The RX-7 is a true sports coupe design, as opposed to a sports car like the TR6 or a saloon with sporting accessories. The relatively light Wankel engine was situated slightly behind the front axel, and the car had rear-wheel drive with a 2 seat arrangement, with four seats being optional in Japan. The handling and acceleration of the car were noted to be of a high calibre for its day; the design allowed for speeds of over 120 miles per hour. The engine is very smooth, with no excess vibration or harsh noise at high RPM, thus a buzzer was fitted to the rev-counter to warn the driver when the 7000 RPM redline was approaching.
Series 1 to 3 were the first generation of RX-7s. Series 1 refers to the "SA22C" cars, sold as 1979 and 1980 model years. Series 2 (from then on called "FB"s, referring to their VIN number, which begins JM1FB) refers to the 1981-1983 model years, which had wraparound taillights and updated engine control components. The Series 3 refers to the 1984-1985 model years which featured an updated lower front fascia and different gauge display layout (tidbit: the S3 RX-7 is the only rotary-engined car to not have a centered tachometer). The GSL-SE model (S3 only) had a fuel injected 1.3L "13B" engine and stronger drivetrain components.
The second generation (the "FC", whose VIN begins JM1FC3) featured a complete restyling; some would say it resembled the Porsche 944. It had two series, from 1986-1988 (series 4) and 1989-1991 (series 5). The S4 came with a naturally aspirated (N/A) fuel-injected 13B makeing 146 horsepower. In 1987 a turbocharged model was introduced (the Turbo II) making 189 hp. The S5 cars featured updated styling and better engine management, as well as lighter rotors and higher compression. The N/A S5 FC made 160hp, while the S5 TII made 200 hp.
While the SA22C/FB was a purer sports car, the FC tended toward the softer sport-tourer trends of its day. Handling was much improved, with none of the oversteer tendencies of the FB. Steering was firmer, with a rack-and-pinion steering rack replacing the old recirculating ball steering of the FB. Disc brakes also became standard, with some models (S4: GXL, GTU, TII, Vert; S5: GTUs, TII, Vert) offering four-piston front brakes. The FC was also the only RX-7 offered in a convertable format beginning in 1988. Rear seats were optional in some models of the FC RX-7, but aren't commonly found. Though it was heavier and more isolated than its predecessor, the FC won accolades from the press as well.
The was no US-market RX-7 in 1992.
The third and final generation dispensed with the rear seats except in Japan, and featured an aerodynamic, futuristic-looking body design. The first-ever mass-produced sequential twin turbo system boosted power to 255hp and finally 276hp by the time production ended in Japan, in 2002. The car is known as the "FD" (with JM1FD3 starting the VIN numbers). The FD RX-7 is a pure sports car, and borders on supercar. In the US, three models were offered; the "base", the touring, and the R models. The touring FDs had sunroofs and bose stereo systems. The R (R1 in 1993 and R2 in 1994-5) had stiffer suspensions and an optional aerodynamics package, as well as Z-rated tires. Handling was absolutely outstanding in the FD, and it is still regarded as being one of the best-handling cars of all time. Acceleration was no less impressive. In fact, the 1993 RX-7 R1 bested the NSX in every performance category, as well as costing over USD$10,000 less. The car was sold only from 1993-1995 in the USA in its 255hp form.
Recently, Mazda has revived the rotary engine in the form of the RX-8, a sport sedan along the same vein as the Mazda Cosmo. Pending strong sales of the RX-8, Mazda has unofficially announced that it will consider making another RX-7 in 2007.
See also: Mazda