Start the tributes, prepare the salutes and begin with the candlelight vigils; the last Mazda RX-8 has rolled off the company’s Hiroshima assembly line. This also marked the end of an important chapter in automobile history. The RX-8 having been the only model using the rotary engine, this spells the end of the road for Felix Wankel’s celebrated mill.
Although loved for its performance edgeover traditional powerplants, its poor fuel economy and emissions figures resultedin its inability to pass strict European and
North American emissions standards. The fact that Mazda is the only Japanese carmaker to have gone without a profit for over five years didn’t help either.
That gives us reason to look back at one of our all-time favourite classic Japanese sportscars, the original Mazda RX-7. Replacing the rotary-powered RX-3 sports coupé in 1978, this ‘affordable sportscar’ became an instant hit thanks to its sleek looks, unique styling and, of course, its unique rotary engine.
The first generation RX-7 was everything that Mazda wanted it to be, a small, simple and fun-to-drive sports coupé. Although the 1.1-litre Wankel wasn’t the most powerful engine of the time, the Mazda engineers gave the RX-7 a rigid chassis and a perfect 50:50 weight distribution which made it handle like a dream.
The RX-7 was a unique combination of great performance at an affordable price. Even today, you can easily get one with a couple of hundred thousand kilometres on the odo for under Dh10,000, while one that’s not clocked that many and is in reasonably good condition can cost you somewhere around Dh30,000. Once you decide on one, make sure to get its engine thoroughly checked before purchase, and by someone who knows what he’s doing, because there aren’t too many rotary engine specialists in this region. On a positive note, maybe the candles can wait for a bit, because chances are, the rotary might just rise from its ashes. There are rumours of a new Mazda rotary floating around — the ‘16X’. Even with its fuel and emissions implications, chances are that Mazda has just suspended the engine’s production until they fix their losses.