Going Back to Basics

Two pure, rear-drive offerings from Mazda separated by 35 years

by SCOTT NEWMAN

1979 Mazda RX-7 Mazda MX-5 vs 1.5 GT

1146cc twin-rotor ENGINE 1496cc inline-4, DOHC, 16v 77kW @ 6000rpm POWER 96kW @ 7000rpm 147Nm @ 4000rpm TORQUE 150Nm @ 4800rpm 1070kg W E I G HT 1009kg 9.5sec (est) 0 -1 00KM/H 7.5sec (tested) $14,850 (new) P R I C E $37,990

Of course, the RX-7’s USP was Mazda’s signature rotary engine

T’S NOT going to appeal to V8-loving muscle car fans, but when it comes to learning the art of pure driving there’s no better car than the latest Mazda ND MX-5. Either engine is fine, but if you really want to take it to extremes, the softer, less grippy 1.5- litre car is the one to go for.

Copious body roll and weight transfer, and the need to keep the sweet 96kW/150Nm four-pot on the boil, means it demands to be driven with real precision to get the best out of it, recalling a driving style from another era. But if you want an old-school driving experience, why not just go retro in the first place?

The first-generation Mazda RX-7 also benefitted from a rev-happy, small displacement engine feeding the rear wheels through a manual gearbox, while the near-perfectly distributed (51:49 front:rear) 1070kg kerb weight ensured I razor-sharp handling by the standards of the day.

Of course, the RX-7’s USP was Mazda’s signature rotary engine, the tiny 1146cc displacement belying its on-road flexibility. A 0-100km/h time of slightly less than 10 seconds isn’t going to knock anyone’s socks off these days – the MX-5 is around two seconds quicker to the tonne – but period road tests were full of praise for the fizzy 12A, stating that its uncanny smoothness and thirst for revs had the 7000rpm change-up buzzer chiming at every opportunity.

Allan Moffat proved the RX-7’s effectiveness on track by securing the 1983 Australian Touring Car Championship and early RX-7s are still competitive racers to this day.

The rotary engine’s shortcomings are well-known, but buy the right car (see below) and there’s no reason why a well-cared-for RX-7 won’t provide a relatively painless classic car ownership experience.

1979 Mazda RX-7

68,185km, manual, $34,990 YOU’D be forced to search long and hard to find another Series I RX-7 in this condition. This 1979 Savannah has 68,185km on the clock, but looks to have a tenth of that, presented in showroom condition.