EVERY car company is a battlefield.
Let me tell you about the day the good guys won, and then lost.
There are those who create things, and those who sell them. The right-brain types pore over schematics late into the night, inventing and dreaming; the left-brain folks humourlessly clack away on a legion of abacuses, checking the numbers again and again and again.
For those of us with an enthusiast bent, the home team is always the same: to hell with the bean-counters, come away you glorious egg-heads!
I would have given anything to have toured Mazda's Japanese factories in the early '90s. They're still churning out fun-to-drive cars, but in the days before electronic driver aids and weight-ballooning safety requirements, it would have been like walking into Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory.
The Miata, of course, remains an icon and even 20 years later there are few cars that can touch it for purity of purpose. But there was also the gloriously delinquent MX6 GT with its ridiculous torquesteer (far-off ancestor of the Mazdaspeed3), and the rally-special 323GTX that beat the WRX to our shores by more than a dozen years. The boxy RX-7 Turbo II looked like a Porsche 944, and went like one as well.
And then, in 1992, the sheets came off the pinnacle of Mazda-dom. King Zoom-Zoom.
The brand's top banana. For three short years (1993-1995), Canadians would get the best car Mazda would ever build; an engineering masterpiece the world wasn't ready for, and one it would not see again.
Those who know it well call it the FD, dubbed so for its Japanese VIN code. It's the third, last generation of the RX-7, a twinturbocharged, rotary-engined, world-class supercar. And, as it happens, I'm holding the keys to a bright yellow one.
Stepping into the RX-7 is like walking through the door of a time machine. Suddenly, Nirvana isn't on the classic radio station anymore, they're performing unplugged on MTV.
It's cramped in here. The steering wheel doesn't adjust and there's a whiff of something two decades old. Grunge. California gangsta rap. Jurassic Park and the Chicago Bulls and Reebok Pumps.
The dash is a smooth sea of molded plastic, formed around the driver in a curve that ignores the passenger completely. The seats are cloth, and there are only two of them: tiny bins behind both driver and passenger provide just enough storage space for a few necessaries and the shallow trunk space (it's a hatchback at least) makes a modern 370Z look like a dump-truck.
The key is one of those old-fashioned plastic-dipped metal kind - no anti-theft immobilizers or keyless-start here. I turn it one click and see the odometer reading pop up in tiny orange numbers. Just over 20,000 kilometres on the clock: this car has been resting inside Mazda's Toronto headquarters and was brought out to do a little cross-country show and tell. Let's show it some West-Coast hospitality.
Crank the rotary engine over, and with a Star Trek-whirr it catches and holds the rpms high. Warm-up is achieved when the needle is three-quarters of the way up the temperature dial. Until then, best take it easy.
A rotary engine is a funny thing, and only Mazda properly championed the technology past the 1960s. Rather than having cylinders lined up in a straight line or a V-configuration, the rotary has no pistons. Instead, a funny little triangle spins around a oblong chamber, each of its sides performing that compressignite-expand dance in a rotational movement, rather than the ordinary piston's up and down jig.
It's truly a bizarre concept, compounded by the fact that the inventor who lent the motor his name was called Felix Wankel.
"Wankel Rotary Engine" sounds a bit silly and I have heard it used in a Monty Python skit about people who are easily embarrassed.
The addition of sequential turbo-chargers (a second turbo comes online to add more pressure at higher rpms) brought the power of the RX-7 to a respectable 252 horsepower, but that's not the whole story.
Nothing can prepare you for the way an RX-7 accelerates.
It's not violent like a V8powered Corvette, nor does it surge like a turbocharged WRX; the car simply pulls strongly, your ears filled with a high-pitched whistle from the turbochargers and the howl of the air rushing past you.
The FD RX-7 weighs just under 1,300 kilograms, similar to the current darlings of the motoring press, the Toyota/ Subaru FR-S and BR-Z.
However, it has considerably more punch, something that's immediately apparent as soon as you show it a corner.
Here's where the FD really shows its Mazda-ness. With 50/50 weight distribution, the small rotary engine set far back behind the front axles (as the mighty GT-R would later emulate), and ample lowend torque, this RX-7 simply attacks the tarmac.
It dashes along, and like a Miata, you feel every nuance of the road.
It's absolutely breathtaking to drive; so why aren't many of these cars still around? Why doesn't Mazda make an RX-7 Turbo any more, and why have they finally ceased production on their rotary engines?
Two reasons, and sadly, it looks like those bean-counters were right in the end. First, this car cost more than $42,000 new; in 1993 money, this was considerably more than a Corvette.
Second, the FD RX-7's reputation is not just one of explosive performance, it's of performing explosively. To put it another way: they blow up.
It's not the car's fault. The engineers simply built the best machine they could - a high-strung thoroughbred that needed to be cared for like the quarter-horse it was.
Unfortunately, folks then proceeded to drive it like it was a four-cylinder cart-horse, filling it with substandard gas and not respecting the thermodynamic limits of all that complicated sequentialturbocharging witchcraft.
Mazda lost thousands on warranty claims. This car being 20 years old, I'm pretty jumpy myself, exclaiming at every imagined hesitation - a misfire would be catastrophic.
Then there's the fuel economy, which is appalling. The RX-7 needs 94 Octane, and it drinks it down like a Formula 1 race car. Driving 100 km will cost you nearly $35.
Expensive, high-strung, thirsty: it's not a car for our traffic-snarled, environmentally conscious modern times. It's a relic of the past.
But then again, who cares about all that nonsense? It's early morning, and as the rotary spins its way up the dial and the perfectly balanced chassis pivots into the curve with the grace of a prima ballerina, I'm murmuring thanks to the engineers who created this car, this fantastic machine, this instrument of joy, this legend.
Brendan McAleer is a freelance writer and automotive enthusiast. If you have a suggestion for a column, or would be interested in having your car club featured, please contact him at email@example.com.
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