The Mazda RX-7 was unlike any other sports car of its era due to its unique rotary Wankel engine. The rotary engine doesn’t have conventional pistons, but rather has one large reciprocating piston that resembles a triangle. The result is a compact, simple, and light motor that has a higher power-to-weight ratio when compared to a normal internal combustion engine. This also means that the Wankel rotary engine can rev at much higher rpm.
Mazda built the RX-7 for nearly 25 years from 1978-2002 and spanned across three generations. All RX-7’s where built to be front mid-engine RWD sports cars with two seats, although there were a few 2+2 configurations.
Thanks to its unique look, engine and exposure in movies, video games, and magazines, the RX-7 has reached legendary status amongst the JDM community. As these cars are very sought after, prices are steadily climbing and finding a good, unmolested example is becoming increasingly difficult.
We have created this in-dept buyers guide for those in the market for a new RX-7 or for someone who simply just wants to know more about this unique Japanese sports car. We condensed numerous hours of information into one intuitive and helpful buyers guide to help you better understand and know what to look for when buying your dream car.
Pros and Cons
- Smoother engine
- High revving
- Great sounding car
- Lightweight engine
- Great handling car
- Timeless design
- Poor fuel consumption
- Low torque
- Rotary engine mechanics are hard to find
- Motors use a lot of oil
- Cold starts make the engine run rich
- Replacement parts can be even harder to find
- Hard to find a clean example
Low oil level. Unlike traditional engines, the rotary uses oil. They have a dedicated pump that squirts oil in the motor to keep the apex seals lubricated. A new and uneducated owner could very easily overlook this important fact and not check their oil regularly, which is the fastest way to wreck your engine.
Flooding. The RX-7’s can be finicky cars, especially in cold weather. When they are started in colder temperatures, they will run extremely rich and its recommended that you let them slowly warm up. If you turn off the car before it has reached temperature you risk the chance of flooding the engine. If that happens, there is a certain sequence that needs to be followed in order to get all the unburned gas out.
Engines need rebuilding often. This one is controversial. Most RX-7 engines that need rebuilding will be because they have been neglected by their owners. It takes a special breed to own an RX-7 because its not like having a normal combustion engine car. It requires special attention and most owners did not due their research beforehand.
Poorly designed cooling system. The third generation RX-7 came from the factory with an underperforming cooling system, even on a stock setup. So, if you’re planning to mod your car, be sure to pay some attention to your car’s cooling system as well. If not, you’ll be on the fast track to an engine rebuild.
Brittle vacuum hoses. The turbocharged RX-7’s are notorious for having vacuum leaks due to the over 67 boost and vacuum hoses it came with. As these cars age, those hoses are almost guaranteed to developing cracks and loose pressure. We recommend that you go ahead and do some preventative maintenance by replacing all of them with synthetic rubber hoses.
Rust in the spare wheel well. Although the Mazda RX’7 is not known for rust, it is a good idea to check in the spare wheel well for rust or water damage. This will also give you a better idea of how well the car was taken care of by its previous owner.
Given its rarity, the RX-7 is not a cheap car to buy or maintain. That being said, you can still find examples out there starting at around $8,000, but pristine third generation FD’s can go as high as $45,000. Let’s have a look as what the cheapest and most expensive RX-7’s look like.
Most Expensive Examples:
Decent examples of the third generation RX-7 hover around the $25k-$30k mark, while pristine examples will go into the $40,000 mark. Second generation RX-7’s in good condition sell around the $10k-$15k mark, while some poorer cared for examples will dip beneath $10,000.
There is no direct replacement for a rotary engine car, unless you want a Mazda RX-8, but there are plenty of cars out there similar in layout and performance. This section will give you an idea of similar cars that would make a perfect alternative for the RX-7.
- Mazda RX-8
- Nissan 180SX
- Nissan Silvia
- Honda S2000
- Nissan Fairlady Z
- Toyota MR-2
- Toyota Supra
- Nissan Skyline
- Honda Prelude
- BMW Z4
- Mazda Roadster/Miata
Models and Specifications
As we talked about it in the intro, the mighty RX-7 was produced for nearly 25 years and was offered over three variations. We are going to take a closer at each generation and the defining factors that each had.
First Generation (SA22C/FB) 1978-1985
The first-generation RX-7 was introduced in March of 1978 with the intention of replacing the outdated Savana RX-7. It was designed to be a fun, economical sports car and was one of only two Wankel powered cars in Mazda’s arsenal. Since the rotary engines produced fairly high horsepower from a relatively small displacement motor, the RX-7 became very popular with the Japanese consumer due to the fact that Japan had very strict taxes for cars with motors over 1.5L.
RX-7’s were offered with three engine choices. Two 1.1L, one of which was turbocharged, and one 1.3L naturally aspirated engine. Additionally, clients had the choice of four transmission options. They could choose between a four and a five-speed manual and three and four-speed automatic.
As the FB went on, slight modifications were made to improve the handling, appearance, and even safety of the car. The 1981-1983 car got lighter and received four-wheel disc brakes alongside some interior improvements.
Second Generation (FC) 1985-1992
Mazda introduced the FC in 1985 with quite a few improvements, both mechanically and cosmetically. In the looks department, the RX-7 looked a lot more streamlined and aggressive. They even offered a convertible version of the RX-7. Additionally, Mazda ditched the outdated carbureted engines and introduced state-of-the-art fuel injection to their cars.
For this generation, the automaker kept is rather simple when it came to engine choices. All of them were the now iconic 1.3L motors. There was a total of four variations of the 13B engine. Two were naturally aspirated, while the remaining two were the more powerful turbocharged versions. A five-speed manual and four-speed automatic transmission were the only two choices available.
In 1988 Mazda launched the 10th anniversary edition RX-7. This consisted of an all-white exterior with color matching wheels, moulding, taillight housings, and mirrors. The GTU trim was sold between 1989-1990 and it was more geared towards performance. It started off as the basic car with no sunroof, A/C, and other goodies that would add weight. Mazda then added four-piston brakes, 16” wheels, special cloth seats, one-piece brakes, etc. to make it track ready car from the factory.
Third Generation (FD) 1992-2002
Believe it or not, the last generation RX-7 was in production for a total of 10 years. By this time, the RX-7 was a unique sports car that everyone wanted to get their hands on. The best part is that the FC came with the same 1.3L engine, but for this generation it was twin turbocharged and produced roughly 250 horsepower and 217 lb. ft. of torque.
The downside was that the price was considerably higher than other comparable models on the market, which turned many people away at the time. In fact, Mazda only managed to sell 1,152 examples of the FD RX-7 in all of Europe.
As the years progressed, changes were made to increase reliability of the FD. Most of those changes were unseen and came in the form of mechanical and suspension upgrades. The body more or less stayed the same.
A high-end “RS” version of the RX-7 was unveiled. It came with slightly more power (276hp), standard 17” wheels and was overall lighter compared to a stock model. The “Type R” was even lighter than the “RS” and included a stunning red interior alongside different wheels. Lastly, the “Spirit-R” took all the best features from previous FD’s and combined them to produce this car in a limited number of only 1,500.
Yes. They were sold in North America until 1995.
They can be. Since the Wankel rotary engines are no longer being used in the automotive industry, most RX-7 owners report that replacement parts are very difficult to source.
It can be. It all depends on the previous owners. Most owners did not take good care of their cars and therefore you will se many of them with rebuilt engines, especially the turbocharged versions.
Of course! Nowadays there is a forum on just about anything, and the RX-7 is no different. What sets the RX-7 community apart is that they are some of the most tight-knight group of car enthusiast out there and are always willing to help out a fellow RX-7 owner.
Somewhat. There are plenty of examples out there for every budget, but finding a clean, unmodified example can be a real challenge. And if you do find one, be prepared to spend a pretty penny on it.
How to Import a Mazda RX-7
Read our ultimate guide, How to Import a Car from Japan.
Can you make this guide better? Are you a huge fan of the RX-7? If so, please contact us.