Around the late 1970s and early 1980s, small, affordable, two-seat sports cars were a dying breed. Sure, you could still spend tens of thousands of dollars on a new Porsche 911 and even more on a Ferrari, but sports cars for everymen were few and far between. Enter a small niche manufacturer out of Japan by the name of Mazda. Mazda was not the typical Japanese car company building what would become a mainstream empire similar to the likes of Toyota and Honda, rather the company embraced an image of sporting innovation with just a dash of quirky. Their biggest challenge to convention was their use of the Rotary engine, like you will find in this clean and inexpensive 1983 Mazda Rx-7
here on eBay in Bend, Oregon with a buy it now price of just $2700.
Also atypical of the majority of their Japanese counterparts at the time, Mazda embraced a front-engine/rear-drive layout for their new rotary sports car, introduced to the world for the 1979 model year. It’s shape was a little bit Corvette and a little bit Porsche, with a long hood, pop-up headlights, and a large rear glass-surrounded hatchback. Higher-spec models came with luxuries like a large removable sunroof panel, air conditioning, and power windows. An automatic transmission was available, but the smooth-shifting 5-speed manual was by far the transmission of choice.
The Rx-7’s cabin appears snug, but once inside is remarkably roomy, even for six-plus footers. In fact, I had an uncle who owned an Rx-7 who was around 6’4″-6’5″, and he never had a complaint. The seats in this example are more bolstered than some I’ve been in of the same approximate vintage. These would appear to be the lower-line sportier/bolstered seats, while others had slightly more luxurious but less-bolstered leather seats. One of the things I like best about the Rx-7 is the prominent center tachometer. Obviously inspired by the Porsche 911, the Rx’s gauge pod has ancillary gauges on one side, tach in the center, and speedometer on the other side. The intent here is obviously one of driving, and as happy as the rotary is to rev, it’s a welcome design feature.
On the road, the 115hp 12A rotary motor feels remarkably powerful despite its meager 1.1 liter displacement. However, there are different schools of thought on how to measure displacement from a rotary, and there are those that consider the true displacement of this motor to be closer to 3.0 liters. In either case, it pulls nicely and gives a little kick about mid-way through the revs. 0-60 comes up in a reasonable 8.5 seconds, and the top speed is in the 120-125mph range. Not too shabby by 1978 standards, and still no slouch today. The 1985-only GSL-SE with its even more powerful 12B is even more impressive. If the Rx-7 lets down anywhere it is in the economy department. Not that we tend to buy sports cars if we’re looking for economy, but there tends (even today) to be an expectation of better than average mpgs from small Japanese cars. In the mid-teens, this car will disappoint the greenies.
The problem with Rx-7s, like with many of our other featured cars, is that supply of good cars is rapidly drying-up. Because they were and are cheap to buy, many were poorly maintained and shipped off to the scrap heap, or are getting dangerously close to that fate. Rust can be an issue, as can oil leaks and seal issues in the motor. Interiors aren’t the best-wearing, but are not the worst either. Like all cars it comes down to how they’ve been cared for. Still, good Rx-7s are out there and like this one can be had at a very modest price if you look around. I’d have another one, part for the nostalgia of driving my uncle’s (even took it to my junior prom) and part for cheap backroad fun.