Below the fold, I recount an RX-7 saga spanning thirty-eight years and well over a quarter-million miles.
I moved to California to work at Sun Microsystems in September 1985, so I needed a car. For the first few weeks, Andy Bechtolsheim lent me his Porsche 944, which was really fun to drive, but too expensive. On an earlier visit to California a friend had driven me on part of Highway One in her first-generation (FB) RX-7. I'd been impressed by the handling and the smooth power delivery of the rotary engine, so I test drove a second-generation (FC) RX-7. It was immediately apparent that this was, in effect, a Porsche 944 at half the price, so I bought one in white with the "Sport" package (rear spoiler, stiffer suspension).
The car had more performance than I really needed and excellent handling although the stiff suspension meant you really felt the "imperfections" in the road surface. Driving to and from Lake Tahoe in ski season with chains on was a bit of a trial. The FC served me well as my daily driver for nearly a decade and around 125,000 miles. These included several long road trips up the West Coast. The longest was from the Bay Area to Port Angeles, WA to collect my mother off the ferry from Victoria, BC and drive her back along the coast.
Eventually the FC got expensive to maintain and I needed a new car. By then Mazda had introduced the third-generation (FD) RX-7. I test-drove one and it was immediately apparent that it was a huge step up from the FC; it was a Porsche 911 for half the price. Of course, half the price of a 911 was still a lot more than half the price of a 944, so I used a broker to find a base model in white. It was hard to find; I subsequently discovered from Shawn Fanning that it was one of only 13 1994 base models imported. The FD was my daily driver until grandkids arrived; you can't put a child seat in it and even now the eldest is nearly my size their parents aren't OK with them riding in it.
- The rotary engine, which is turbine-smooth as it races up to the 8,000 RPM red-line.
- The light weight and stiff chassis.
- The handling, thanks to its 49/51 weight distribution, wide track, short wheelbase, firm suspension, low polar moment of inertia, and positioning of the center of rotation right where the driver sits.
- The gear-change which, while not quite as good as that on the MX-5, is crisp, short and in the right place.
- The driver-focused interior with seats that really hug you, a simple set of classic analog dials, and no distractions — not even cup-holders!
You can get an impression of the FD from the many reviews on YouTube, for example:
The late, great Colin Chapman CBE famously advised designers to "simplify, then add lightness". Some things about the RX-7 are far from simple, such as the dual sequential turbochargers, but Mazda definitely added lightness. My RX-7 weighs 2789lb (GVWR 3210lb); it was around 1000lb lighter than the competition at the time, such as the Toyota Supra. For comparison, the recent lightened, super-sporty Porsche Carrera T weighs 3254lb, 17% more. Of course, the Porsche has a 3.0 liter twin-turbo flat-6 giving it 357HP for 220HP/ton whereas three decades earlier the RX-7 only had a 1.3 liter twin-turbo dual-rotor giving 255HP for 183HP/ton.
|Examples of Weight Reduction (lbs)|
As regards unreliability, well yes, depending on how you treat an RX-7. All that weight-saving and power increase doesn't come for free, and things under the hood get really hot. The real reason the RX-7 is still on the road after nearly 140K miles and running well is the wonderful Ivan Koinok, who has taken care of it almost the whole time. The major items he has replaced include:
- Factory re-manufactured engine (water seals failed at 110K miles)
- OEM stock turbo (oil leak)
- OEM stock flywheel and clutch (I cooked it)
- Competition radiator
- OEM front struts
- secondary air injection pump
- central processing unit
|Expansion of the universe|
It is also a very enjoyable car to drive, being the last year the 128i coupe had the 3.0 liter naturally aspirated straight six. This generation of the 1-series was the basis for the legendary skunk-works project that developed the 1 series M coupe (Chris Harris loves his). Our old 128i is the way non-M BMWs used to be before they got fat and soft and turned into SUVs — a relatively (but compare with the 1970 BMW 2002) small 2-door with a big straight six, rear-wheel drive, good handling, and none of the modern driver distraction technology.