1979 Mazda RX-7 Review
The Mazda RX-7 first hit the market in 1978, and it proved that drivers still wanted cheap sports cars that looked great and ran like a charm. While it was inspired in part by the earlier RX-3, the RX-7 has enough unique features and improvements to stand apart, including its fascinating engine. At the time, it was also truly affordable, starting at $6,395—approximately $21,000 today.
How It Ran
The RX-7 was equipped with the Wankel “12A” 1.1-liter engine that generated 105 pound-feet of torque and 100 horsepower. Due to the vehicle’s small size and aerodynamic profile, the lightweight engine delivered 118 mph and 0-60 mph in under ten seconds—impressive for the time. The 12A was a rare example of a rotary engine, rather than a traditional four-stroke piston engine, that is known for its compact size and favorable power ratio at the expense of fuel economy. The engine was so small that the Mazda engineers put it behind the vehicle’s front axle, which helped create a 50:50 distribution of weight. The excellent balance was rewarded by the standard four-speed manual gearbox that put drivers in control, although the RX-7 was also available with either a five-speed manual or a three-speed automatic.
Chassis and Design
If you just looked at the chassis of the 1979 RX-7, you will notice the similarities to the previous RX-3. In 1979, the front featured coil springs and MacPherson struts, and the rear had a Watts link. This arrangement allowed Mazda to keep production prices low and pass the savings onto consumers, giving drivers across the country an economical but sporty vehicle—this combination also created lively handling. Overall, the car weighed less than 2,400 pounds. The interior of the 1979 RX-7 was compact, with room for two passengers and enough luggage for an overnight trip or maybe a visit to the grocery store. But the 95.3-inch wheelbase was the ideal size for a small sports vehicle intended for affordable fun.
1979 was the first model year of the Mazda RX-7, so some drivers will be interested in finding a version of this vehicle from a later model year. For the 1981 versions, the vehicle entered its second series. The bumpers became better integrated within the sheet metal, and the rear taillights became smoother with a more cohesive appearance. There were also extra upholstery choices, and the front spoiler was reworked and lowered to help with drag. This version of the RX-7 also had a new emissions control system and the resulting boost to fuel economy. If you look at 1981 models, you will notice that the five-speed transmission became standard, and there was a newly available GSL package. This trim threw in in four-wheel disc brakes and 14-inch alloy wheels, along with power windows and a sunroof. Therefore, this particular configuration weighed a bit more than 2,400 pounds. A new engine was added in 1984, giving drivers up to 135 horsepower, and the interior saw a redesign. The first generation came to a close in 1985 and the model was discontinued in 2002. For now, we’ll have to wait and see if there might be a new RX-7 powered by a rotary engine in 2017