The original RX-7 was a sports car. The compact and lightweight Wankel engine (rotary engine) is situated slightly behind the front axle, a configuration marketed by Mazda as "front mid-engine". It was offered as a two-seat coupé, with optional "occasional" rear seats in Japan, Australia, the United States, and other parts of the world. These rear seats were initially marketed as a dealer-installed option for the North American markets.
The RX-7 made Car and Driver magazine's Ten Best list five times. In total, 811,634 RX-7s were produced.
1st Generation SA/SB
Series 1 (1978–1980) is commonly referred to as the "SA22C" from the first alphanumerics of the vehicle identification number. This series of RX-7 had exposed steel bumpers and a high-mounted indentation-located license plate, called by Werner Buhrer of Road & Track magazine a "Baroque depression." In Japan it was introduced in March 1978, replacing the Savanna RX-3.
In 1980 Mazda released 2500 special North American models known as the LS (Leather Sport). This package was essentially an uprated "GS" model with added LS badges on each B-pillar, unequal width dual gold pinstripe detail, full special brown leather upholstery, sunroof, AM/FM stereo radio, and LS-only gold center colored alloys. Two GS package options were also available; three-speed automatic transmission and air conditioning. This model was only available in four different colors: Aurora White (1000 made), Brilliant Black (1000 made), Solar Gold (500 made) and sonic bronze (250 made) . Production estimates in parenthesis are widely accepted estimations per color, though no official production records are known to exist or to have been released, aside from the total combined production figure of 2500 units.The Series 2 (1981–1983) had integrated plastic-covered bumpers, wide black rubber body side moldings, wraparound taillights and updated engine control components. The GSL package provided optional 4-wheel disc brakes, front ventilated (Australian model) and clutch-type rear limited slip differential (LSD). Known as the "FB" in North America after the US Department of Transportation mandated 17 digit Vehicle Identification Number changeover. For various other markets worldwide, the 1981–1985 RX-7 retained the 'SA22C' VIN prefix. In the UK, the 1978–1980 series 1 cars carried the SA code on the vehicle VIN but all later cars (1981–1983 series 3 & 1984–1985 series 3) carried the FB code and these 1st generation RX7's are known as the "FB". The license-plate surround looks much like Buhrer's "Styling Impressions."
The Series 3 (1984–1985) featured an updated lower front fascia. North American models received a different instrument cluster (the NA S3 RX-7 is the only rotary-engined car to not have a centrally mounted tachometer). GSL package was continued into this series, but Mazda introduced the GSL-SE sub-model. The GSL-SE had a fuel-injected 1.3 L 13B RE-EGI engine producing 135 hp (101 kW) and 135 lb·ft (183 N·m). GSL-SEs had much the same options as the GSL (clutch-type rear LSD and rear disc brakes), but the brake rotors were larger, allowing Mazda to use the more common lug nuts (versus bolts), and a new bolt pattern of 4x114.3 (4x4.5"). Also, they had upgraded suspension with stiffer springs and shocks. The external oil cooler was reintroduced, after being dropped in the 1983 model-year for the controversial "beehive" water-oil heat exchanger.
The 1984 RX-7 GSL has an estimated 29 highway miles per gallon (8.11 litres per 100 km) /19 estimated city miles per gallon (12.37 l/100 km). According to Mazda, its rotary engine, licensed by NSU-Wankel allowed the RX-7 GSL to accelerate from 0 to 50 (80 km/h) in 6.3 seconds. Kelley Blue Book, in its January–February 1984 issue, noted that a 1981 RX-7 GSL retained 93.4% of its original sticker price.
1985 - Mazda released in Australia the RX7 Finale - this was the last of the series and brought out in limited numbers. The Finale featured power options and a brass plaque mentioning the number the car was as well as "Last of a legend" on the plaque. The finale had special stickers and a blacked out section between the window & rear hatch.
The handling and acceleration of the car were noted to be of a high caliber for its day. This generation RX-7 had "live axle" 4-link rear suspension with Watt's linkage, a 50/50 weight ratio, and weighed under 2500 lb (1100 kg). It was the lightest generation of RX-7 ever produced. 12A-powered models accelerated from 0–60 mph in 9.2 s, and turned 0.779g (7.64 m/s²) laterally on a skidpad. The 12A engine produced 100 hp (75 kW) at 6000 rpm, allowing the car to reach speeds of over 120 miles per hour (190 km/h). Because of the smoothness inherent in the Wankel rotary engine, little vibration or harshness was experienced at high rpm, so a buzzer was fitted to the tachometer to warn the driver when the 7000 rpm redline was approaching.
The 12A engine has a long thin shaped combustion chamber, having a large surface area in relation to its volume. Therefore, combustion is cool, giving few oxides of nitrogen. However, the combustion is also incomplete, so there are large amounts of partly burned hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide. The exhaust is hot enough for combustion of these to continue into the exhaust. An engine driven pump supplies air into the exhaust to complete the burn of these chemicals. This is done in the "thermal reactor" chamber where the exhaust manifold would normally be on a conventional engine. Under certain conditions the pump injects air into the thermal reactor and at other times air is pumped through injectors into the exhaust ports. This fresh air is needed for more efficient and cleaner burning of the air/fuel mixture.
Options and models varied from country to country. The gauge layout and interior styling in the Series 3 was only changed for North American versions. Additionally, North America was the only market to have offered the first generation RX-7 with the fuel-injected 13B, model GSL-SE. A turbocharged (but non-intercooled) 12A engine was available for the top-end model of Series 3 in Japan.
Sales were strong, with a total of 474,565 first generation cars produced; 377,878 were sold in the United States alone. In 2004, Sports Car International named this car #7 on its list of Top Sports Cars of the 1970s. In 1983, the RX-7 would appear on Car and Driver magazine's Ten Best list for the first time in 20 years.
2nd Generation (FC)
The Series 4 (1986–1988) was available with a naturally aspirated, fuel-injected 13B-VDEI producing 146 hp (108 kW). An optional turbocharged model, (1987–1988) known as the Turbo II in the American market, had 182 hp / 185 ps (135 kW). The Series 5 (1989–1992) featured updated styling and better engine management, as well as lighter rotors and a higher compression ratio, 9.7:1 for the naturally aspirated model, and 9.0:1 for the turbo model. The naturally aspirated Series 5 FC made 160 hp (119 kW), while the Series 5 Turbo made 200 hp / 205 ps (147 kW).
The second generation RX-7 ("FC", VIN begins JM1FC3 or JMZFC1), still known as the Savanna RX-7 in Japan, featured a complete restyling reminiscent of the Porsche 944 or Porsche 924. Mazda's stylists, led by Chief Project Engineer Akio Uchiyama, focused on the Porsche 944 for their inspiration in designing the FC because the new car was being styled primarily for the American market, where the majority of first generation RX-7's had been sold. This strategy was chosen after Uchiyama and others on the design team spent time in the United States studying owners of earlier RX-7's and other sports cars popular in the American market. The Porsche 944 was selling particularly well at the time and provided clues as to what sports-car enthusiasts might find compelling in future RX-7 styling and equipment. While the SA22/FB was a purer sports car, the FC tended toward the softer sport-tourer trends of its day. Handling was much improved, with less of the oversteer tendencies of the FB. The rear end design was vastly improved from the FB's live rear axle to a more modern, Independent Rear Suspension (rear axle). Steering was more precise, with rack and pinion steering replacing the old recirculating ball steering of the FB. Disc brakes also became standard, with some models (S4: GXL, GTU, Turbo II, Convertible; S5: GXL, GTUs, Turbo, Convertible) offering four-piston front brakes. The rear seats were optional in some models of the FC RX-7, but are not commonly found in the American Market. Mazda also introduced Dynamic Tracking Suspension System (DTSS) in the 2nd generation RX-7. The revised independent rear suspension incorporated special toe control hubs which were capable of introducing a limited degree of passive rear steering under cornering loads. The DTSS worked by allowing a slight amount of toe-out under normal driving conditions but induced slight toe-in under heavier cornering loads at around 0.5 G's or more; toe-out in the rear allows for a more responsive rotation of the rear, but toe-in allowed for a more stable rear under heavier cornering. Mazda also introduced Auto Adjusting Suspension (AAS) in the 2nd generation RX-7. The system changed damping characteristics according to the road and driving conditions. The system compensated for camber changes and provided anti-dive and anti-squat effects. The Turbo 2 uses a turbo charger with a twin scroll design. The smaller primary chamber is engineered to cancel the turbo lag at low engine speeds. At higher revolutions the secondary chamber is opened, pumping out 33% more power than the naturally aspirated counterpart. The Turbo 2 also has an air-to-air intercooler which has a dedicated intake on the hood. The intake is slightly offset toward the left side of the hood.
Though about 80 lb (36 kg) heavier and more isolated than its predecessor, the FC continued to win accolades from the press. The FC RX-7 was Motor Trend's Import Car of the Year for 1986, and the Turbo II was on Car and Driver magazine's Ten Best list for a second time in 1987.
In the Japanese market, only the turbo engine was available; the naturally aspirated version was allowed only as an export. This can be attributed to insurance companies penalizing turbo cars (thus restricting potential sales). This emphasis on containing horsepower and placating insurance companies to make RX-7's more affordable seems ironic in retrospect. Shortly after the discontinuance of the second generation RX-7's in 1992, an outright horsepower "arms race" broke out between sports car manufacturers, with higher and higher levels of power required to meet buyer demands. This rising horsepower phenomena arose from the US CAFE standards remaining stable while engine technologies marched forward rapidly.
Mazda sold 86,000 RX-7's in the US alone in 1986, its first model year, with sales peaking in 1988.
Australian Motors Mazda released a limited run of 250 'Sports' model Series 4 RX-7's; each with no power steering, power windows or rear wiper as an attempt to reduce the weight of the car. In Japan, there was a special limited release of the FC called Infini with only 600 made for each year. Some special noted features for all Infini series are: infini logo on the back, upgraded suspension, upgraded ECU, higher horsepower, lightened weight, 15-inch BBS aluminum alloy wheels, Infini logo steering wheel, aero bumper kits, bronze colored window glass, floor bar on the passenger side, aluminum bonnet with scoop, flare and holder. The car was thought as the pinnacle of the RX-7 series (until the FD came out). The Infini IV came with other special items such as black bucket seats, 16-inch BBS wheels, Knee pads, and all the other items mentioned before. There are differing years for the Infini, which noted the series. Series I was introduced in 1987, Series II was introduced in 1988, Series III was introduced in 1990, and Series IV was introduced in 1991. Series I and II came in White or Black, Series III came in Forest Green only, and Series IV came in Forest Green or Noble Green. There are only minor differences between the series, the biggest change which was from the Series II being an S4 (1986–1988) and the Series III and IV being an S5 (1989–1991).
Mazda introduced a convertible version of the RX-7 in 1988 with a normally aspirated engine — introduced to the US market with ads featuring Hollywood actor James Garner, at the time featured in many of Mazda's television advertisements.
The convertible featured a removable rigid section over the passengers and a folding textile rear section with heatable rear glass window. Power operated, lowering the top required unlatching two header catches, power lower the top halfway, exiting the car (or reaching over to the right side latch), folding down the rigid section manually, and then further power-lowering the top. Mazda introduced with the convertible the first integral windblocker, a rigid panel that folded up from behind the passenger seats to block unwanted drafts from reaching the passengers — thereby extending the driving season for the car in open mode. The convertible also featured optional headrest mounted audio speakers and a folding leather snap-fastened tonneau cover. The convertible assembly was precisely engineered and manufactured, and dropped into the ready body assembly as a complete unit — a first in convertible production.
Several leading car magazines at the time also selected the convertible as one of the best rag-tops available on the market (see Automobile Magazine/January 1988, Performance Car Magazine/January 1989). Mazda exported approximately five thousand convertibles to the United States in 1988 and fewer in each of the next three model years, although it is difficult to confirm these figures, as Mazda USA did not keep RX-7 import records by model type. Production ceasing in October 1991 after Mazda marketed a limited run of 500 example for 1992 for the domestic market only. In Japan, the United Kingdom, and other regions outside the US, a turbocharged version of the convertible was available.
10th Anniversary RX-7
Mazda introduced the 10th Anniversary RX-7 in 1988 as a limited production run based on the RX-7 Turbo II. Production was limited to 1,500 models. The 10th Anniversary RX-7 features a Crystal White monochromatic paint scheme with matching white body side mouldings, taillight housings, mirrors and 16-inch alloy 7-spoke wheels. Another distinctive exterior feature is the gold rotor-shaped 10th Anniversary Edition badge on the fenders. The interior is all black with leather seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel (with 10th AE centerpiece) and genuine MOMO shifter and boot. Glass windows are bronze tinted.