COAL: My 1988 Mazda RX-7, And The Curse Of Merely Good

I was very lucky to stumble on a house that was 1) within walking distance of work, 2) next door to my best friends, and 3) had a four car garage. I took a tour of the house the day it went on the market, and made an offer on the house before nightfall. Soon afterwards, I was the proud owner of a small little house with a big garage, one that could fit my Miata, my Focus ST, and my Mustang with room for one more car.

And because the house was cheap and I didn’t spend money on anything but cars, I decided that it would be a great idea to fill that hole in the garage. But what to get?

I had always liked the FC Mazda RX-7. I thought it was one of the most beautiful and purposeful designs to come out of the 1980s, and that it was a better looker than the Porsche 944. I especially liked how the glass on the car was perfectly segmented by the A and B pillars, with no quarter glass like the Porsche 944 had to the rear of its doors. Plus, I thought rotary engines were super cool.

So I set my sights on finding a nice FC RX-7 coupe. Now, Mazda had built a lot of these cars, but they’re extremely difficult to find these days, especially unmodified coupes. (It seems to me that the overwhelming majority of survivor RX-7s are the convertibles.) So many of these cars were turned into race cars and drift cars and disposed of after meeting their fates with jersey barriers and trees.

The RX-7, tucked in the garage with the Miata, the Focus ST, and the Mustang.


I found this red 1988 Mazda RX-7 down in Ohio. It was listed for sale on Craigslist, and unbelievably, the college student who owned it hadn’t modified the car at all. He had found the car at a dealership, traded in by its original owner, and took it home and kept it nice. We worked out a deal, and I took the car home with me back to Michigan.

The curse of Merely Good

The car had all the right boxes ticked. It had a rotary engine backed by a five speed manual transmission. It was a GXL model, which meant it had the five lug wheels and a limited slip differential. The interior was completely stock and very well kept. Even the electronic shocks were original to the car, and they still worked. (Well, sort of. Stiffening the electronic shocks felt like the equivalent of turning the rebound knob on a Koni Yellow all the way to firm. It made the car “feel” sportier, but it wasn’t any faster than the comfort setting.)

The car had absolutely no rust and no needs. It was a perfect time capsule car.

And that perhaps was the problem.

You see, I couldn’t help but compare the RX-7 to another turn-of-the-nineties sports car, my old 1991 Mazda Miata. I was surprised to find that there wasn’t that much more people space in the RX-7 than my old NA Miata. In the RX-7, you sit nearly on the floor, and yet the top of my head was right there at the roof; it reminded me of driving around in the Miata with the top up. In terms of speed, the car felt very similar on the road to the Miata, just with a smooth humming rotary whir instead of a buzzy little four banger.

Stock for stock, the RX-7 and Miata were about equal handling-wise on the street.

Taking the RX-7 out for some errands.


To my senses, the RX-7 drove like a hardtop, hatchback Miata. But I had already owned a Miata before. And the driving experience of the RX-7 didn’t bring anything new to the table.

Owning the RX-7 made me realize why there are so few of them around today. It’s the curse of a car that is Merely Good. The first generation RX-7, the SA/FB chassis, was Okay; not bad as a street car, but not all that great as a race car, so comparatively few of them were ruined in the name of motorsports competition. The third generation RX-7, the FD, was Great; the engine was legendary, the shape was beautiful, and the suspension was a modern design that makes the car great in both street and race trim. And because the FD is great, almost any complete example is worth saving.

The second generation FC falls into a no-mans land of Merely Good. Stock, the car is fine, but most deem it not worth saving in stock form. The racers and the drifters really latched on to this car, churning through examples until the numbers dwindled to minuscule figures. After all, crash one FC and you just go get another. They’re not great enough in modified form to inspire rescue rebuilds like you might find with FDs.

In short, terrible cars survive because few people want to mess around with them. Great cars survive because they are great and people value them. Good cars don’t survive because people want to mess around with them, but they aren’t deemed worth saving.

Hence, it’s now nearly impossible to find FC RX-7 coupes with the five lug wheels and the limited slip diff. Nearly all of the cars you might easily find for sale these days are typically base model four lug coupes or the convertibles.

Driving the car around town

The RX-7 was so nice that I was too scared to really do anything with it. I never got a chance to take it to an autocross to dodge cones (though it did make an appearance at an event as a support vehicle), and I was too protective of the car to take it on one of the very rough Detroit Region SCCA road rallies.

The Mazda plays a support role at a local Detroit Region SCCA autocross. Pictured here is my old Focus SE; the new owner came out to one autocross, and I never saw that Focus again.


Another unexpected problem: I lived too close to work to even drive my RX-7 to the office. The sub-three minute drive to work would risk flooding the motor.

Collecting cones with the hatch of the RX-7.


I drove the car around on weekends, and occasionally road tripped the car to and from Illinois to see my folks. But eventually, I decided that if I wasn’t really going to use the car, it was time to get rid of it and let someone else enjoy it.

Selling the car

I decided that I’d give the brand new Bring a Trailer auctions a try with this particular car. It was super clean, and I thought that by going through Bring a Trailer, I’d get a buyer that would appreciate the car for what it was rather than some dumb teenager off Craigslist who would immediately ruin the car by dumping it onto the ground with cheap coilovers and go drifting.

I took a whole bunch of pictures, sent them along with a description of my car, and waited for the auction to go live.

When the auction concluded, I reached out to the buyer of the car to make arrangements. As we were going back and forth via email, the buyer remarked that his son was super stoked to have this car.

My heart dropped. Oh no. Queen’s Another One Bites the Dust started playing in my head.

Resigned to the car’s unfortunate fate, I bid the car farewell when the transport truck showed up.

Maybe the car is still living a happy life as a stock (or at least mostly stock) classic car, sheltering in a garage when it’s not out and about and enjoying perhaps another two decades on the road. The cynic in me is convinced the car, five years on, already has dents in the rear quarters and its bumper covers held on with rivets and zip ties, or maybe is already rotting away in a junk yard.

Of all the cars I’ve owned, the RX-7 is one of the few where I never got an update on its fate. Frankly, I prefer it that way…