While not as well-known as Zebra Three or the Supernatural car, the Mazda RX7 is one of the most underrated sports cars in history. It might not pop up in media quite often, but the RX7 is an iconic automobile for car enthusiasts since it was first released in 1978.
And why wouldn’t it be: this sports coupe sported a very distinct design that changed little over the three generations that it was in production. It was also legendary for its smooth handling and its unique rotary engine that managed to churn out more power and speed than competitors in its price range. But after 1995, the Mazda RX7 mysteriously disappeared from American shores and rumors started circulating that the iconic coupe had been banned by Uncle Sam.
But why did the U.S. government make the Mazda RX7 illegal? Or, better yet, was it ever illegal in the first place?
The Mazda RX7: A Rotary Legend
Setting aside the stunningly smooth and sleek lines, the crisp handling, and the sheer cornering power of the RX7, the one thing most –if not all –car enthusiasts love about this Mazda coupe is its unique rotary engine. Rotary engines weren’t exactly new, with the Mazda Cosmo Sport, released a decade before the RX7, being the first to have a rotary engine under its hood.
However, it was the Mazda RX7 that became known for maximizing the power of a Wankel rotary engine for decades. The first-generation Mazda RX7, first produced from 1978 to 1985, was iconic for its long hood, curved glass, and its subtle but powerful 1.1-Liter Wankel rotary engine. What made this cope unique at the time was the engine’s placement: the rotary engine sat just behind the front axles, giving birth to the term “front mid-engine”.
Also known as the FB, the 1st gen Mazda RX7 engine only cranked out about 100 horsepower, but its relatively light 2,500-pound curb weight (wet), low drag coefficient, and its even weight distribution gave the car surprising speed, easy cornering, and superior handling. It even had great electronics, which allowed users to avoid overcharging their car batteries (unless, of course, they do it on purpose).
In 1989, Mazda came out with the 2nd generation RX7, nicknamed the FC. Instead of redesigning the car from the ground up, Mazda engineers decided to double-down design-wise, beefing up both the exterior and the interior of the car with more robust lines and curves and an even more robust engine.
The 2nd gen Mazda RX7 swapped out the 100 horsepower 1.1-liter engine with a larger and more powerful 185 horsepower 1.3-liter engine with turbocharger. It also sported a rear independent suspension and four-wheel disc brakes. Highly appreciated, albeit slightly unnecessary, considering the 2nd gen Mazda RX7’s supremely on-point power-to-weight ratio.
Is the Mazda RX7 Fast?
While the FB and FC models of the Mazda RX7 were wildly popular with car enthusiasts, it wasn’t until 1992, when the third-generation Mazda RX7 hit the commercial car market and blew everyone away. Just like the transition of the FB to the FC, Mazda didn’t shy away from the essence of the RX7’s design, instead further highlighting all of its lines and curves and retaining most of the design elements from ’78.
But what really set the 3rd-gen Mazda RX7 apart was its powerhouse of an engine: a revised twin-turbo 1.3-liter rotary engine that pumped out a whopping 255 horsepower. This was augmented by a slick-shifting five-speed transmission that prioritized rear-wheel power, although a four-speed automatic was also available.
But after only 3 years of production, Mazda stopped producing the RX7 on American soil and it quickly became the stuff of legends. Eventually, people started claiming that the government had outlawed the Mazda RX7 for a number of reasons: lawmakers hated that a Japanese import car was outstripping American-made muscle, the car was complicit in a number of illegal racing-related deaths, and so on and so forth.
In fact, Mazda RX7 owners of the time were so scared of crossing county lines because they thought their car was illegal, which is probably something they should have researched if they were moving to a new state.
But what is the truth?
Is the Mazda RX7 Illegal? Not As We Thought It Was
While the Mazda RX7 quickly became an iconic, outlaw car, the truth is far less cool: Mazda had ceased production of the RX7 in America because of stricter emission regulations. Unwilling to stuff a smaller, cleaner engine under the hood, Mazda simply shrugged its shoulders and instead quietly withdrew the coupe from both the American and European markets, focusing the RX7’s production in the Japanese market instead.
While America only had the RX7 from ’92 to ’95, the Japanese auto market enjoyed the coupe up until 2002, where it was replaced by the RX8.
So is the Mazda RX7 illegal? Well, technically, yes: any Mazda RX7 produced after 1995 would have been made to cater to the Japanese car market, which meant that it had a Left-hand drive configuration, which is illegal in the United States. However, Mazda RX7’s produced before 1995 would be completely kosher with the Federal government.
The 3rd-gen Mazda RX7 was introduced, albeit briefly, into popular culture thanks to movies like Gone in 60 Seconds or the Fast & Furious franchise. This means that car collectors looking to get their hands on an authentic, 1992-1995 RX7 would have to pay top dollar. Of course, you might get your money’s worth if you resell it in the future, but that’s only if Gen-Z appreciates gas-guzzling cars as much as their forebears.