The FD RX-7 is no ordinary automobile; it’s become a cult classic with a significant and loyal group of owners that truly appreciates the vehicle for what it is. It’s been nearly 20 years since a new FD has been sold on U.S. soil, and its short on-sale date here from 1993 to 1995 left a total of 13,879 RX-7s sold.
As you can imagine, a car with low production numbers is usually a highly sought after item, but there’s so much more to the RX-7 than rarity. To this day, it is still touted as one of the best-handling sports cars ever made. Add a unique and very capable twin-turbocharged rotary engine, and you can start to see why there are so many enthusiasts today who pine after these cars, myself included.
When I was invited out to attend a private track day at Virginia International Raceway and possibly drive not one, not two, but four FD RX-7s, all with varying levels of modifications, I cleared my schedule and made sure I wouldn’t miss this rare and unique opportunity.
The two men behind the proposed idea were Gordon Monsen and David Hayes, both FD fanatics, of course. They had always wondered how different turbo and engine setups work in these chassis, and what better way to find out than to set up a track day and let every owner drive one another’s cars to determine which one they preferred?
In theory, this seems like a brilliant idea; in reality, though, it’s hard to pull off. Renting the track is the easy part; getting everyone’s schedules to line up and their cars in tip-top shape is a whole different story.
Unfortunately, that’s just what happened. Gordon’s 20b-powered, naturally aspirated, three-rotor engine developed oiling issues just prior to the event, and much to Gordon’s dismay, his car would be a no-show at the event he was hosting.
Logan Carswell was also supposed to bring out a naturally aspirated RX-7, this one equipped with a crazy four-rotor capable of 600 hp, but he ran out of time assembling the engine.
David Hayes and his 20b, three-rotor, single-turbo, black, wide-body car still made the long trek to VIR, despite having engine issues of his own.
"David Hayes has a lot invested in his one-of-a-kind RX-7. With a serious three-rotor 20b swap lurking under the hood, it’s no wonder he widened the rear fenders to accomodate 315-wide Michelin tires."
Peter Hahn showed up with a drop-dead-gorgeous, silver, track-prepped FD that still retains the stock twin setup on a street-ported 13b with a PowerFC controlling it all.
"Peter Hahn’s gorgeous gray FD RX-7 is what dreams are made of. It’s functional and fast, all the while retaining the very best styling cues available for the FD chassis."
The last of the original four RX-7s was Fritz Flynn’s. He has a race-ready FD with a single T04e turbo conversion on a street-ported 13b.
A late addition was Jonathan Hallenborg of Eccentric Performance, who was gracious enough to offer up a bone-stock FD RX-7 for us to abuse on track. Jon buys and repairs used and abused FDs, restoring them to proper operating condition, and sells them with actual warranties!
While the minor setback and lack of naturally aspirated FDs dampened spirits a bit, there was still lots of enthusiasm left, because Gordon and David decided to open up the track to other RX-7 enthusiasts and treat it more like an open driving day than a full-blown test session. That meant more cars to enjoy the VIR north course and the potential for me to experience some I would never have originally, like the two V8-powered FDs that showed up.
In the original plan, the idea was not to just track-test every car but to strap them down to VIR’s onsite dyno and see what type of power they made. Since the dyno was already arranged, most owners took advantage to see what type of power they were making.
Jon’s freshly rebuilt RX-7 made 247 whp and 224 lb-ft, which is quite good for a stock engine. As David suspected, his low-on-compression three-rotor turned out a modest 400 whp and 381 lb-ft. His FD is a high-600hp car when running properly.
There were three single-turbo cars that dyno’d between 300 whp and 410 whp, respectively, while the LS2 V8- swapped FD owned by Robin Gordon put down a solid 353 whp and a fat torque band of 373 lb-ft.
"The pride of America, an LS2 V8 nets a solid 373 lb-ft of torque with an equally impressive 353 whp. "
At the track, my hopes to drive most of the FDs had all but evaporated. It was raining on and off, therefore any real testing wouldn’t happen, and with half the field of proposed FDs missing, it just wasn’t meant to be. Instead, I decided to ride shotgun in some of the vehicles that did come out.
I was, however, able to take out Jon’s RX-7 for a quick blast so I could get a sense of what an all-stock RX-7 was capable of. My impressions were what you’d expect of a 20-year-old car. Aged and worn parts left this FD sloppy and loose. Power delivery was solid, though; Jon said the engine had just received a full rebuild, so it was fun going in a straight line, but forget about those corners. To enjoy them, this FD needs some serious suspension and brake mods.
"This is what a healthy single-turbo 13b engine produces: 419 whp and 331 lb-ft of torque."
Next up was Fritz Flynn’s race car. It’s the epitome of a track slut, having been beaten and abused at full throttle the majority of its life. Like most purpose-built track cars, it’s not pretty, but damn does it work well. This RX-7 proves why the FD chassis is so revered, as it was exceptional in every aspect. From the linear power delivery to the precise, well-balanced, neutral handling, Fritz was able to drive this car at the limit and beyond through every corner, and not once did it fight him or quit. Fritz must have given out 25-plus rides during the day without his RX-7 ever skipping a beat. Rotaries aren’t known for longevity, but Fritz said the key to its reliability is keeping things simple. Don’t overcomplicate your setup and it will last.
Scott Carpenter, who actually races motorcycles for a living, let me ride along in his 410-whp red FD, which has very few hard-core track parts and is more street oriented than anything. However, it was still very capable of handling the corners and was much more plush than Fritz’s car. The most noticeable difference in this FD from the others attending was power delivery. It needed to get past 5,000 rpm before the party began, but when it did, hold on, ’cause it’s got lots of jam up top. Despite not having much grunt down low, the rotary makes up for it with a high-rpm redline that makes this setup genuinely fun to drive and intimidatingly fast.
"Nothing crazy here—295 whp and a broad torque curve make for an ideal track setup."
To contrast, the two V8s I was able to ride in were obviously much different experiences. There’s so much torque available down low that you don’t have to do as much shifting as with the rotaries, but what surprised me the most was that even with the big V8 stuffed between the framerails, the FD didn’t lose its capable handling characteristics. It performs quite well on track, and if reliability is a concern for you, then it’s hard to beat an LS swap.
That’s not to say I would choose it over the rotary. For me, high revs and turbo power beat out a V8 in fun factor every time, and this is coming from a fellow V8 swap owner.
After a long day at the track, there’s nothing more rewarding than eating good food with fellow enthusiasts, and as luck would have it, Hoi Kong—who attended the event in his clean, stock-appearing RX-7—happens to own a restaurant, Tokyo Grill, not too far from VIR. Many stories, laughs, and arrangements for the next event were exchanged, proving that even when everything doesn’t go according to plan, it all works out.
"Even stock appearing, the FD manages to impress. Hoi Kong owns this red one and has done some proper upgrades under the hood."
The Long Haul
What more fitting car to drive to an RX-7 event than another Mazda? This one gets 37 mpg, seats five, and still has plenty of zoom-zoom. Unlike other makes in the segment, Mazda still offers a six-speed manual, which gives this sedan a very sporty appeal. Add a great interior and lots of connectivity, and it made our nine-hour road trip a very pleasurable experience.