The RX nomenclature has become a huge part of Mazda’s history and while there have been many legendary RX cars over the years, the most famous is almost certainly the RX-7. There were three generations of the RX-7 which were produced from 1978 until 2002, with over 810,000 cars being built in that time.
It has become one of the most iconic cars of all time and made Car and Driver magazine’s Ten Best list five times. It has also become famous through film and video games as well; appearing in the likes of Initial D, The Fast and the Furious Serious, Need for Speed, Gran Turismo and many others.
This is the complete history of the Mazda RX-7.
Mazda Savanna RX-7 (SA22C/FB)
Series 1 (1978 – 1980)
Mazda’s first RX-7 model was launched in March 1978 and replaced the Savanna RX-3. The car was designed by a team led Matasaburo Maeda, whose son Ikuo would go on to design the Mazda2 and Mazda RX-8. Compared to Mazda’s previous offerings, the new Savanna RX-7 was a true, hot blooded sports car, which followed the trend of other Japanese manufacturers.
The RX-7 also had an advantage compared to its competition. It was light, small and the compact rotary engine meant the power unit could be placed behind the front axle, improving the cars weight distribution. Another benefit of the RX-7 was that the rotary engine had financial advantages in Japan as the displacement was below 1.5 litres. This was a significant determination when paying the Japanese annual road tax which kept the RX-7 affordable to most buyers, while having more power than the traditional inline engines.
Mazda fitted the RX-7 with a 1146cc 12A engine that produced around 105hp and 144Nm of torque. The 12A was used in a number of Mazda’s other cars including the RX-2, RX-3 and RX-4. It was also the first engine built outside of western Europe or the U.S to finish the 24 hours of Le Mans.
The 105hp engine combined with the RX-7’s low 1,024kg kerb weight meant that the car could go from 0-100km/h in around 9.5 seconds and would go onto a top speed of 185km/h.
The Savanna RX-7 was regarded as one of the best handling and performing cars of its day. The 50/50 weight distribution combined with the “live axle” 4-link rear suspension and the low weight made it a blast in the corners.
Series 2 (1981 – 1983)
Mazda introduced the second series of the RX-7 in 1981. A number of changes were made to the RX-7’s body for the second series. These included; integrated plastic-covered bumpers, wide black rubber body side mouldings, wraparound taillights and updated engine control components.
The four speed manual was dropped, leaving only a 5 speed manual option left and the automatic versions. Overall, the car was slightly longer but weighed in at 995kg now instead of 1,024kg. Four-wheel disc brakes were included in the GSL package, along with clutch-type rear limited slip differential.
Power was increased by about 10hp for the second series RX-7, making it 115hp at 7000rpm and 152Nm of torque. The weight reduction and increased power meant that the series 2 could go from 0-100km/h in 8.5 seconds and on to a top speed of 193km/h.
With the introduction of the turbocharged rotary engined Cosmo, Mazda decided to fit a turbo to the top end RX-7’s 12A engine. This was introduced in Japan in September 1983 and produced just over 160hp at 6,500rpm.
A new “Impact Turbo” was designed by Mazda to deal with the different exhaust gas characteristics of a rotary engine. Both rotor vanes of the turbine were redesigned and made smaller. The turbine in the new design had a twenty percent higher speed than a turbo used for a conventional engine.
Series 3 (1984 – 1985)
Mazda continued to offer the GSL package for the RX-7, but also introduced the GSL-SE. This had a fuel-injected 1.3 L 13B RE-EGI engine that produced 135hp and 183Nm of torque, a significant upgrade over the standard car. It also featured larger brake rotors than the GSL and upgraded suspension with stiffer springs and shocks.
In 1985 Mazda launched the last RX-7 Finale in Australia. This was to be the final RX-7 of the generation and it featured a brass plaque mentioning the number the car was as well as “Last of a legend” on the plaque. The finale had special stickers and a blacked out section between the window & rear hatch.
Altogether Mazda sold a total of 474,565 first generation RX-7s, with nearly eighty percent of those selling in the United States alone.
Mazda RX-7 FC
Launched in 1985 the second generation series 4 RX-7 continued down the same path as the first gen RX-7, but with some slight differences. While the first gen RX-7 was considered to be a pure sportscar, the FC tended toward the softer sport-tourer trends of its day, sharing some similarities with the HB series Cosmo.
Mazda upgraded the rear end suspension design by fitting an Independent Rear Suspension setup. This improved the handling of the car and reduced oversteer. Steering was also made more precise with the use of rack and pinion steering that replaced the old recirculating ball steering of the first gen.
Disc brakes also became standard on most models and Mazda introduced their Dynamic Tracking Suspension System (DTSS) in the 2nd generation RX-7. The revised independent rear suspension incorporated special toe control hubs which were capable of introducing a limited degree of passive rear steering under cornering loads.
DTSS was combined with the Auto Adjusting Suspension (AAS) system for the FC. AAS changed the damping characteristics of the car according to the road and driving conditions. The system provided anti-squat and dive effects, and compensated for any camber changes.
Mazda’s design team for the car, led by Chief Project Engineer Akio Uchiyama, wanted to create something that would appeal to the American market, as that is where the majority of the first gen’s sales were. The design team used the Porsche 924 and 944 as a basis for the FC as they were two of the most popular sports cars around that time.
The 12A engine was ditched for the FC and Mazda went with the fuel-injected 13B-VDEI for the series 4 RX-7. This naturally aspirated version produced around 146hp and the turbocharged model made around 182hp.
While the design of the FC was much heavier than the first gen at around 1,223 to 1,584kg (depending on trip and specs), the car continued to win accolades from the press. 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.
Mazda increased the power of both the naturally aspirated and turbocharged models of the RX-7 for the Series 5. In naturally aspirated form the car produced 160hp, while the turbo model made around 200hp, with some RX-7 turbos putting out as much as 215hp.
In 1988 Mazda introduced a convertible version of the RX-7 with either a naturally aspirated or turbocharged engine. The convertible was available in all markets and it featured a removable rigid section over the passengers and a folding textile rear section with a heat-able rear glass window. The convertible assembly of the FC was precisely engineered, and it dropped into the RX-7 body assembly as a complete unit, which was a first in convertible production.
Production of the FC convertible lasted until 1991, with Mazda making a limited run of 500 cars for the Japanese Domestic Market.
10th Anniversary RX-7
To celebrate ten years of the RX-7, Mazda created a new RX-7 model that was based on the Turbo II RX-7. Production of this car was limited to 1,500 units and it featured a Crystal White monochromatic paint scheme with matching white body side mouldings, taillight housings, mirrors and 16-inch alloy 7-spoke wheels.
Other features specific to the 10th anniversary RX-7 include the all black leather interior, which included not just the seats, but the door panel inserts as well and a leather-wrapped 10th anniversary edition MOMO steering wheel and MOMO leather shift knob. There were also 10th anniversary floormats and the exterior glass is bronze tinted (for the North American model only).
Mazda made two series of the 10th anniversary edition, with the most notable difference between the two being a black Mazda logo decal on the front bumper cover of the Series I, which the Series II did not have.
GTU (1989 – 1990)
A limited edition GTU RX-7 was introduced in 1989 to commemorate the RX-7’s IMSA domination. The GTU was a more stripped down version and manual windows were standard, with the sunroof and air conditioning being optional for buyers.
The car featured similar components to the Turbo RX-7, such as four piston front brakes, rear ventilated brake rotors, vehicle speed sensing power steering, a one-piece front chin spoiler, Turbo model cloth seats, a leather steering wheel, 16 inch wheels, 205/55VR tires, and a 4.300 Viscous-type limited slip differential (all other FC LSD’s were 4.100).
Only 1,100 GTUs were built in 1989, with a further 100 made in 1990. Thanks to the changes Mazda made to the GTU it had quicker acceleration than the non-turbo version of the RX-7 FC.
Japan and the RX-7 FC
The Japanese market only received the Turbo version of the RX-7, with the naturally aspirated version only being available for export. This was because insurance companies in Western countries would charge more for a turbo car.
Japan also received a special edition FC RX-7 called the Infini. This was limited to 600 units a year and featured a lighter weight, upgraded suspension, more power, a better ECU, 15-inch BBS aluminium alloy wheels, an aluminium bonnet with a scoop, a new bumper kit and bronze coloured window glass. The Infini was considered to be the ultimate RX-7 until the third generation FD came along in 1992.
Mazda produced a total of 272,027 RX-7 FCs with 86,000 of them selling in 1986 in the USA alone.
Mazda RX-7 FD
Following the Mazda RX-7 FC’s production end, the Hiroshima based car manufacturer launched a new RX-7 called the FD in 1992. The FD returned to the lightweight design philosophy of the first generation RX-7, as the FC model failed to entertain drivers like the original.
Mazda’s new RX-7 FD was the work of designer Yoichi Sato and was one of the most striking designs to come out of Japan at the time of its launch in 1992. Its low-slung, shrink-wrapped bodywork was a complete contrast to the boxy lines of the FC. The FD featured a curb weight just under 1,300kg, which combined with the low-centre of gravity, increased power over the FC and the improved driving dynamics made the RX-7 FD one of the greatest sports cars on the market.
The car also featured the mighty 1.3-litre 13B-REW power unit, that was the first-ever mass-produced sequential twin-turbocharger system to export from Japan boosting power to 252hp in 1993 and finally 276hp by the time production ended in Japan in 2002. The first turbo (10 psi) kicked in at lower engine rpms (1,800), while the second one (10 psi) activated at higher rpms (4,000). A precise 5-speed manual transmission was offered for those who wanted the ultimate driving experience, as well as a 4 speed automatic option.
Mazda kept using the rotary engine for a number of reasons. The unusually high output for such a compact engine was impressive, as was its stratospheric 8,000 rpm rev limit. Additionally, since a rotary engine’s cylinders rotate around the crankshaft, it had no need for a big heavy flywheel, since there were no reciprocating components to cause engine vibration. This let Mazda keep the weight and size of the engine at a minimum.
The engine itself was based on the one used in Mazda’s Cosmo coupe (1990 until 1996). This was a Japanese domestic market four-seater GT that combined a turbocharger and a rotary engine for the first time, and also introduced the first application of digital sat-nav.
Series 6 (1992 – 1995)
The series 6 RX-7 had the highest sales of the RX-7 FD era and was exported throughout the world. Mazda sold the RX-7 through its luxury brand ɛ̃fini as the ɛ̃fini RX-7. ɛ̃fini was a luxury division of Mazda that operated between 1991 and 1997. Only the 1993 to 1995 model years of the series 6 were sold in North America.
RX-7 SP (1995)
Australia received a special version of the RX-7, named the RX-7 SP. This launched in 1995 and was developed to achieve homologation for racing in the Australian GT Production Car Series and the Eastern Creek 12 Hour production car race. Initially, only 25 were made with an additional 10 built by Mazda to satisfy demand. The car produced 274hp and 357Nm of torque, much higher than the standard model. Other modifications included a carbon fibre 120-litre fuel tank (the standard car had a 76-litre tank), a race-developed carbon fibre nose cone and spoiler, 17-inch wheels, larger brake rotors and calipers, a 4.3:1-ratio rear differential, a more efficient intercooler, a new exhaust and finally a modified ECU. Mazda also reduced the weight of the car to 1,218kg through the use of carbon-fibre and Recaro seats.
The standard RX-7 FD was no slouch when it came to performance, but the changes made to the SP version turned the RX-7 into a serious road-going race car. Mazda’s RX-7 SP could match the Porsche 911 RS CS and it even won the 1995 Eastern Creek 12 Hour, giving Mazda the winning 12hr trophy for a fourth straight year. The same car also gained a podium finish at the international tarmac rally Targa Tasmania months later. To celebrate the success of this car, the Bathurst R RX-7 was released in 2001 exclusively in Japan.
Series 7 (1996 – 1998)
Mazda made slight modifications to the RX-7 in 1996. These changes included a 16-bit ECU, an improved intake system and a simplified vacuum routing manifold, which increased power by about 10 horsepower. This power increase was only noticeable on the manual version of the car as it only came into effect above 7,000rpm, which was the redline for the automatic RX-7. The Type RZ model was also equipped with larger brake rotors and 17 inch BBS wheels from the factory.
Series 8 (1998-2002)
The Series 8 RX-7 was the final series and was only available in Japan. Mazda installed more efficient turbos and improved the intercooling and radiator cooling performance by fitting a new front fascia. On the inside, the steering wheel, instrument cluster and seats were changed for the Series 8. A new adjustable spoiler was also fitted to some models and the ABS system was improved to improve cornering ability while braking.
Three power levels were available with the automatic version getting 251hp, the Type RB came with 261hp and the top end models came with 276hp. The Type RS was fitted with Bilstein suspension, 17-inch wheels and also featured a reduced weight of 1,280kg. Mazda also released the Type RZ version that was essentially a Type RS, but with a weight of 1,270kg. This car also featured a custom red racing themed interior and gun-metal grey coloured BBS wheels.
Mazda increased the power levels for the Series 8 by installing a less restrictive muffler and more efficient turbochargers which featured abradable compressor seals. This meant that the power could be bumped up to 276hp and 333.8Nm of torque, which was the maximum Japanese limit at the time. They also increased the length of 5th gear to reduce cruising rpm and improve fuel efficiency.
The most collectable of the all the RX-7s were the last 1,500 run out specials. These were dubbed the “Spirit R” and Mazda combined all the extra features they had used on previous limited-special RX-7s, along with new ones like cross drilled brakes. Mazda stated that “The Type-A Spirit R model is the ultimate RX-7, boasting the most outstanding driving performance in its history.”
The UK and the RX-7
The RX-7 FD went on sale in 1992 in the United Kingdom. Interestingly, sales of the RX-7 were poor upon launch and in a bid to increase sales, Mazda reduced the price from £32,000 to £25,000. They also refunded the difference to those customers who bought the car before that was announced.
Just 210 FDs were officially imported into the UK, with many more subsequently arriving from Japan in the late-’90s, courtesy of the Single Vehicle Approval (SVA) import scheme
Unlike previous generations of the RX-7, the FD no longer complied with Japanese Government dimension regulations, and Japanese buyers were liable for yearly taxes for driving the wider car compared to previous generations, which ultimately affected sales. Mazda also offered two new smaller sports cars in their range, the MX-5 and the MX-3, which also impacted sales of the FD. Altogether 88,589 RX-7 FDs were created.
The RX-7’s racing heritage is long with its first big test at the 1979 24 Hours of Le Mans, where the 13B version of the car failed to qualify by one second. Mazda wasn’t put off by this, with the company returning with a 12A-equipped RX-7 the next year. This time they managed to not only qualify, but finish in 21st place overall.
The same car returned for the 1981 race, along with two other 13B powered RX-7s; however, none of them managed to finish the race. Mazda returned again in 1982 with the two 13B cars, with one finishing in 14th and the other not finishing at all. The RX-7 was retired from Le Mans racing in 1983 and was replaced by the 717C prototype.
Mazda’s RX-7 also made an appearance at the Spa 24 Hours race, with three Savanna RX-7s entering in 1981. These were run by Tom Walkinshaw racing and after hours of battling with several BMW 530i’s and Ford Capris, the RX-7 driven by Pierre Dieudonné and Tom Walkinshaw won the event.
The RX-7 was entered into the IMSA GTU series in 1979 in America. In its first year, the RX-7 placed first and second 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 and took the GTO championship ten years in a row from 1982.
Mazda’s RX-7 has won more IMSA races than any other car model and Pettit Racing won the GT2 Road Racing Championship in 1998, with a 1993 RX-7. Pettit had 63 more points than the second place time. The car that won the championship in 1998 also finished the Daytona Rolex 24 Hour Race four times.
The winning didn’t just stop in Europe and America with the RX-7. It continued to Australia with Alan Moffat making a series of wins over a four-year span in the RX-7. Beginning in 1981, Moffat took the 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 (second with Yoshimi Katayama) and 1984 (third with former motorcycle champion Gregg Hansford).
Peter McLeod won the 1983 Australian Endurance Championship with his RX-7 and Moffat won the event in 82 and 84. The RX-7’s racing career ended in Australia when the country began moving to Group A regulations. Mazda did not want to homologate the RX-7 for Group A as it meant they would have to build 5000 units, plus a further 500 evolution models.
Believe it or not, the RX-7s motorsport career didn’t end on the tarmac. The car was entered in the World Rally Championship, with its first debut at the RAC Rally in Wales in 1981 where it finished 11th.
The Mazda RX-7 is one of the greatest sports cars ever produced. It dared to be different and succeeded, making a lasting impression on the motoring industry. This is the history of the Mazda RX-7 and everything you need to know about the legendary car.
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