The cars we loved.

1986-1992 Mazda RX-7: A Classic Grows Up

1990 Mazda RX-7 GSLE

1990 Mazda RX-7 GSLE

The RX-7 had begun to make a name for itself amongst auto enthusaths with the scrappy first-generation rotary powered sport coupe. The American market for better or worse had become central to the development of the next RX-7. Mazda devoted extensive resources to America by interviewing thousands of owners of the previous car and closely watching Porsche’s popular 944. The resulting research prompted Mazda to design the RX-7 with upscale cues that were heavily inspired by the 924/944.

The previous car in its GSL-SE trim had grown in price and sophistication in an attempt to meet market demand for a more lush sport coupe. The new car had become larger, but it’s two passenger layout remained, as did it’s driver centered nature. An occasional rear seat could be installed at dealerships (to appease insurance companies), but there was no mistaking, the RX-7 was intended to be a sports car. The second generation is defined by two periods, first the Series 4 (1986-88), then Series 5 (1989-92). Series five cars are noted for their updated styling, lighter rotors and higher compression ratios. The second generation RX-7 was at its peak during this time with more than 200 hp coming from its 1.3 liter rotary turbo engine. All generations, even to the last featured pop-up headlights.

1986 Mazda RX-7 GTU

1986 Mazda RX-7 GTU

Aside from the improved aerodynamics over the 1985 model, many changes were made in refinement of the rotary engine. Many of the reliability problems that had plagued earlier Wankel powered cars were resolved, making the RX-7 smoother and more responsive. Another big improvement came with the suspension. Gone was the live axel system of the old car. In its place was a modern fully independent suspension with an advanced anti-squat and anti dive auto adjusting feature. There were two engines available, a naturally aspirated 1.3 liter (146 hp) and a turbocharged version (182 hp). There were steady power increases to both engines over time. All cars were available with either a 4-speed automatic or 5-speed manuals transmission.

The RX-7 was praised for it’s rear wheel drive handling, which made it stick out among Japanese sports coupes (most of which were front wheel drive). The closest competitors, the Mitsubishi Starion and Toyota Supra were rear wheel drive and were approaching the sophistication and price of premium sports cars. The advantage of the rotorary powered RX-7 was its light weight and low center of gravity afforded by the small engines placement just behind the front wheels. There were lighter editions of the RX-7 available in Australia and Japan, but they never made it to America (probably for emissions and safety reasons). Lightweight was a continuing theme for the RX-7. Power increases came with continual refinements to the turbo engine as the competition upped the ante with more exotic power train configurations.

The American actor James Garner, became the spokesman in a series of commercials for Mazda in the 80’s.  Ironically Mr. Garner gained fame is tied closely to the Firebird he drove in The Rockford Files TV show. The RX-7’s performance came close the V8 powered Firebird/Camaro, but its target was considered to be more evolved European sports cars. Refinements to the last turbos of this generation called “Turbo II” had a twin scrolling chamber designed to reduce turbo lag while allowing more air at lower engine speeds. A prominent air to air intercooler was housed in the hump on the hood, giving the GTU model an aggressive look.  A convertible was available in 1986, and soon became one of the most popular models, paving the way for the Miata. Voted best rag-top on the market several times in the press, the convertible was elegant looking and was often ordered with an automatic transmission. Convertibles with the turbo were rare as most were fitted with the naturally aspirated engine.

When the next RX-7 came about in 1993, it had become an all out sports car, no longer catering to the mass market sports coupe buyer. Second generation RX-7s are hard to find, especially unmolested turbo cars. Like a middle child,the 89-92 cars are often over looked in favor the first and last generations which are vastly opposite in nature. The second generation represents a time when the RX-7 was not too pricy and represented the blend of serious sports car performance with reliability. More reliable than either the first generation or the third (in twin turbo form), the second generation cars might finally get the due they deserve as a capable sports car in their own right and not just Porsche 944 clones.

1990 Mazda RX-7

1990 Mazda RX-7


One comment on “1986-1992 Mazda RX-7: A Classic Grows Up

  1. Cpekel
    January 9, 2011

    Not to mention the fact that it says it’s more reliable than the first generation. My 1982 model has 250,000 km’s on the original engine and starts perfectly every morning. The only problems I’ve had (and there have been few) are common to all older cars. The Series 4 I owned gave me plenty (although not an unreliable car by any stretch) more problems due to it’s vastly higher complexity

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This entry was posted on July 22, 2010 by in 80's Cars, 90's cars, Mazda and tagged , , , , .
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