The RX7 arrived in American showrooms in 1978 and sales promptly went crazy. Even importing 4,000 a month, Mazda could not cope with demand and waiting lists were huge. For a while, RX7s changed hands on the black market for as much as $3,000 above retail price. By the time production ceased in 1985, nearly 500,000 had found grateful owners, making the RX7 the best-selling rotary car of all time.
The RX7 sold on its clean European looks and Swiss-watch smoothness. Inspired by the woefully unreliable NSU Ro80, Mazda’s engineers were not worried about the NSU’s ghost haunting the RX7. By 1978 they had completely mastered rotary-engine technology and sold almost a million rotary-engined cars and trucks. These days the RX7 is becoming an emergent classic—the first car to makeFelix Wankel’s rotary design actually work and one of the more desirable and better made sports cars of the 1970s.
The RX7’s slippery, wind-evading shape cleaved the air well, with a drag coefficient of only 0.36 and a top speed of 125 mph (210 km/h). Smooth aerodynamics helped the RX7 feel stable and composed with minimal body roll.
Rear suspension was in the best European sports car tradition—wishbones and a Watt’s linkage.
Fine handling was due to near equal weight distribution and the low center of gravity.
Front discs were ventilated; rear stopping power was by traditional drums.
The RX7’s low hood line could not have been achieved with anything but the compact rotary engine, which weighed only 312 lb (142 kg).
The body design was perfect from the start, and in its seven-year production run few changes were made to the slim and balanced shape.
The RX7 was originally planned as a two-seater, but Mazda was forced to include a small rear seat in the model. The reasoning behind this was that Japanese law stated all cars had to have more than two seats to encourage car sharing.
Cockpit and dashboard are tastefully orthodox, with a handsome three-spoke wheel and five-gauge instrument binnacle; the two large dials are a speedometer and tachometer.
Original design plans for the RX7 favored a one-piece rear tailgate like the Porsche 944, but economics dictated that an all-glass hatch was incorporated instead.
The US could enjoy a brisk 135 mph (217 km/h) turbocharged model after 1984.
Pop-up headlights helped reduce wind resistance and add glamour. But, unlike those on the Lotus Esprit and Triumph TR7, the Mazda’s always worked.
For a Japanese design, the RX7 was atypically European, with none of the garish over-adornment associated with other cars from Japan. Occasional rear seats and liftback rear window helped in the practicality department.
The twin-rotor Wankel engine gave 135 bhp in later models. Reliable, compact, and easy to tune, there was even a small electric winch on the bulkhead to reel in the choke if owners forgot to push it back in.
The Wankel-designed rotary engine had two weak points—low speed pull and fuel economy.
S P E C I F I C A T I O N S
MODEL Maxda RX7 (1978–85)
PRODUCTION 474,565 (377,878 exported to US)
BODY STYLE All-steel coupe.
CONSTRUCTION One-piece monocoque bodyshell.
ENGINE Twin rotor, 1146cc.
POWER OUTPUT 135 bhp at 6000 rpm.
TRANSMISSION Five-speed all synchromesh/automatic option.
SUSPENSION Independent front. Live rear axle with trailing arms and Watt’s linkage.
BRAKES Front: ventilated discs; Rear: drums.
MAXIMUM SPEED 125 mph (210 km/h)
0–60 MPH (0–96 KM/H) 8.9 sec
0–100 MPH (0–161 KM/H) 24 sec
A.F.C. 21.3 mpg (7.5 km/l)