1996 Mazda RX-7
2-cyl. 1308cc/255hp Rotary Twin Turbo
With an experienced team and a lot of data.
Mazda fully embraced Wankel rotary engine technology way back in the 1960s, but it wasn’t until the RX-7 of 1978 that they really got it right, and it’s the RX-7 that is most fondly remembered in the world of rotary-powered cars. The first generation SA/FB RX-7 was a relatively humble car despite its novel engine, and the second generation FC was similarly somewhat basic, although an optional turbocharged model was added to the mix. The third and final generation FD RX-7, however, was an entirely different car. It was more exotic both in its look and in the technology under the hood. It was also more expensive and sold in far fewer quantities. From 1978-90, about three-quarters of a million RX-7s had been built, but there were less than 70,000 FD RX-7s built from 1991-2002.
Aside from its gorgeous rounded bodywork which was arguably one of the most attractive automobile bodies of the decade, the big news for the third generation RX-7 was under the hood. A new version of the 1.3-liter 13B rotary engine (called the 13B-REW) was now twin turbocharged with a particularly complicated system in which one turbo provided boost from 1800 rpm while the second turbo, though pre-spooled, waited to come on until 4000 rpm. The goal was to provide a wide torque curve for the otherwise peaky rotary engine. This worked reasonably well, but under hard driving and in the middle of corner, such a big jump in power made the RX-7 a bit of a handful.
U.S. models included base, Touring and “R1”. The RX-7 Touring came with a sunroof, fog lights, leather upholstery, Bose Acoustic Wave audio and a rear window wiper, while the R1 model came with stiffer suspension, an additional oil cooler, a strut tower brace, spoilers, special upholstery and Z-rated tires. The Touring model was eventually replaced by a Popular Equipment Package (PEP) and the R1 became the R2. The twin-turbo RX-7 was relatively light at about 2,800 pounds, had nearly 50:50 weight distribution and came with a limited-slip diff. 0-60 mph came in the five-second range, so even though it cost well over $30,000 and had a Mazda badge, it could hang with most other cars in its price point.
Even so, the FD RX-7 was certainly not without its problems. Aside from the usual rotary issues like apex seal failures, oil consumption and muscle car-like fuel economy (17 mpg in the city is common), the sheer complexity of the car’s powertrain that made it a technical marvel when it was introduced eventually became a headache for owners. Heat in the engine bay was a common issue, with underhood temperatures getting so high that the vacuum- and pressure-operated hoses than ran the sequential turbo system would harden and crack. This has led many people to convert their RX-7s to a single turbo, removing the turbo control system that was so prone to failure. The result is more noticeable turbo lag, but many enthusiasts feel that the added simplicity and reliability under the hood is worth it.
The RX-7 only lasted until 1995 in the U.S. market and less than 15,000 were sold here. It was a hard sell since, even though it was gorgeous, it was expensive and overly complicated, and it quickly gained a reputation for being fragile. The lack of qualified mechanics to service these cars didn’t help matters, either, and the unfavorable exchange rate that plagued all high-performance Japanese cars at the time pushed RX-7 prices towards $40,000 by 1995. Today, people shopping for one of these cars should be particularly careful and particularly patient, as they are fairly rare and over the years plenty of them have been track day toys or drift cars. A compression test on the engine is a good idea, and buyers should not be wary of cars converted to a single turbo, provided the work was done professionally. A sound, well-kept example is worth the wait, though, as the final RX-7s are very well balanced and fun cars with a unique exhaust note as the revs approach an 8000 rpm redline.