In hindsight, Mazda’s decision to go ahead with a 1978 launch of its RX-7 was courageous. Sure it was the most experienced maker of rotary-powered vehicles on the planet, but really it seemed like the platform’s best days might be over as the bulk of the car market clearly loved its four-strokes.
Though a long-nosed two-door coupe was hardly a new concept, the proportions of this car was among the best of its era, and arguably a prettier car than the roughly equivalent Porsche 924-and-on series.
As Cliff Chambers recently pointed out: With 1.1 litres of twin rotor engine replacing conventional pistons the low-slung coupe with its hidden headlamps and hatchback access changed the shape and concept of sports car motoring.
Selling in Australia for a whisker less than $15,000 the Mazda was pitched directly against Alfa Romeo’s ageing GTV 2000 and undercut Nissan’s heavyweight 280ZX by almost $5000.
Mazda’s route to success was made easier by the imminent demise of open-top British models including the Triumph TR7 and MGB. Certainly the RX-7 was fundamental to revival of the lucrative North American sporty car market.
The original RX-7 was not fast in absolute terms but made amends via a responsive chassis. The tiny engine initially produced only 77kW and needed to be spinning above 4000rpm before delivering full performance.
On the race-track, the Mazda’s light weight and durability ensured excellent results. The most obvious beneficiary was Allan Moffat, who abandoned his long-running Ford allegiance for a peripherally-ported RX-7 that won the Canadian his 4th Australian Touring Car title. Moffat’s international results included first in class at the 1982 Daytona 24 Hour sports car race.(See tradeuniquecars.com.au for the Moffat RX7 story.)