LAUNCHED IN 1992, the third-generation (FD series) RX-7 was tasked with taking Mazda’s rotary-powered performance coupe further upmarket than ever before. Featuring a twin-rotor powerplant with twin turbochargers, this new 176kW RX-7 had the right performance.
It also had the right looks, with its sensuous styling bringing an amazing amalgam of curves, swoops and dramatic statements. America’s influential Motor Trend magazine was so impressed that it awarded the RX-7 its 1993 Import Car of the Year accolade.
Even before the FD’s power output was increased to 206kW for the limited edition RZ, its performance was phenomenal, with a top speed of 251km/h and 0-100km/h in around 5.9 seconds. And yet the RX-7 remained affordable, with its base price of $73,000 making it comparable to the likes of the Nissan 300ZX ($68,404) and the Mitsubishi 3000GT ($89,950) – at a time when the 186kW Porsche 911 Carrera cost $175,120.
The RX-7 still tempts, but is it a smart buy?
Like most of the other Japanese performance cars of this era, just about all third-generation RX-7s have been modified, with numerous Aussie-based specialists offering an array of upgrades. Companies such as PAC Performance, Rotormaster and Maztech can point you in the right direction for mechanical and cosmetic upgrades.
If you crave a major increase in power, however, you should have a chat with experts such as PAC Performance about their range of engine upgrades, replacement powerplants and total custom drag-strip-ready overhauls. The sky is the limit.
For improved handling, there are various suspension mods available off the shelf. Coil-over kits with adjustable dampers, ideal for road/track use, can offer decent bang for your bucks, while a brake upgrade is also a good idea.
’92 TO’02 MAZA produced 68,589 FDs
THE RX-7’s 13B-REW engine is an inherently reliable unit. To achieve that, however, requires regular maintenance – ideally an oil and filter change every 5000km. If the car you’re viewing doesn’t come with proof of this, are there any other signs of neglect?
MAZDA RX-7 VITAL CHECKS
A compression test is desirable when inspecting any rotary-engined car – you’re looking for between seven and eight bar of pressure, anything below that could mean an imminent engine rebuild ($5000 upwards at a rotary specialist). Oil consumption tends to average a quarter of a litre every 1600km, making regular checks essential in order to maintain engine health.
Annual coolant changes are vital to prevent wrecking the seals in the system; if there’s steam from the exhaust on start-up, there has already been some damage. Check that the original intercooler is in place if the car is meant to be standard-spec. High under-bonnet temperatures can lead to problems with the turbocharger solenoids and rubber pipes, often causing erratic turbo behaviour.
The FD-series RX-7 comes with a standard five-speed manual ’box that’s robust and reliable, though some Japanese-spec cars have the four-speed auto option. On manual cars, other than carrying out the usual checks for worn synchromesh (especially on first and second) and a slipping clutch, there’s little to worry about. Uprated RX-7s sometimes need a clutch upgrade to handle the extra power, so ask about this if buying a modified car.
Double wishbones front and rear give impressively balanced handling. If it feels sloppy or is a high-mileage car, you may need to invest in a set of new poly bushes. Less than $1000 will buy you front and rear Powerflex bush kits (via the Australian website) to really sharpen up the handling, though standard-spec bushes are cheaper.
The Torsen-style rear diff is a tough unit, but axle tramp under hard standing-start acceleration may be a sign that the power frame to which the gearbox attaches is damaged, allowing a small amount of movement in the transmission.
Not particularly rust-prone by Japanese standards, but it’s not unknown for the rear wheelarches, the bottoms of the doors and the front guards to suffer.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that the RX-7 was officially imported in full volume by Mazda Australia. Japanese-spec cars are renowned for their lack of rust prevention treatments, so grey imports (cars built between 1999-2002) found for sale here need a thorough check.
If the car has had body mods, check how well the extra spoilers and upgrades have been fitted.
With ventilated discs all round, the brake system can easily handle the power of a standard-spec car. If the brakes need attention, you may want to invest in an upgrade.
The hydraulically-assisted rack and pinion steering tends to be trouble-free, but check for leaks, worn gaiters and so on.
The RX-7’s interior is usefully hard wearing. The half-leather upholstery looks good and lasts well, but check for wear and damage to front seat side bolsters.
Japanese-market cars were generally two-plus-twos, but some RX-7s had lockable storage bins in place of back seats and the added storage helps to make up for the small boot.