Few cars are as defined by their powertrain as much as the Mazda RX-7.
Steadfastly bucking the trend for conventional internal combustion engines, Mazda stuck with its Wankel rotary set-up for its RX-7 sports car. Specifically, a twin rotary engine, with a combined capacity of 1.3-litres, its 237bhp output assisted by a pair of turbos.
The advantages are obvious; you only have to look at the RX-7’s low nose to see that Mazda’s rotary unit is compact, its positioning low and far back under that gloriously sculpted bonnet also helping the RX-7 gain serious praise for its handling.
Praise highlighted on these pages, Autocar’s original test of the RX-7 in July 1992 not short of admiration for the RX-7, comparing it favourably to that contemporary paragon of handling and performance: the Porsche’s 968.
Despite this the Mazda never sold particularly well, not least because its price put it within a few hundred pounds of that Porsche. Its might have offered a specification advantage over the 968, but Mazda’s badge lacked prestige in comparison to that on the Stuttgart machine.
Mazda did undertake a couple of price drops on the RX-7 to try to increase sales - the list price eventually dropping from £34,000 to a touch over £26,000 - but the RX-7 remained a bit-part player in a busy sports car marketplace in the early 1990s.
Its oddball mechanical specification certainly didn’t help its cause. For all Mazda’s perseverance with the rotary engine Wankel’s powerplant has never had the best reputation for reliability. Or thirst. That prodigious drinking habit was outlined in Autocar’s test, the RX-7 managing a less than impressive 15.5mpg overall figure.
By comparison the contemporary Ferrari 512 TR managed 14.7mpg. Reliability would take a while to rear its head, but the RX-7 hasn’t exactly covered itself in glory, the twin-rotary unit not exactly a byword for trouble-free motoring.
Yet, looked after correctly the RX-7 can be an enjoyable ownership proposition, and with prices starting at around £5000 it’s a lot of good-looking, high performance and fine handling sports car for the money.
The first arrived in 1992, Mazda UK having no official record of how many it brought in, but it’s in the hundreds. Unsurprisingly it stopped officially being imported in 1996 - making UK specification cars relatively rare.
Official UK RX-7s sat somewhere between the various offerings Mazda delivered in its home and USA/Australian markets, UK cars doing without the occasional rear seats, gaining air conditioning and adding a second catalytic convertor to the exhaust.
All are described as FD series cars, though with Mazda producing the RX-7 right up until 2002 in Japan a number of updates were made in its lifecycle. The various models include the R, RS, RZ RB, A-Spec and Touring, all but that Touring coming with a five-speed manual, it featuring a four-speed auto.
The closest import model to UK specification is the RS. Some special editions were also built, the Bathurst having 274bhp. Further confusing things is Mazda’s use of its Efini sporting brand in Japan, with many making it over to the UK so badged.
Always a relatively rare sight with the original cars over 20 years old the RX-7 is even more so now. They’ve got something of a cult following today, which has seen prices bottom out and start to rise again for the very best.
Gary Marks, owner of Mazda rotary specialist RoTechniks, 01189 888 555, www.rotechniks.co.uk has owned several and worked on countless others, and knows their foibles.