The Success of the Rotary Engine: the Mazda RX-7
Any import enthusiast can easily tell you about the significance of the Mazda RX-7. As part of the initial wave of performance cars out of Japan, the RX-7 distinguished itself from the others with its intriguing rotary engine. While production of the RX-7 began back in 1978, the 1980s served as a period of refinement that led up to the release of the most-impressive third generation RX-7. Dubbed the FD, the third-gen marks the emergence of the iconic performance tuner that enthusiasts still love today.
Turbo Technology and Rotary Power
The FD RX-7 was named the Motor Trend “Import Car of the Year” when it was released in 1993 and remained in the Car and Driver’s “Ten Best” list each year it was offered in the United States. The reason the RX-7 was so compelling was because of its innovative powertrain. The RX-7 is powered by a small 1.3L Wankel rotary engine that offered many advantages over a standard piston engine. For one, it’s considerably lighter and uses fewer moving parts, performing very smoothly at high RPMs, being ideal for performance applications.
Unfortunately, 1.3L just isn’t large enough to come up with enough juice on its own. The solution was the first mass-produced sequential twin turbocharged system from Japan. The idea of a two-stage twin-turbo system was in fact something novel at the time. Since large turbochargers take a while to “spool up”, many vehicles experience “turbo lag,” the time it takes a large turbo to kick in and deliver maximum power. Smaller turbos feature less lag, but don’t offer the same high-end potential.
Mazda’s two different turbos of varying size to reduce lag while still offering huge performance. The first-stage turbocharger is considerably smaller than the second and is actually used to help the larger turbo spool up faster. This combination gives drivers extra torque on the low end while still offering substantial performance at higher RPMs. The FD RX-7 made 261 hp and 217 lb-ft of torque in its stock configuration, while weighing just 2,830 lbs.
Thanks to these unique characteristics the Mazda RX-7 quickly became a favorite among performance enthusiasts. Its lightweight design made for extremely responsive handling and the innovative powertrain helped the RX-7 rise as one of the most favored imports of all time.