust in the rear wheelarches. Grey imports from Japan might be showing more signs of corrosion as JDM cars weren’t rustproofed to the same degree as cars sold in Europe.
• Poorly repaired crash damage is a distinct possibility, so see if the panel gaps are tight and even. Rear-wheel drive and lots of power equal oversteer antics on demand – although it’s easy to get the tail out of shape involuntarily too...
• The RX-7’s paint isn’t of a really high quality, with early cars especially likely to have suffered from stone chipping. That’s why some cars have already been resprayed, although touched-in chips aren’t unusual either.
• The engine is the RX-7s Achilles’ Heel, but if maintained properly and not abused the rotary unit isn’t a disaster zone. Officially it needs a service every 6000 miles or 12 months, but 3000-mile oil changes are better, using a fully synthetic lubricant.
• It’s also important that before the revs are applied the unit should be allowed to warm up properly. If not, the various seals in the engine can deform, leading to leaks and wear all over the place.
• Hot starting problems point to an engine rebuild being due; an overhaul can be needed at any point after 60,000 miles have been notched up. Most owners take the opportunity to squeeze some extra power out of the engine while they’re rebuilding it; a reliable 400bhp is easy enough to attain.
• The transmission will happily handle 500bhp in standard form, so if the engine hasn’t been upgraded there shouldn’t be much to worry about.
• There’s adjustment in the suspension at both ends and if things are just a little bit out it’ll adversely affect the handling. So getting a four-wheel alignment check is key – but if things are out by much, you have to ask yourself why.
• There are 32 bushes in the suspension so it’s likely that at least some of them will have seen better days. Budget to get a few replaced each year – it’s unlikely that all 32 will need to be renewed though.
• Check the front footwells for signs of coolant, signifying a leaky heater matrix. Replacing one of these means removing the dash and if the ECU gets wet that’ll just add to the bill.
1992: The RX-7 Mk3 arrives. Known as the FD it replaces the FC that arrived in 1985. There’s a twin-rotor twin-turbo engine and a catalytic converter. Standard equipment includes air-con, cruise control, an electric steel sunroof, part-leather trim, central locking and electric windows. 1993: There’s now a driver’s airbag fitted as standard. This is the only spec change in the car’s four years on sale in the UK. 1996: The RX-7 is canned in the UK but it continues to be sold in other countries.
Prices are a little bit hard to judge, because fresh imports from Japan can skew the numbers. Projects can be picked up from around £1500, but you’ll have to spend at least £4000 to find something half decent. A great example will cost closer to £8000, although cars direct from Japan might be even more. Special edition versions can fetch even more.
About this Mazda RX-7 TURBO First registered August 1990 (H Reg) this original UK model Right Hand Drive RX& Turbo has been owned from new by two brothers. In very good condition with Service History, original sales brochure and Mazda Handbook. A rare car and a great drive.