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The Mazda RX-7 (also called the Savanna and Efini RX-7) is a Mazda sports car first built in 1978. The original RX-7 competed with other affordable sports cars of the era, such as the Datsun/Nissan 280Z, and was well-received by the media. It features a unique twin-rotor Wankel rotary engine and a sporty front-midship, rear wheel drive layout, making it well balanced and appropriate for racing. The RX-7 was a direct replacement for the RX-3 (both were sold in Japan as the Savanna), but also indirectly replaced nearly every other rotary car made by the company since all but the Cosmo had been retired the previous year.
The RX-7 is a true sports coupe design, as opposed to a sports car like the Triumph TR6 or a saloon with sporting intentions. The relatively light Wankel engine was situated slightly behind the front axle. It was offered in America as a two seat coupe, with four seats being optional in Japan, Australia, and other parts of the world. The handling and acceleration of the car were noted to be of a high calibre for its day. The car went from 0 - 60 mph in 9.2 s, and could get 0.779 lateral Gs on the skidpad. The engine produced 100 hp (75 kW) @ 6000 rpm, allowing the car to reach speeds of over 120 mph (190 km/h). Because the engine was so smooth, with no excess vibration or harsh noise at high rpm, a buzzer was fitted to the tachometer to warn the driver when the 7000 rpm redline was approaching.
The RX-7 made Car and Driver magazine's Ten Best list five times.
Series 1 through 3 were the first generation of RX-7s that had styling inspired by the Lotus Elan 2 2. This version, except for one model of Series 3, shipped with the 12A engine. Series 1 refers to the "SA22C" cars, sold as 1979 and 1980 model years. Series 2 (from then on called "FB"s, referring to their vehicle identification number, which begins JM1FB) refers to the 1981 - 1983 model years, which had wraparound taillights and updated engine control components. The Series 3 refers to the 1984 - 1985 model years which featured an updated lower front fascia and different gauge display layout. (The S3 RX-7 is the only rotary-engined car to not have a centrally mounted tachometer.) The GSL-SE model (S3 only) had a fuel injected 1.3L 13B-DEI engine and stronger drivetrain components.
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 1st generation RX-7 with the fuel injected 13B. For other countries, Mazda used a turbocharged (but non-intercooled) 12A engine for the top end model. Additionally, the FB designation was only used in North America after the US Department of Transportation mandated 17 digit Vehicle Identification numbers. Elsewhere in the world, the 1st generation RX-7 kept the SA22C designation. In Japan, Mazda sold the RX-7 as the Savanna, replacing the RX-3.
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.
The second generation (the "FC", whose VIN begins JM1FC3) featured a complete restyling, reminiscent of the Porsche 944. It had two series, from 1986 - 1988 (Series 4) and 1989 - 1991 (Series 5). The Series 4 came with a naturally aspirated fuel-injected 13B-VDEI producing 146 hp (108 kW). An optional turbocharged model (the Turbo II) was available as well, making 189 hp (141 kW). The Series 5 cars featured updated styling and better engine management, as well as lighter rotors and a higher compression ratio. The naturally aspirated Series 5 FC made 160 hp (119 kW), while the Series 5 TII made 200 hp (149 kW).
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.
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 none of the oversteer tendencies of the FB. Steering was firmer, 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, TII, Vert; S5: GTUs, TII, Vert) offering four-piston front brakes. The rear seats were optional in some models of the FC RX-7, but are not commonly found. Though it was heavier and more isolated than its predecessor, the FC won accolades from the press as well.
In 1987, a convertible version started production in atmospheric and turbocharged form, proving an instant success. Despite production ceasing in October 1991, Mazda built a limited run of 500 convertibles for 1992 as "specials" for the domestic market only. In Japan, Australia, and other regions outside the US, a turbocharged version of the convertible was available.
In Japan, Mazda sold the RX-7 as the Savanna RX-7 like the generation before. However, only the turbo engine was available; the atmospheric version was only allowed as an export. This was mainly due to insurance companies penalising turbo cars (thus restricting potential sales). Overall, the 2nd generation was the most successful for Mazda saleswise, with 86,000 cars finding buyers in 1986 for the USA alone.
The third and final generation of the RX-7 was an outright, no-compromise sports car by Japanese standards. It featured an aerodynamic, futuristic-looking body design (a testament to its near 11 year life span). The 13B-REW was the first-ever mass-produced sequential twin-turbo system to export from Japan, boosting power to 255 hp (190 kW) and finally 280 ps (276 hp, 208 kW, the Japanese manufacturers' gentlemen's agreement on engine power) by the time production ended in Japan in 2002.
The FD RX-7 was Motor Trend's Import Car of the Year for 1993. It also made Car and Driver magazine's Ten Best list for 1992 through 1995.
The sequential twin turbocharged system was a very complex piece of engineering, developed with the aid of Hitachi and previously used on the domestic Cosmo series (JC Cosmo=90 - 95). The system was comprised of one small turbocharger to provide torque at low RPM. The 2nd unit was on standby until the upper half of the RPM range during full throttle acceleration. The first turbocharger provided 10 psi of boost from 1800 rpm, and the 2nd turbocharger was activated at 4000 rpm and also provided 10 psi. The changeover process was incredibly smooth, and provided linear acceleration and a very wide torque curve throughout the entire rev range.
The car is known as the FD (with FD3S for the JDM and JM1FD for the USA VIN). The FD RX-7 is a pure sports car, bordering on supercar status. In the US, three models were offered; the "base", the touring, and the R models. The touring FD had a sunroof and Bose stereo system. The R (R1 in 1993 and R2 in 1994 - 95) had stiffer suspensions and an optional aerodynamics package, as well as Z-rated tires. The Japanese version received several more versions to cater to the many tastes of their fussy buyers.
For 1995, Australia had a special high performance version of the RX-7, dubbed the RX-7 SP. This was developed locally in Australia as a modified version of the standard RX-7 and was used to provide road going versions of the race car used for the 12hr endurance race held at Bathurst, New South Wales since 1991. An initial run of 25 were made, and later an extra 10 were built by Mazda due to demand. The RX-7 SP had 204 kW (273.6 hp) of power and 357 Nm (263.3 ft.lbf) of torque, compared to 176 kW (236 hp) and 294 Nm (216.9 ft.lbf) on the standard version. It also had many other changes, such as a race inspired nose cone, race proven rear wing, a 120 L fuel tank (as opposed to the 76 L tank in the standard car), a 4.3:1-ratio rear differential, 17 in diameter wheels, larger brake rotors and calipers, as well as improved intercooler, exhaust and ECU systems. Weight was reduced significantly with the aid of carbon fibre; a lightweight bonnet and seats were used to reduce weight to just 1218 kg (from 1310 kg). It was a serious road going race car that matched their rival Porsche 911RS for the final year Mazda officially entered. The formula worked, with the RX-7SP winning the title, giving Mazda the winning trophy for their 4th year running.
Handling was absolutely outstanding in the FD, and it is still regarded as being one of the best-handling cars of all time. Acceleration was no less impressive. In fact, the track-oriented 1993 RX-7 R1 bested the Acura NSX in every performance category, while costing over US$10,000 less. The car was sold in 1992 and 1993 as model year 1993 in the USA in its 255 hp (190.2 kW) form; in 1994 the R1 was replaced by the R2 with revised suspension for more compliant off-track ride yet still retaining the R1's handling characteristics.
In Japan, Mazda sold the FD RX-7 through its Efini brand as the Efini RX-7 from 1992 to 1995, and then returned it to the Mazda brand for 1996. The RX-7 was updated for 1996, and with the company losing money worldwide, changes were minor. The RX-7 received its final update in 1999 with a more powerful engine, new wheels, front bar, tail lights and rear spoiler until production ceased in August 2002.
The 3rd generation car is also known by three different "series", which signify minor changes made to the car; however, the basic package remained the same:
Series 6 was the initial version and ran from early 1992 to late 1995. This version was exported throughout the world and thus had the highest sales.
Series 7 ran from early 1996 to late 1998. Changes were minor to this car, the main difference was an ECU giving greater boost and 10 hp extra. Australia was the only country outside Japan with this version.
Series 8 was the final version, and ran from January 1999 until the car was discontinued in August 2002 in Japan only. This version had many changes, such as 5% more efficient turbochargers. The intercooling and radiator setup was greatly improved thanks to the revised frontal area. The seats, steering wheel, rear and front lights were all changed. The rear wing was also changed and was now adjustable, and the top line "Type RS" was shipped standard with 17" wheels. Power was rated as 280 ps (276 hp, 208 kW) (with 330 Nm (243 ft.lbf) of torque) as per the maximum Japanese limit, however the real power was more likely 220 - 230 kW (290 - 308.4 hp). In stock trim, the Series 8 is capable of a 13.2 s 1/4 mile run. The top line "Type RS" version also featured Bilstein suspension as standard enabling even more precise handling than the previous version. Regular "journalist racing events" against rivals Nissan Skyline GT-R and Honda NSX would find the RX-7 outclassing its more expensive rivals time after time.
Further upgrades such was a 16-bit ECU control as opposed to the 8-bit system used in the earlier models. The ABS system was also in for an upgrade. The advantage to this ABS system was that it would affect handling by braking differently on all four of the wheels, which allowed the car to turn a lot better during braking periods. The effective result made for safer driving for the average buyer.
Easily the most collectable of all the RX-7's was the last 1500 run-out specials. Dubbed the "Spirit R", they combined all the "extra" features Mazda had used on previous limited-run specials and all sold within days of being announced. They still command amazing prices on the Japanese used car scene years later.
Racing versions of the first-generation RX-7 were entered at the prestigious 24 hours of Le Mans endurance race. The first outing for the car, equipped with a 13B engine, failed by less than one second to qualify in 1979. The next year, a 12A-engine car not only qualified; it placed 21st overall. That same car did not finish in 1981, along with two more 13B cars. Those two cars were back for 1982, with one 14th place finish and another DNF. The RX-7 Le Mans effort was replaced by the 717C prototype for 1983.
Mazda began racing RX-7s in the IMSA GTU series in 1979. That first year, RX-7s placed 1st and 2nd at the 24 Hours of Daytona, and claimed the GTU series championship. The car continued winning, claiming the GTU championship seven years in a row. The RX-7 took the GTO championship ten years in a row from 1982. The RX-7 has won more IMSA races than any other car model.
The RX-7 also fared well at the SPA 24 Hours race. Three Savanna/RX-7s were entered in 1981. After hours of battling with BMW 530is and Ford Capris, the RX-7 driven by Pierre Dieudonne and Tom Walkinshaw won the event. Mazda had turned the tables on BMW, who had beaten Mazda's Familia Rotary to the podium eleven years earlier at the same event.
Canadian/Australian touring car driver Allan Moffat was instrumental in bringing Mazda into the Australian touring car scene. Over a four year span beginning in 1981, Moffat took the Mazda RX-7 to victory in the 1983 Australian Touring Car Championship, as well as a trio of Bathurst 1000 podiums, in 1981 (3rd with Derek Bell), 1983 (2nd with Yoshima Katayama) and 1984 (3rd with former motorcycle champion Gregg Hansford). Australia's adoption of international Group A regulations, combined with Mazda's reluctance to homologate a Group A RX-7, ended Mazda's active participation in the touring car series at the end of the 1984 season.
The RX-7 even made an appearance in the World Rally Championship. The car finished 11th on its debut at the RAC Rally in Wales in 1981. Group B received much of the focus for the first part of the 1980s, but Mazda did manage to place third at the 1985 Acropolis Rally, and the Familia 4WD claimed the victory at Swedish Rally in both 1987 and 1989.
Recently, Mazda has revived the rotary engine in the form of the RX-8, a sport sedan along the same vein as the Mazda Cosmo. Pending strong sales of the RX-8, Mazda has unofficially announced that it might consider making another RX-7 in 2006.