The Mazda RX-7 was born in the late '70s, but it wasn't until its third iteration was released for the '93 model year that most enthusiasts really began to care about it. Sold in the U.S. for just three years, the final-generation RX-7 makes for one of the rarest Japanese supercars ever sold in America—if for no other reason than a few years, just wasn't a whole lot of time to rack up impressive sales figures.
The FD chassis made its rounds throughout the rest of the world for much longer, though, resulting in nearly 70,000 of them being sold worldwide. As a result, the third-time model achieved all sorts of motorsports success, which can mostly be attributed to its exceptional handling characteristics and proper balance. It's also proof that the twin-turbocharged 13B-REW rotary engine that you think is a temperamental turd of a time bomb—because the internet says so—just might actually be something very special. Here, Mazda became the only Japanese make to have ever won the 24 Hours of Le Mans and went on to show face within IMSA, the 24 Hours of Daytona, and the British Touring Car Championship.
For years, Mazda's 1.3L sequentially turbocharged rotary engine's gotten a bad rep, mostly because of overzealous and ham-fisted loons and their hardware store boost controllers and their failure to grasp air-to-fuel ratios. As it turns out, though, the world's first mass-produced, sequentially turbocharged engine is a special one, and is something that shouldn't go unappreciated. First, its pair of sequentially timed turbos was as impressive as it was complex. The results were 261 hp that came on at 1,800 rpm and didn't quit until its 8,000-rpm redline. Significant power increases meant ditching the twin setup but, for most, complementing the two Hitachi turbos with more boost and more fuel often yielded more than any rational person would know what to do with on the street.
It's the RX-7's suspension and chassis that epitomizes its finesse, though. The low center of gravity, front-midship engine and drivetrain layout, and balanced weight distribution make the third-generation model as communicative and as well handling as many of today's sports cars. All of this was a priority for Mazda's engineers, who set out to ensure the RX-7 remained as rigid and as light as possible, the latter of which was accomplished by means of cast-aluminum suspension arms that reduced unsprung weight considerably.
The good and the bad
+ Whip-snapping, well-balanced chassis
+ Ideal 50/50 weight distribution
+ Timeless, modern-looking body style
+ Sequentially turbocharged but with smooth, linear power curve
- Rotary engine learning curve
- Most 13B-REWs already thoroughly abused
- Some replacement parts difficult to source
- Rust-prone body and chassis
Where to Find One and For How Much
As far as Japanese sports cars go, the third-generation RX-7 isn't all that expensive to get into. Pick up a solid specimen for around $20K; add another $5,000 if you want something nearly perfect and take away the same if you're willing to put in some sweat (and fiscal) equity. Low production figures mean used RX-7s aren't abounding, but at any given time eBay will reveal a dozen or so candidates up for grabs.
The problem with rumors of an RX-7 replacement coming anytime soon is just that—they're rumors. The impending release of a '17 model with rotary engine and all and that coincided with the 50th anniversary of Mazda's Cosmo Sport sounded like it ought to happen, but sadly all signs point to '20 as the soonest anything like that'll ever occur (yes, another four years from now!). Those same signs also point to a naturally aspirated rotary, which may make the RX-7 successor's job of actually succeeding the third-generation model with any semblance of nostalgia that much tougher. That's mostly because turbochargers and rotary engines often don't mix well in terms of emissions, though, but a lot can change in a little over four years.
Bad RX-7 in History
When you think of badass rotary tuners, not much comes to behind except the tuning powerhouse that Isami Amemiya built back in '74. RE-Amemiya has built track superstars from Super GT to D1 Grand Prix. This Hurricane 7 featured in September '11 is a modified version of their Super GT300 car. Powered by a 20B, it ran a 1:42 at Fuji Speedway back in the day as well as a 1:29.8 at Sydney Motorsport Park during the '12 World Time Attack Challenge. The car is still around so don't be surprised if they decide to break it out for another go at a time attack record!
How the 13B-REW Rotary Works
Mazda's time-honored 13B rotary engine's reinvented itself over the years, culminating into the twin-turbocharged 13B-REW that you're just as scared of as you are impressed. It's the missing valves, pistons, and connecting rods that freak you out, but that shouldn't matter; rotary engines can be just as reliable as and need not be any more mysterious than any other conventional four-stroke engine.
First, your piston-based engine experiences all four cycles happen within the same cylinders. With rotaries, intake, compression, combustion, and exhaust events occur in their own spaces. It's all based around a sort of triangular-shaped, three-lobe rotor—an epitrochoid—that's driven by an eccentric shaft and spins inside of a peanut-shaped housing all while orbiting within it. Here, the engine's four cycles take place between the rotor's outer edges and its housing as the rotor rotates. As the rotor spins, its drawn closer to and farther away from its housing, allowing gases to expand and contract much like a piston would accomplish inside of a cylinder. Typically, rotary engines are able to produce more power per size when compared to piston-based engines since, here, combustion occurs twice as often. The absence of a rotating assembly, camshafts, and valvetrain also mean they're able to spin a bit higher in most cases and do so a whole lot smoother.