It was my good fortune to enjoy an abundance of first-generation RX-7 experiences. I attended the car's launch in Japan, drove a Racing Beat-prepped car across the Bonneville Salt Flats at 184 mph, and was part of a four-car team at the 1979 24 Hours of Daytona. But what convinced me that I had to own one was participating in a six-car comparison test in which Mazda's first attempt at selling a sports car in America finished a close second to a Porsche 924. The $6715 difference in as-tested prices is what tipped my affections toward the RX-7.
Although the RX-7 had an endearing engine, a pleasant ride, and acceptable accommodations, it had some warts. In track tests, it was loose at the limit. Other foibles were fragile transmission synchros, fade-prone brakes, and slightly vague on-center steering.
Back then, I was a firm believer in the project car gambit's ability to rectify any sin that left the factory. After a few months of driving my '79 RX-7-with the over-rev alarm beeping before most upshifts, the thirteen-inch radials clawing for traction, and a spongy brake pedal underfoot-I cracked open my toolbox to transform the base-trim car into the chariot of my dreams.
When the dust settled, the RX-7 had roughly 40 percent more power, significantly better handling, improved braking, a more attractive exterior, and an interior that looked and felt richer than that of the spurned Porsche 924. By religiously avoiding any weight addition, I was able to significantly improve the RX-7's quantitative performance so that it could top a stock 924 and even run wheel-to-wheel with a colleague's '74 Porsche 911.
The menu of modifications was comprehensive. Mazda's more powerful 1.3-liter 13B rotary from the earlier RX-4 and Cosmo is dimensionally identical to my RX-7's stock 1.1-liter 12A engine, except for a 0.79-inch difference in length, so it was an easy bolt-in. The engine was dressed with new intake, exhaust, and ignition systems selected from the Racing Beat catalog. An aluminum flywheel added snap to the tach needle's swing.