Please bring the rotary engine back, in a sports car.
MotorTrend loved the RX-7 when it was introduced in 1978 calling it “Sleek, Functional and Fast: An Affordable 2-Seater For the Enthusiast” It was the answer to sports car lovers’ dreams, being attractive, fun to drive, and at $7,195, a bargain competing against other cars in the American market like the Porsche 924, Datsun 280Z and, possibly even the Corvette. Add to that, it came with a lightweight Wankel rotary engine.
This wasn’t the first time Mazda had rolled the dice on a rotary. They spent more than 15 years working out the kinks as many owners of RX-2s, 3s, and 4s had been plagued with expensive seal replacements and some seized engines. Then there was the argument between the American distributor and EPA over gas mileage figures. Its estimated gas mileage was 19 mpg city, 29 mpg highway, and 23 mpg combined. The 1.1 L 12A engine was rated at 100 hp at 6,000 rpm allowing the car to reach speeds of more than 120 mph. The RX=7 went from 0-60 in just over eight seconds. I call that pretty good for a small engine.
It didn’t take long to see Mazda set out making a racing version. Body panels, fender flares, front air dam, and a rear spoiler made the RX-7 look like a racer. And for the serious competitor, it was possible to get a full-race peripheral-port engine with modified combustion chamber, 2-throat 45 DCLE Weber carburetor, and deletion of those power-robbing emissions controls. All that could add up to a horsepower potential of 220 plus.
Perhaps that “Wankel rotary” thing didn’t have Americans convinced because just less 20,000 cars were sold in the first year. However, the next year sales more than doubled to 54,000. Sales would bounce around that number until 1987 when they dropped to 38,000 and it was downhill from there until the RX-7’s final year of production, 1995 saw just 1,999 produced. There were more than 800,000 Mazda RX-7s made. I had a chance to drive two 1983s, my then soon-to-be wife’s blue one, and a friend’s red one. They were a blast!
These are certainly affordable vehicles to own and drive now. Hagerty values for the 1979 Mazda RX-7 GS ranges from $5,500 in Fair condition all the way up to $45,800 in Concours and they are trending up. I found a bunch of them on Bring a Trailer (BaT) for less than $10 grand.
Even though the rotary engine died because of its inherently poor thermal efficiency, Mazda is bringing it back. Unfortunately, not in a sports car, but it’s being turned into a range-extending generator for its forthcoming MX-30 electric SUV.
Thanks for stopping by and be sure to check back again next week for another one of my car spots along with some of its history. Have a great weekend and tell your friends.