This was the shortest term of ownership I ever had a car for, about a year and a half but this brief flame burns bright in my memory.
The story begins in 1990 when my friend Bill graduated from Engineering school, and got a job. His new employer, a Nuclear Generating Station, was about 3 hours from anywhere so he needed a car right away.
Fortunately Bill could now give himself better than a student budget for his first vehicle; what he really wanted was a V6 Fiero but he couldn’t find a good one on short notice and wound up with his second choice, a 1985 Mazda RX-7 GSL.
It had been recently repainted in the original silver, with a very ‘80’s pink squiggly stripe down the sides. It had the carbureted 12A rotary engine, silky smooth 5-speed, light manual steering, dark red leather interior and a glass sunroof.
Right away I liked the smoothness of the rotary engine and the phenomenal handling. Acceleration wasn’t outstanding, but once you were up to speed you sure didn’t have to slow down for curves much. We took it on an 800 mile round trip to Ottawa that summer, and the combination of sunroof, leather seats, no A/C and blistering hot sunny weather made it a grueling ordeal. Our tongues were hanging out the side windows as we drove between convenience stores to buy cold drinks. Later Bill made an insulating panel that fit up under the glass sunroof, and that made summer driving tolerable.
The RX once got a completely new exhaust system, front to back, by mistake. It went to the dealer for some work; they removed the exhaust and laid it on the shop floor beside the car. Overnight the cleaners threw the rusty old pipes in the scrap metal bin, which was collected before work started in the morning. The service manager was not amused but couldn’t charge Bill for the parts.
After four years in Bill’s care the RX had over 200,000km on it, was starting to rust, and was generally tired. Having had enough of driving to the city to visit the Mazda dealership, Bill bought a brand new Pontiac Grand Am which could be serviced locally.
After assuring Bill I wouldn’t hold any future RX trouble against him, I gave away (yes, for zero dollars) my completely functional AMC Concord and became the proud owner of the RX by matching the dealer trade in of $900.
My apartment was on the upper floor of the gray house, and I had my RX-7 and 450 Nighthawk (BOAL article here) parked curbside out front. My downstairs neighbor was a body man, and he did a very nice looking and reasonably priced job on the RX. I’d always wanted a car with racing stripes, and although this was not at all fashionable at the time had it done anyway.
We discovered the reason for the previous silver repaint, at some point the RX had been rolled or experienced some other trauma because it had dents all over the sides and top which had been filled with up to 3/4” of plastic filler. They said it was the Bondo-iest car they’d seen in a long time.
I didn’t let that bother me, because now I had myself a real sports car and I went Zoom-Zooming off into the countryside, enjoying every minute spent behind the wheel. I can’t stress enough was a joy it was to operate this vehicle, I’ve driven faster cars, more expensive cars, and ostensibly better handling cars in my life but the first generation RX-7 was so responsive, the controls so light it just brought a smile to my face every time.
Less enjoyable were minutes not spent behind the wheel, Bill had actually sold the RX-7 at the right time for him, its gradually spiraling maintenance needs becoming inconvenient and expensive. Luckily I could walk to work in a pinch, I had lots of free time and I could Zoom-Zoom to the nearby Mazda dealership on my motorcycle to buy parts so this didn’t affect me much at the time.
I’d also been working on parts of my wretched Triumph TR4 project in our shop after hours, which required shuttling tools and parts between my parents’ distant house and my apartment.
With the passenger seat removed the RX became a capable pack horse, everything from my MIG welder to TR4 front fenders went back and forth in there.
By this point I’d been at my first Engineering job for two years. I’d learned most of what I was going to learn there and wasn’t thrilled about small town life (no girls), so I concocted a plan to move to Vancouver and gave my notice at work.
My plan wasn’t the most well thought out, since it involved (among other stupid things) moving all my goods cross country in a tiny sports car, and attempting to register a rotary powered car with an emptied catalytic converter in a jurisdiction with stringent emissions testing.
Here reality stepped in and my half baked plan failed, which turned out to be a good thing. I wound up moving back in with my ever patient parents, going to Britain for a month long walking vacation / soul searching exercise, finding a new job and meeting the future Mrs DougD at a Halloween party that fall. She was unimpressed with her first look at my fine sports car, her initial comment was “What’s with the stripes?”
Reality also stepped into the cozy confines of my RX-7. Actually it wasn’t that cozy, I experienced my first harsh winter of RX-7 driving and found that it wasn’t great in the snow, and the heater barely worked. Peering out from under my toque through half fogged windows was only slightly more fun than working on the RX outdoors in the snow. I’d always found the RX hard to wrench on, even on ramps it was almost too low to work under, and it had been rustproofed with a grease based product that clung to hands and tools, and to the porcupine quills that remained scattered inside the front bodywork years after Bill had nailed one at high speed.
Although I’d done quite a bit of work on the car over the past year, including replacing the windshield (don’t try this at home – trust me) its needs were getting ahead of me. Now ten years old, the RX was starting to rust enthusiastically, and the aluminum rims had corroded enough under the beads that I was adding air to the tires every couple of days. Besides rocker and floor patching the RX was soon to require work on the brakes, suspension, radiator, and wiring. I didn’t have as much free time for repairs; I was spending a lot of it with my future Wife.
Additionally I couldn’t walk to work anymore, and some mornings the rotary would start hard, or not at all, and then I’d have to borrow Moms car. Finally I figured out that it only happened when I moved the RX in the evening so Dad could park in the driveway, if I drove around for 10 minutes before re-parking the car it would start again in the morning just fine. I fiddled and checked and tested but I never did figure that problem out.
Finally came the day when my mother had enough; her tirade motivated me to replace the RX-7 with the Wee Truck (COAL Article Here) and I was freed from constant tinkering and looming major repairs. I put an ad in the paper for $1,000 but the RX was a hard sell, a few guys came to look at it but wisely turned it down.
I eventually sold it to for $500 to a kid who planned to put it back on the road, but even with the highly distinctive paint job there were no further RX-7 sightings after it purred away down our street.
Just a year and a half, the shortest term I’ve ever owned a car and in terms of dollars spent per month owned that RX-7 was probably my costliest car as well. No regrets though, the first generation of RX-7 had the most smiles per mile of anything I’ve had and I thoroughly enjoyed squeezing the remaining use out of Bill’s RX-7; reality stepped in and it was time move on to new and better things.