The final iteration of the RX-7 was either the greatest track weapon the world has ever known or the harshest street machine to bottom out on the lip of a driveway

The mid-priced sports car market of the early 1990s was one the meanest parties on the planet. Japanese supercars like Mitsubishi's 3000GT, Toyota's Supra and Nissan's 300ZX were giving the Corvette a run for its money. With the hot new Miata eating up Mazda's sales in the entry-level sports car category, the Hiroshima-based automaker knew it had to join its upmarket competitors with a nastier RX-7.
Still riding the momentum from an outright victory at Le Mans less than a year before, the time was right for such a move. In the spring of 1992, the third generation of its rotary-powered sports car was introduced in the United States. A 1993 model, the new RX-7 was a gorgeous machine with clean, fluid lines. Low, lithe and lean, there was no mistaking it as anything less than a pure sports car.
Power came from the all-new 13B-REW, a 1.3-liter, twin-rotor Wankel engine developing 255 hp at 6,500 rpm, and 217 lb-ft of torque at 5,000 rpm. The twin sequential turbos were progressive, which helped make 90 percent of that torque was available at just 2,500 rpm, a kick in the pants no matter how you cut it. With a redline of 8,000 rpm, the 2,800-pound car screamed to 60 mph in just 5.3 seconds, with a top speed of 159 mph. Its perfect 50/50 weight distribution, limited-slip differential and four-wheel independent suspension allowed the RX-7 to produce an impressive .97g on the skidpad, remarkable then and even today in a mass-produced sports car. However, at $35,000, nearly twice the price of the old RX-7, this performance came at a price.
The 1993 model came in Base, Touring and R1 trim. Base was a no-frills car, while the Touring offered amenities like leather seats, air-conditioning, a Bose stereo, sunroof, and an optional automatic transmission. The R1 variant was more performance-oriented, with stiffer Bilstein shocks, a front strut brace, extra oil cooler, rear spoiler and no-slip cloth seats. Depending upon your way of thinking, the R1 was either the greatest track weapon the world has ever known or the harshest street machine ever to bottom out on the lip of a driveway.
The following two years saw minimal changes within the model range, though the base model was dropped, the R1 was rechristened the R2, and the Touring became the Preferred Equipment Package (PEP). All models came standard with dual airbags and anti-lock brakes. In the end, the 1995 iteration of the RX-7, especially the R2 variant, was probably the best of the Japanese supercars, though the hardest to live with on a daily basis.
The RX-7 disappeared from the U.S. market by the spring of 1996, just three model years after its introduction. Although fuel economy and emissions issues were rumored to be the culprit, it really didn't matter, as the mid-priced segment of the sports car market had started to dry up in 1995, and ultimately killed off the lot of them.
The great weakness of the RX-7 came in the form of scorching underhood temperatures. Many owners discovered-sometimes disastrously-that the factory cooling system wasn't up to the task of dissipating the heat caused by hard driving. As a result, the vacuum hoses and lines tended to shrivel up and die and, in some rare cases, ignite. This problem can be solved by swapping the units with silicone replacements. Though not difficult, it is labor-
intensive and can run about $600. As with other rotary engines, the main seals tend to lose their flex with time, allowing coolant into the engine, which is a costly problem. Finally, avoid 1993 models that haven't been repainted, as their original "Hi-Reflex" paint faded and dulled easily.
In all, fewer than 14,000 third-generation RX-7s were sold here, which means they are not the most common cars on the market but can still be found in good condition without too much trouble, as most were not driven as everyday commuters. Before buying anything, however, have a reputable mechanic familiar with rotary engines inspect the car. Avoid Mazda dealers, as most of their service techs never saw enough of the cars to get familiar with them-and at 10 years out of production now, it is doubtful that all but the most specialized dealerships are going to be working on the cars with any frequency.
There are two schools of thought when it comes to purchasing a used RX-7, with both ending up costing about the same. The first, which follows convention, says you should buy the cleanest car available, the car with the lowest, gentlest mileage. As RX-7s will never be first-tier collectibles, those with low miles should just be used and enjoyed, rather than socked away for some mythical notion of future appreciation.
However, as RX-7s are easy to modify, and many have been tweaked and raced in the fast and furious vein, there are more than a few bastardized cars around. Buy a cheap one with a blown engine, and spend seven grand to rebuild it, along with the turbos and the transmission. Maybe even add a few tweaks along the way. Now you've got an intimate knowledge of what is really underhood-hopefully with no surprises lurking.
A nice original car will set you back between $11,000 and $17,000, depending on mileage and overall condition. A builder plus the cost to rejuvenate will generally land you in the same place, so the choice is up to you. Either way, what you'll end up with is a potent and unique sports car poised to deliver the thrills of enthusiast driving, for not much more than a new economy car.

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