Is the Mazda RX-7 (1st Gen) SA/FB the Right Classic JDM Car for You?

Mazda RX-7 SA/FB Main

Table of Contents

The Mazda RX-7 SA/FB is a legend among Japanese sports cars, holding a prominent place in the hallowed halls of JDM icons. This agile machine, born in the late 1970s, embodied the spirit of pure driving enjoyment. Its defining feature was the unique rotary engine, delivering a smooth surge of power and an unforgettable soundtrack. With its lightweight design, sharp handling, and pop-up headlights, the RX-7 captured the hearts of enthusiasts worldwide. It’s a car that continues to inspire a sense of nostalgia and a deep appreciation for its raw, engaging driving experience.

For other iconic JDM cars, check the following articles

 

Overview

Mazda RX-7 SA/FB

The first-generation Mazda RX-7 arrived on the scene in 1978, spanning two distinct series: the SA (1978-1980) and the FB (1981-1985). It was a true back-to-basics sports car, prioritizing a lightweight design and a focus on the joy of driving. Characterized by its sleek wedge shape and pop-up headlights (in the SA series), the RX-7 exuded sporty charm. But the heart and soul of this machine was its compact and high-revving rotary engine, offering a driving experience that set it apart from its piston-powered rivals. The RX-7 delivered thrills without relying on brute force, instead rewarding drivers with its agility and high-revving nature.

 

History

RX-7 SA/FB

Mazda’s fascination with the rotary engine began well before the RX-7. Earlier models like the Cosmo (1967) and Luce (1969) showcased the potential of this unique engine design. However, it was the oil crisis of the 1970s that fueled a desire for a more efficient, performance-oriented sports car.

Enter the RX-7. Introduced in 1978, its goal was to deliver an affordable, lightweight, and exhilarating driving experience centered around the rotary engine. The result was a hit! The RX-7’s combination of balance, handling, and rev-happy engine captivated drivers worldwide. It established Mazda as a serious contender in the sports car market and solidified the rotary engine’s place in automotive history.

 

Variants

Mazda RX-7
Mazda RX-7 SA

The first-generation RX-7 was divided into two main series: the SA and the FB, with variations in engine offerings and trim levels.

SA Series (1978-1980): 

The initial iteration of the RX-7 featured a carbureted 12A rotary engine. Later models incorporated fuel injection for improved power and response.

FeatureSpecification
Engine12A Rotary
Power100-135 hp (depending on year and market)
Transmission5-speed manual, optional automatic
RX-7 FB
Mazda RX-7 FB

FB Series (1981-1985):

Introduced subtle styling updates, a slight increase in weight, and refinements to the suspension. While base models retained the 12A engine, higher trim levels like the GS, GSL, and the sought-after GSL-SE received a larger 13B rotary engine for a significant power boost.

FeatureSpecification
Engine12A Rotary (base models)/13B Rotary (GS, GSL, GSL-SE models)
Power100-160 hp (depending on engine and market)
Transmission5-speed manual, optional automatic

 

Exterior

Mazda RX-7 SA/FB

The Mazda RX-7 SA/FB embodies a clean and purposeful design language. Its wedge-shaped profile and iconic pop-up headlights (on the SA series) immediately evoke a sporty personality. The FB series maintained the overall shape but introduced retractable headlights for a slightly more refined look. The RX-7’s compact dimensions and purposeful stance give it an undeniable presence on the road. Later FB models, especially the GSL-SE, featured subtle fender flares and more pronounced spoilers, adding a touch of muscularity to the design. Overall, the RX-7 exudes a timeless sports car aesthetic that balances simplicity with a sense of dynamic energy.

 

Interior

RX-7 SA/FB Interior

The RX-7’s interior puts the driver front and center. The cockpit is simple yet functional, with a clear focus on the essentials. Supportive seats, particularly in sport-oriented trims, provide a good driving position and hold you in place during spirited maneuvers. Gauges are large and easy to read, adding to the sporty ambiance. As with most sports cars of the era, rear seat space is limited and best considered for occasional use or extra storage. Depending on the trim level, you might find features like power windows, a sunroof, and various audio system options, adding a touch of convenience to the otherwise uncluttered cabin.

 

Engine

Mazda RX-7 SA/FB Engine

The beating heart of the Mazda RX-7 SA/FB is its Wankel rotary engine. This unique engine design provides smooth power delivery, loves to rev high, and creates a distinctive soundtrack unlike anything with pistons. Two primary engine options existed: the 12A and the larger 13B. Power figures varied throughout the years and depending on the market, but both engines delivered a thrilling driving experience thanks to their compact size and free-revving nature. Despite their small displacement, rotary engines could punch above their weight class in terms of power output and driving excitement.

Engine Specs:

 

12A Rotary

13B Rotary

Displacement1.1 Liters (2 x 573cc)1.3 Liters (2 x 654cc)
Power100-135 hp (depending on year, market, and fuel system)135-160 hp (depending on year, market, and fuel system)
Torque105-120 lb-ft (depending on year, market, and fuel system)130-145 lb-ft (depending on year, market, and fuel system)
RedlineApproximately 7000 rpmApproximately 7000 rpm
0-60 mph (0-100 km/h)8.0-9.5 seconds (estimated)7.0-8.5 seconds (estimated)
Top Speed112-120 mph (180-193 km/h) (estimated)124-130 mph (200-210 km/h) (estimated)

If you want to know more about the last car with a rotary engine, check this article on the Mazda RX-8.

 

Driving Experience

Mazda RX-7 SA/FB Front

The Mazda RX-7 SA/FB is a true driver’s car that emphasizes engagement and a thrilling connection between driver and machine. Its lightweight construction, balanced handling, and unique rotary engine make it a joy to pilot on winding roads and a blast to experience at the limit of its capabilities.

Steering

The RX-7’s steering is a highlight, offering precise inputs and excellent feedback from the road. It communicates exactly what the front wheels are doing, inspiring confidence during cornering and making it easy to place the car exactly where you intend.

Handling

Light and agile are the keywords for the RX-7’s handling. Thanks to its low weight and near-perfect weight distribution, it changes direction with delightful eagerness. Cornering is remarkably flat, with minimal body roll. While not focused on outright grip, it’s the exceptional balance and playful nature that makes the RX-7 so rewarding to drive enthusiastically.

Acceleration

The RX-7’s acceleration is about high-revving thrills rather than brute force. Rotary engines don’t deliver a wallop of low-end torque, but the power builds smoothly and linearly as the revs climb, culminating in a satisfying surge towards the redline. This encourages you to work the gearbox and keep the engine singing in its sweet spot. The later turbocharged GSL-SE models offered notably more power for a significant boost in straight-line performance.

Braking

Braking performance is adequate for the weight of the car. Larger disc brakes were available on some models, providing improved stopping power. Upgrading brake components is a popular modification for RX-7s that see track use or very spirited driving.

Sound

A unique aspect of the RX-7 experience is the sound of the rotary engine. Its high-pitched mechanical whir gets smoother and more intense as the revs rise. Enthusiasts adore this distinctive soundtrack, and it adds to the excitement of pushing the car hard.

Driver engagement

The RX-7 demands active participation from the driver. It thrives on being driven hard, rewarding you with a constant stream of feedback through the steering wheel, seat, and pedals. This car is less about isolating you and more about connecting you to the process of driving. If you’re looking for a car that demands attention and delivers a pure driving experience, the RX-7 is sure to leave a smile on your face.

 

Driver Aids and Safety Features

Mazda RX-7 SA/FB Rear

The Mazda RX-7 SA/FB reflects the safety technology of its time. Don’t expect modern electronic aids like stability control or traction control – this car relies heavily on driver skill for managing its limits. Standard safety equipment included seatbelts and disc brakes (with larger sizes available on certain models). An optional limited-slip differential improved traction by sending power to the wheel with the most grip, which aided handling and acceleration. Overall, the RX-7’s philosophy prioritizes driving involvement, meaning it’s up to the driver to be aware of the car’s limits and react accordingly.

 

Should you buy a Mazda RX7 SA/FB?

Mazda RX-7 SA/FB

The decision to buy a classic Mazda RX-7 SA/FB depends on your priorities and expectations. If you’re seeking a raw, engaging driving experience and have a passion for unique sports cars, the RX-7 might be the perfect fit. However, it’s important to be aware that rotary engines require specialized knowledge and can be more maintenance-intensive than traditional piston engines.

  • Original Price: When new, the RX-7 was an attainable sports car, costing around $6,000 – $10,000 USD depending on the model year and trim level.

  • Current Price: Prices for well-maintained RX-7s have been steadily increasing due to their collectability and growing enthusiast following. You might find examples in need of work for under $10,000, but clean, low-mileage cars could range between $15,000 – $30,000. Top-of-the-line models like the GSL-SE can command even higher prices.

Before taking the plunge, do your research on the specifics of rotary engines and be prepared for the possibility of higher maintenance costs compared to a standard sports car of the era.

Price summary:

Price RangeCondition
$6,000 – $10,000 (USD)Original MSRP (depending on year and trim)
Under $10,000 (USD)May require significant work
$15,000 – $30,000 (USD)Clean, low-mileage examples
Even higherRare, top-of-the-line models (like GSL-SE) in excellent condition

 

Conclusion

Mazda RX-7 FB Silver

The Mazda RX-7 SA/FB embodies the spirit of classic Japanese sports cars. Its lightweight design, responsive handling, and unique rotary engine create a driving experience that puts pure enjoyment front and center. While ownership might demand a bit more dedication due to the rotary engine’s nature, the reward is a car that feels truly alive and communicative. The RX-7 delivers a raw and unfiltered experience that reminds us why driving enthusiasts continue to cherish these machines. If you’re searching for a classic sports car that’s more than just transportation – a car that connects you to the road and rewards a skillful touch – the RX-7 SA/FB is guaranteed to put a smile on your face every time you slide behind the wheel.

Craving more Japanese icons? Check out the stylish Lexus IS250 or the sporty Toyota Chaser.

Pros & Cons of the Mazda RX-7 SA/FB:

 

Pros:


Cons:

 

FAQs

Rotary engines have a reputation for needing more frequent maintenance compared to piston engines. They require regular oil changes and careful attention to the health of components like seals and spark plugs. If properly cared for, a rotary engine can be reliable, but owners should be prepared for a higher level of maintenance.

Thanks to a strong enthusiast community, there are still good sources for Mazda RX-7 SA/FB parts. Some items might be slightly more difficult to source than parts for more common classic cars, but a resourceful owner can find what they need.

There are several excellent online resources about rotary engines. Forums dedicated to the RX-7, as well as general rotary engine sites, are great places to start. Understanding how they work and their specific maintenance needs is vital before taking ownership.

Written by: Jino SK

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