By Jeremy Cato
We got the bad news in the middle of the last decade: Mazda Canada had decided to drop the RX-7 sports car from its lineup after the 1995 model year. The good news, of course, is that Mazda is about to start selling an all-new RX-8. The RX-8 is powered by a rotary engine and has four doors to appeal to sedan owners and those with children.
In the meantime, let’s have a look back at the last RX-7. The first time I drove the old, then-remade RX-7 was in December of 1991. My driving partner was Hiroshi Yamamoto, one of the lead engineers in the development team for the then-third generation RX-7. Yamamoto talked about the link between 40-horsepower go-carts and what was in then one of the fastest production cars in the world. He told me that’s where Mazda engineers stay up to date with lessons about the importance of power-to-weight ratio in a sports car.
“We saw these small go-carts outperform much more powerful sports cars,” said Yamamoto at the time. “So we focussed on reducing weight and increasing power, strength and rigidity.”
Some say the engineers went wild with that RX-7, that they were given too much freedom to create a pure driver’s car. The problem was, they didn’t worry much about whether enough people could afford it. And true, the third generation RX-7 was more than twice as costly as the car it replaced-and nearly three times what I paid for my brand new 1988 RX-7.
But perhaps if that RX-7 had gone on sale in the late 1980s, when the economy was booming, rather than going on sale in the early 1990s, when we were in the grip of a recession, then it would have been a full-fledged hit. We’ll never know.
We can say, however, that the 1993 RX-7 is a lightweight two-seat road-burner, with the emphasis on handling, power, brakes, and more handling. Mazda Canada sold only a few hundred a year during its run, so they’re rare and coveted by true believers.
The 1993 RX-7 was lighter than the old car by some 100 kilograms (220 pounds). At 1,386 kg (2,800 lbs) it was also lighter than other sports cars of that era, including Toyota’s smaller MR2, Acura’s NSX, Nissan’s 300ZX, Chevrolet’s Corvette, Porsche’s 968 and Dodge’s Stealth.
And power? All those RX-7s were powered by a twin-rotor Wankel rotary engine with sequential twin turbochargers (STT) that spun up 255 horsepower (compared to the previous 205). Power-to-weight ratio was increased by 25 per cent, to 11 pounds per horsepower. The result was a sports car that zooms from 0-100 km/h in under five seconds.
True enough, the 1993 RX-7 was base priced in the mid-$40,000s, so it was not what you’d call affordable. But I’d still argue that that car was a return to the ideals which made the first generation RX-7 so appealing in 1978. It was fast, light and it looked the part.
The RX-7’s voluptuous, curvaceous shape was just plain sexy. In the cockpit, the driver snugged into one of the two firm bucket seats. The instrument cluster was made up of round, white-on-black oversized gauges rimmed in shiny chrome. The stubby shifter had short, direct throws and the airbag-equipped steering wheel was thick and grippy. This, I thought back then, is what it must be like to sit in a jet fighter.
Oh, and I found that RX-7 to be a treat to drive. The rotary engine ladled on smooth, effortless dollops of power and was quite happy spinning beyond 6,000 rpm. In fact, the second turbo in the sequence only came to life after about 4,000 rpm. It was stable at high speeds thanks to perfect 50:50 weight distribution, a low centre of gravity and a rigid body structure.
The steering? Tight. The brakes? Awesome. The suspension? Hard and responsive. And road grip was enhanced by big 16-inch wheels mounted with 225/50VR-16 radials. There was a limited slip differential, but Mazda did not go down the high-tech road of traction control, four-wheel steering and the like. That meant you could quite easily get the rear end to step out and play.
On pricing and quality, aging RX-7s are hard to find. For such a hot sports car, there have been a surprising lack of documented problems (see Buyer’s Alerts) Current Canadian Red Book prices range from $16,000 to $20,000, but an Internet search turned up 1993-95 cars priced $21,000 to about $30,000. Prices have held up, obviously for a car originally priced in the mid-$40,000s.
Don’t expect bargains for this seriously hot two-seater. Do expect a good time behind the wheel.
Used vehicle prices vary depending on factors such as general condition, odometer reading, usage history and options fitted. Always have a used vehicle checked by an experienced auto technician before you buy.
For information on vehicle service bulletins issued by the manufacturer, visit www.nhtsa.dot.gov.
For information on consumer complaints about specific models, see www.lemonaidcars.com.