In 1979 Mazda jumped into the two-seat sports car market with the basic, no-frills, rotary-powered RX-7. The car was an instant winner, and Road & Track referred to it as "a major breakthrough for the enthusiast." Its primary competition, the once lean and mean Datsun 240Z of the early '70s, had become the 280ZX, an overweight boulevard cruiser.
Mazda had been using the Wankel rotary engine in its cars since the late 60s, but problems with poor fuel economy and high emissions limited its appeal. However, the type 12A rotary engine used in the RX-7 underwent a host of improvements that both boosted horsepower to 100, improved fuel economy to 20 mpg and increased the lengevity of the seals of the rotors. 0-60 times of 9.2 seconds were recorded, along with a 122 mph top speed-very respectable performance for the base price of $6,395.
In 1984 the top-end GSL-SE model received the 13B rotary, a 1308-cc engine that produced the 135 bhp and 133 lb/ft of torque. The 13B was equipped with Bosch L-Jetronic fuel injection as opposed to the four-barrel Nikki carbs of the earlier cars, helping make this model much quicker than its predecessors.
When looking at a used RX-7, the drill is the same as with any low-cost sports car that may have spent time in the hands of budget-minded but lead-footed owners. Avoid cars that have evidence of serious collision damage. Check doors and rear fender lips for rust. Sunroofs leak with age, leading to corrosion in the floor pans. By now, most RX-7s will benefit from replacement of suspension joints and bushings. However, front ball joints are integral with the lower control arms and must be replaced as a single piece, an expensive proposition compared to an American car.
High-mileage cars are suspect in that the early engines, if neglected, tend to die once they pass 100,000 miles. Also, Mazda Masters in Sunnyvale, California, notes that on first-generation (1979-85) engines in particular, oil on top of the engine indicates a leak that can only be fixed by replacing the engine. Due to the unusual engine configuration, some mechanics are reluctant to work on RX-7s. Finding a competent mechanic may be more difficult finding a good car.
A superb RX-7 should cost $3,000 to $5,000; don't waste your time considering the $1,500 dogs that litter the classifieds. Option packages don't make a significant difference in price, so look for a fully loaded car in superb condition, With nearly 500,000 built, RX-7s are unlikely to appreciate significantly. However, with their rotary engines, they provide a unique motoring experience and represent a piece of automotive history, both of which can be yours at a very affordable price. And finding a good RX-7 is probably as easy as opening your local newspaper.