Your definitive Mazda RX-7 FD buyer’s guide
The third-generation Mazda RX-7—also known by its internal designation FD or FD3S—is one of the most arrestingly beautiful shapes to have ever escaped a Japanese design studio. When it went on sale in the early ’90s, its flowing lines stood in stark contrast not just to the more boxy wedge offered by the previous version of the car, but also the more aggressively linear look of rivals like the Acura NSX and the Mitsubishi 3000GT.
Conceptually, it was also quite different from its predecessor. Whereas the “FB” generation of the RX-7 had been conceived as more of a grand touring car, the FD embraced the lightweight lessons of its roots and stuck a bargain between comfort and startlingly sharp handling. As always, the RX-7 continued to showcase the potential of the rotary engine, with the 13B-REW unit now fed by a twin-turbocharged setup in a bid to balance the soaring heights of the car’s 8000-rpm redline with enough low-end torque to keep real-world driving fun, too.
Mazda built the FD RX-7 between 1992 and 2002, with three years of that production—the 1993 through 1995 model years—making it to U.S. shores. Now that the car is 25 years old and import restrictions are relaxed, clean right-hand drive examples are starting to show up from the Japanese market to buttress the relatively modest number of FDs that were sold here.
As with most of its early ’90s Japanese sports car cohorts, the cost to get behind the wheel of a concours-quality FD RX-7 has climbed appreciably over the past few years, but it remains well within the realm of the affordable: our Hagerty Valuation Tool places the price of the best third-gen RX-7 on the market at $34,500, and even sellers with stars in their eyes seldom cross the $50K barrier in terms of asking price. Running cars of varying quality range from our #3 condition value of $7500 to $20,000 as of this writing.
Of course, there’s a sizable asterisk that must be appended to any RX-7’s window sticker, and that’s the extreme difficulty in finding a completely stock example. The FD was not only a star in the Fast and the Furious franchise, but its rotary engine’s potential for cheap power made it a regular target for racers both amateur and professional, which has cut a deep swath into the pool of unmodified examples. Throw in the rotary engine’s unique maintenance quirks, and the number of available RX-7s is narrowed further by owners who didn’t read the manual and couldn’t keep the car’s drivetrain healthy.
With that in mind, as with any classic it’s always a good idea to purchase the least-molested, best example you can afford rather than try to catch up with a previous owner’s deferred maintenance or attempt to fix their mistakes. What should you look for when shopping for an FD Mazda RX-7? To get the answers we talked to several long-time FD owners, as well as Jean-Pierre Derdeyn, the owner of one of North America’s premier rotary shops, Derwin Performance. With 40 years of experience working on each successive generation, Derdeyn’s depth of knowledge regarding the FD is unmatched.
Depending on whose numbers you trust, Mazda sold roughly 13,879 examples of the FD RX-7 as 1993, 1994, and 1995 models. Of these, the rarest of all are base models equipped with an automatic transmission—just over 500 were built—as well as the 452 R2 performance package models (more on those later). Final-year FDs are also scarce, with just 500 ’95s sold as Mazda wound down North American exports (a mere 18 percent of the previous year’s production).
You’ll find the VIN etched into the firewall inside the engine bay, on a plate on the dashboard, and, if the car still has it, on a sticker at the rear of the driver’s side door frame. VIN numbers for the FD all start with JM1 FD 33, and are unique to their model year: in the sixth position, immediately after the check digit, you will find a P (93), an R (94), or an S (95). This is matched with a sequential serial number that again is tied to the North American model year: 200001-30000 were sold as ’93s, 300001-31000 as ’94s, and 400001-50000 as ’95s. U.S.-market cars are identified by a 1 following the 33, Canadian-market cars with a 2. Don’t worry about JDM imports—you’ll be able to easily spot them due to their right-hand drive cockpits.
There were 10 exterior colors offered with the FD RX-7, but by far the most popular was Vintage Red (paint code NU), especially during the first—and most successful—model year for the car. A full 38 percent of all third-generation RX-7s were painted this particular hue, with only the (greenish-grey) Montego Blue / Montego Blue Mica (paint code 2A / M8) coming close, with a 22-percent share.
The least-common colors are Competition Yellow Mica (paint code J9), which was only available on 350 R1-spec cars for a single model year (1993), and Chaste White (paint code PT), which was selected by a mere 5 percent of buyers. The holy grail of FD colors is Perlie, another shade of white, of which a single example was sold in 1994.
Inside the car, there was a choice between black, tan, or red upholstery and trim. Keep an eye out for painted center consoles and dashboards—they were black from the factory, as were the door handles, carpets, and headliner.
RX-7 Trims: Fast and loose with the options
Americans were offered four different trim levels when ordering an RX-7 from Mazda. Base cars came standard with a limited-slip differential, tape player, and cloth seats, but you could get cruise control and leather upholstery added as options. The Touring trim featured leather and cruise control right out of the box, along with a large sunroof, fog lights, rear wiper, and something called the Bose Wave Stereo, which featured a CD player and speaker assembly that ate up most of the cargo space under the RX-7’s hatch. For 1994 and ’95, you could also get something called the RX-7 PEP/PEG (Popular Equipment Package/Group, respectively) that was based on the Touring (which departed the line-up for ’95) but stripped out the rear wiper and fancy stereo and added a rear wing, with the option of fog lights.
For those interested in enhancing the car’s already exciting performance, there was the R1 (’93) and R2 (’94–95) trim. Although the names were different, the content was the same: sunroof and cruise control delete, upgraded springs, Bilstein shocks, strut bar under the hood, additional oil cooling, suede seats, and a front-lip spoiler matched by a rear wing, with no extra equipment available (and a reversion back to the simple tape deck as opposed to the Bose system). R2 springs are slightly softer than in the R1. Keep in mind that the R1/R2 wing could be added to Touring cars as an option, so make sure to check for the presence of a lip spoiler and all the other R1/R2 goodies if you’re shopping a winged car. Just over 2600 R1/R2s were sold in the U.S., with only 57 built for the 1995 model year.
That’s how RX-7 trim levels worked if you were playing by the rules—but it’s clear from some of the cars that have popped up for sale over the years that Mazda was cool if dealers were a little fast and loose with options availability. As a result you’ll sometimes find trims that have glass sunroofs where metal was ostensibly the only option, CD players that weren’t in the original catalog for that model, or spoilers stuck on by dealerships themselves.
On the JDM side, things are a little murkier. Mazda’s attempt to launch its own sporty sub-brand called Ẽfini in the early ’90s meant that the RX-7 was so-badged in the home market. One of the other, more-striking differences between Japanese-market RX-7s and those sold in the U.S. was the inclusion of a 2+2 seating arrangement that was never offered over here, making the car a 2+2 on paper but a knee-capper in reality, even for small children.
Trim levels varied too, with the Type S (similar to American base), Type R (similar to R1/R2), and Type X (similar to Touring) all putting in an appearance in the early years of production. By 1992 they were joined by the 300-unit Type RZ, which shed the rear seats and added aggressive Showa shock absorbers, Recaro seats, and a lightweighting program that dropped 66 pounds from the already-svelte Type R. Mazda/ Ẽfini would sell another 150 Type RZs in 1993.
That takes you to the very edge of what’s currently legal for importation to the United States based on the 25-year rule. By the 1997 model year, Ẽfini was no more, and the FD RX-7 would continue as a Mazda until 2002.
Each and every third-generation Mazda RX-7 featured the same twin-turbo 1.3-liter 13B-REW Wankel rotary under the hood. Making use of a pair of sequential turbos (with one designed to deliver low-rpm boost and the other coming on around 4500 rpm), the engine was advertised as delivering 255 horsepower at 6500 rpm and 217 lb-ft of torque at 5000 rpm, with an 8000-rpm redline. These numbers were enough to launch the RX-7 to 60 mph from a standing start in just five seconds, thanks in large part to its pleasingly-low 2800 pounds of curb weight.
There have been entire volumes written about the saga of maintaining, modifying, and otherwise living with the high-tech marvel that is the 13B-REW, and nearly as much hand-wringing about its reliability. Most of that anxiety is wasted energy, according to Jean-Pierre Derdeyn of Derwin Performance.
“The rotary is a very reliable engine when it has been properly maintained—in particular, when owners pay attention to the types of oil they use in the car, and the frequency with which they change that oil,” Derdeyn says. “It’s not a stretch for us to see well-maintained, stock 13B engines lasting well above 150,000 miles with no major issues. If it hasn’t been carefully maintained, a rebuild at less than half that mileage isn’t uncommon.”
Derdeyn’s No. 1 recommendation when evaluating a potential FD purchase is to perform a compression test. “A rotary engine’s lifespan and wear can be judged almost entirely from its compression,” he says.
You’ll need rotary-specific equipment to performance this inspection, with the factory service manual specifying 100 psi (690 kPA) for each chamber, with a maximum variance of 21 psi (150 kPa) between the four. Anything lower than 85 psi and you could be looking at a rebuild in the near future. Poor compression can often be linked to either a leaking side seal or broken apex seal.
Oil consumption is standard
The Wankel design is unique in that it actually burns oil as part of the combustion process, and it’s for this reason that Derdeyn recommends against using synthetic oils in the 13B. He stresses that it’s important to ask the seller not just how often the oil was changed, but also what type of oil has been used in the car.
“Synthetics don’t burn, and rotaries by design need to burn oil,” he says. “With synthetics, you end up with deposits and varnishes inside the combustion chambers, and eventually damage the apex seals as well as the soft seals inside the motor. It’s common for FD owners to run a mineral oil as a result—preferably one with a high zinc content, which is another necessity for rotary longevity—or to block off the oil-metering pump on the motor and instead add two-stroke engine oil, which is designed to be combusted, in the fuel tank. A third option, which is what I run on my own personal cars, is to connect the metering pump to a secondary tank filled with two-stroke oil. This allows me to run a high zinc-content synthetic oil from Brad Penn without having to worry about the combustion issue.”
That the FD RX-7 is consuming oil on a regular basis means you’ll also want to see oil change records and pay attention to the intervals. Shorter intervals than the factory 7500-mile recommendation are better, because it means that the previous owner was more vigilant about not just oil condition, but oil level, which is crucial for the RX-7. Most recommendations are for oil changes in the 3000- to 5000-mile range, with the latter representing the outside edge. Some owners are completely unaware that the engine burns oil at all, which makes checking those records that much more important.
Crazy from the heat
Heat is also the enemy of FD reliability, and it can manifest itself in a number of ways when inspecting the 13B. One of the most common issues found is in the “rat’s nest,” which is the term lovingly applied to the extremely complex system of vacuum lines used to control the sequential twin-turbo system.
“I replaced all 67 of the vacuum hoses with (synthetic rubber) Viton hoses,” says Bill Strohm, who bought the FD that he shares with his wife new in 1994. “The originals get stiff and become more like plastic than rubber due to how hot it gets in the engine bay. I also replaced all of my coolant hoses connecting the radiator, the heater, and the turbo at the same time.”
Derdeyn agrees that hoses in the rat’s nest are a common source of misery when it comes to turbo problems. “I also recommend inspecting and potentially changing the engine wiring harness, too. These cars are 25 years old at this point, and the harness is notorious for drying out and becoming brittle to the point where it can cause intermittent electrical problems.”
General engine-specific test drive advice for the FD RX-7 includes hooking up a boost gauge to the intake manifold and have a passenger verify that the turbos are healthy. You’ll want to see no more than 10 psi until the mid-4000 mark, where it will drop briefly to 8 psi as the second turbocharger comes online, then return to 10 psi. Anything higher than 10 psi means you’re looking at a car that’s been modified.
Other positive things to look for: a temperature gauge that hits the middle mark and stays there, a warm engine idle around the 800-rpm mark paired with a vacuum reading of 16-inHg minimum, and a lack of any gasoline or burned rubber smells from the engine bay with the motor running. Some cars have a finicky fifth-gear synchronizer, which you can check during the test drive to see if it smoothly moves into place, while others may have a malfunctioning tachometer (which is repairable).
RX-7 FD and originality
Although we’ve cautioned you against picking up a non-stock RX-7, not all modifications are bad when it comes to purchasing an FD—and in fact, some are viewed as necessary by those who drive these cars on a regular basis. Known collectively as the “reliability mods,” they primarily tackle the issues associated with the Wankel’s high operating temperatures (which are inextricably linked to the emissions requirements of its era).
Bill Strohm swapped in the previous-generation RX-7 fan switch. “I found that the FD fan switch threshold is 255° F, which in my opinion is much too high, so I replaced it with the FC switch, which causes the fans to run at medium speed at a lower temperature.”
Another FD owner replaced the pre-cat with a downpipe, which drops engine bay temps considerably, and also added an aluminum radiator and replaced all vacuum hoses.
In addition, you may encounter cars that have replaced the stock plastic air separation tank in the cooling system with an aluminum one sourced from an aftermarket manufacturer, or simply bypassed it completely. The factory units dry out and crack, unceremoniously dumping all the car’s coolant on the pavement. The oil metering modifications mentioned above also qualify as common reliability mods.
Everything else is low stress
With so much focus on the RX-7’s engine, you’ll be happy to find that there aren’t really any other pain points on the car to consider.
The body of the FD isn’t known for corrosion issues, but given that most examples are now a quarter-century old, you’ll want to check the inside of the wheel arches at each corner, the door sills, and the rear box sections for rust. Occasionally, water can collect under the tail lights, under the back bumper cover, and inside the spare wheel well for vehicles that have been stored outside or used often in the rain. If the vehicle you are inspecting has the rear spoiler deleted, check to make sure the factory holes were plugged too or you could be looking at rust inside the hatch itself.
“You’ll want to look at suspension components, too, which are just regular wear items at this point,” Derdeyn explains. “The rear pillow ball bushings, the front suspension bushings—standard suspension maintenance.”
Derdeyn also cautions that while it is still possible to get FD parts from Mazda directly, the car is right on the cusp of sliding into obscurity from a factory components perspective. This is particularly prevalent when searching for certain interior components, such as armrests, so keep that scarcity in mind if the interior of the car you are looking at looks a bit beat.
Speaking of wear, you’ll also want to look for any signs that the car has led a different lifestyle than what the seller has described. A garage queen with rock chips all over the nose? A low-miles car with significant seat bolster wear? A “well-maintained” example without matching maintenance records? Common sense is crucial when attempting to separate fact from fiction on a sports car of this age.
What should you pay for an RX-7 FD?
The best FDs have shot up in value over the last three years, and the best examples in the world now top out at an average of $34,500. With that being said, #2-condition (Excellent) examples that you won’t feel awful about driving can still be found for an average of $22,600, and Good examples for $13,500. The smart route here is to focus more on condition, sensible modifications, and service history more than mileage. For the moment prices peaked in January 2018, but with the way Japanese sports cars of this era are climbing, quality FDs should at least hold their value for the time being.
What are you waiting for?
The 1993–95 Mazda RX-7 is a masterpiece of Japanese sports car design that still feels vital in a modern context. Comfortable to drive in modern traffic, and really no more troublesome than any of its piston-driven contemporaries provided proper care and maintenance are part of the ownership experience (along with due diligence prior to purchase), the FD provides a rare opportunity to own a vehicle that’s wholly unlike anything on the current landscape of performance cars.