40 years of the RX-7

by staff writer JP

In 1978, the Bee Gees dominated the charts and bouffant hair was the height of fashion; it was also the year that Mazda unveiled the RX-7

Produced across three generations from 1978 to 2002, the Mazda RX-7 celebrates its 40th birthday in 2018. Over 800,000 examples of this ground-breaking rotary-powered sports car produced. Successful in competition and loved by owners, the RX-7 established Mazda as a sports car brand.

Back in the 1970s car makers found themselves faced with the grim reality of a global fuel crisis. Soaring petrol prices meant few drivers wanted to own big, gas-guzzling V8 sports cars, so a new approach was needed. Responding to the challenging environment, Mazda’s brightest brains set about creating a new kind of sports car. One that would be smaller, lighter, more efficient and most importantly: fun to drive.

Three generations of the rotary engined RX-7

So in the home market of Japan, Mazda revealed the ground-breaking RX-7. Its compact yet powerful rotary engine allowed the power unit to be mounted lower and further back resulting in a car that set new standards in road holding. The formula was a hit with customers and critics alike. Car and Driver magazine, one of America’s most influential car magazines, placed the Mazda RX-7 on its annual Ten Best list five times.

The original RX-7 ‘FB’ proved a huge success. More than 470,000 drivers bought one, before the second generation ‘FC’ model was introduced with turbo power in 1985. The third generation ‘FD’ followed in 1992 until production of the iconic RX-7 ended in 2002.

The RX-7’s success in competition around the globe cemented its position as a one of the world’s best sports cars. Taking overall victory in the 1981 Spa 24 hours, competed at Le Mans, took part in Group B rallying and claimed the 1980 and 1981 BTCC titles. In the USA, the RX-7 took an unmatched 100 wins in 12 years of IMSA competition and won the GTU class at the 1979 Daytona 24 hours.

"The first time a Japanese car manufacturer had won that race – the RX-7 winning at Spa gave it the prestige"
Pierre Dieudonné, Winning driver 1981 24 Hours of Spa

The global production of the RX-7 reached 811,634, but this was a car that made an impression way beyond its sales numbers feared by rivals on track, loved by owners and admired by fans, the RX-7 established Mazda as a sports car brand, made the rotary engine famous and laid the groundwork for Mazda’s next great sports car; the Mazda MX-5.

Today, the spirit of the RX-7 still resonates in Mazda’s stylish and great-to-drive SKYACTIV model line-up, while classic RX-7s continue to thrill owners and fans the world over. Happy Birthday RX-7.