Mazda RX7 – The First Generation Perfection

The Mazda RX-7 is a machine that has been put on a pedestal by enthusiasts for decades. A perfectly split weight distribution, lighter chassis, and smooth-revving rotary engine made it a particularly attractive buy for drift enthusiasts—a triple threat, on and off the track. It’s even had a rather illustrious career in pop culture to match, with cameos in the Fast and Furious film franchise, Need for Speed videogames, and  “Initial D” comics, a Japanese manga series about street racing.
But like its fellow countryman, the Supra, media recognition for the earlier generations was zilch, especially where Hollywood was concerned. We’d even venture to say that the third generation FD is like the youngest child: undoubtedly loved, sometimes a little spoiled, and occasionally rebellious. With all the limelight centered on the last generation, it’s easy to overlook the accomplishments of the first generation—the one that started it all.
There’s a lot to prove with a first-generation car, especially one of the sports variety. For Mazda, this meant proving to the world that a rotary-powered rear-wheel-drive sports car could hold its own against its piston-powered counterparts. Little did Mazda know, that very same car would reach a lifetime production number of over 800,000 examples, pioneering a long-lasting automotive legacy in the process that would see the RX-7 make media headlines for years to come.

To date, it has been one of Japan’s most decorated vehicles, reaching “Car of the Year” status on multiple occasions for both Motor Trend and Car and Driver, making the latter’s “Ten Best” list a whopping five times. Though we won’t argue the dashing good looks and impeccable performance of the third generation RX-7’s 13B-REW twin-turbo twin-rotor, there’s just something about the SA-FB Series 3.

1985 may have marked the end of the first generation RX-7, but it marked only the beginning of the world’s infatuation with it. Mechanically simplistic, reasonably priced, and criminally underrated, the last year of the Series 3 was the perfect end to the first generation of Mazda’s breakout sports car.

In an age where emission regulations were changing and rival manufacturers were struggling to adapt, the RX-7 aimed to change the trajectory and the game. Hailed as a high-caliber, heavy-hitter in the mid 80’s, the 1985 RX-7 brought wallet-friendly fun to the enthusiast. It came equipped with a live axle, four-link rear suspension, 50:50 weight distribution, five-speed manual, and a high-revving Wankel rotary engine to make use of all of that engineering perfection. Depending on the intended market, the coupé could be had with either a 1.0 or 1.3-liter 12A power plant, either naturally-aspirated or with forced induction.
The North American market further benefited from a GSL-SE submodel performance package with a fuel-injected 13B-RESI rotary engine that put down 135 horsepower on command, roughly 35 more horsepower than the original 12A motor. The engine was so smooth that Mazda even fitted a special buzzer to the tachometer, alerting overzealous enthusiasts that their 7,000 redline was fast approaching, as there was no vibrational feedback in the cabin to alert them. All bundled up in a package that weighed less than 2,400 pounds soaking wet, it’s easy to see why the tail end of the first generation RX-7s weren’t too worried about their competitors, nor their sales.

So next time you find yourself on the classifieds, don’t shy away from the older generations hiding on page five. After all, the Series 3 was the precursor to the FD, and those good looks didn’t just come from anywhere. It was the harbinger of performance, herald of RX-7 perfection, pioneer of the namesake, the original ruler of an automotive empire—and it could be the next addition to your garage.