Junkyard Classic: 1985 Mazda RX-7 GSL – Cool As Ice

1985 RX7

I came across this late 1st generation Mazda RX-7 a couple of weeks ago and was struck by just how right this car has always looked to me; in high school a good friend had the twin to this one and it was the first rotary-powered car I ever drove.

This one is a GSL model in the very pretty Ocean Blue Metallic (really more of a green-blue teal, the camera seems a little off), which was the model just under the top of the line GSL-SE.  The SE was a bit of a different animal as it featured the new 13B rotary which would become the base engine for the 1986 restyle.  The GS and GSL (like this one) still featured the older 2-rotor 12A rotary as the car had been introduced for 1979 with.

Power figures for this one amounted to 100hp and 105lb-ft of torque; from an engine that displaces 1.1 liters it’s quite impressive and since the car weighed under 2500lbs was enough to feel decently lively for the day with excellent handling and steering as the small engine is mounted behind the front axle.  It’s certainly better than the 80hp my own 1979 Mazda 626 that I had at the time managed out of its 2.0l I-4.

What’s hard to convey until someone has driven one is just how smooth a good rotary engine is, it just feels turbine-like with a very different soundtrack to a “normal” engine.  But so smooth, it makes a small Honda engine for example feel agricultural in comparison.

I was a bit shocked to see that the odometer had turned to an even 100,000 miles just half a mile before it was carted off to this junkyard in Wyoming.  Imagine the feeling of celebrating the excitement of your car turning the big 100 and then less than half a mile later a hugely crushing sense of doom as something big fails…

In the 80’s it was quite uncommon to see a 7000rpm redline in any car, with the rotary it wasn’t any big deal, just a smooth surge of power all the way up to that mark.

The GSL model also featured a limited slip rear differential, rear disc brakes, power windows and door locks along with optional leather seats as compared to the GS model.  It also had a large sunroof.  The RX-7 was never offered as a 2+2 in this generation in North America but occasionally was offered as a 2+2 in other markets.  I can’t even imagine how tight those seats must have been as while the front is roomy enough there is simply no spare space in the back.

Those seats by the way, although not leather, have held up remarkably well, the fabric is a very soft but apparently durable velour that still felt good to the touch some 34 years after first rolling out of the factory.  Someone here scored the steering wheel as well as the stereo from the console but otherwise this looks remarkably untouched and in great condition.

This one is an automatic (3 speed) which must sap a lot of the fun, my buddy’s was a stick shift and a joy to drive on Mulholland Boulevard and even along Wells Drive in the West Valley as a couple of dorky high-schoolers with no particular place to go or girlfriends to meet on weekend evenings…

Mazda has long been involved in racing with first generation RX-7’s in IMSA-GTO/GTU (as above), Group B rally, 24hrs of Daytona, Bonneville, and plenty of other series.  Of course Mazda also won the 24hrs of LeMans in 1991 with their 787B, the first Japanese entry to win as well as the only non-piston engined car to ever win.

Yes those are 13″ wheels, sporting 185/70R13 tires.  The same wheels with the same size tires were also used on the Mazda 626 of its first generation post-refresh.  The only RX7 of this generation to wear large wheels was the GSL-SE in 1984-85 with 14″ wheels which at the time seemed huge in comparison.

I came close to buying an RX-7 of my own in the mid-90’s to the point of having one inspected for purchase, alas the engine was not in great condition and I was advised against that particular one.  Then, as usual, my interest went someplace else and that was that.  Now though I’d like one of these again, so pretty.

I’ve always preferred the late first-gen models to the originals, mainly due to the rear end, I really like the (missing on this one) smoked rear light panel that went all the way across the back, other than the rear not that much else is significantly different throughout the 1979-1985 series, at least on the outside.  This is one of the very few cars that I prefer post-refresh to the original form, usually I find the changes to be “wrong”, but not on this one.  I figured this one would be here for a while, but then last week was shocked as I happened back to the same yard and realized this row of cars was gone for good, carted off to the crusher.  I suppose there is little demand for old RX-7 parts in this area of Wyoming and its time to be picked over ran out.  A real bummer as it was one of the prettier sights on that day.  At least it’ll live on here.

Related Reading:

DougD’s RX is here

Dave Saunders’ first RX is here

Dave Saunders’ attempt to relive the magic a second time